The day after the U.S. presidential election last year was grim, to say the least. I woke up, I cried with my kids. I went to work, I cried with our students. I think you know the reasons why. Well, at least if you didn’t vote for Donald Trump.
The 2016 election was contentious but up until election night I truly believed that DJT could not win. A bully of this magnitude does not get to be president I told my kids. I was wrong. The weeks following the election I strategized with friends; how would we survive the next 4 years? DJT’s campaign was hateful; full of abusive language, misogyny, and promises to divide people with walls. My people. Thanksgiving was difficult. No politics at the table, we said. But there was anger nonetheless. I tried to stay off of social media but I was drawn to it, trying to figure out why and what made people vote for him. I got into Facebook arguments. I felt horrible!
As the end of the year approached, I thought about how I would survive the next year, let alone four years given the divisiveness spreading through our country. I live in a bubble I thought — my community is supportive, they celebrate diversity. But reading online neighborhood bulletins told a different story. The campaign and subsequent actions from the new president emboldened racism and xenophobia. I felt uncomfortable even going to my local supermarket. A man wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat got in line behind us at the local bakery where I take my kids on weekends for sweet treats. Mama bear went into high alert to protect my brown children.
I had to calm down. I can’t live my life like this, I thought. I have to return to being the mom and wife that I remember, a productive colleague, an available and supportive friend. “Self Care” became a strategy, a coping mechanism. It’s a phrase my friends and I used often until one of them pointed out that “Self Preservation” was a much better way of describing how we protected our sanity in this tumultuous time. A few days ago at Christmas dinner I was telling my cousin it was like being on a plane losing altitude- you put on the oxygen mask first and then help others. She explained that she too looked for inner peace through a Buddhist philosophy that puts others first before the self. By helping others you help yourself, she said. This makes so much sense to me.
As the year closes, I reflect on what surviving 2017 means to me:
Process Anger. Who says anger isn’t productive? I used to say it. But there are many things to be angry about even before 2017. I’m angry now about apathy. 2017, I hope, has lit a fire under the ass of people who lacked concern, enthusiasm, or were passive about allowing injustice. Perhaps humanity depends on anger to get people moving.
Solidarity. That a man who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy could be elected president stoked rage and fueled the protests that launched the Women’s March the day after the inauguration. There were some like Christy from Facebook who started #notmymarch because they felt or feel like women in America have everything they need and if they don’t, it’s their own fault. We need to build solidarity, especially amongst women. We are ending 2017 with what Time Magazine calls the Silence Breakers as their Person of Year. #metoo as our battle cry. How can we survive if we don’t join together to fight for our sisters, our daughters, all women? We need to have each other’s back! At my job we created a group that meets once a month to discuss ways of empowering women in the workplace. We also have a Facebook group where we share helpful resources and encouraging tactics. And yes, we have happy hours where we celebrate accomplishments!
Focus. Daily, sometimes hourly; 2017 was filled with breaking news, bad news, follow-up tweets about fake news, and so much disruption. In my attempts to be an informed citizen I found frustration and a sense of impotence. What could I do from my little corner of the world? I found that focusing on what I as one person could do was more helpful than what I couldn’t do. I helped create workshops and working groups on digital and information literacy. I joined community groups that help people tell their stories. An effort, if small, to increase understanding of others and discourage fear.
Digital Hiatus. At several times during the year our immediate family unplugged and turned off all electronics (one to four days at a time.) It wasn’t that hard to do. I think we all needed it.
Practice Kindness. We are all fighting the good fight. 2017 has posed great challenges but I’m grateful that I never lost sight of this.
Wine. And Cocktails. Sometimes there’s drinking involved. Where would I be without my happy hour gatherings? Surviving 2017 involved family, friends, and free-flowing libations.
Laugh. If you don’t laugh you’ll cry. This is what I told myself to justify taking a break from the bombardment of serious material coming at us on the daily. I unwind by watching comedy shows. Not necessarily ‘late night’ comedy. The hosts often take news headlines and tweets from the president as a punchline but it’s often too real to laugh at. It’s like, you can’t make this stuff up!
Meditate. Earlier this year I downloaded an app that was supposed to help me do this. I never used it. I find that activities that involve time to myself work best as meditation. I need it. Sometimes it’s just skin care. I put on a sheet mask and my blood pressure drops significantly. Sometimes it’s just waking up early when my house is silent. I look outside and watch the sun come up. The day is about to begin and anything can happen. It helps me get started in a positive state of mind.
Reflect. There are many challenges ahead. The list can be daunting. But it’s important to also acknowledge accomplishments. If 2017 put us in a state of anxiety and insecurity it also triggered a state of action. Protests, marches, phone banking, support groups, and book clubs. We have found our ways of pushing through this darkness. Survival isn’t enough. It’s a balance that I’m still learning- putting others before the self as my cousin Krystle reminded me yet striving for self preservation.
In a few days I’ll hear the New Year’s song “Auld Lang Syne.” It’s a bit of somber song reminding me of the joys and sorrow of the past year but also signaling the coming year with all of its possibilities.