Like many others, I did not sleep well on election night or the following nights. Shock and dismay had hijacked my mind. I felt as if I had been catapulted into a very dark Twilight Zone episode. My thoughts went hither and yon, partly batted about by a political racket, partly going from shiny/horror to next shiny/horror.
In my recovery from PTSD, I have learned to be protective of my sleep and my inner balance. I quickly detected warning signs and realized that I had to put my own mental and physical health first. Without that foundation, I wasn’t going to be able to make any sense or take effective action. So I set about using my “tool box” to reduce my anxiety. Besides sleep management and calming techniques, I reached out to my family and close friends. I tried as best I could to keep the focus on myself and my feelings, not politics. I took notice of which conversations made me feel better and which did not.
I felt better about myself when there was something I could do for the person close to me. Perhaps this was because I felt less powerless, but I believe it was because I felt more connected. Research suggests human beings are hard-wired to feel pleasure from helping others. Whether or not this is true, feeling valued and needed is a good thing.
So the first “movement” of my journey was to take care of myself and then to reach out to those around me.
Once I was feeling a bit more settled, I started to look around for other actions I might take. This required a great deal of filtering of news and social media. News sources inundated me with blow after terrible blow as events (and nominations or appointments) unfolded. I realized I could spend 100 hours a day on the various calls to action, and that not all of them were appropriate for me. Some would put me right back in the zone of risking my mental health.
How then are we to know how to proceed and what actions will not damage us?
We listen for that sense of rightness, no matter how frightening the prospect. I learned a great deal about this process from hanging out with Quakers. They talk about “discernment” and “leadings of the Spirit.” It’s one of the things that makes Quaker action different from other activism. One is led to take action by the promptings of the inner light, which means that arguments for or against make little difference. This made Quaker abolitionists (for example) tenacious in their cause.
What am I led to do? How will I know when that happens?
I’m still listening, and while I do that, I pay attention to small things that I feel able to do. They may not qualify as “Spirit-led,” but they seem possible. Then I notice how I feel. As an example, I wrote a letter of support to the nearest mosque; I felt lighter and more hopeful after I had mailed it. On the other hand, I felt low and discouraged after speaking with certain people I had otherwise reason to trust. I’m not likely to try that again.
I do not know how or even if this process of trial and reflection, slowly feeling my way, will lead to action on a state or national level. I’m definitely not going to fly across the country to attend a march in Washington D.C. or New York City. Because I’ve felt energized by writing letters, I am more likely to do that again. I’m considering volunteering in person at Planned Parenthood (where I volunteered when I was in grad school, before Roe v. Wade) or the ACLU, but do not yet see a clear path.
Meanwhile, I continue to practice reaching out, and find that the circle keeps getting bigger. By listening compassionately and seeking out safe places to share my own fears, I join a community of light. By sharing suggestions of actions, I become aware of those I might be willing to take, or inspire others to take actions I am not comfortable with. Who knows? Maybe knowing someone who is brave enough (or skilled enough) to do something will show me the way. Or perhaps the way will open in community once I see I do not have to act alone.