In the wake of Trump’s election, many friends and loved ones have shared reactions and feelings with me that sound a lot like depressive symptoms. These experiences are rather familiar to me — I live with major depressive disorder.
My friends report that these past few weeks have been both physically and emotionally paralyzing, and I’ve been there with them. I’ve had difficulty sleeping, eating regularly, and it’s an incredible struggle to get out of bed each day and face the heart-wrenching headlines that bring us closer to a Trump administration. I have days where I cry constantly and others where I can barely feel anything at all.
I recently realized that these experiences have been much less upsetting for myself than they have been for close friends or partners. After all, this is a whole lot like what depression feels like that.
For me, depression is like being told I need to wear an absurdly heavy jacket that weighs about 100 pounds. When I first put the jacket on, I am super conscious of that extra weight. Doing menial tasks become exhausting and everything feels impossible. After I’ve worn the jacket for a bit, it begins to get somewhat easier to walk. It’s still hard, but the more I walk, the more I get used to it and sometimes I forget the jacket is even there. It feels normal for things to be this difficult. Then for a brief moment, the sun comes out and I get to take the jacket off. It doesn’t last long and soon I have to put the jacket back on and go through the whole soul-destroying process of acclimatizing all over.
This is what waking up to the news of president elect Trump has felt like every day.
When my partner called me from the grocery store one day, distressed and sharing that feeding himself regularly had begun to feel quite impossible, I could empathize strongly. I began to recognize that what we are all feeling might be a beautiful opportunity to understand the lived experiences of so many of our friends and family that struggle with mental illness. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 1 in every 5 adults in the US experience mental illness in a given year.
So when faced with the question of how will we survive this new reality without normalizing a bigoted, misogynistic autocratic in our country’s highest position of power, I turn to trusted coping mechanisms. My hope is that we all may begin to walk a little bit easier, but not forget that we are wearing that lumbering jacket:

  1. Know that it’s OK to not be OK right now. Give yourself permission to sit in this scary place where things feel like crap.
  2. Obsessively worrying about a situation isn’t going to change it. Organize like hell, and then give yourself a break. Obsessing to the point of making yourself sick is only going to hurt you- it won’t solve anything.
  3. Don’t assume that you have to fix everything on your own. The burden isn’t solely yours to carry and this is when the important work of community comes in.
  4. Get into journaling.
  5. Separate the things that are stressing you our and put them in their own compartments. Compartmentalizing points of stress and tackling them one by one makes a large, overwhelming burden of stress much more manageable.
  6. Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Simply allowing yourself to feel, without running to cover it up or be strong is incredibly therapeutic.
  7. Even though it may not seem like it, we need our friends now more than ever.It’s definitely appealing to isolate ourselves and drown in self-pity. Don’t underestimate the power of touch and a familiar face.
  8. Know that you deserve to get help. I’ve struggled with feeling like my mental health issues aren’t really that bad, and that others deserve treatment much more than me. No matter how mild or severe, depression matters and deserves to get treated. We all deserve love and support.
  9. Finally, depression isn’t a choice. Remember that.

There is an incredible amount of stigma surrounding mental illness in our nation. Every once in a while, a rare moment like this arises that allows us to open the blinds that cover the window into the soul of a loved one. What if, in this moment of profound pain and mourning, we can find the opportunity to connect with those in our lives that live with the burden of mental illness every single day? What if we can understand their pain and affirm our commitment to help them carry the weight of that incredibly heavy jacket? Possibilities like that help me keep fighting.