This morning, I awoke to more inflaming outbursts from the president’s Twitter account and more divisive language and positions from his staff.
It’s another day in the United States of America in 2018, and the president is again attacking the press on Twitter. His friends on Fox News are speculating that a caravan of migrants headed toward the US might be carrying diseases. And the GOP members of Congress do nothing to correct the country’s downward spiral and seem to instead be actively dismantling the programs and systems that protect and serve the American people.
I feel the familiar squeeze in my chest. Anxiety and fear are constant companions. I was able to let off some steam in a curse-filled journal entry. I also went for my regular morning hike and listened to an episode of The Upgrade podcast from Lifehacker featuring Anne Lamott. That helped, but the core problem remains.
Our country is plagued by fear. It has infected our communities, our leaders, and our institutions. For a lot of people, though, this is simply a worsening of an already present problem. In the words of Amparna Nancherla, for anxious people, this is our Olympics.
It has been two days since the deadly synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. Trump held one of his rallies in the immediate aftermath and joked that he’d thought about canceling because he was having a bad hair day. He blamed the victims, speculating that the outcome would have been different if those in the synagogue had been armed. He openly embraces the term “nationalist.” He is doing seemingly everything except using the actual term “Nazi” to describe himself and his supporters.
And people continue to follow him. Others make statements along the lines of not being sure whether or not Trump is a racist, but other racists believe he is a racist and Trump apparently has no problem with that.
Every time another one of these tragic, outrageous, horrific events occurs—another recent example is the attack on the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, just a few months ago—I feel myself breaking. I hope that, finally, this will be the atrocity that brings our elected leaders to their senses and forces them to take action. I feel certain that this will be the step too far that will prompt the electorate to demand better of their leaders. I am sure this tragedy will be at last what spurs global leaders to apply unrelenting, uncompromising pressure to the US to force change from the outside.
I don’t have a lot of confidence in the upcoming elections, even if voter turnout is high. There has been so much gerrymandering. There has been such a deep and concerted effort to suppress the votes of African Americans and other minority citizens. There has been little to no action taken on election interference from foreign actors.
This is happening in the United States of America. And it keeps getting worse.
I have written about being paralyzed by fear and anger and grief and anxiety. I don’t know how to focus on my work when my country is crumbling. I don’t know how to be driven and productive when the First Amendment is under attack and when my fellow citizens are literally in the crosshairs of an assassin’s rifle.
But I also don’t know how to use this outrage and terror to effect real change. I
have voted. That is the absolute least I can do, and I am despondent to know that far too many of my fellow citizens won’t do even that much.
I have been afraid all of my life, something I’ve always struggled with and been ashamed of (an additional burden when you’re trying to climb out of it). It doesn’t help that my health can dramatically worsen in response to stress. I am in a tailspin with some of my symptoms. How can I concentrate when I’m in so much gut pain and am having to run to the toilet every few minutes? Or when my tinnitus is so strong that I sometimes cannot hear myself think? When the palpitations are pounding in my chest, and my breath is high and shallow? When I feel dizzy and nauseated and faint? When my headache is raging, or when fatigue is dragging me down but I still cannot sleep restfully?
I am afraid, and I feel ineffective. Not only do I not know what to do; I don’t know what I can do.
I want to speak out. I want to rail against the injustices and outright crimes that are being committed in the name of patriotism. But I’m a weenie. I am afraid. I am afraid of backlash. I’m afraid of being targeted—the lingering PTSD of someone who has been physically assaulted, stalked, and sexually abused. I am afraid of taking too strong a stand. I am afraid of getting it wrong. I always want more information, more facts, because I always fear that I’ve missed something somewhere, and this makes me slow to take action. I want to be measured and reasonable, rather than reactive. It’s silly because the world is falling down and I don’t want to cause offense. But I know in my gut what is right and what is wrong.
It’s silly that I worry about losing readers. I worry about who my readers may or may not be and what may or may not drive their purchasing and reading behavior. I don’t want to negatively affect my career or box myself in, and I’m not the only one. Too many of us have held our tongues or moderated our responses because we do still need to make a living—and health insurance isn’t cheap. But holy fuck this is a time when we need writers and we need courageous voices and I want so badly to be one of them. I feel a duty to use my voice and whatever tiny platform I may have. I don’t want to keep hiding in the shadows.
But I am sick, and these current conditions are making me sicker. No amount of meditation, calming music, lit candles, or tuning out changes that. I cannot keep waiting to feel safe. Intellectually, I know that day is not coming any time soon. But emotionally and viscerally, I remain locked inside my fear. And I know I’m not alone.