Election Anxiety Is A Real Thing, And It's Keeping Me Up At Night
Like lots of women I know, I have anxiety. And, like lots of women I know, my anxiety manifests itself in ways that are unique to me. Namely, my strongest attacks occur in my sleep. It’s super fun. I mean, who needs sleep?
The other night was particularly rough. I shot up in bed, heart pounding, feeling terrified and not knowing where I was (which is odd, because I was in my own bed, in my own house, where I sleep every single night). It took me several minutes to calm my mind and slow my heart rate before I could comfortably lie back down again.
My husband isn’t fazed by these middle-of-the-night anxiety attacks, as he’s dealt with them for 20 years. He knows how to talk me through them and allow me time and space to feel whatever it is I’m supposed to be feeling in that moment.
But usually the next day he’ll follow up with me. “Is everything okay with you?” he’ll ask. “Do you need anything?” he’ll gently pry. I know what he’s getting at. It’s a nudge to address the bigger issue—what in the holy hell happened last night?!
In March, the panic attacks were at the early onslaught of the pandemic. What did this all mean? How long was it going to last? What did we need to do to keep our family, particularly our asthmatic/allergy ridden son, safe? In August, we knew my anxiety was about school. How was I going to do virtual schooling while working all day? Were the kids okay? Were they going to be okay once they learned that so many kids went back to in-person school and they weren’t? Again, how long was this nightmare going to last?
But school has started and the kids seem alright. We’re a half-year into this pandemic, and we know the drill by this point. What’s causing the latest round of panic in my sound-asleep mind?
Oh. Right. When my husband asked the following morning if I was okay, it dawned on me. My paperwork for my absentee ballot had arrived in the mail that day. I’d spent hours writing out postcards encouraging women to vote. I’d been reading about poll numbers and how Biden and Harris were addressing COVID-19 and the economy and gun violence and kids going back to school.
It’s the election.
That’s my primary source of anxiety right now, and I don’t know how to turn it off. Because I’m fucking terrified of Trump winning again. And not like the anxiety I felt in 2016—that was nothing compared to these fears. That anxiety barely scratched the surface of what 2020 feels like. 2016 was base-level anxiety—like haha, there’s no way he’ll win right? America is so much better than that. I mean, I guess there’s a chance, but… there’s really no way he’ll win. Right?
Today, it looks more like OMG HE IS DESTROYING US HOW CAN THIS NATION WITHSTAND FOUR MORE YEARS. He ignored the pandemic because his narcissism does not allow him to feel compassion, and the only thing that concerns him this year is winning in November. He is ignoring the devastation the west coast wildfires are causing because the affected states are largely blue states and are not full of ass-kissing Trumpers. He doesn’t care about poor Americans, which is why, under him, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. He is quickly threatened by women who are strong or smart or don’t bow down to him, he supports laws that infringe upon women’s human rights, and he brags about assaulting them because he views women as toys to be manipulated. He doesn’t care about Americans with Black or Brown skin, a disregard—or, I’ll go so far as saying hatred—that fans the flames of racial profiling and racially-motivated violence in our country. He insults international leaders with whom we’ve had strong, respectful collaborative relationships for years—allies we need in our corner. And he throws very public temper tantrums when anyone dares challenge him or, frankly, ask him real questions rather than merely pumping air into the balloon that is his fragile ego.
Donald Trump has divided America. He has damaged America. He has fueled hatred in America. And he’s insulted and disrespected everything that America is supposed to be—a place of racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and religious diversity. A land where you can take a road trip from a crowded city to a historically treasured Native American territory. A land full of Catholic cathedrals and Muslim mosques and Jewish synagogues. A land where Irish Americans and Pakistani Americans and Italian Americans and African Americans can—and should—all peacefully send their kids to the same school and all sit together, clapping for their kids, at the 5th grade play.
He’s mocked all that we stand for, convincing his base that he’s making America “great” while washing away anything that doesn’t support his rich, white, racist agenda.
2020 election anxiety is different because we now know what he’s capable of. We know now what happens when a leader who exists in an alternate reality—one where he can do no wrong and is above reproach—is forced to deal with a pandemic. We know how easily he spreads messages rife with racism, sexism, misogyny, and bigotry—all in a simple tweet.
We know that because of his true disregard for anyone and anything that doesn’t funnel money toward his bank account, that people will die. That Americans will die. Because it’s happened. And he doesn’t care.
But what we don’t know is how much more he can hurt this country and the people he’s sworn to serve if he sits in that office for another four years. We don’t know what will happen in our world—what natural disasters, what diseases, what wars will breakout. And we don’t know how he’ll respond, how he’ll make the impact worse, how he’ll do irreparable damage, and how he’ll twist the narrative around to make it about him, how he’s a victim, yet somehow also a hero.
We know it won’t be good. It’s just a matter of how bad.
So yeah, 2020 election anxiety is a whole different beast and it’s consuming my mind.
However. I can’t let this man—a man who certainly doesn’t give a shit about me—have that control. I can’t let him win—at least not in that way. So I woke up the next day after that panic attack with a new resolve. I’ll keep fighting. I’ll keep volunteering and doing things like writing postcards and advocating publicly for candidates who support education, who believe and trust medical science, who care about the planet, who celebrate the beauty of diversity, who support women’s rights to control their own bodies, and who support common sense gun legislation.
And most of all, I’ll raise my kids to be kind. I’ll raise them to see people like Donald Trump for what they truly are. I’ll raise them to realize that a life isn’t worth living if you only think of yourself the entire time you’re on this planet—because that must be the loneliest, saddest existence of all. I’ll teach them that you can have more money than anyone you know and be the most unhappy. I’ll show them what true humanity looks like—helping another person in need. I’ll teach them about their white privilege and socioeconomic privilege and that they have the responsibility to do something with it. I’ll raise conscientious voters who vote based on the issues that matter the most to them, but I’ll make sure they know that the most important issues are those that make our country, and our world, a better place for all of us.
And in those ways, Donald Trump will not win, no matter what. And when I can’t sleep or feel my heart racing or feel the “what if he wins again” fears creep up, I’ll look at my kids and remind myself that he can’t take away the goodness in them. He can’t stop my daughter from donating all of her allowance money to saving endangered cheetahs. He can’t stop us from supporting Black lives and the rights of our Black friends to not only safely exist, but also pursue their ambitions and happiness. He can’t stop us from believing in God and going to church, nor can he stop us from supporting our community members who don’t believe in God or who visit a mosque or synagogue instead. He can’t stop us from loving our immigrant neighbors and friends and our LGBTQ+ neighbors and friends, and he definitely can’t stop me, as a mom, from teaching my children that they are perfectly wonderful, no matter whom they love.
Truthfully, I am fearful of the damage Donald Trump could potentially do to our country if he wins again. But he can’t destroy America. There’s too much goodness that stretches from sea to shining sea for him to stamp it all out. The beauty and the love and the diversity found in every single state—from Maine to Arizona, and from Oregon to Georgia—will prevail. I do believe that.
That’s what I hold on to, on my most anxiety-ridden nights—hope. Hope for a brighter, better, stronger, kinder future. And the belief that we will all rise up out of the ashes of the America he tried to ruin. We will rebuild, alongside our children—our Black children, our white children, our immigrant children, our children with disabilities, our children who are LGBTQ+—and we will dust off the ashes of the Trump presidency stronger and more resilient than ever.
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