It’s a scene that Hollywood has exploited in nearly every childhood drama; a little kid standing out in the baseball field, attempting to nonchalantly toss the ball back and forth between his hand and glove, kicking dust clouds in the shortstop dirt, remembering the various times throughout the week that his dad told him that he would be in the bleachers. This child had been let down before, and is all-too-familiar with disappointment, but he is still able to hope. He fixes his gaze on the stands, anxiously waiting to see if the promise would be fulfilled, and we, as the audience, find ourselves engaged in the agony of waiting. Watching the time pass, getting closer and closer to game time…just waiting to see what happens.
Throughout the last few months, I have seen this scene play out in my therapy office. My clients find themselves hoping that people will show up and fulfill their promises. They count the “Vote No” signs on their way to work and begin to believe that people might actually show up to their game. They hope the voters and the lawmakers of Minnesota might follow through on their claim to be cheering for them and on their side. What strikes me from my vantage point in our therapeutic discussions, is how much focus our community has on the end result of the vote, which is certainly important and life-changing, yet we are missing a key part of this: the actual process of being voted on as a group of people is painful and taxing.
Psychological research has ruminated on the hypothesis that people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered tend to have more incidents of anxiety, depression, and chemical abuse. Researchers from University College of London (2008) have attempted to figure out why this might be and what might be done to bring some balance to the situation. The research states that “there are a number of reasons why gay people may be more likely to report psychological difficulties, which include difficulties growing up in a world orientated to heterosexual norms and values and the negative influence of social stigma against homosexuality.” While this may seem like common sense for anyone living in today’s society, this statement brings up a good point, which is the whole reason I sit to write this commentary. In an election climate, emotions are super-charged, and the negative affects of being on a ballot leave people open to public criticism and rejection. We spend a lot of our time working to prevent a harmful amendment, but how much are we doing to care for our neighbors, our families, our friends, and ourselves as our community faces the vote?
I always leave my clients with a “take away” that they can use in their week to calm their emotions, keep them grounded, and carry them through to the next session. As we face an emotionally charged vote, I offer you my version of a “survival guide” for this election season. Here are five things you and your loved ones can do to get through October and November without pulling out all of your hair.
- Find Your Community. Find your people. Be with your people. If possible, try to find a group that is not solely political in nature. This could be a yoga community, church, volunteer organization, foodie friends, or even a book club for you intellectual folk. The point is, these people will be supporting you 100% on November 6th, 7th, and hopefully for a long time following. You need the stability of a community that does not waver during political season.
- Use this time for growth. If you are partnered-up, consider doing something new in your relationship. Take up a new hobby together. Set aside time each and every day to focus on your partner. Make this an “election-free” zone where you focus on dynamics between the two of you and disconnect from the social climate. An excellent book to read together is Permanent Partners by Betty Berzon, Ph.D (1990). This book is free of psycho-jargon and offers a fantastic framework for strengthening your bond. If you are single, set aside some time to focus on what brings you energy. Perhaps that is walking your dog, tasting the newest microbrew, reading, take a pottery class, whatever suits you. The important thing is turning your antennae off for at least some time each day and strengthening something that is not based on an election: your sense of resilience.
- Talk to someone. Okay, I admit, this may or may not be a shameless plug for my industry. Friends, if I didn’t believe in it, I wouldn’t do it. If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, relationship dynamics, guilt, shame, fear, self-confidence, have trouble sleeping or any other not-so-pleasant side effect of the waiting game, talk to a professional. There is no medal for “getting through” something without help. Despite the cliché, pain is not weakness leaving the body. Pain is a sign that your body needs care. Speaking of…
- Care for your body. You may not realize how taxing this process has been on your body since our bodies are very good at switching to autopilot when they need to. After a while, your body will be depleted of its reserves and you will need to recharge it. It’s best to focus on self-care a little each day rather than needing to take a week off of work because you finally got the cold that landed you in bed, where you should have been spending more time for weeks. Take precautions to ensure that you are eating what makes you happy and healthy. Keep up your routine of a healthy balance of work and play. Balance your day between rest and activity. Schedule that massage. Get that pampering. Indulge, relax, rejuvenate, repeat.
- Find your mantra. Yeah, I know, it’s totally the “therapist-y” thing to suggest that someone repeat positive affirmations, but they work. Really. You need to be the one to tell yourself daily what you are worth, how much you are cared for, and how important you are to the people around you. If you’re following step one, your supportive community will externally confirm your affirmations. However, at times all it takes is one vitriolic campaign commercial, one negative sign, or one comment from someone to knock you off of your foundation of self-confidence. Arming yourself with positive statements is the best way to “train” your brain and provide armor against harmful energy.
Above all, know that it is completely normal for you to be feeling whatever you might be feeling during this season. It’s intense. It’s dramatic. It’s life changing. And it will affect even the most even-keeled individuals. Long term, I hope lawmakers and citizens can look at this election season through a microscope, consider the mental health effects of social discrimination, and think critically about whether a public vote is the most humane method of lawmaking in all situations. Short term, I hope you, your loved ones, and our society can continue to support each other, cheering each other on, and remain unwavering in our belief that all citizens deserve equality before, during, and after this election season.
Berzon, Betty Ph.D. Permanent Parnters: building gay and lesbian relationships that last. 1990. The Penguin Group. New York, New York.
King, M. et al. A systematic review of mental disorder, suicide, and deliberate self-harm in lesbian, gay and bisexual people. BMC Psychiatry, Vol. 18, August 2008, 8:70.