Talking about politics is riskier than telling stories of dating in New York City, but a girl has to do what a girl has to do. I’ve always been interested in politics, and when meeting new people who ask about “my story,” I often confess that after graduate school, my intention was to go back to Oklahoma and run for political office. Although I revered (and worked for) many of the Democratic stalwarts in the Sooner State, I came to realize that at a certain point, it was simply an untenable idea. My politics were moving to the left, while the state was proudly, I might add, becoming one of the reddest in the country. (In one recent analysis, Oklahoma was second only to Wyoming in being the “reddest” state in the country, with Republicans enjoying a 20 point advantage over Democrats, on average.) There’s more to this story, but it is for another day.
I spent years working in policy-related positions and truly care about politics. I think it does matter who is in office (at all levels of government) and, as a liberal, I believe we can do more in America to embrace social and environmental justice and foster shared prosperity. I have many, many friends “back home,” and some even here in New York, who feel differently about how these overarching goals can be achieved. (Read: Even some of my best friends and companions are Republican.)
But politics has, it seems, become a blood sport in these United States. Besides the political implications of our current state of affairs, this level of discord is creating real difficulty for many individuals. In the ever-popular dyad of common mental health problems, depression and anxiety, the current state of affairs is making a lot of us sick…literally.
How we process political developments and our prospects for the future, under one party or another has, I think, much to do with our larger orientation about our lives. I know many who, disappointed by the last election and general political rancor, have adopted the “This, too, shall pass” philosophy. Others have been energized or re-energized to become more directly involved in politics, either working for campaigns or elected officials or even running for office themselves. And for some share of the people I know, they have been overwhelmed with anxiety and a sense of helplessness about what the future holds—not just for the next election but for the remainder of their lives and beyond. These are the doomsayers.
I’ve told this story to a variety of people, over the years, but this is the first time I bring it to a larger audience. It is sensational, but illustrative, I think of how political fright can become part of a deadly cocktail in life. After my long relationship with my ex- (a mental health professional, ironically), I chose to share living space with others, to economize in a sky-high rental market in the City. Through a friend of a friend, I moved in with “George,” a hair/make-up/fashion stylist of some note. I lived in his very large and recently renovated apartment in the Hamilton Heights, a section of northern Manhattan. I moved in around September 1, 2016 and soon realized that our work and life schedules were syncopated; in short, we didn’t spend a lot of time together, as is often the case with roomies in the Big Apple. While we got on nicely, I didn’t get to know him terribly well. We were both shocked with the election outcome. I was rattled, but George became despondent. As a gay, Puerto Rican man, he felt this political situation was going to impact —directly and negatively—his life. I’m definitely one of those people who believes there are lots of reasons why “bad things” happen—but there is no doubt in my mind that dread of the future (in part due to the rise of the Trump Republicans) was a reason that George ultimately died by suicide. After I discovered his body in our apartment and sought to process this horrific event, I came to understand that George had sustained great losses in life, love, and career fortunes. He had experienced death by suicide in his life, too. The alchemy of economic fragility, substance use issues, loneliness and, yes, the loss of an advocate for gays and minorities in the White House, created an unmanageable situation, for him. Less than three months after I met him, he was dead.
Do I have guilt that I could have done something to prevent his death? You bet. A lot of people feel this way, including the many glamorous folk he’d met during six heady seasons he’d spent as a stylist on Project Runway, the fashion-based reality show. Having just come off my own month-long bender of impeachment mania, I know that many, if not most, of us need to do more to ease the insanity of the world we are living in.
I know what some of you must be thinking—this is a concocted situation made up by east coast liberal snowflakes, but the struggle is real, people. In surveys by the widely respected American Psychological Association (APA), over 60 percent of respondents say they are “stressed” by the current political climate and nearly 70 percent are worried about the future of our nation. Anecdotally, I know my liberal friends have coped in a variety of ways, to our common sense that Thomas Hobbes might be right—that life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” But here are the recommendations on coping from our good friends at the APA:
- Stay informed, know but your limits. Particularly in an era of smart phones and social media, it feels like there is a constant urge to take in more information. Preoccupation with national events means maybe you should take a digital break. In 12 steps terms, this is #1…admitting you have a problem.
- Find commonalities with others. I’m editorializing a little here, but I do think that there has been a loosening of our shared values of decency and appropriate behavior towards “others.” APA suggests finding common things with those you disagree with—what are the ties that connect, rather than divide us. Easier said than done, I think.
- Find meaningful ways to get involved in your community. I think this is good advice no matter what. Surveys from many disciplines show that social connections (IRL not online!) are fading away. Connecting with others in political, religious, social, or cultural settings may lessen feelings of being alone. As I’ve heard it said, “We heal in community.”
- Seek Solace & Take Care of Yourself. You know all those things “they” recommend as new year’s resolutions (meditate, get good sleep, increase exercise, and eat right)? Apparently, these suggestions work for political alienation, too.
P.S. In case you are wondering about the photograph above, I snapped it very shortly after George passed. This was on the eve of Thanksgiving where, headed to the Fed Ex/Kinkos store in the breezeway of the Fox NewsCorp Building (Really!), I saw Al Franken with his wife and children. At that time, Franken was still a seated U.S. Senator and in no mood to chat with the likes of me. I blocked his passage, in a move worthy of my Sooner Football heritage, and we talked about how hard things were. He offered consolation, when hearing of poor George’s passing, in part, because of the political tornado that was being unleashed. Little did we know…