In light of the devastating US election results last week, I want to reach out and ask - how are you holding up?
I am slowly piecing myself back together, but I have had a very hard time in the wake of an outcome that I had very much feared but had allowed myself in the last few days leading to the election to hope would not come to pass. I know many of you have been struggling too.
Some of my fellow NYC friends commented last week that the city felt akin to how it felt in the aftermath of 9/11. I have been at a similar level of grief and trauma, and as someone who was in the city on 9/11 and lost a close friend that day, I don't take that comparison lightly.
I am hurting. I am grieving. And I am wrapping my mind around the fact that someone I find very traumatizing is rising to the highest level of office and leadership in this country and, arguably, the world.
I feel attacked. I feel it throughout my entire body.
If you feel that way too, and particularly if you are in any of the groups that have been and will continue to be targeted, know this:
You are not alone. I am with you.
And many many many many others are too.
I took most of the last week off to process and grieve, and to basically scrape myself off the metaphorical bathroom floor. Yesterday was the first day that I was “back to work” and feeling able to start taking some actions.
Truth be told, I am feeling a lot better than I was, and it's easy to feel guilty about that, the same way one feels guilty about feeling any kind of positive feelings in the wake of a loved one's death. It's also easy to feel guilty because I am aware of the immense privilege that I have had basically my entire life.
If you are not ready to start feeling better, that is ok.
However you feel is ok.
But I am giving myself permission to come out of the darkness, and I'm giving you permission to as well.
For me, feeling better means feeling better able to take action. It doesn't mean that I am feeling complacent or that everything is ok, or that I am not still grieving as well. I don't have to choose between feeling ok and feeling not ok - they can go hand in hand.
Here are some of the things that are helping me:
Your experience will vary but maybe some of these things will help you too. Take what you like and leave the rest.
First and foremost, I am taking care of myself. I know this is a hard thing for women in particular to prioritize, especially when you have young kids, but I have learned the hard way that if I don’t do this, I cannot do my best work for others.
What this means for me right now is that I am trying to eat properly, drink lots of water, get some sleep, be gentle with myself, clear my schedule a little to allow for some space, readjust expectations of myself, reach out to supportive friends, hug people, and not go down too much of a rabbit hole on social media.
Admittedly, my rather tenuous exercise schedule went out the window, but I did go swimming Sunday morning and plan on getting back on track this week as a way of taking care of myself.
I have also chosen right now to protect myself by staying out of harm’s way. This means that I do not have to expose myself to situations where I feel attacked (regardless of whether there is active intent to attack me or not). I can respect someone’s right to their opinions without subjecting myself to those opinions.
I do not have to listen to, watch, or spend time with someone I do not feel safe with, regardless of the office that they hold, and nor do you.
Also, I cannot say enough about stepping back from social media and dialing back from obsessively reading every post and article that I can. I've found that a lot of what is out there, even positions I agree with, only heighten anxiety, fear and depression that really does not require heightening. Even well meaning friends can say things that set me off.
Social media cries out for instant reaction when often it is better to pause and take a breath. Some simple tools and strategies can really help. I love using GetPocket to collect links to articles I want to read later so I don't have to read them right away. I've found it to be a great tool this past week for dialing back - I can save articles and decide later if it will help or hurt my mental well being to read them. This doesn't mean staying in a bubble. It just means being cautious and intentional.
I came home on Thursday to find that Liam, my second grader, had learned about gratitude at school. He was skipping around the house pointing out all the things he was grateful for, gave me a huge hug and said I was the best mom, and thanked me for everything I do. He said that when you're grateful, you feel your life getting better, and that he was feeling his life getting better.
And I felt my life get just a tiny bit better too.
I don't know if his teachers have any idea how much I needed that but I made sure to thank them. I'm not saying "let's be positive!" and "look on the bright side!" but gratitude is a great tool for resilience. You don't have to find gratitude for anything to do with the current political situation but you can find gratitude for some of the other things in your life. And it's an easy and powerful thing for our kids to learn.
Note: It's also important to validate people's feelings so if they're expressing fear or grief or any other negative feelings, now is not be the time to tell them to be positive or to find a silver lining or to be grateful. This is true in any situation, including with our kids, but especially important now.
My favorite parenting book of all time, “How to talk so kids will listen, and listen so kids will talk” has really great examples on validating feelings, and it works for adults too.
3. Saying how I feel
I have generally not had a lot of trouble feeling my feelings, or expressing them, but I've been learning that in situations where there is a lot of conflict or fear, I often want to go into battle and win arguments by convincing the other party that I am right. I'm seeing a lot of that right now and it's easy to want to jump into the fray.
Instead I have learned that it is healthier and more powerful to simply state how I feel, not to try and get the other person to change what they believe, but more as an FYI. And then to let go of the outcome. Certainly it takes a lot less energy and is a lot less frustrating.
It sounds simple but it isn’t. In fact, to me it can feel very counter-intuitive. But I’ve found it helpful to remind myself that how I feel is not up for debate. And by that token, nor is how someone else feels.
This doesn't mean that I won't speak up for what I believe in. But I know that when I focus on what I can control (myself) and let go of what I can't (others), it actually means it is easier for me to speak up for what I believe in and to be heard.
4. Action rather than blame
I had a huge aha moment last week when I realized that I was allowing the self-righteousness of others to trigger my own self-righteousness and lead me into a heavy focus on blaming others… which lead to me feeling like a victim.
Letting go of blame does not mean that I am saying that there is no blame. Let’s say someone else is 95% to blame and I am 5% to blame. Focusing on the 95% that they are to blame only hurts me - because I am focusing on something I cannot control. If I focus on the 5% that is my part, it is empowering because that is something I can actually do something about.
Once again, this does NOT mean that I won’t speak up or hold people accountable.
It just means that I will do it from a place of action, strength, communication and boundary setting rather than blame
Even if there is plenty of blame to cast, I am going to do my best to avoid it because doing so only hurts me.
A really good visual for this is to imagine a road with two sides of the street. I am only responsible for my side of the street. The other side of the street could be really really dirty, it could be a complete shambles, or it could be really clean, it doesn’t matter. My responsibility is to keep my side of the street clean.
This is not easy, believe me. Sometimes I really want to go over to the other side of the street and clean it! But that never works.
Instead, I’ve been trying to take a long hard look at my side - my own privilege and bias, conscious or unconscious. Where do I tend to stereotype or make assumptions? Where have I acted selfishly? Where have I not spoken up or taken action?
I do this not to beat myself up, but to become more aware, and also to get out of self-righteousness, blame and victimhood. This also allows me to start moving into the realm of action.
Over the weekend, I was able to start out by making a list of 10 really small actions I could take to help myself feel better. Keeping them small (achievable in an hour or less) has been really important just to get me moving again.
Some of them have been frivolous, such as ordering name labels and winter PJs for the kids. Others have had more meaning, such as setting up a monthly donation to the ACLU, signing up for a women’s self-defense class, and volunteering to work with economically disadvantaged communities right here in Brooklyn.
Taking these small actions really has made a big difference in helping me pick myself up and move forward.
5. Faith not fear
This last one is hardest for me to talk about. My faith is spiritual rather than religious and pretty personal. But I do believe that things happen for a reason, and that there is a bigger plan unfolding that I just can’t see right now.
If nothing else, it helps to remind myself that the world is way bigger than I am, and I can't control it. I can choose faith, or I can choose fear. I don’t really have a logical reason for choosing faith, and I won’t say I do not ever feel fear, I feel a lot of fear, but I try to work through the fear and ground myself in the understanding that there are greater forces at play here.
Resilience and the growth mindset
There is so much more to say here, but for now I want to close with a book that was recently recommended to me: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. It just so happens that I’ve been listening to the audio version of this book for the past couple of weeks and it has been the perfect book to be reading at this time. It’s because of Dweck that we read so much in parenting literature about praising for effort rather than outcome, talent or intelligence, but the book is worth reading to understand how it’s not as simple as that, and to get some inspiration on how to use a growth mindset to get through the adversity.