Self-Care Will Be More Important Than Ever In The Age Of Trump

Since November 8, 2016, I’ve thought a lot about what it means to be an engaged, pragmatic progressive citizen, and have tried to be one in word and in deed. Because I have few original ideas with regard to changing the world, I tend to follow the lead of smarter, more energetic individuals.

Thus, I registered for volunteer training at my local LGBTQ Center. I donated what I could to the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center. I bought a pair of marching shoes (really they’re sneakers and I made sure they’re cute as hell, because you never know when your future husband or wife is marching beside you, okay?). I’ve read, a lot — about protest, about training, about volunteering, about resistance, about running for office, about registering voters, about keeping our focus on 2018 to flip the Senate and the House.

But what I haven’t read about a lot is self-care during these difficult days. There is a pain shared by so many Americans, a gaping maw of mournful disappointment, and a deep well of fear: 65,844,954 of us voted for her (that’s 2,865,075 more than voted for the other one). Our daft Electoral College system — a scam if ever there were one — prevents the fair election of a president by a direct popular vote. And so we ended up here.

The Bad Thing has happened, and it's not going to end anytime soon. We know that, because we are empathetic and intuitive and smart; because we’ve got eyes in our head and a brain right behind them, humming along and synthesizing information that’s both easy to understand and frightening to comprehend. Yes, we will fight. Sometimes we will win. Sometimes we will lose.

But along the way, how do we take care of ourselves? How do we ensure that weariness does not set in; that the exhaustion of the constant fight does not drag us under; that we do not throw up our hands in despair and give up on everyone else, and finally on ourselves?

I have a few ideas. They are simple. You have undoubtedly heard most or all of them before. But they are also important. And I want you to please remember them, as we dive into this thing — together.

You Do Not Have To Engage With Every Single Fight
You are not obligated to call out every single thing that pisses you off or that hurts your heart. You are not on duty 24/7 as the lone warrior for justice. There are so many of us out here doing the work alongside you. You do not have to respond to every shitty comment from every shitty leader and every shitty hate-voter who refuses to engage in critical thinking and real self-education. And this leads me to my next point…

Limit Your Social Media Time
Last year, I realized I was wasting energy, bogged down in social media chatter instead of doing some of the vital work I needed to do to be a healthy person, a good friend, and an effective activist in my community. Like many other freelancers who primarily work from home, I had grown accustomed to using social media as my virtual water cooler — a place where I could communicate with other folks.

The strategy backfired in 2016. I spent more time pissed off and exhausted than delighted and energized. Now I schedule time to use social media to share things I think are beautiful, intelligent, hopeful — and, yes, at times, things that upset and disturb me. I make jokes. I goof around. Sometimes I get serious. I engage here and there in political conversation.

Sleep is when our brains employ the night shift workers who replenish the chemicals we need to keep going in the daytime. You can’t fight if you can’t stay awake.

Sara Benincasa
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But I’ve learned I’m not really going to change anyone’s mind that way: It takes face-to-face interaction to shift perception, and if that’s not possible, then it takes thoughtful, honest and authentic writing. Not a tweet, but an essay or a book or some other form of testimonial. And I don’t have time to do that if I’m stuck in a Twitter argument with yet another asshole who thinks a magical, time-traveling useful idiot is going to bring back his granddaddy’s job that a robot has been doing for 15 years — and who, in addition wants to let me know the lazy “Blacks” need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. That guy is a waste of my time, and yours. He is no longer invited to my virtual lanai. I will mute him or I will block him, because he adds nothing. If he’s got people of his own, they can care for him. I’m not his people; he sure as hell ain’t mine.

Sleep
Seriously. Sleep. Get some rest. These are tough days and tougher nights when a person is plagued by stress-induced insomnia. Sleep is when our brains employ the night shift workers who replenish the chemicals we need to keep going in the daytime. You can’t fight if you can’t stay awake.

Drink chamomile tea; learn some breathing exercises; listen to relaxation tapes you previously thought were too goofy for words. (They are, but they might also help you.) Get a sleep mask; put in earplugs; practice positive visualization. Do something super New Age-y or as old-fashioned as drinking warm milk. Don’t drink yourself to sleep or hit the pills to numb the pain, please. And if you find yourself doing that, please talk to a therapist, a doctor, or a pastoral counselor you trust and who can help you find healthier ways to deal with what’s keeping you up at night. This is not a moral judgment: I, too, have inadvertently hurt myself in an effort to help myself. But we need to stick around. And to do that, we need our health.

Exercise
We have marches to go on, my friend! Whether we walk, roll, or ride, we’ve got to move. Let’s get in the practice of doing that when we’re not hoisting signs, okay? Remember that you are not just your thoughts and opinions: You have a body. Whatever you feel your limits are, there is probably something small you can do, even if you need some help to do it. So, within your ability, and with a doctor’s approval, get some physical exercise. Whether you know it or not, you are holding some of this national stress and pain, and you are holding it in your body. The list of stress-induced ailments is nearly endless, and the list of exercise-induced benefits is similarly amazing. I don’t care what you do so long as it’s safe and you have at least a tiny bit of fun doing it. Get out of your mind for a few moments a day and just move.

Find Some Gratitude
Your life may feel awful. It may feel marvelous. It may be something deeply human that lives in between those two extremes. If you are suffering, I do not ask you to start throwing around pie in the sky platitudes. I do not presume to know the depth of your agony.

You are not on duty 24/7 as the lone warrior for justice. There are so many of us out here doing the work alongside you.

Sara Benincasa
But when I ask you to find some gratitude, I ask you to look for at least one tiny thing each day that isn’t terrible. Maybe it’s as simple as an extra ten minutes of sleep, or the warmth of sunlight on your face for a few minutes a day, or the smell of woodsmoke from somebody’s fireplace when you turn down that one street. Maybe it’s your kid. Maybe it’s somebody else’s kid. Maybe it’s your dog. Maybe it’s the fact that you are breathing and you remain a very ordinary and very peculiar miracle, even when you feel like you don’t matter. You do matter.

If you have faith in nothing else, have faith that each day there will be at least one tiny reason to feel gratitude, even just for a moment. You don’t have to write it down, although you might consider it. You don’t have to record it in your memory, although that could be nice. But I want you to stick around and to keep going and gratitude is fuel for that endeavor.

Love Somebody
I know you love your country. I hope you love somebody, too. I don’t specifically mean a lover, spouse, or other romantic pal. I don’t specifically mean a friend. I don’t specifically mean a sibling or a child or a parent. I mean love somebody from any one of those categories or make up a new category.

Adopt a pet and love it, truly and kindly. Get a houseplant and make its boring ass houseplant life the greatest life any houseplant has ever lived. Look after someone or something. Be gentle and kind and good with them. If you can’t find anybody on earth to love, love your god. Better yet — love somebody else’s god. Love something beyond this idea we call America, beyond your own political ideals. And of course, it goes without saying — but I’m going to say it anyway — that you must first love yourself.

You are good. I believe in you. We can do this together. We the people are a team engaged in a street fight fueled by love. I see you. I stand with you. I am proud of you. Take good care.

Sara Benincasa is an author, comedian and screenwriter currently adapting DC Trip as a film. She also publishes The Stories, a zine on Medium.
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