The Political Divide and How it is Impacting My Mental Health

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

This past year has been truly difficult for me. Election years in America seem nearly intolerable anymore, with hate and division sewn on both sides that have often left me feeling hopeless and “small”. Many times I feel as though people are talking over one another, belittling others, and even engaging in bullying behavior. Admittedly, I have, at times, engaged in these fruitless pursuits. But, many more times than not, I end up deleting my post or comments entirely, especially if it gains traction. It just doesn’t seem to be worth the energy to argue as I often wind up feeling defeated and even downright depressed.

This last year has been particularly hard for me. The rhetoric, tension, and dysfunction displayed on social media, parallels the narcissistic abuse I have been disengaging from in my own life. As many others, my leisure options have been somewhat limited due to the restrictions placed on our city to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Boredom sets in and I become restless, seeking stimulation on-line. The division and animosity felt on both sides leads me to retreating again and again, with a greater commitment each time to not “engage” anymore. But, I would be amiss to not share some of the observations I’ve made and what I’ve learned by disengaging.

Ultimately, and even oddly, this year has mirrored so much of what is occurring in my own personal life. I was diagnosed a few years ago with PTSD and this year has triggered my trauma while at the same time, providing the space and time to address it. The year 2020 has seemingly pushed me to my breaking point and forced me to deal with some of the harder emotions I had tried in the past to “stuff” and ignore. It’s been more challenging to distract myself when I’ve spent more time alone than ever before. As challenging as it has been for me to maintain stability in my mental health, I feel I’ve grown immensely during this time and have actually relied even more so on different and new ways to cope.

Here are some of the ways the political division and the coronavirus pandemic have impacted my mental health and the ways in which I am coping.

  • Becoming more aware of how stress is impacting my physical and emotional health. This year has allowed me to practice the skill of being more mindful and present. As a result of many businesses being shuttered, and having “less on my plate”, I have been able to slow down a bit and take notice of how stress is impacting my body. Being on social media with others during a time of less distraction, has allowed me to understand how unresolved conflict and the outward expression of it, causes an exacerbation of my symptoms of depression and anxiety. I began making the connection between the unhealthy relationships in my life and the impact they were having on my health. This has taught me to disengage more, not just on-line, but also with those in my life who are unhealthy for me.
  • Acknowledging when to disengage and practice self care. This last year has been difficult to witness. I can remember watching the first presidential debate and cringing. I couldn’t bring myself to actually “look” at the TV. The constant interruptions and “talking over one another” put me on edge and I found myself staring at the floor, almost feeling like I was the one being berated and criticized. I had to turn off the TV after a few minutes, because it was actually unsettling, and even triggering, to me in the end. Watching the debates kinda reminded me of the calm before the storm in my own life. The times I allowed too much from others, then later found myself swept up in emotion, raging. The constant on-line bickering also felt like a personal assault to me. I realized how toxic the on-line environment was and became more aware of certain negative patterns in my own life. This lead me to the process of disengaging and spending more time practicing self-care. This has allowed me to more quickly recognize my triggers and disengage earlier.
  • Acknowledging when relationships are truly hopeless, letting go, and redirecting my time and energy to worthwhile pursuits. The political divide, I feel, has mirrored, in ways, my own personal struggled with those in my life who often are not interested in compromise, yet still hold some level of power or influence in the lives of those I love. As a person who lives on disability insurance, I do not hold a lot of power in society, and voices like mine can often easily be muted or “drowned out”. The limited scope of power, both in my personal life and politically, has taught me to set stronger boundaries in order to protect and preserve my energy so that I can make a difference where I realistically can. Setting boundaries with myself and others and engaging in self-care, and not feeling guilty for doing so, has been a lesson I have learned during this time. Certain relationships are hopeless. Much like the futile attempts on-line to change someone’s political opinion, I have learned to just “let go” instead.

Election years are tough anymore. And this past one, coupled with a global pandemic, provided the space, time, and conflict to usher in a few “life lessons”. Even though it has been tough, I am grateful for what I have learned. I spent more time getting to know myself and was able to grow emotionally and spiritually during a time of turmoil. Life can be difficult and even painful, at times. With 2020 behind me, I feel like I have a few more tools in my toolbox as far as knowing how to disengage, set better boundaries for myself, and invest in endeavors that provide personal growth and contentment.

What lessons did 2020 teach you? Did you find yourself able to make some changes in your life that helped you, big or small? I definitely feel the the past year was a turning point. I’ve turned more towards myself and this has helped me to manage and cope with the symptoms of my PTSD. Here’s to hoping this year brings even more light and and self-love to everyone’s journey of healing!

The Broken Bootstraps of America: The Increasing Income Inequalities that are Breaking Us

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I have a story to tell, it’s a story that often goes untold because of the shame that surrounds it. An unpopular story that needs a voice, but rarely receives a listen. It’s a story that goes against what we’ve been taught, what we’ve ingested, and what’s been woven into our very identity as Americans. I’m sharing this story because I feel that we’ve been told a lie. A damning one, at that. In fact, it’s the greatest American lie of our times. And, I fear, it is breaking us.

The story has materialized over decades, where competition has been valued over collectivism; And where wealth, has been valued over an investment in humanity for the greater good. Those who have shaped our culture and who remain powerful, have spent an inordinate amount of time and investment amassing wealth in these capitalist, “United” States of America. They have done so under the guise of the “American Dream”, often by exploiting our societal and cultural norms of being fiercely independent and materialistic, leading us into isolation, and ultimately, to embittered division, and even, hatred.

The lie that was fed to us is called “The American Dream”. It is this very dream of “independence and amassing material wealth” that has been used to justify the ever increasing economic disparities in our country and the negligence of our most vulnerable citizens. It is safe to say that greed and lust for power is a human flaw that has lead to many systemic injustices, as well as a system of unwritten societal structures that have served to diminish one’s capacity to gain power, thus acquiring a piece of the “American Dream”.

Many people have been denied the acquisition of this “dream”. This lie, in fact, of the “American Dream” has been propagated to us over decades to instill fear and has been used by some to justify various systemic injustices. Many people have been told they haven’t tried hard enough, are lazy, and it is essentially their fault for never reaching stability or security in this country of great economic wealth. But, as the gap between the wealthy and the poor widens, the foundation begins to erode further, and one can see the cracks built upon the lie that ALL Americans have had equal access to the “dream”. It simply isn’t true.

Sadly, we’ve been living a lie and it is one that was spoon-fed to all of us in our educational settings and through our media, which drives our cultural norms and values. Most of our institutions and organizations are heavily influenced, and some even outright owned, by corporate entities. When political campaigns rely heavily on outside funding sources, there is little doubt that those in positions of power have a hold on the societal infrastructure that maintains their wealth. We’ve been manipulated into believing that monetary gain and financial security is a measure of an individual’s worth. That somehow if a person is wealthy, he/she must be intelligent, at least, and that securing wealth has become somewhat of the ultimate, American Dream.

But, hasn’t it become the American Nightmare?       

When millions are out of work and one wealthy individual spends millions on a home during a global pandemic, and is still revered by so many, haven’t we lost our way?

Those who are wealthy rely on those who are not to sustain them. Wealth does not “trickle down”. Instead, we have large corporations with owners who have the ability to spend millions on a single home, while their employees are unable to afford healthcare treatment and have to work two jobs to afford an apartment. While the owner spends lavishly, their employees are unable to save for a modest home in order to secure the tiniest slice of the American Dream that grants financial stability.

The extreme wealthy are so because they exploit labor. They have more, because the give so little. I am not referring to our small business owners. I am referring to the top 1% that are monopolizing resources, exploiting labor, and taking more than their fair share and they are doing so under the pretense that they somehow “worked harder” than others or are “smarter” in some way. The reality is no matter how they got into their position, once there, the “name of the game” is exploitation and maintaining the status quo. These individuals take more than they need and in order to do so, they must give so little. No one needs to live in grotesque excess. And yet, this is what our culture seems to value. This is actually the American Nightmare, and it’s maintenance of it through securing political “real estate” and essentially owning the media outlets that promote this fallacy, which I feel is breaking us in the end.

Some people in America have been blatantly, and more obviously, denied the American Dream through systemic racism, ableism, sexism, etc. This side of America is fighting not only for justice, but for equal access of which they have never truly had. Those who are living in rural areas are seeing this fight as a threat to their own struggles of seeing the cost of living, over time, rise while their wages stay the same. They feel invisible, that their hard work is going unrecognized, and that the programs and ideologies that will grant more access and equality to marginalized populations, will be a threat to their sustainability. These are people connected to the American soil, somewhat divorced from the urban areas and the problems that plague cities. The lines have been drawn and those in power are using the American public as pawns, easily used and discarded for personal power, wealth, and gain. Those in power are not connected to those who have so little of it. America is slowly crumbling and without serious mending, it will fall. Like any great empire, there comes a time when power is lost. Without recognition of these issues and what is at stake, we will continue to unravel and things will get worse.

I’ve felt called to write on this subject because I feel as an American our safety is increasingly at risk. I am connected to people from all walks of life: young and old, black, brown, or white, gay, trans, straight, Christian, Muslim or atheist, rural or urban dweller, etc. I feel we ultimately are products of our upbringing and the cultural frame in which we were raised. There has been a serious lack of education and awareness to certain issues, and again, much of this has been intentional. The influence from those in power who wish to maintain it, saturate our media and even often overshadow every aspect of our daily lives. It is inescapable. It truly takes one to intentionally question the information we receive and to purposely set out to seek understanding from others living here, and even abroad, to break the “spell” that we’ve all been subjected to both in media and in our institutions.

I see my country crumbling before me. I am ashamed to admit that there is so much I do not know. I am embarrassed to say that I live in one of the wealthiest countries, but I haven’t truly learned about the struggle of others abroad because I could “afford” not to do so. Like so many, I was living in a bubble, concerned with my own experiences. This past year has shaken me, awakening me to acknowledge the crumbling foundation and the dissolve of the “American Dream” that I now believe to be a “lie”. I see those struggling the most, sometimes barely hanging on, being blamed and gaslighted, by those who are comfortable in their modest wealth and who appear to be fine with the “status quo”.

We are a country on the “edge”. And we’ve been fed an atrocious lie. In our ethnocentrism and cloak of American “values”, we’ve boasted of being the ‘best”, when in reality we are ascribing to a sentiment that isn’t always practiced. We can do better. I can do better. Our values need to truly be reflected in all aspects of our American way of life. Otherwise, it is just “lip service”.

I will keep reading. I will keep learning. And I will keep my heart open and my voice will not waver. I grew up, fortunately, with parents who truly believed in the American core values of honoring diversity and living in a world where all were valued. I still believe in that America. I just feel that living here for so many years, without having to directly face certain harsh realities, I became numb in ways to the struggles that so many face, here and abroad. We cannot afford, as a nation, to remain numb or complacent. We are all interdependent and the world needs us to “wake up”. I think many of us are. I hope so anyway.

If we stay asleep and continue to crumble, not addressing the core root of our problems: greed and the lust for wealth and power, and the admiration of it, we will continue to erode and so many living in our country will not attain any measure of the American Dream. We are only as “rich” as our poorest citizen. Our communities are only safe and healthy when we invest in all of our citizens. When we stop gaslighting those who struggle here, and instead, provide them with equal access, we are strengthened. The American Dream, was called a “dream” for a reason. It was not real and never has been. But, we could get a lot closer to this dream by acknowledging the lie and listening to those hurt by the gaslighting, shift blaming, and stonewalling that has trickled down from the wealthy, spilling out of our mouths, denying others access to a part of our wealth.

We need to start listening to each other. Forget the memes, the media, and those seeking to divide us. We are stronger together. Let’s not play into their hands, sewing more division. Listen more. Love more. And hopefully, we will all “have more” as a result.

A Sibling’s Open Letter to the Deadly Disease of Addiction

Storyblocks.com

The last few years have been particularly difficult for me. I’ve had to disengage from my family due to their struggle with severe and persistent addiction. My sister and all of her adult children have struggled for more than a decade with substance abuse issues, causing severely strained relationships, disability, and even the recent loss of custody of my two great nephews. 

I wrote the letter below to help me process the pain of essentially losing my family to the very serious and deadly disease of addiction. Two of my family members are now disabled with severe and persistent mental illness due to their use of methamphetamines. None of my nieces and nephews are employed, nor did any of them receive their high school diplomas. My mother and I are no longer in communication because her denial and enabling over the years has fractured our relationship. I’ve had to disengage and take a break so that I can heal and begin to recover from the loss. 

Addiction truly is a family disease and it affects everyone in the family. I have found Nar-Anon to be a valuable resource for support and information for family members struggling to cope and heal with the presence of addiction in the family. Nar-Anon, adapted from Narcotics Anonymous, is a worldwide group whose members are family and friends who are concerned about a loved one’s struggle with substance abuse. Here is their website: https://www.nar-anon.org.   

Here is my letter to this deadly disease.

Dear Addiction

I hate you. 

I hate what you have done to those I love. You’ve taken their lives and ruthlessly thrown them into the fire, watching them burn, with indifference. You truly are the living embodiment of hell on earth.

Addiction, I hate you.

I loathe the day you waltzed in promising my sister that you would make things so much better for her. Rolling out the red carpet, giving her the royal treatment, and romancing her so she would get hooked. All the lies you fed her, knowing that when it was all said and done, another soul would be stolen and another victim, left, scrambling, sweating, sick on the floor, begging for more. All the times you gave her and others the false impression that they could easily let go of you, when and if they desired, knowing that your physical dependence would imprison & enslave them.

Addiction, I hate you.  

I hate the power you hold over those I love, and what they gave up when you finally secured a place in their soul. They gave up their identity and called themselves “addicts”, enslaving themselves to a lifetime of using and shame. You don’t deserve those victimized by you. You’re not only taking lives, you’re robbing millions of their potential and peace. Their waking hours are spent fixated on you, and how to remain in your “good graces”.  Some will steal, lie, and destroy relationships to maintain your presence in their lives.

Addiction, I hate you.  

I hate what you do to families, ripping them apart. I hate that your destruction causes bewilderment and confusion, leaving people uncertain whether to confront or enable. Often, children, affected by your disease, will defend you and may even grow up somewhat complacent and numb to the chaos you have created. You sit back waiting, chomping at the bits to claim another victim. Children, raised in an environment where you reign, are particularly vulnerable. 

Addiction, I hate you.

You tell your victim lies, entrapping them in shame and self-loathing, many times causing them to discard their loved ones who confront their drug use. You mock those who are to trying to keep your victims safe. Those screaming in the distance are muted by the noise you cause, that continually deafens and disorients your victim. 

Addiction, I hate you.  

I hate you for destroying my family bonds. As the flames grew higher, and the devastation reached epic proportions, some of us screamed louder, while others have enabled more and shrunk back in denial. I’ve screamed so much that my voice has become hoarse, hitting a brick wall, reverberating around this dark chamber that has become all too familiar. I’ve been sent to the dungeon, cold and alone, by the loved ones who you have claimed as your victims. Nothing penetrates the walls you’ve built, keeping the victim in a vicious cycle, enslaving them, encouraging them to justify their actions that serve you, and you alone. You’ll have your victim admit that they are powerless, but your allure will entice them to forever stand close to the fire. The fire is never entirely extinguished.  I have become disillusioned and have danced around the flames, sometimes raging, and other times desperately trying to reach you. And you discard me once again.  

Addiction, I hate you. 

Through the years of my experience knowing you, I have doubted my own reality. I have looked through the eyes of the victim and no longer know if it is you or my sister that I am staring at and this devastates me. Her adult kids have now all been touched by your fire and are struggling as we speak.

Addiction, I hate you.  

If one ever tries to cut ties with you, you hold on like a bitch with nails, clinging, taking the life out of them. You torture them with beatings and lashings, as they hurl you from their body, clinging to the toilet, and sinking on the floor, sweating. “I’ll teach you never to leave me!” You snarl and spit in their face, sometimes hijacking their minds with hallucinations and delusional thinking.  

No, it’s hell to leave you.  

You do not want to relinquish your control.

Addiction, I hate you.  

And when the dust settles, there is stillness. And then, there is the dealing with the aftermath while the cravings for you are forever present, occupying a permanent space in the victim’s mind.    

Addiction, I hate you.  

And, if all of this is not enough, your victims wear the label of “addict”, having to rebuild, often ashamed and remorseful. There are some who have been sitting at your table for so long they have lost themselves. Your presence can cause changes to the brain that may lower empathy and create cognitive issues. I am perpetually oscillating between the extremes of trying to help and becoming angry and aggressively confronting . I am seen as harsh and cruel, when really I am sad and scared. I have become an indirect victim, my moods and perceptions often altered by this deadly, intoxicating dance. 

Addiction, I hate you.  

Because of you, I am letting go of my family. Not just my sister, and her family, but my mother as well. It’s getting too hard to keep trying, only to be devalued and discarded. The pain has become too intolerable for my mother. She compensates with enabling and denial which only serves to further isolate me, while those I love become increasingly more sick. I sometimes lose my dignity in anger and rage, saying things I know will only cause me more shame and sadness. I begin to wonder and fear if some victims ever reach full recovery from you. 

And, then, I hate on you some more. 

Addiction, I hate you. 

Your reign in my life is over. I have truly tried to save my sister and her kids from your very ugly, abusive ways, but it is up to them to ride this dangerous storm out and do what is necessary to seek help and change. I will remain hopeful that they one day they have the strength and perseverance to eradicate you from every inch of their lives. You have absolutely no place in mine. I will be more healthier in the end, letting go, healing, and remaining available, when and if any are ready to heal.

Goodbye, addiction.  

I’ve learned that those who leave you, must be the one to cut ties. No one can do it for them. I hope to one day stand on the other side of you, with my family, free from the pain and suffering you’ve created.

Addiction, I hate you.
Our story is complete.