The Political Divide and How it is Impacting My Mental Health

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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!

Please Stop Scapegoating Those Living with a Mental Illness

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With all the on-line bickering and arguing as of late, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. It’s become so commonplace, that I see something nearly every day that truly rubs me the wrong way. It is the “scapegoating” of those living with a mental illness in social media. And it is not something that is only being done by “one side” or the other of the political divide, it is actually rampant on both sides.

Some examples I’ve recently seen are:

*Referring to those who are “racist” as “mentally ill”.

*Calling either political party “mentally ill” because their beliefs are in opposition to yours.

*Stating that someone is “mentally ill” because the are unwilling to take the vaccine to prevent Covid-19.

*Responding to an article about an individual who committed a violent act as “mentally ill”.

*Referring to those who are members of extremist groups as “mentally ill”.

This list goes on and on. Many of the above examples “scapegoat” those living with a mental illness by generalizing an entire group of diverse individuals by affixing the label, “mentally ill”, in a context that is dehumanizing and demeaning to those who truly suffer. As someone who has lived with a mental illness for nearly 32 years, this obviously is upsetting to me. And, it also increases the stigma surrounding mental health.

For those of us actually living with a mental illness, we realize that our diagnosis, disability, or condition does not define us. When you collectively refer to any group of people as “mentally ill”; You are devaluing this population by stereotyping and generalizing a group of nearly 44 million adults (roughly 18.5% of the US population) who come from all walks of life, socio-economic backgrounds, educational levels, etc.

As someone who lives and struggles with Bipolar 1, PTSD, OCD, and ADHD, I get tired of having “mental illness” being used as the catch-all and “go-to” phrase as the rational for everything wrong with humanity. When humans behave in harmful ways, a mental illness is NOT always to blame.

Hatred and the type of ideologies that lead to violence or discrimination, stems from learned behavior. Fear as well as a lack of education and exposure to others and novel ideas, can also lead individuals to act in irrational ways.

It is crucial to understand that living with an actual psychiatric disorder, causes the individual who is struggling to experience limitations and symptoms that are disruptive to his or her life. This could take form in a number of ways to include difficulty with employment, relationships, and even basic self care. Some struggle more than others and each individual’s experience is unique.

Many people who live with degrees of racism/homophobia/misogyny etc. actually do not experience any limitations in their day to day functioning and they are still able to function with little to no problems. So, acting in a violent way, espousing racist ideas, etc. may not mean you actually would fit into the criteria of having an established psychiatric diagnosis.

On the converse, many of those who live with a mental illness might struggle in a variety of ways, but are caring and empathetic individuals who have never been violent and are competent members of society who contribute both at work and in their respective communities. This includes people from all walks of life: pastors, nurses, teachers, etc. Often, because of the stigma attached to mental illness, individuals do not always disclose their struggle.

Thus, when I see so many people use the term “mentally ill” to describe a violent or racist individual, etc. it is harmful to me and others who are working to debunk the myths surrounding mental health and decrease stigma.

I actually spend a lot of time on-line educating others. Sometimes, I have been pleasantly surprised to receive an apology when I explain to an individual who has just equated racism with mental illness, that their words are every bit as damaging to the mental health community as certain expressions are to POC.

Those of us living with a psychiatric disorder are like anyone else. We want to be seen for who we are, not for our disability. And we want to be seen in a positive light.

I live with a mental illness. I also am educated and hold a MS degree. I have never harmed anyone, nor have I ever been violent or arrested. When you take the word “mentally ill” and equate it with something truly negative, it is harmful to people like myself.

I hope this helps people to understand that changing what words we use actually matters, even when it is something as trivial as a comment on a Facebook or Twitter post. Words are powerful. They matter. Please respect them and use them responsibly.

I hope one day I see a lot less scapegoating and stigmatization of the mentally ill. It does make me more hesitant to openly discuss my psychiatric disability for fear that people will assume “the worst” about me. And this causes some individuals to not seek treatment because they don’t want to be identified as someone with a psychiatric disorder.

I am just like YOU. I am just another person journeying along in life, trying my best to improve, grow, and learn. Next time someone scapegoats an entire population of people, please remember me. There are 44 million more of me in this country and we want to be seen for who we are, not diminished to a label in a demeaning and disrespectful way!

Thanks for reading. I just felt this was something I needed to express, not only for myself, but for the many others who also might feel dismayed and discouraged by being scapegoated. Let’s lift each other up and see the best in all of us!