How Do I Cope After the Election?

The fallout from this election is causing personal emotions similar to those I felt when the family rallied to support a sexual predator and to turn me out. Any advice?

– Triggered

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I have neighbors in my very rural, agricultural little neck of the woods, who work on farms and who are Hispanic. I’m not totally sure where they’re from. I’ve heard Guatemala, but not from any reliable source, and it’s not that relevant anyway.I’ve met one of the families. Mom doesn’t speak any English, but Dad does. They have a daughter my son’s age and a newborn son.

I have no idea what their status is, or what the status is of the other family on my street. I am worried that they may be undocumented. But I also don’t want to make any obnoxious assumptions. So I’m trying to figure out the best thing to do for/say to them. I want to see if they’re ok and let them know they have my support. But since there’s going to be a huge language barrier if I ever actually get the guts to talk to them, my chances of saying the exact wrong thing are multiplied. We live in a very Trumpy area. I just want them to know they have my family’s support.

So I guess my question is, what can I say that won’t make offensive assumptions (or, more accurately I suppose, belie my offensive suspicions) that will show them I am an ally?

– Wants to help

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How do I explain these election results to my kids? I feel like the schoolyard bully has just been made principal.

– Worried Mom

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How do I fix the world?

– Wondering

Dear Fellow Citizens,

For the majority of us who are not white supremacists eager to keep this country safe for the white man but absolutely no one else, this election has brought up a lot of old trauma.

Our country is rallying around a sexual predator, ‘Triggered.’ Of course this is going to remind you of that dynamic. And we DID elect (or, the electoral college system, engineered to protect slavery, is going to elect) a schoolyard bully to rule over us all.

His appointment of a white supremacist as his chief strategist as well as the rest of his horrifying cabinet of bullies, haters, hypocrites, fascists and liars quite rightly fills all of us with fear, as do many of his stated goals: which quite correctly put your neighbors in danger from him, ‘Wants to help,’ regardless of their status as documented or undocumented.

I’m sorry to state all of this so baldly, but I want to first tell you all that your worries and your trauma, your anxieties and your fears, are extremely well-founded. Let’s not all add the sneaking suspicion that your right-wing coworker is right when he says we’re all paranoid about what is likely to come.

We are right. A bully has won, and will continue to bully us. What we are facing is extremely distressing. For many of us it’s also completely shocking that nearly half of the voting populace didn’t find abject misogyny, repellent racism, horrifying xenophobia, and a complete disregard for the constitution a dealbreaker in voting for this man.

It is easy to feel that we are surrounded by bullies and monsters.

But we are not.

And the way we fix the world, ‘Wondering,’ and the way we help, ‘Wants to help,’ and the way we explain this inexplicable thing to our kids, ‘Worried Mom,’ and the way we handle the trauma, ‘Triggered,’ is all the same: honor yourself for who you are and what you need, and reach out.

Triggered, take some time to think about and discuss these parallels with a competent therapist (my therapist has been talking All Trump All The Time, she says), or find a support group for survivors of sexual assault to share stories and solidarity. After you have taken care of your own re-traumatization, perhaps you can move on to other things. Anyone else reading this, this goes for you, too: take the time you need to do what you need to do before you do anything else. Drink a little too much, or zonk out in front of the TV, or curl up into a ball under the covers and call in sick, or cry, or hug someone you love, or pet a dog, or have some hot tea. Spend some time taking care of yourself and do not feel bad about doing so. Do it. It matters. As Audre Lorde says: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” She spoke for herself as a black woman, but this applies to the rest of us Trump would have die or go away or simply be subjugated: Queers. Immigrants. Any People of Color. Women of all races. Trans people. Muslims. Jews. Care for yourself. Stick it to the man and take a long shower and take a deep breath and take some time and hug your kids.

At some point, though, it’s an act of will to get up and stretch and take a deep breath and ask your neighbor or coworker if they are doing okay. To do the dishes and go for a walk and make a donation to Planned Parenthood or the Anti-Defamation League or the Arab American Institute or your local Black Lives Matter branch or the ACLU or the Southern Poverty Law Center, Standing Rock Legal Defense Fund, or the Trans Lifeline.

If you have money, that is one way to help fix the world, ‘Wondering.’ If you have neighbors you know might feel targeted by others in your community, ‘Wanting to Help,’ reach out. Bring them some cookies and a smile. Whether they are documented or not means nothing to Trump and his supporters — tell them you are glad they are your neighbors and that you are always happy to see them.

But it’s always the same: reach out. Smile at someone who looks unhappy or alone on the bus. Step in when you see someone bullying someone else, no matter what the reason. Find people like you in support groups and political causes and advocacy groups and create solidarity for yourself to help yourself feel less alone and to help further your rights and acceptance in the community. Reach out to your elected officials and let them know how you feel about these things. (Phone calls are the best way to get counted.) Create art that Trump would hate, or support it. Dance. Enjoy life. Refuse to be cowed into stillness and silence.

And, Worried Mom, you tell your kids that sometimes the bullies win. Sometimes they hurt people. But that we will get together and we will get them out of there in four years. And then take steps to do it, show them what you are doing, and let them join you.

There are so many ways to fight the good fight, in our own hearts and homes and out in the greater world. This is a scary time, my friends. It is scary as fuck. But with each connection forged, I think you will feel less and less frightened, more and more powerful, and far more joyful — even in the face of bullies and assholes and clowns.

Take time for yourself. Fight. Connect. Be real. You are not alone.

This letter originally ran in bitterempire.com on November 17, 2016.

How Do I Handle Difficult Conversations No One Else Finds Difficult?

Things were rough for me as a teenager. I was going through some abuse and don’t think I went through developmental stages in the typical way. I stopped getting my hair cut because I couldn’t stand sitting in front of my reflection for so long. I had panic attacks when I tried to buy clothes. I was socially awkward and never had the chance to do sports. My therapist thinks I was a few years developmentally delayed.

This comes up a lot as I’m parenting my teen-aged daughter, or even chatting with other adult women about teen years. We’re having a normal conversation about something that’s generally a shared experience, like doing sports or learning about style, and suddenly I feel like a dork who grew up on another planet. I end up working my butt off to hold up my end of the conversation normally.

I don’t want make things “all about me” when it comes up with my growing daughter (which is all the time). I don’t want to turn a light conversations with friends into needy laments about my childhood. But doing a competent job of these conversations takes so much energy and makes me feel lonely, and it bothers me for a long time.

How would you handle this?

– Dork From Another Planet

Dear Fellow Dork From Another Planet,

When I read that you stopped getting your hair cut because you could not look at your reflection for so long, my heart ached for teenage you. For a child to be that miserable and self-hating is a terrible, terrible thing. And your friends have no idea that they’re making you look hard at this girl and at what she was being forced to endure every time they bring up these conversations. They are dragging you back to a miserable time in your life, in front of your child, (or your child doesn’t realize she is dragging you back there), and you do not want to go back there.

So don’t.

The way I would handle it is this: however you can to take care of yourself and get through it.

I’m going to say this again because it is very important: I want you to do whatever you need to to get through it.

Yes, this conversation is light for them. And so many people assume that certain experiences are universal. In fact, there may be many reasons someone—from this planet—might not be able to easily engage in this conversation: childhood poverty springs to mind. Hopeless nerdery. Or just a plain disinterest in fashion or looks in general. Many topics of conversation come up that other people can’t relate to, find boring, or just have nothing to contribute to. So they make up a polite line and move on.

Even if this topic weren’t bringing up old trauma for you (and make no mistake about it: when they bring this up it reminds you of being abused, which is FUCKING TRAUMATIC) it is not your responsibility to hold up your end of a limping conversation you are not enjoying. It is not your responsibility to make people feel comfortable who have (inadvertently, of course) just made you uncomfortable. The longer you politely keep your end of the conversation going, the longer the torture will continue, and the longer you will be facing that poor girl who could not face herself.

The fact that these fellow parents are making you feel so lonely and alienated and weird and awful with this topic combined with your not wanting it to be about you tells me that you need something quick, and you need something that you can memorize and spit out. It needs to be something you can throw out there and then STOP TALKING ABOUT: vague and broad enough to fit many different conversations like this, but very definite in the ‘I’m not going to have anything to say about this’ category. I would suggest something like: “Oh, I was so out of it; I never noticed/did anything like that,” and then refusing to expand on it. And then: I suggest that instead of trying to contribute to the conversation, you listen.

I am so, so glad that it not a universal experience to hate looking at your own reflection for so long. But you know what is nearly universal? Feeling stupid about style. Learning about hair and feeling dumb that you didn’t know before that OF COURSE everyone feathers/wedges/mermaid colors their hair and uses hair spray/angled cuts/vegetable dyes. Trying to do these things on your own and failing miserably. Feeling like you’re the only kid in junior high who doesn’t have on the right t-shirt. Suddenly realizing that you never cared about any of these things but everyone else around you did.

I think if you could listen to these experiences as THEIR experiences, not comparing them to your own, you might find some commonalities, and this might help you to feel less alone.

I feel like I can’t emphasize this enough: they are bringing up old trauma for you. Hitting them quickly with a vague response and refusing to engage any further outside of listening might not work for you; you could also quickly excuse yourself to use the bathroom, tell them you’re not feeling well and walk away, drift off and dissociate, looking out of the window until they are through: anything you need to do to take care of yourself in that moment. Obviously getting therapy and working on your past is also important, but nothing happens overnight and until you can talk about these things without distress, re-traumatizing yourself after all those years of having someone else hurt you is not worth saving your friends face or your child a bit of embarrassment.

Take it seriously. It is important to you. Take care of yourself. Please.

I think with friends you know better than others, later on you can talk with them about it so you don’t feel you are hijacking the conversation. Tell them how you are feeling about reliving those teenage years. Reach out and tell your story. Telling your story to someone who is listening and cares, even if she feathered her hair perfectly in 1984, helps us to feel less alone and more connected.

Protect yourself in the moment. Reach out when you can. And please, please — if you are at all able — tell your teenage self that she is beautiful, and she is strong, and she is someone who deserves to be SEEN.

This letter originally ran in bitterempire.com on November 3, 2016.