Advice from Obama: Coping When Political Division Gets You Down

“Hi, I’m Sarah,” says the young blonde women at the Sea Turtle Preservation Society orientation.

 I am early (like always) and the first one there.

 “Where did you park?” she asks, as I sign in.

“At the CVS,” I say, and I can feel her frown before I look up and see it. “Is that a problem?”

“It all depends on the manager on duty,” Sarah says.

“Am I going to get towed?” I ask, with a hint of hysteria hovering in my question.

“Probably not,” she says, “We’ll be done in about an hour.”

Well, hell, that’s not great, I think to myself, and knowing my tendency to obsess about things like maybe getting towed, decide to move my car. As I toss my notebook on the table, I say, “Your website suggests parking at the CVS,” and then for some reason I feel it’s necessary to add, “It’s a pain in the ass to cross A1A!” as I huff out.

Oh, Beth, I think as I stand sweating at the busy corner of A1A and 192 waiting for the interminable traffic lights to change so I can dart across the street to the CVS parking lot and my car baking on the hot asphalt. Nothing like spewing negative energy all over the room. As I crank up the a/c and sit idling at the traffic light, I wondered this: Just what is my snappishness about?

It’s true that Jim and I are skipping town in just a couple of days and I am well into my “normal” process of pre-trip frenzies trying to accomplish the impossible before we depart: to leave the house and yard and porches in pristine order, organized, decluttered and cleaned, every possible cat contingency thought through and planned for, emergency phone numbers sent to Brother Bill just in case the plane goes down, newspapers temporarily stopped, dirty clothes laundered, webmail cleared, blog updated, etc., etc.

In the back of my mind, I worry that our neighbors, generously caring for our cats yet again, will think me a lousy housekeeper. Isn’t that ridiculous? Maybe so, but I grew up with a mother who put a lot of stock in what others thought of her, and here’s a charming anecdote: after the birth of one of her babies, brother Bill I think, my grandmother visited and while I’m sure she was helpful, here’s what my mother remembered: that she commented on the dust on the chandelier over the dining room table.

I travel enough that I see I have a pattern – it starts with the planning, accompanied by an exuberant high anticipating all the new experiences about to occur, which then morphs into anxiety and fear as the actual day of departure approaches, which then reaches a crescendo and begins to dissipate not one whit until we have cleared airport security and are actually sitting in our seats on the plane and I snap the seat belt secure around my waist. There’s something about that strapping in that I find deeply comforting. By the time the snacks and beverages are served, I am generally downright jolly.

But, I suspect that this early morning Saturday snappishness is due to more than trip anxiety. This has been a tough week for many of us who are either affected directly by the Supreme Court decisions restricting Muslims, restricting information about abortion services, and further gutting union membership, or who care about those things. Justice Kennedy’s retirement brings forth ill will still festering over the theft of Merrick Garland’s seat. It is easy to despair.

In laments with my elderly dad, he says, “We are two countries.” At least two, I think, and given the structure of our government (and its co-option by big money, Citizens United, anyone?) I fear that half the country will always feel disenfranchised, no matter who is President. The future can look bleak. I wake most mornings, around 3:00 a.m., consumed with fear that our democracy is slipping away. And that I’m not doing enough to stop that. It is easy to despair.

This past Friday morning, I was in class, a weeklong Metaphysics class at the Unity church I attend, and the teacher was doing his routine check-in going around the table asking us what questions we had on the previous material before starting the current day’s material. When it was my turn, my eyes welled up and my voice cracked. I eked out, “I am so full of sorrow, I don’t know what to do. I feel so sad about the murders of the journalists and staff at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis.” (I don’t add that I am enraged that the President routinely denigrates the press). I struggle with how to stay rooted in my divinity, my goodness, and trust in a higher good in the midst of so much turmoil. How do I show up and function in a helpful way in this fractured world?

The good Reverend calls me an empath, which is probably accurate, since my feelings are alive and bleeding all over the room, and if that means someone who feels A LOT. He says it is important to not get overwhelmed by my feelings because that can lead to victim consciousness, which can lead to overwhelm and a tendency to want to check out, or at least move to Canada or Copenhagen, where dear friends just vacationed and loved it, but those really aren’t options. The victim stance serves no one. I know he isn’t going to wave a magic wand and “fix” me or our broken world, and that’s okay – I feel heard and acknowledged and proceed to gather up my scattered feelings and focus (mostly) on what’s right in front of me – other students’ questions and their own struggles. There is comfort sitting among other conscious seekers.

Later that evening on his HBO show, Bill Maher paraphrases Barack Obama, who said in response to the events of the week, “Don’t mope.”

Good advice, isn’t it? I’ll take it to heart and try not to mope and overreact to teensy, tiny, unimportant things. To that end, at the conclusion of the sea turtle orientation, I went up to Sarah and said, “I am sorry for my initial crabbiness.”

She flashed me a sweet smile and said, “It’s okay, really, and I’ve already changed the website.”

Then I headed over to their store and bought a sweatshirt and turtle earrings and a metal straw and joshed with the volunteers, turtle lovers all, and then climbed back into my steaming car for the ride home.

Reader’s Invitation: I always love hearing from you and anything you want to share. What are your coping mechanisms in times of troubles, internal or external?

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11 thoughts on “Advice from Obama: Coping When Political Division Gets You Down”

  1. hi Beth,

    as always, your post was a pleasure to read for me; a miniature taken from everyday life.

    as to your question: i too sometimes find myself surprised at an my own unexpected snappiness, as you elegantly call it. one way i think long term change slowly happens, is by uncovering, step by step, this reservoir of emotions i have been harbouring, for most of my life well below the veil of consciousness:
    – resentment at my own early childhood adaptation to endless, random requirements,
    – fear of unpredictable and random verbal and other rejection and aggression,
    – a deep sense of powerlessness, against authority cruelly and unjustly transgressing the very rules it imposes,
    – a deep sense of despair that accompanies all this and last but not least:
    – quite a bit of carefully suppressed, pent up ANGER at all this, that doubtlessly could NOT be expressed at the time.

    in a not so distant past, i remember that i did not have a clue where that often disproportionate anger, that i sometimes witnessed in my interactions, came from, and i resolved that i really wanted to know. as i am getting more and more of a clue, the intensity and surprise with which this anger sometimes pops up definitely seems to soften too.

    it is not as if i do not find reasons for anger, powerlessness or despair today – whether it be in my direct surroundings or on a global scale: all those “reasons” are very much present. yet also, maybe there is some kind of an embryo of serenity and compassion growing alongside these unfolding manifestations, projections, co-creations. too early to tell for sure in a place like this. as always: to be continued…

    thank you for sharing, Beth!

    W

    1. W, Well, this is just so helpful! I am so grateful for all you’ve shared here and appreciate the depth and breadth of your response. I’ve been struggling with whether to keep the blog going or not and your response just cemented my desire to do so. To your content, I am sitting here shaking my head yes, yes, relate to that and that and that. I appreciate you helping me see the universality of my experience through my own specificity. And, I just love the image you’ve captured here at the end – “some kind of embryo of serenity and compassion growing alongside these unfolding manifestations, projections, co-creations.” Amen to that. Thanks for joining me in the unfolding. Hugs, Beth

    1. Thanks, Susan! I so appreciate you faithfully reading the blog — and commenting. Means a lot to me.

    1. Thanks, Betsy. It’s always a bit anxiety-provoking to post; revealing self and risking censure. But, I find I’m just a happier, hopefully better adjusted person when I write — and share it. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Love you too.

  2. Hi Beth! As always your blog post is so well written and articulate! A joy to read because i always feel so connected to you and your experiences! Please keep your blog going!
    I will share with you that when I feel the despair and unfairness in this plane, I practice HeartMath then move into my 5th level and Surrender into what is and my feelings about it and surrender into Trust and Allowance…..knowing full well that a grander plan is in operation and will always bring in more light! And sometimes I just mope!!!!

    1. Hey Bonnie, Well, thanks! And your comments are extraordinarily helpful. HearthMath rules! And who doesn’t like a good mope? Thanks for affirming my/our humanness — and my/our divinity. Love you.

  3. I loved your post and the sentiments from your readers. I barely can read the front section of the post and am somewhat acting like an animal that puts head in sand. In watching last Bill Mahr many of the guests were pleading with US to do stuff and I’m just not sure what to do except vote. By the way Copenhagen although fabulous is very non diverse and that most likely leads to its own set of problems. Anyway once again your engaging writing style was a joy to read. Much appreciated right now !!

    1. Hi Nedra, I so appreciate my readers – and you’ve been one of the most faithful. Please know how much I value you; I know I can count on you and in these uncertain times, that’s HUGE! I find that I can only take in so much misery and it depends too on what’s going on in my personal life. I completely missed most of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath back in 2005 because Jim’s mother had just died suddenly. I’m finding that I have more resilience than I thought, however, and bounce back faster from the low points, ready to do what I can (building bridges, being kind, not buying into dualism and the fear permeating so much of our culture, promoting causes dear to me in a variety of ways, etc.), in addition to voting, at a minimum. Part of why we are where we are is because of the historically very low rates of voter turnout, especially among the Dems. Quite a wake-up call!

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