When the camps at the US-Mexico border came to the forefront of the news cycle, I was disgusted and dismayed. I was also angry, and anger is motivating. My mom mentioned a breakfast meeting of the Waco Immigrants Alliance, and I went.
About a week later, there was a global day of action protesting the inhumane treatment of immigrants at the camps. I contacted Hope Balfa Mustakim, local superhero and the Executive Director of the Waco Immigrants Alliance, to ask where our city’s rally would be held. She said she didn’t know of one happening, but that I could use their Facebook Page to start one if I wanted to.
I did, and it was a moderate-but-rewarding success. That’s how I was bitten by the activism bug.
Having that little bit of comfort from knowing that other people cared about the issue as much as I do was incredible, and I dove into the local political groups. I’m constrained by my disability from participating in all events and meetings, but when my health is good, I try to contribute. Showing up for meetings, throwing rallies, attending protests, registering new voters, and doing online promotion of events makes me feel calm. It makes me feel like the world is not all bad, and reminds me that there are many, many good people in it. I’m proud of my city now that I know how many caring people live here. I wouldn’t have been exposed to that without activism.
The act of “showing up” means so much to me. Being present in the hope of finding a solution. Working for a better world alongside others who are doing the same. Maybe we’re accomplishing nothing. But we either have to keep showing up or sit back and watch the world burn.
Unfortunately, watching the world burn is many people’s go-to position when it comes to the issues that challenge us: especially climate change. Somehow, we still can’t seem to globally get on board with solving this problem. People hear how dire things are and they decide that giving up is the best option, even though we still have time and the ability to minimize future damage. It’s not the apocalypse. Treating it like the apocalypse makes it sound like there’s nothing we can do, when in fact, there are many things we can do. Nuclear energy has been reworked and is now far more efficient and safe, solar and wind power could meet our energy needs, electric cars reduce carbon emissions, eating a vegan diet drastically reduces your individual carbon footprint, and we can all write our representatives.
Part of all this coping is sustained fits of crying.
Looking at the sky and crying. Looking at the moon and crying. Going into my backyard and apologizing to the grass and dirt itself.
And if that sounds ridiculous and dramatic:
It completely is.
It is also completely appropriate.
We are in a ridiculous and dramatic moment in history. Authoritarians are rising to power, racist movements are making a strong comeback and are no longer hiding behind euphemisms, far-right extremists are becoming more organized, dangerous, and violent, the climate is in crisis and needs to be addressed immediately, deforestation of the Amazon is destroying the lungs of the planet, and corporations control our governments. And all of these current events are global issues.
So what do I do when I stop crying?
I’m currently researching (in a completely non-academic setting) human psychology, the alt-right, and political philosophies. I’m desperately trying to find out what people believe deep in their gut, and why. I’m doing all this research because I feel like there’s a solution. I know it’s crazy to think that I could somehow figure out the answer to how to fix all these monumental problems worldwide, but I’m in this fight. I don’t want to just swing a sword in a dark room in the hope that it makes contact with the heart of our problems, because that’s pretty much what most of us are doing right now, and I doubt that we’re significantly helping anyone.
All of this study of the problems helps me gain a sense of clarity. Even if someone is completely wrong about something, at least I will understand why they believe it. As a person with mental illness, I understand what it means to have an irrational belief that you are completely attached to. On my side of examining these delusions, I can relate to not being able, despite overwhelming evidence, to change my irrational thoughts. I have hope that the way we can appeal to the far right is by using their feelings to change their opinions. One of the most important steps to solving a problem is understanding what it is. And at this point, I will take whatever steps I can in order to continue to hope.
Watching videos on youtube was a great jumping-off point for me in understanding our current world. These videos explain subjects that confound me, like climate denial, the alt-right, incels, fascism, racism, white nationalism, and far-right thinkers. I watch these videos over and over again. I’ve heard that called “bipolar obsessiveness” (which I do sometimes engage in with my recreational television-watching habits), but I think this has more to do with needing the repetition in order to retain all the information. I have a memory deficit and I want to be able to explain these concepts to others. I don’t just want to watch it: I want to absorb it. Essentially, I’m memorizing the videos. These creators, most frequently Ian Danskin (of Innuendo Studios: creator of the “Alt-Right Playbook”) and Natalie Wynn (of Contrapoints), do significant research and consistently make sense. I trust them. They cite their sources and are balanced while not endorsing views that are incorrect.
It’s important to me to drink in and retain all of this information because their work is deeply researched, meaning that a twenty-minute video is the summary of a wealth of information, and a statement one sentence long could be the product of years of education on the subject. It’s not a television show where five minutes of dialogue explains one aspect of one idea. These videos are condensed Truth.
From the jumping-off point of “What the f*** are incels?” I watched Natalie Wynn’s video “Incels” on Contrapoints, her Youtube channel. I was mesmerized by the whole thing. These young men have created an airtight worldview that is fundamentally incorrect and extremely harmful to themselves, but there is no way to convince most of them otherwise. And they’re not alone. Diving into the world of the alt-right, there are layers upon layers of problematic delusions in many, many subsets of people. These fringe groups on the internet are being driven to violence. They consistently produce mass-shooters.
(If you haven’t yet heard about incels, it means “involuntary celibate” and they believe in a complex conspiratorial worldview that determines conclusively that they can never be desired or loved by any woman. Their reasons and rationalizations are fascinating, heartbreaking, and disgusting. Go watch the video.)
I can’t research all day. Sometimes it’s fascinating, sometimes it’s helpful, but sometimes it’s overwhelming. Social media helps me. I can take a break from Nazis, Nazis, Nazis, on Facebook and Twitter, and collect all the little happy internet-points from mentions, comments, likes, and retweets. We all do it. Press that dopamine button one more time, would you? So I pepper social media into my day in order to stay grounded and be reassured that there are still people out there like me, who want to see all kinds of change and are willing to go to bat for it. My local politically active friends are all on Facebook, and my twitter account is largely an echo-chamber of my own views. Both of these things are helpful for my mental health. Echo-chambers are dangerous on the macro-scale in terms of isolating us from other viewpoints and getting us so far away from knowing how the rest of the world thinks that we can be easily manipulated and fooled. However, I do see a great benefit from social media on the micro-scale, especially for people with disabilities. We can connect with each other and provide the right words and the right kind of support to each other when we are in need. Sometimes, you need someone to give you a Truth. You need someone to tell you “Your brain is lying. You are worthy.” Or my favorite (and I give this to each and every one of you right now)
You are enough.
You are more than enough.
It is unbelievable how enough you are.
And I teared up just writing that. Yup, still mentally ill.
I can only cope with all of this if my life has meaning. My therapist introduced me to the concept of values as a way to make my life meaningful. My values move around. Right now, they include putting love out into the world, standing up for what I believe in, honesty, authenticity, and tending to my close relationships. When my actions line up with my values, I can count my day (and myself) as having been successful.
My actions determine my success. If I call my uncle and make sure his health is okay today, score for putting love out into the world and tending a close relationship. Boom, meaning! If I strike up a conversation with someone in line at the store and I make them feel seen and valued, I have put love out into the world while using authenticity. If I get someone to come to an activist meeting or event, I’ve stood up for a conviction. If I cry all day today and don’t leave the house, feel suicidal and can’t make myself shower but I write an honest article and text my best friend that I love her, score for tending relationships, creativity, and honesty. This system for success means that I can have a successful day even through my very worst symptoms.
Sometimes I have little to no ability to do anything. I’ve had episodes in the past in which I can’t operate the coffee machine or figure out how to feed myself. Fortunately, these episodes only last a few hours. They are draining to the extreme, and I may not “accomplish” the things an abled person might accomplish to feel successful, like going to work, doing the dishes, or meeting a deadline. But since this is my body, my reality, and my life, I get to decide what success looks like, and success looks like my meaning. My meaning, in turn, looks like my values.
You can decide to live this way, too. Here’s a link to a list of common values. Pick what speaks to you.
Freaking out on Twitter and Facebook, which is sometimes greatly helpful and sometimes self-congratulatory, is one of my outlets. If I need to rage, I can write diatribes. My activist friends are very supportive of my ranting, another benefit of an echo-chamber. I feel seen and heard. And I feel way, way less alone in this fight.
So. The world is a dumpster fire and I’m watering it with a garden hose because that’s all I can do. I can smell the smoke and see the flames coming my way, but I cannot put down the hose. I will not put down the hose. I’m one of 7.7 billion people on the planet. I am 0.0000000001298701% of the world population. I am so small. I am only one voice.
But then I remember Greta Thunberg, who started the Climate Strike by herself. It was literally just her outside of the Swedish Parliament every Friday holding a sign that read “School Strike For Climate” in Swedish. She had just one voice. All it took to strike up a global movement was one voice.
Now, or at least most of the time, I do believe that every voice matters. It’s a little like scratch-off lottery tickets. Every voice is a ticket. Some produce nothing. Others produce a medium effect. Others win big and take sweeping swaths of results with them in the form of a mobilized city, a state turning blue, the planet’s needs being addressed, the fascism crisis dismantled, gun violence ameliorated. These “big winners” are a minority, but we would be nowhere without them. Every voice that wants to be heard must be raised. We must persist. And we can only persist together.
I’ve had 14-years’-worth of being disabled, and 14-years’-worth of learning to cope with extreme mental states. I have a long list of all the things I’ve learned about feeling better. I’m speaking from a place of knowledge, hope, and love in the following paragraphs because many people just aren’t aware of the ways they can reduce suffering from mental anguish. Just because you don’t have a mental illness does not mean you won’t have severe emotions like anger or overwhelming reactions like despair. The state of the world today should cause you anxiety, depression, outrage, and fear. This is where we are. Your extreme emotions are normal and valid, and they are worth listening to. The world is not okay. This is not normal. We cannot let this be normal.
But we all need a break sometimes.
When your mental health gives out and you have no more to give that day, you need to trust that others are raising their voices while you recover. We speak for those who cannot. We speak when we are able. No one can take all this on all day, every day. It kills some people by their own hands. We actually have a suicide crisis happening with young men right now, and despair over the current state of the world is the worst offender in that trend.
When you need to recover, you need to actively care for yourself. You need to show yourself the same kindness that you would show your best friend if they were sick. Turn off the computer. Go outside and breathe fresh air. Spend time with your pet, your partner, or your friends. Create something. Drink enough water. Eat before your blood sugar gets low. Go for a walk. Take your meds on time if you take meds. If your mental health is too weak to do any of these things, meditate. You don’t even have to try. Just look up a 5 minute guided meditation on Youtube and follow along. Then put on a television show, movie, or podcast you like. Personally, I find it very soothing to watch something I’ve seen before, because sometimes in episodes I dissociate and can’t follow any new plotlines or take in new information. If you’re easily overwhelmed by too much stimulus, this might be a good idea for you.
Writing is a great coping tool. You take something inside of yourself and put it outside of yourself. If you’re carrying a lot of weight, maybe put some of it down on paper to lighten your load. Your self-care doesn’t need to be perfect, but it does need to be intentional. You are showing yourself that you are worthy of love at a time when you may not believe that you are.
There is no easy way to process the world we live in today. Most of the time, I keep these issues in boxes in my head and only bring them out when I’m “doing activism” in some way. Research helps, too, because I feel like I better understand these monumental problems. Rallies and protests can keep me going for a few days, but then it’s back to “How did we get here?” and “What now?”
The world is a dumpster fire. I’m coping as best as I can. I’m politically active when my health permits. I show up. I raise my voice.
I hold my hose up to the fire and I pray that I won’t be the only one.