“So how are you feeling?” my CBT coach asked, studying me with a careful smile that was calibrated to be both neutral and sympathetic.
My only answer was a rough sigh. Bleary eyed from lack of sleep and tears. “That’s a big question today,” I said.
It’s a weird time, so I’m gonna do a weird thing. I’m going to talk about anxiety.
Yes, this election was tragic. There’s a hundred articles today talking about things that people of color and the LGBTQ+ community has known all along and the rest of us are just learning hard lessons about. And many more filled with good, solid, practical advice on how to fight back. You should go, read all of those. I’ll wait. Most acknowledge what many of us are feeling, but the assumption is the feeling is a fleeting part of the process—the weakness before we get to work.
I think I’ve decided the feeling is the work.
I spent last night like many of my friends. Nervous but moderately hopeful through out the day. Concerned, then shell-shocked as the results rolled in. Then I spent about twenty minutes soaking my partner’s shoulder with tears, sobbing out my fears. And then just as abruptly I needed to write. I needed to write, the fits and starts of thoughts that I’ll probably not finish but needed out of my head. And with it came a flood of feelings:
The shock and the rage. Of realizing we chose the predator over the champion. The fear over the fight. I live in a country that would rather elect a molester, misogynist, and a racist than an imminently qualified woman. Or any woman. She will never be enough. Not presidential enough, not ‘likeable’ enough, not trustworthy enough. I, my gender, may never fucking be enough in my lifetime. (But we will be. We will be.)
The self-blame and doubt. That I didn’t speak up loud enough, often enough. That I said less than I should. Because I wanted people to like me. Because I didn’t want to offend my relatives or argue on Facebook. Sure, I was progressive—but never so far as to be unfashionable in my circle. And I deserve to be judged for that.
The revulsion. That the votes of white women, in specific, were a major factor in this.
The fear. For things I can only hope won’t happen. For my friends with more brown in their skin than me. For the teenage relatives I love who are gay and isolated and facing the repeal of laws that protected them. For me and my husband who will never get health insurance without the ACA. For my self-employed and creative friends who will never realize their creations without the safety net of the ACA. For my disabled friends who worry about the erosion of the ADA. For my trans friends scrambling to get passports with the right gender before they can’t. For my female friends who are suddenly having to consider whether it’s prudent to spend these last two months getting emergency IUDs and stockpiling plan B pills like some of my relatives stockpile guns. Because, let’s face it, if the government ‘comes for’ one of those, it’s not going to be the guns. It was never going to be the guns.
(And the anger, again, because if you voted for Trump then yes, fuck yes, that is exactly what you voted for and I can not be okay with that.)
The guilt that, despite being bisexual, I’m pretty damn safe. I’m a white woman in a hetero marriage, moderately affluent and in one of the most progressive cities in the country in a solid blue state. The most personal risks to me are mostly healthcare and the economy. I’ll most likely be ok. But the people I love—my friends, my family, some who even voted for Trump—may not.
I’m still trying to come out the other side of all of that. I’ve spent a lot of today talking with friends, taking are of each other. But I know what’s on the other side of it.
This is fuel.
There’s an amazing scene in Alice Isn’t Dead, a podcast audiodrama, that I’ve been thinking about all day. The main character, Keisha, is a woman looking for her missing girlfriend. Along the way, Keisha also deals with crippling anxiety along with the terror she survives. She feels anxiety, realistically struggles to operate with it. At the climax of the story, she’s trapped in a room with the monster that’s ruined her life, who is inhumanly strong and has the power over her in every regard. And she is afraid; she is overwhelmed with it. Of course, that’s when she has the realization that she can use her anxiety, harness it:
And through all of these thoughts, a buzzing anxiety. Anxiety like electricity. And I knew, in that moment, that anxiety is just an energy. It is an uncontrollable near-infinite energy, surging within me. And for once I stopped trying to contain it.
I told my heart, beat faster. I told my panicked breath, become more difficult, and I told my fear to overtake me. Make me more afraid. I am not afraid of feeling afraid. Make me more afraid! All of that energy, I turned it outward. I pushed it into my arms, my legs, my teeth. Fuck the Thistle man! When he hit me, I hit back. He was stronger than I remembered. It was like being hit by a car. Mass without pity, just brutal physics. But I was hitting, too. Pounding at his face, his chest, biting, throwing myself into him. I didn’t feel pain. I was so full of fear that there wasn’t any room for anything else. I fought using every wave of terror inside of me.
I’m not afraid of feeling afraid.
We’re processing our feelings right now, and the next step is not to get past them, to forget them, it’s to harness them.
I can’t tell you what to do with your feelings right now. Maybe the smartest thing to do with your feelings right now is self-care until it’s safe again. But maybe you are feeling like me, and desperately want to not feel helpless. I want to feel afraid and therefore protect. I want to feel revulsion and anger and stop giving passes to our bigoted families in the name of approval. I want to take the guilt I feel for not saying enough and speak clearer. And more importantly, lift up the real voices of others.
I’m not always going to succeed at that. I can guarantee there will be times I suck at it because I have an innate midwestern girl impulse to be liked that I’m still trying to unlearn. But I’m going to try, using words which is the best weapon I have—maybe your weapons look different. I’m going to try. Because I’m scared and I’m guilty and I’m sad and I’m horrified and I’m angry.
Emotions get a bad wrap. We’ve been told that cold logic is better. Feelings are too feminine, too messy. Some might try to convince us in the coming months that we didn’t really feel them. That these feelings are getting in the way. That we should leave the feelings of today aside. Forget that.
Take the feelings. Sure, we’re raw right now and time will ease some of it. But feel what you need to feel right now, then decide what it fuels.
Feelings are not our weakness. They’re our superpower.