Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: I woke up the morning of November 9 heartbroken and hungover. I’d fallen asleep the night before, crying and more than a little drunk. For weeks afterward, I had trouble concentrating at work. Some days it was hard to move, much less be productive. I drank too much, binged on news updates and scrolled distractedly through social media feeds. It’s a variation on what millions experienced. I hadn’t felt this way since 9/11: mired in a darkness not rooted in a sense of worthlessness or social anxiety but rather mourning and a fear of the unknown.
But neither of these life-altering events marked my first dive into depression and anxiety. I’ve experienced both my entire adult life and have learned to treat them through medication and meditation, exercise, writing and other outlets. This sudden onslaught of symptoms was unmistakeable, though: I felt out of control, hopeless and gutted by a sense of doom.
A few weeks after the election, I asked my doctor to refill a long-lapsed Xanax prescription. I was an emotional wreck, I said, with stress manifesting in real, physical ways: Panic attacks, sleeplessness and an unhealthy reliance on cheap wine and strong whiskey.
Listening, my doctor raised an eyebrow as he pulled up my file on his computer. “Would this have anything to do with the current political climate?” he asked, fingers tapping quickly on the keyboard. The empathy and weariness in his voice told me I probably wasn’t the first patient he’d seen like this.
As it turns out, there’s actually a name for the condition: Post Election Stress Disorder. In a recent online survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 57 percent of Americans described the current political landscape as a “very or somewhat significant source of stress.” Likewise, 40 percent said the election’s results had caused them significant stress. The survey, which queried more than 1,000 adults after the inauguration, didn’t necessarily discriminate, politically speaking: More than three-quarters of Democrats and nearly 60 percent of Republicans blamed worries over the “future of the nation” as the cause of their stress and emotional upheaval.
It’s been more than six months since the election, and while life has, in some ways, regained some sense of normalcy, each week–each day, even–seems to bring a new flurry of new headlines and breaking Washington Post alerts trumpeting chaos and renewing feelings of distress over and over again: Russia. North Korean missiles. Russia, again. The dismantling of the Affordable Care Act. Oh my god, RUSSIA.
It’s like a never-ending circus shit show of ridiculous moments–some laughable, some downright awful—and life has turned into a stomach-churning roller coaster ride. One moment I feel OK–happy, even!–and the next I’m having trouble breathing or getting out of bed.
Rachel Annunziato, an associate professor of psychology at Fordham University, says the election’s outcome and its long-term impact weighs heavily on us—individually and as a nation—because it’s raised “a lot of bigger questions.”
“I think afterward there was a sense of ‘What does this all mean? Is a woman going to ever break the ceiling? What does it mean about our morals and values?’” she says. The surprise factor only intensified that feeling, she adds. ‘“Very few people expected [Trump’s win]. [The election] seemed predictable and folks were hopeful that this wouldn’t happen.” And there’s been little to calm the nerves since. All those bogus wiretapping claims, bombings, fired officials and bizarre early morning tweets—sometimes it’s just too much to take, Annunziato adds.
“There’s more fear than I’ve seen before,” she says, pointing to Trump’s volatile relationship with North Korea as a prime source of her own stress and anxiety, especially when it comes to her own role as the parent of twin 6-year-old boys.
But though it may all overwhelm, there are ways to cope with the lingering depression and anxiety, Annunziato says. “One thing that I’ve been encouraging is that we just keep talking about this—just because [the election has] become farther away doesn’t mean those feelings go away,” she says. “We should keep talking about it.”
Moreover, she adds, it’s even better when talk leads to action, whether it’s protesting or marching, calling representatives or writing letters, donating money or volunteering. “That’s a good thing to come out of this,” she says. Indeed, if there’s a silver lining, it’s the resistance that serves as a daily reminder that the world is filled with humans who love this country and want to see it survive another few centuries.
And of course, the medications have helped. I take an antidepressant every night before bed, and on the occasions when my breath shortens and my pulse quickens, I carefully quarter an anti-anxiety pill for relief. I’m able to get out of bed every day, calm my anxiety, and take comfort in good conversations with kind people. It’s simple, but true: There’s comfort to be found in each other. And as millions out there are dealing with depression and anxiety exacerbated by current events, it remains more important than ever that we continue to dismantle the shame surrounding mental health issues; for so many of us, the rattle of a Xanax bottle in our handbags provides vital peace of mind.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is in need of mental health assistance, visit this site or this site for access to resources. The National Suicide Prevention Lifelineis 1-800-273-8255.