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August, 2020

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I’m frozen.

Trapped in a solid block of dread so cold that the tips of my toes are constantly numb.

That can’t be a coincidence.

It’s generally accepted that stress can cause or exacerbate health problems. Is stress what I’m feeling when I see mailboxes and sorting machines hauled away on trucks just days after President Trump openly admitted to intentionally sabotaging mail-in voting? I’m sure there’s some stress there.

I sleep a lot.

Way more than I should, in strange patterns, waking early in the morning only to go back to bed four hours later. Sleeping until evening, moving to a new location to nap.

On September 11, 2001, I watched the news until mid-afternoon. Then I slept, too overwhelmed to be conscious. Like most people, the rest of that week doesn’t register. Was it like this, back then? The constant exhaustion from fear? Or is this worse? Is it longer-lasting? Or did that dread just roll over into dread about the Forever War, into dread about Trump, into dread about…all of it. Everything.

I wake up to consciously relax my muscles.

Even in a deep sleep, I’ll rouse to find my body tensed for flight. I breathe deeply and work through the progressive relaxation tricks I learned in therapy for C-PTSD.

It’s almost a relief to be terrified of something tangible. I have a reason to be afraid, now. A legitimate reason to dread the months to come. As the optimistic left counts down the days to the election, I know that November isn’t the end of all of this unrest but the official beginning. Americans are now living in a time period that won’t be covered as thoroughly by future textbooks as will the events to come.

I’m surrounded.

“Recall Whitmer!” demands a row of signs along the road. Recall the governor, for trying to save you from yourselves. Kill your family by gathering in large groups to own the libs.

There is a bar at the end of my street, constantly surrounded by motorcycles. The Confederate flag graces nearly every one of them. There are “Bikers for Trump” among them. They are armed. My husband tells me not to put up political yard signs. He goes to work every night worried about his employees being shot for enforcing the mask mandate.

The Proud Boys are coming.

Kalamazoo, the city that is my second home, will be host to a pro-fascist invasion on Saturday. “I guess I’m getting pepper-sprayed this weekend.”

But I’m broken. The stress, the fear has left me fragile. When am I going to die? From the virus? From violence? When violence erupts, be it a revolution, civil war, or outside nations fighting against our tyranny, being in the wrong place at the wrong time will be a more common cause of death. Does it matter if a rubber bullet ends my life or a real one?

I’m not sure what’s real.

I dissociate more often, doubting if I should be afraid or if I’ve finally lost my mind completely.

Driving to my once-weekly grocery trip, I wonder if this will be the time that the snotty-looking Shipt shopper who’s always there, always maskless, infects me by standing too close in the check-out. On the way, I see church parking lots packed all the way out to the road, “Pray for our country” on their signs. Yards are covered with cars for big family gatherings on the lake. Kids are laughing, splashing, chasing each other. Facebook sports vacation photos of maskless families beaming at popular attractions. Did I make the virus up? Is this all in my head?

I take walks in my yard.

The wellness books say it’s good for you. So do all of the herbal apothecary books I’ve purchased.

I’m making medicine from the plants I’ve foraged. I’ve learned how to identify wild, edible foods. It’s no longer about wellness. I think toward the future, to what my husband, a retail grocery manager, said when I asked him to tell me, truthfully, if we’ll run out of food in our area. He looked at me and said, uncomfortably avoiding my eyes, “It wouldn’t be a bad idea to learn how to grow food indoors.” I tell him he’ll need to get a deer license this year. I promise I’ll dress his kills.

I was right.

On election night, when I was being “hysterical.” At every turn of the knife thrust into the backs of people in this country, I was “hysterical.” Because “He can’t do that.” And “They won’t let him.”

They let him. He did that. Already vulnerable people have been made more vulnerable, dehumanized for the next step in what “hysterical” people have seen coming all along. The rise of fascism, because it’s preferred to communism or socialism. Because the people voting against their own interests in order to win a childish game have brought us to this point.

I wish I wasn’t right.

About the past, about the present, about what will come in the future.

But I think I am. I know I am. I try to tell myself to qualify my statements. “Remember when they called you hysterical? You don’t want that to happen again.” Was I hysterical? Is it rational to give up hope in a hopeless state? Is it easier than accepting that things are going to get worse? What if some of us can’t simply ignore politics and agree to disagree when our neighbors will be dragged from their homes in the night. Is it hysterical to plan for what is rapidly becoming an eventuality? Or is it foresight?

So many horror stories revolve around entities that thrive on fear. The moral of those stories seems to be that denying one’s fear is appropriate; that fear is worth punishment.  That if you are afraid right now, you’re doing it to yourself. And as I watch these punishments play out in popular culture, I think about what our aversion to fear is doing to us. We equate fear with death, so if we don’t fear, we won’t die. Immortality gained by hubris. And yet all around us, we see evidence that it doesn’t work that way.

Being afraid keeps you alive. It also keeps you tense in your sleep.

It’s too exhausting to consider what a new world will look like after the dust settles. It’s too painful to consider a world many of us will never see.

So I stay frozen.

I stay numb to everything around me. I withdraw further into myself. I put my dreams and goals aside for the moment; I don’t know how to accomplish them in this liminal space. I don’t know if they’ll ever be feasible ever again. I make new dreams of simple things, but they’re formless. There isn’t really a “future” I can see clearly anymore.

Right now, there’s just survival.

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  1. Lee Weatherbee
    Lee Weatherbee

    We cried cause we knew. We knew this shit would happen.

    August 14, 2020
  2. John Doe
    John Doe

    I have a partner who’s positive about the future. He says 100 years ago things were way worse. They’ve been progressively getting better. Even if they’re bad right now, in the long term, they’ll get better. He’s a smart, educated guy, so I choose to believe him and look towards a more positive future. I try to make the difference in my every day life. That’s what’s keeping me afloat. Otherwise I’d freeze too. Sometimes I do.
    I pray that you and your family, friends, neighbors … may have food and protection for the future.

    August 14, 2020
  3. Katie

    I am so fucking terrified for November. The election is being openly rigged and no one is doing anything. My husband keeps telling me not to be so pessimistic, but that asshole in office will not allow himself to lose. He won’t win the popular vote. He will lose, but will still maintain the presidency. I really, really hope I am wrong, but…
    It is so scary and I’m already a coward. I’m not born to fight, but I will have to, somehow.
    I do believe, even if we enter a dark (darker) time now, it will eventually get better. Eventually though, not right away. Too many people in this country want change for us not to progress into the future. The old guard needs to die first and some of them still have decades to go and that’s the problem.

    August 14, 2020
  4. Katy

    I feel this very, very hard lately. I’m terrified, and all I want to do is sleep. I go to work and I come home and do nothing else. I definitely feel frozen. There is SO MUCH happening, and all of it is horrible, and I have no idea how to be hopeful about anything.

    August 14, 2020
  5. Michigan sounds like Maine. When this pandemic started, I kept checking whether I was awake because real life was so similar to the stress dreams I’ve had for years. I started learning about wild edible and medicinal plants 20 years ago, other survival skills 10 years ago, and started teaching them 5 years ago. All of which really just leaves me with nowhere new to put my adrenaline in this situation. I’m not very interested in outliving the people around me. I can’t hand people years of practice in the nature connection that helps me cope – though I can help them in that direction. Jenny, you are one of the people who has helped me feel okay with your perception and honesty, and I hope that this post is evidence that you understand your power on some level. I hope you can take some pride in your ability to step up and be vulnerable. It’s very reasonable to not feel okay right now. <3

    August 14, 2020
    • Jaime

      I… would really love to learn about wild edible and medicinal plants from you, but I don’t live anywhere near Maine.

      Still, that’s incredibly compassionate of you, to want to help everyone survive.

      August 20, 2020
  6. Kylie

    You aren’t alone in the US. Here in Canada, beloved by much of the world, we are facing the unthinkable. Although my province has always been right leaning, we are now seeing right wing zealots implementing their christofascist agenda with an alarming degree of success. I don’t recognize my home anymore, or my fellow Albertans. We have become so horribly Americanized that we have no identity or sense of uniqueness; we simply do what the US does. What was once a world class education system is being dismantled and destroyed. Our health care system, the envy of many Americans and one of our greatest accomplishments , is being privatized and corporatized. And people here defend those who are doing this, because the alternative is socialism, a concept people here clearly don’t understand, as Canada has had socialist tendencies for a long time and we love what it gives us. Now socialism is a dirty word, erroneously conflated with communism and somehow now despised. People here have for decades voted against their own interests, particularly people in rural—heavily religious—areas. In the last election, a miracle occurred—we elected a government that was not Conservative (the equivalent of your Republicans) for the first time in over 40 years! Many of us rejoiced, but of course it didn’t last. After one term, they were voted out and replaced with the right wing zealots we now have. The leader is being actively investigated by police but still somehow was sworn in as premier (our state-level leader), and there are blatant conflicts of interest. Our health minister is married to a woman who owns a company that provides private health insurance, and that minister is now implementing policies that will result in privatization of our health care. I guess, long story short, the world is getting pretty messed up and even places like Canada are facing the rise of fascism.

    August 14, 2020
  7. Em

    I’m in England where things are pretty ugly too for some of the same reasons and some singularly British ones.

    Thank you for your brutal honesty. I am so sorry for the turmoil you are in. If you can, please be kind to yourself.

    August 14, 2020
  8. bethany

    I hear you. I’m going about my life and trying to make a difference. After getting blindsided by the 2016 election, I got involved in local activism and politics and I’m running for local election. However, after I turn the lights out I go to sleep, I have the same scary thoughts you have. I worry that he will get reelected because of the way they are rigging voting access. I worry that he will refuse to concede if he does lose and he will encourage his people to violence. I know I will have to fight if that happens. I worry about how our country ever recovers from this.

    August 17, 2020
  9. Cooper

    Like many others, I share this dread daily. It’s is exhausting. I am exhausted. I am heartbroken. I am deeply and personally hurt, not by things he does as he’s never shown he has a single iota of humanity, but by people who have loved me and have earned my trust and how quickly they’ve dehumanized me and anyone that shares my values and beliefs…all in their worship of Trump. I cry all the time. I wish I could escape with sleep, but my dreams are frantic and leave me unsettled and without peace.

    Thank you for your honest and on point words, as always. Knowing we aren’t alone is one of the only things I still cling to these days.

    We fucking KNEW this was coming.

    August 18, 2020
  10. Jaime

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with all this. But while I think it’s definitely possible things will get better, it’s also not hysterical or at all irrational to prepare for the worst. Stay strong, and I hope you all make it through this.

    August 20, 2020
  11. Emily Barnard
    Emily Barnard

    Same, same, same. I got through my fucking PhD without antidepressants, but this administration/2016 got me back on them.

    I come from a family of druggies, alcoholics, and potheads, and between that and my tendency towards anxiety, panic, depression, and agoraphobia, I’ve avoided everything but the smallest of doctor-prescribed pharmaceuticals. However, 2020 finally did it: after six months of insomnia and depression, I tried edibles. Nothing the first two times, but I finally went “fuck it” and kept going until I felt something and-

    And it was the first time in my life I have actually NOT felt overwhelmingly anxious.

    Now, about once a month, I take a “brain vacation,” and have gotten super high all day, and just sat around feeling peaceful, listening to music, or watching Disney movies. I don’t know if that’s any long term solution, but at this point, whatever gets us through the election is essential.

    And if the motherfucker cheats and “wins” again, I already have an escape plan to move to Canada, and that is not hyperbole.

    Jenny, I’m sending you all sorts of good wishes, love, and peace. Just knowing others are feeling this way too really helps. Like, it’s not our fucking imaginations, this shit is objectively wrong and scary. Our jerkbrains aren’t just fucking with us this time.

    August 22, 2020
  12. Norah Brink
    Norah Brink

    Good lord, I felt this in my gut. I’m tense all. The. Time.

    August 22, 2020
  13. Anon

    Well, Jenny, if you’re “hysterical,” so the hell am I. I’m to the point where I’m done being understanding or charitable to genocidal social Darwinists and science deniers.

    I’m done trying to “find common ground” with Trumpists.

    I’m sick to death of disingenuous assholes pretending like it’s about “disagreement” when they know it’s about objectively shitty attitudes and behaviors that cost lives.

    I have tried to give remaining (many have jumped off the Trump train) Trumpers the benefit of the doubt but, I’m fresh out of those benefits for bigots who applaud national voter suppression so long as it’s their side in the driver’s seat.

    If a democrat had removed even one mailbox in a “red” district there’d be calls for blood from every dark corner of the right wing.

    Even scarier is the possibility that the covidiots and Nazis that comprise what remains of his base (I think every single one of them falls into these categories; no one will convince me otherwise) will launch the “race war” they’ve been threatening ever since Obama got elected.

    I’m on nextdoor and have read their words; I don’t think I’m being paranoid when I urge people to stock up on food, water, meds, and even weapons.

    These people are not joking.

    They weren’t joking when they vowed to “take back [their] country.”

    they weren’t playing when they armed themselves, donned white supremacist regalia and took to the streets to advocate for the spread of a deadly and highly contagious virus that had and continues to slaughter communities of color.

    They certainly won’t be playing when they implement the “second amendment solutions” their dear leader suggested for dealing with opposing views.

    This man is appealing to and accepting an endorsement from a group of conspiracy theorists who think Trump is the “messiah” come to save the world from a global organization of leftwing, Satan worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles.

    I will jump headfirst off an overpass should this man get reelected.

    If our society further devolves into a Mad Max style dystopia, I’m jumping headfirst off of an overpass.

    I am a permanently disabled African American woman with a fixed income and little hope left.

    I’m tired of fear.

    I’m tired of hoping things will get better.

    I’m tired of thinking about what having my home invaded by looters or white supremacists will be like.

    I’m tired of jumping up at 2:00 am at the slightest unfamiliar noise.

    I haven’t the luxury of waiting around for the arc of justice to bend in such a way that me and mine can’t be executed for the crime of existing while black.

    I’m tired of worst-case scenarios coming unbidden as I try to go through the day.

    I’m tired of being tired, so I will sleep for good if things head where I think they are.

    August 22, 2020
  14. Jane

    I’m in Melbourne, we’ve been under a severe lockdown for weeks now. Although it’s hard having a curfew and only being allowed outside for one hour a day (especially since I live alone), at least I feel somewhat safe. Lonely and scared, but safe.

    I feel for you guys in the US and UK so much. Please know that no matter what our governments do, they can never take away our support for each other. The rivalry of entire countries that used to happen simply can’t anymore, because we can communicate as individuals now.

    Kia kaha, everyone. I’m holding your hand metaphorically.

    August 25, 2020
    • Tez Miller
      Tez Miller

      Shout-out to my fellow Melburnian! 🙂

      August 25, 2020
  15. It’s that feeling of dread. The helplessness that comes from knowing you are one person and can’t change the way everything is. It’s the effort it takes to try and act normal or at least sane.

    But mainly it’s the sadness of worrying about your loved ones and the future life holds for them.

    I hate it.

    September 1, 2020

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