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.
“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.