Abnormal as Normal
The night of the 2016 presidential election the results came in slowly, and for so many of us, shockingly. I excused myself from a small gathering and went home to bed, leaving it to my husband to keep watching—letting me know when the results were horribly clear. After that, and for days after, I slept very little; some nights not much at all.
The next morning I drove 50 miles to the monthly meeting of UU religious professionals, where I had been previously scheduled to lead a conversation of our post-election opportunities to bring our purposes and principles, our faith values, into intersectional public witness work. Values like inherent worth and dignity, justice and compassion, the right of conscience, the democratic process. Not unexpectedly, it was a somber gathering with more than a few tears and flashes of righteous anger.
That Thursday—only two days after the election—I participated in a Sistersong webinar that had been set up a few weeks earlier. Women of color (plus myself as a white ally) in leadership around reproductive justice could share their initial responses to the prospect of a presidency of a candidate who had built much of his campaign around anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-choice rhetoric. Whose voting record on public policy is zero. On the call, tuned into by hundreds of justice advocates and concerned citizens, these women expressed deep concern and fear about the safety of LGBTQ people, immigrants, communities of color, low income people. Decimation of the Affordable Care Act. Imprisonment. Deportation.
That next Sunday, like hundreds of UU clergy, I led worship in a congregation where most, if not all, of the congregants were stunned and raw, and again fearful. And where words seemed incredibly insufficient.
Then and only then I collapsed; giving into what trauma specialists call extreme distress, what Holocaust survivor and therapist Viktor Frankl described as, “An abnormal response to an abnormal situation… which is normal.” I still sleep poorly, am generally exhausted, irritable, my stomach hurts all the time.
Julie Taylor, president of the UU Trauma Response Ministry, has put together a most instructive and reassuring video that is very applicable for managing post-election stress response. In it, she reminds us that beyond ordinary stress, distress in the face of what happened November 8th is normal. It will take time, perhaps several weeks, to individually stabilize, to bounce back—or ahead—from the very real physical, cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual reactions to such a disquieting and disorienting event. We need to find at least a couple of specific ways to stay grounded, which will be different for each of us.
Like remembering to eat well. Like finding places and times of quiet. Like intentionally connecting with people who can listen to us and hold us accountable for unflagging self-care. As time passes, we will need to add a few more strategies for centering, for energizing, for replenishing. And then more still. It will perhaps seem self-indulgent, counter-productive, maybe even wrong. But it is essential if our call is to emphatically, collectively resist dangerous and unhealthy acts and to remain resilient for the challenges ahead—some known and many as yet unknown.