In the early ’90s, my brother was in Bosnia. Fresh out of college, he was looking for adventures and a way to make the world a better place. He landed in Mostar, the most heavily bombed city in Bosnia during the 1992-1995 war. He worked with a youth organization trying to help maintain normal lives for local young people through basketball tournaments and other social events. Part of the work he did included repairing the youth center’s roof.
When he called to confess to our family that he had left his planned destination of Prague and gone to Mostar, I said, “But, what do you do when the bombs come in?” He said, “We get down off the roof.”
A recent thread by Peter Daou on Twitter told a similar story. “I lived in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war. Carnage. Artillery barrages. Kidnappings. Snipers everywhere. Curfews. BUT LIFE WENT ON.” He continued, “We’d emerge from our bunkers, survey the overnight damage, then go shopping. Humans are resilient. We adapt to just about anything.”
Talking with a friend today about coping with the sociopolitical realities of the Trump administration here in the U.S., she said, “I feel like we’re in the middle of a war, I really do.” She’s not alone. All of the progressives and liberals I know are worried, to put it lightly. According to the American Psychological Association, more than half of Americans (57 percent) say the current political climate is a very or somewhat significant source of stress.
Just before the election, a group of more than 1,000 therapists, including 23 from Maine, joined together to publish a “A Public Manifesto” with the title “Citizen Therapists Against Trumpism.” This group foresaw what therapists across the country are reporting: “Trumpism,” which the Citizen Therapists describe as an “emerging form of American fascism,” is undermining “the emotional health of those seen as the ‘other’ in America — both historically denigrated groups and those whose turn will come.”
It seems trivial to talk about our emotional well-being when so many people’s lives and freedoms are already at stake, but keeping those of us who are less likely to be targets in a constant state of stress and worry works to the Trump administration’s advantage. If we are bogged down by our fear that we will lose our health insurance or that our water will become undrinkable or that we might be assaulted by someone who doesn’t fear the consequences, we won’t have the energy to fight back.
Joining together with others who are a part of the resistance is one way to reduce stress for most people I know who have political points of view similar to mine. For example, the Falmouth Quarter of the New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (Quakers) will host an “extended worship” Saturday. During the 2.5-hour session, attendees will consider queries such as these: “Do you respect the worth of every human being as a child of God? Do you uphold the right of all persons to justice and human dignity? Do you endeavor to create political, social and economic institutions which will sustain and enrich the life of all?”
At my daughters’ school, parents are getting together to support each other and brainstorm ways we can be proactive together in resisting the fascist-like menace of the current administration.
There are many events, including trainings and workshops, happening around the state for people who want to organize effectively or reduce stress in their lives. Nonprofit organizations need financial support and many need the help of volunteers.
Social justice actions and building community with others in the resistance brings me emotional strength. That said, the fact is that some of my self-care — how I will survive the very personal emotional stress and strain of the fact that things will get worse before they get better — means simply staying present in my everyday life.
I will work, parent, spend time with friends, make art, keep house, volunteer, expand my spiritual life and write my monthly column. Sometimes, when the metaphorical bombs are coming in, I need to just get down off the roof and be there as life goes on.
Heather Denkmire is a writer and artist who lives in Portland with her two young daughters. After a few challenging years, she is growing her small business, where her team helps nonprofit organizations win grants. She can be reached at email@example.com. Her columns appear monthly.