Stress resulting from living in America these days is affecting me, my work, and my productivity. I’m not alone. There have been a steady stream of news articles about “post-election stress disorder.” It’s a catchy headline but psychologists don’t like it. They pushed back, saying that it trivializes a real disorder—PTSD—and it medicalizes normal challenges.
I don’t have any problem with the first part of this argument – the aftereffects of getting blown up in Fallujah don’t compare to the tension resulting from hours on Twitter and Facebook – but I’m not buying the second part.
Dr. Philip Levandusky of MacLean Hospital near Boston, objects to calling post-election stress a disorder. He says it is a “diagnosis based on an opportunistic situation.” He compares the election to a devastating hurricane. People anticipate something bad, they consume alarmist news, the bad thing happens, and the emotional aftereffects are similar to what therapists are seeing with their patients, post-election. He argues that the main issue is the perceived loss of control and that political protests and organizing are coping mechanisms that help people regain their equilibrium.
The hurricane analogy is misleading. First, hurricanes are localized events. When a natural disaster strikes a locality, remediation often comes from outside: resources are mobilized by neighboring communities, the federal government, and international aid organizations. Second, hurricanes are temporally discrete. They hit and then leave. They do not continue their destruction over long periods of time. Third, they do not affect all domains of social life. While families may be displaced and infrastructure damaged, we often see communities becoming more solidary as neighbors cooperate in rescue efforts and rebuilding. Finally, a natural disaster does not affect the collective basis of a political community. The body politic persists because its constitutional pattern is not affected.
The election is over. But the stress is ongoing—and it is real. What is taking place in US politics is not a “normal challenge.” The unpredictability of the White House coupled with the Congressional regressive policy initiatives is damaging the organs of self-government. The single party in power is producing an ongoing stream of ill-considered decisions and harmful actions that affect the whole country. Some people realize what is happening and some don’t see the writing on the wall . . . yet.
I am acting as my own therapist these days. I hear my concerns and acknowledge their reality. I am putting myself on a blog therapy program. In the coming weeks, I will explore the sources of the current tensions, write down and publish my thoughts.
Expect to hear from me.