Posts tagged ‘politics’

February 16, 2020

America the Dysthymic

by Cynthia

My psychotherapy practice is comprised of couples who are having relationship problems and individuals with mood disorders, grief and loss issues, and life transition concerns. Those who disparage psychotherapy might label the people who seek my services the “worried well.” My patients are middle-class adults, urban and predominately white. They are not chronically mentally ill. They are not poor, or disadvantaged, and yet, the worried well are getting more worried. The worried well are getting sick.

Dysthymia, also called persistent depressive disorder, is a diagnostic designation that describes a consistent feeling of depression that is less severe that Major Depressive Disorder. Some of the symptoms of dysthymia include a loss of interest in normal activities, sadness or feeling empty, hopelessness, irritability or anger. What many of us have been witnessing in our patients and in ourselves is a general malaise that, while not at levels that warrant a diagnosis, is growing more pervasive.

America is becoming dysthymic.

The water torture drip, drip, drip of the negative environment created by the current political climate and our constant connection to media is literally making us sick. It doesn’t matter which side of the political tug-of-war you are one, whether you’re delighted about Donald Trump being president, or desperate for him to return to the penthouse at Trump Tower for good. No matter your political perspective, you likely feel set-upon and fearful. You are afraid that you will lose what you have now, or afraid you’ll be forced to accept something you find abhorrent.

Ranging from despair to apathy, the specter of hopelessness from which my patients suffer has nudged me to inquire more often about their spiritual hygiene than in the past. Spiritual hygiene refers to what we feed our minds and how we nurture our souls. A steady diet of talk radio or cable news (no matter the flavor) is likely to lead to a spiritual sickness characterized by bitterness and anxiety. People who spend more time on social media, especially of a political bent, than they do talking to friends, spending active time outdoors, or enjoying their hobbies are more likely to feel less positively about their lives. Contemptuous rhetoric has a toxic effect.

Our limbic systems are at the mercy of pings and vibrations and the clarion call of news reports designed for provocation. Our brains have become habituated to compulsively respond to every text, every call, every Facebook post as if they were important to our survival or functioning. Some of us even wear devices on our bodies (on our bodies!) that alert us instantly that someone, somewhere, wants our attention. The problem is that everyone wants our attention. Getting attention is the name of the game. The ability to grab the eyes and ears of people who don’t even know you is called “having a platform,” and has sadly become more important in some quarters than having something worth saying.  Our bodies are the conduit through which all that data passes through: our spirits, our souls, our nervous systems.  

I’m not arguing for being uninformed. The question you need to ask yourself is “how much do I need to know? If you deplore Donald Trump, you aren’t going to deplore him any less by being constantly focused on news of his latest transgression. If you admire him, you probably aren’t going to admire him any less because of what you read or hear. Confirmation bias affects all of us, and the polarization of our political environment thrives on it.

If activism is what turns you on, then march and write and organize and protest with your whole heart, but realize you will need to neutralize all that political acid with a big dose of poetry, and time spent in the woods, and hours holding and being held by someone who doesn’t give a fig about your politics.

No matter who lives in the White House in 2021, the people you love will still need your attention. You will still need theirs. The poor will always need help from those who are more blessed. The maples will be magnificent again in the fall and you need to notice them. Your body will still be fragile and soft and temporary. Sleep. Eat real food. Visit with your neighbors and talk to the children in your life. If you don’t have any children in your life, find some to hang out with. Every child can use more adults in their lives who listen to them.

The political slime fest is only going to get worse the closer the 2020 election gets. The world will go on after you are dead, people will be fighting, those in power will still be trying to get more of what they will just misuse. You have one short life. Use it for good. Guard your heart.

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