The 2016 Election & fighting for my mental health

Yesterday was #WorldMentalHealthDay, which is when I started this post. But it’s taken me until now to gather my thoughts enough to write about something I don’t talk about often: my mental health and the struggle to maintain it throughout this election cycle.

In the spring of last year, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Most people in my life know that I’ve been in treatment for clinical depression for almost ten years. Not as many know about the OCD, and I’ve been hesitant to talk about it openly. It’s something that’s been there the whole time but took a kind & perceptive therapist who asked the right questions to put all the pieces together. After the diagnosis, I felt an immense relief to be able to put a name to what I was experiencing. Knowing what it was meant that I could work to understand it, because if I understood it, I could find a way to loosen it’s grip on my life. Here is where I should tell you that one of the first things I learned about my OCD is that the compulsive behaviors it precipitates were my mind’s misguided method of handling anxiety.

In comes the 2016 Election…

Like many other people across this country, I’ve been watching Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency with a mixture of horror, sadness and anger for over a year. But as the campaign has progressed, particularly after he successfully won the GOP nomination this summer, the looming threat of a Trump presidency has become more and more distressing. The list of reasons why I find the thought of voting for that man abhorrent is too long to include here and seems to be growing by the day. There was a time when I found the idea of him being our next president horrifying but tried to understand why some people might be inclined to vote for him. As the campaign has progressed, however, he’s not only revealed himself to be thoroughly unqualified & uninformed about most if not all aspects of our government, he’s also expressed increasing levels of contempt for an alarming number of people throughout this country and around the world.

These things make up the core of his campaign, and I am long past the point where I could fathom maintaining respect for anyone who could listen to him, take in the tenor of his campaign, and still think it’s acceptable to vote for him. Let me be clear, in a normal election year, I do my very best to never judge others based on how they might vote. But this is not a normal election and he is not a normal candidate.

I refuse to accept his rhetoric & actions as those of a decent human being, let alone President of the United States. I refuse to believe that someone who seemingly has no interest in facts or in taking the time to learn about the issues he speaks about or developing actual policy proposals, all while insulting & demeaning vast swaths of the population, is an acceptable candidate for the highest office in this country.

And now back to the OCD…

In the past year & a half or so, I have worked very hard, with the support of my therapist, my family, and the aid of medication, to take back my life from the grips of OCD. But it never really goes away. I can re-teach my brain to not feel compelled to perform compulsive behaviors, but there is no actual cure for OCD. There are ways to manage it and work through it, but it’s still there.

One thing I should point out, and that bothers me to no end when it’s misrepresented, is that OCD looks different for everyone. The things that trigger it are different and the ways it manifests are different for everyone.

While I’ve been able to work through most of the physical/active manifestations of my OCD, the obsessive part is still there. One of the oh-so-lovely perks of OCD is something called intrusive thought. In my case, that means that when I am anxious about something, particularly uncertainty or frustration, that one turns into a thought or series of thoughts that races through my mind on a continuous loop. Until I can find some sort of resolution, the thoughts keep ruminating, intruding into my mind without permission.

Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency has evoked a wide variety of feelings in the past year and half. Until a couple days ago, I thought that I was handling it pretty well. Granted I’ve been spending a lot of (honestly, too much) time on Twitter, so I know more than I probably need to, but keeping up on the news & knowing what’s going on helps me feel a little less out of control.

In the past few days, since the debate on Sunday really, I’ve been gripped with fear & worry at the thought of people I love voting for him. Yes, I know that he in all likelihood will not win. And yes, I know that this fear is irrational and it should be none of my business who people vote for. But I just haven’t been able to let go of this worry. Because I see him as such a serious threat. Because I just can’t understand how anyone can listen to him & still vote for him. Honestly I don’t particularly care if they don’t vote for Hillary, but I am terrified at the thought of them voting for him. And I have not been able to get this fear out of my head, which led to me breaking down in tears last night at the mere thought of someone I love voting for that man.

That is not normal, but then again, neither is this election.

I was trying to explain to my mom why the not knowing was bothering me so much, and as I thought about it the pieces began to fall into place… All of the worry and frustration and sadness that’s been building as this campaign has progressed became a big ball of anxiety. That anxiety then turned into this intrusive thought about who loved ones are voting for and what I would do if they voted for Trump. It spun round and round and even though I knew it wasn’t rational and I knew that it was a product of the OCD, I still couldn’t let it go.

As much as I thought that my OCD was for the most part under control, it was still there, lurking, waiting for a chance to emerge from the recesses of my mind.

There is no grand resolution to this story. I still worry and am working through every tool I have to find peace of mind. I am quite thankful that many of my loved ones have been willing to ease my mind about this, which helps a lot. But the election isn’t over, and even when it is, I fear we will be dealing with the ramifications of his candidacy for years to come.

I wanted to share this because I wanted to support #WorldMentalHealthDay by speaking openly about my OCD, but I also wanted to try to explain why it’s so important to me that people do not vote for this man. I’m sure I’m not the only person who deals with anxiety who has struggled throughout this election. The fear and vitriol spread by his campaign is not just words.

Despite claims to the contrary, words have meaning and they have far-reaching consequences.