It was a dark morning in Cleveland in the fall of 2016 when a trust fund baby and bully came from behind to win the highest office in the land.
I had only slept about three hours and fitful ones at that. My partner had gone to bed long before, but I’d been idly watching election results on my phone as I sat in the living room, thinking about long shots. How they were possible, even though others were quick to dismiss them. To count them out.
I grew increasingly alarmed as these particular odds became shorter and shorter. And eventually, CCR’s fortunate son who perpetually claimed victimhood was declared the winner.
I had a long day ahead of me at the office. In a few days, I’d be traveling deep into the red counties of Ohio to conduct seminars on holiday stress, of all things. And before I did that, I had a lot of work to coordinate at the office on other projects that I was overseeing, helping other trainers manage.
Because of this, I needed to sleep, so I willed my body to sink like a stone into a deep dark murky pool of unconsciousness.
In the morning, my partner woke up, found out the election results, and proceeded to yell at me. I can’t remember their stated reason now for being upset with me, only that it was thin and irrational, and they apologized within minutes for cracking and lashing out. The nasty words were out of their mouth before they realized what they had said. Displaced frustration. A visceral reaction to the disturbing news.
A few hours later, I received a message from a close friend who had also had a terrible fight with a partner. It was happening everywhere.
I went in to the office, worked robotically on my workflow. Achieving everything mandatory but feeling nothing. I noted coworkers who seemed conspicuously cheerful, remembering they were the ones who had spoken harshly against the heated rhetoric during the election but had added, “Maybe it’d be good to have a businessman running the government for a change.”
They didn’t have to tell me who they voted for. It was clear which camp was which, looking around the office. There were those who looked as I did, like we’d been hit by a freight train.
And then there were those who smiled, whistled, skipped.
You’re happy because you’ve won, I mused silently. But winning isn’t everything. You’re thrilled about the vicarious status involved. But what about the reward? Just wait until you see how craptastic the prize really is.
I channeled everything I wasn’t feeling (due to numbness) but knew I should be into writing for the first time on my blog about an abusive relationship I’d had as a young woman. Since much of the public discourse reminded me of that time in my life. And of him, the man I’d learned to be terrified of.
Razor Blades in Our Bellies
The following day, I took a half-day at work, preparing for my upcoming long day traveling and teaching seminars. I went to the grocery store to buy junk food. It was like there were razor blades in my belly. Stress feels an awful lot like hunger sometimes, which generally explains emotional eating. And also explained emotional eating in this specific case.
I wasn’t myself still. I can remember spending a good 10 minutes staring at potatoes, not sure which type I should buy or even how to begin narrowing the field, when a good friend came upon me. Unexpectedly, really.
Cleveland is big enough that you don’t typically run into people you know that often — especially if you didn’t grow up there, which I hadn’t. She was accompanied by another friend, one I had never met, but who was dealing with a rotten exacerbation of his depression following the election.
We traded stories about the past few days. They had also gotten into weird and pointless fights with the people closest to them.
Operating War Mechs
The next few weeks were miserable. My commute was darker and longer than usual. Driving in those weeks was especially dangerous. Half of people seemed to drive like they were too depressed to go on and didn’t care much if others hit them. The others drove as though they were high on meth. There was a competitive, road-ragey, superior, and smug attitude from this second class of drivers evident even with the distance imposed by being in a vehicle.
In the hands of those who triumphantly exalted bullies, an SUV could seem more like a war mech. One of those robots you always see in Japanese animes that are called upon to fight a giant monster.
Maybe that’s why people were so thirsty for an unlikely win, no matter the cost, I thought. They don’t have any giant monsters to fight. So they’re left to create them. They need a way to be the hero.
The Contentious Climate Made My Job A Lot More Stressful Logistically
It was an annoying, stressful, bleak time, exacerbated by irritations in my office life and difficult projects that could not have come at a worse time (I was working as a workplace psychological consultant, so some of my cases directly related to dealing with managing the emotional response of corporate clientele to the election, violent events employing hate speech that directly credited/cited political figures and the contentious climate, etc.).
Though stressed, I continued to post every day, writing about the weirdness of comforting myself as I slowly strode through some of the worst weeks I’d had in decades, weeks that reminded me of times when my life was much different and darker.
I wondered often if I should bother writing essays with everything going to Hell — sometimes I did this aloud on the actual blog.
But I kept on.
And I can remember the first moment that I really knew that things were going to be okay or at least that good things could still happen… as awful as life felt in those first few weeks.
On December 8, 2016, I found out that dinosaurs had feathers. It was because of this particular article. Essentially, scientists had found a specimen trapped in amber that had feathers still intact.
GUYS!!!! LOOK! A feathered dinosaur. Brown and white. No scales. Sorry, Godzilla, I wrote to my friends.
It was such a small thing. But it gave me hope.
Look at that, I thought. Don’t give up. You never know what tomorrow will bring. Even in the midst of a black depression, even when everything seems like it’s falling apart (or about to), you don’t really know what will happen next.
I’d think about that many times over the following months, which didn’t get any easier after bouts of violence broke out at a few different workplaces that I was consulting for. (Again, political rhetoric was involved. Sore winners were emboldened and socially rioting, while others crawled along on their bellies, defeated.)
I’d tell myself, “Don’t give up. Dinosaurs have feathers.”
Cultivating Glow in the Dark Succulents
It’s been a while since things felt quite so dark in my life. Time always helps with the immediate shock of something unexpected. And a great deal has changed in my personal life that’s been helpful (including my professional life and outlook).
So it wasn’t until the other day that I remembered those dark times. And how much something simple like feathery dinosaurs could cheer me up.
My friend Fluffy sent me a message: Page, if you still lived here I’d have a gift for you. Attached was a picture of a glow-in-the-dark succulent plant. They’re selling them at Aldi in Cleveland, and they’d seen the plants while shopping there. I love cacti and succulents and futuristic, oddly specifically engineered things. So this was clearly up my alley.
I smiled. I’m in Dallas now (moved here a few months ago), so I get what they mean. It’s a great deal more difficult and expensive to get me a gift. In the old days, they would have simply dropped by my house with the plant in tow and perhaps gotten sucked into one of our legendary conversational vortexes, where we both look up and realize we’ve been chatting for nine hours without noticing.
The fact that people are cultivating glow in the dark succulents now makes the future seem cooler, I wrote back. I like waking up and learning stuff like this. Reaffirms that continuing to survive is a good idea. Because you never know what cool thing will happen next, even if a lot of what happens is a shitshow.