I love the country, but I can't stand the scene
August 13, 2017 10:35 AM   Subscribe

This is not a time to be disengaged from politics. Engaging with politics is making me ill. What can I do?

I'm a dual citizen of the U.S. and UK, living in London. Over the past year or two, I've felt like everything I love is being destroyed and the values I cherish no longer apply. I know I have to stop being defeatist and fight back, but I don't know how.

I've had bouts of depression for most of my life and have been particularly struggling for the past 18 months or so, partly because of world events and partly for more personal reasons. For a while I had to stop following the news and cleanse my social media feeds of all political content because it was just making things worse.

Looking at the events in Virginia this weekend, I realise that's the coward's way out. But the obstacles to actually making a difference seem overwhelming. What can I use to persuade people? Rational arguments? We're in a post-fact era. Appeals to common decency? It's not so common after all. I can write poetry, but no one will read it except other poets.

Further complicating matters is the fact that I've been allergic to joining organised campaigns ever since I went to the big march against the Iraq war in London some 15 years ago and found myself walking behind banners that read "Victory to the Intifada." I get the "my enemy's enemy is my friend" concept, but ... I've got more than one enemy.

What's a depressed centrist to do? Any suggestions welcome.
posted by Perodicticus potto to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Get involved in building something positive e.g.London Orchard Project
posted by shibori at 11:08 AM on August 13, 2017

I have the same fatigue and now do not engage in discussion nor read about politics.

Instead I just donate a regular nominal amount. This has both benefit of feelig involved and contributing to the cause , without expending the mental energy.
posted by artificialard at 11:26 AM on August 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

I limit myself to twenty minutes of news a day. For me that's enough that I know what's going on and can talk to people who want to talk about current events without drowning in it. Practically it means I listen to a news program while I wash dishes. I like to keep it to the facts because listening to any side's take on a issue is generally a bummer. As far as changing people's minds, I find it isn't something you should bother with. But if you're going to, being a consistent calm ear and asking people why they think what they think and gently suggesting you've seen differently helps. It takes a long time. Like you need to know and care about that person. It's hard when you think the other side is full of dumb bigots. If you want to come to an understanding you need to find a way to see them with charity. They're wrong, but not bad. Try to understand how they got to where they are and work from there, instead of how you'd like them to see things.
posted by Bistyfrass at 11:54 AM on August 13, 2017

Disengage from the news media. Don't watch TV news, get off Facebook, twitter, etc.

If you feel compelled to keep up, try getting your news from the posts on MetaFilter, where the horribleness is responded to with condemnation. At the same time, ideas for coping with and fighting injustice are a big part of the conversation as well. The company of other thinking, caring people is helpful.

Be gentle with yourself. It is not solely up to you to right all the wrongs. Do what you can, speak kindly to everyone you come in contact with. Refuse to engage in debate with wrongheaded people. Donate to or volunteer for organizations that have had their funding cut. Have some fun, too.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 12:02 PM on August 13, 2017

What about trying again on the "groups to join" front? My happiest association with a political org was a long-running volunteer gig at a radical bookstore (sadly, now gentrified away). I met a ton of people, we often went to marches and things together, I felt like I was supporting something I believed in and it was a pan-left organization so there was no one political line. Also, there was a lot more positive stuff. Admittedly, the world was not as bad as it's gotten, but even so, potlucks and movie showings and things provided a lot more "activism is fun and satisfying" feelings than Facebook.

Bookstores, libraries (if there are specialist left-leaning ones near you), film societies and that kind of thing are good places to volunteer because it's usually a regular gig and it's usually pretty low key. Also, it helps you keep your ear to the ground a bit more.

This may not be you, but sometimes I find that "this is it, I'm done with left orgs" is more my anxiety and sadness talking than anything else. I mean, I'm certainly done with some left orgs, but there are a lot. Especially in London, I bet.
posted by Frowner at 12:18 PM on August 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's becoming clear that I didn't phrase this question very well. Let me have another go:

1. How can I overcome depression and despair long enough to fight my countries' descent into barbarism?
2. What's the most effective way to do this in an extremely polarised and irrational climate?
3. Is there any way to oppose the far right without running into the arms of the far left (whom I consider equally barbaric)?

Maybe there isn't an answer.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 12:36 PM on August 13, 2017

You should stop feeling responsible for solving everything. You're one person in a world full of billions of people, and your power to affect change is limited. Yes, it is better to do something--but we're not going to fall down the rabbithole into fascism because you, perodictitus potto, needed to take a step back for the sake of your mental health.

If I were you, I would set a small goal that seems realistic for your situation. For example, you don't need to be a member of an organization in order to write letters to politicians advocating for or against policy. You don't need to be a member of an organization to donate to it--and you can look up their political stance and past history before you do so, so you aren't surprised.

Say you'll write a letter or donate once a month. That's more than most people will ever do.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:40 PM on August 13, 2017 [11 favorites]

Here's the thing. The world doesn't actually care if you read news about it, or if you suffer on its behalf, or if you stay up late at night trying to figure out what's happening or what's going on. For all that it feels like things are particularly bad now, it has been the true state of existence since basically the beginning of time that the world is filled with suffering, the vast majority of which you can do absolutely nothing about.

When it comes to morality, actions are all that matter. All of the emotional energy you expend on caring about stuff you can't control - that's just waste. If it doesn't motivate you to act - or worse, if it exacerbates your depression so that you're actually doing less - it's just self-indulgence. Your thoughts and feelings and sense of responsibility and your Facebook posts and your half-baked ideas about what's going on in foreign affairs and your worst-case scenario about the way things might turn out - that's just smoke. It means nothing to anyone but you. You can do the same work happily and with a sense of peace, or totally wrapped up in misery and depression and helplessness - the world doesn't care. Your suffering adds no value to whatever work you're doing. So you get to choose. The phrase "happy warrior" is one I like to keep in mind.

So go ahead and pick one volunteering gig that touches on a political issue that is important to you - anything from the environment to supporting refugees or campaigning for a politician. It must involve concrete work. Figure out how many hours a week you can commit to it to without burning out. It's probably way less than you think, so sign up for less than you think you should. Two hours seems reasonable to start. Stick to it. Show up, do work, go home.

Pick another group that does important work. Set up a recurring donation in an amount you can afford. Keep paying it.

Make a commitment to yourself to keep doing these things for one month. During that month, you have relieved yourself from any additional ethical responsibility to be "engaged" in the world. Take care of yourself, treat your depression, laugh, breathe, cultivate your energy. If at the end of the month, you find you have a little more time to give or the impulse to donate a little more money, great! Do that. And do it happily, because hey, why not? Next month, check in again. Rinse, repeat, continue.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 12:55 PM on August 13, 2017 [24 favorites]

My strategy: find one issue you resonate with, work on that. Mine's single payer. Yours could be global warming, anti racism, something you have personal knowledge or investment in. Then I give money to other causes I can't spend time on.

I also try to limit but not eliminate taking in news. That part is hard to balance.

Action actually helps fight despair.
posted by latkes at 1:04 PM on August 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

The events in Charlottsville literally made me ill last night. I spent some time calling my Congressional delegation. On fb, I reposted info on rallies and vigils later today. I started to read news on fb & MeFi, but it's too distressing, so I made muffins, crockpot barbecue, and cleaned the kitchen. Now, a walk and a shower.

In general, in the world, there's less disease, less poverty, less war. In specific, in the US, there's a bunch of vile white supremacy, neo-Nazism, and a vile person elected to the presidency with help from Russia. It's very hard to live here right now. But we can and must resist. So we will.
posted by theora55 at 1:29 PM on August 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have an anxiety problem which has been in overdrive for the last year or so, and the way I have been managing is volunteering time with causes that involve more direct contact with helping marginalized people, rather than being one of the ones to involve in confrontation against the people who're hurting those groups. I do work with middle school girls, many of them POC and lower-income, with an interest in STEM. They give me a lot of hope for the future, and it sets those girls up to be the people helping in the next generation, which is absolutely vital. Not everywhere you volunteer time has to involve directly engaging with the bad guys or having to keep up with what's going on on a moment-to-moment basis in order to do good.
posted by Sequence at 1:37 PM on August 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Definitely agree pick an issue to focus your efforts (for me, K-12 education and environment). It's easier to stay engaged and passionate. And also agree that even if you make one phone call or write one letter per week, you're in the top 5% of political engagement!

Another thing I do, because I have three little kids and can only devote a certain portion of my brain to politics and action, is I have a few trusted friends who are activists on issues I care about and whom I consider sensible and knowledgeable. I follow their social media feeds to see what they're up to, and I just outright tell them, "I don't have the bandwidth to keep up on the twists and turns of the state budget issue/local racism fight/horrible bill in Congress, when there's something that needs done, can you tell me?" And then they make sure to forward me action alerts or let me know when there's an event -- calling/writing campaigns, local meetings or marches, etc., where my action or presence can make a difference. Activists love having people who will reliable mobilize when asked to mobilize, and as long as I don't have to personally keep up with the constant churn of news about $issue, but can just get told what to do when on that $issue, I will reliably mobilize. I'll write, I'll call, I'll come to local meetings and testify before local bodies and attend local marches.

Before I moved, I was also well-known for being able to run daytime errands with a minivan ... as an at-home mom, I can go pick up a ton of yard signs from the printer and drop them somewhere, or get the meeting food and deliver it to the hall, or whatever, that was literally no hassle at all for me, and it was often a big hassle for other people with 9 to 5 jobs or small cars. Sitting in evening meetings for three hours, kind-of a nightmare with three children, but running daytime errands? All over it. Let local activists that you trust know that you're available and how you're available and that you don't mind doing boring tedious stuff, you just can't possibly [do stuff you can't manage]. But yeah, pick people you trust who share your general sensibilities and you can be a very useful ally without having to burn yourself out psychologically.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:38 PM on August 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Become a better person in your day-to-day life. Model compassion.
posted by jbenben at 1:46 PM on August 13, 2017

Create if-then structures to defeat defeatism. For example: anytime I get into a political conversation that lasts longer than 5 minutes, I make myself stop and call or fax at least one of my elected representatives.

I've been considering implementing the same for "more than X minutes of scrolling through politics news feeling sad and hopeless."
posted by deludingmyself at 3:15 PM on August 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

As a US expat, I am also watching what is happening in the US. I also feel the despair and helplessness; I often think, "WTF is the point of me, someone who doesn't even live there anymore, doing anything?" But, I still vote, I still contact the representatives in my district, and then I focus on how I can apply those same principles I am fighting for on a local level. Right now, that means focusing on raising my kids with an awareness of social justice issues. Maybe when I have more energy and time I can expand that action.

Good luck.
posted by naturesgreatestmiracle at 4:38 PM on August 13, 2017

Thanks guys. I've signed up to volunteer for the Campaign Against Antisemitism here in the UK, and contacted an activist I admire & trust in the U.S. to ask for suggestions on how to help. I feel a bit less powerless now.

I'm a little disturbed that the top-rated answer in this thread describes the symptoms of depression as "self-indulgence," but I should be used to it by now (first got accused of "wallowing in it" at age 9).
posted by Perodicticus potto at 2:40 AM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's a simple answer and maybe a little trite: but if doing anything is making you ill (unless it's medical treatment FOR an illness), you should probably stop doing that thing. It's a fine time to disengage with politics if politics are actively hurting you. They'll still be there with all their problems when and if you decide to come back to them, that's just about the one thing you can rely on.
posted by colorblock sock at 9:35 PM on August 15, 2017

Hey, listen, I'm sorry. I don't think depression is self indulgence. It's a pep talk I give to myself (I have diagnosed and medicated anxiety) when I start to feel like my own emotions are taking on a weight they haven't earned, but I understand that it comes off differently when directed outward. I'm glad you found help here.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 2:46 PM on August 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

For all that it feels like things are particularly bad now, it has been the true state of existence since basically the beginning of time that the world is filled with suffering

This, times a thousand!
posted by Kwadeng at 12:38 PM on October 7, 2017

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