How to keep sane as your country crumbles away
July 31, 2019 1:35 PM   Subscribe

Looking for tips of how to protect my mental health when every bit of government-related news is extremely upsetting.

I am Brazilian and everyday I read the news there is something new to feel disgusted, extremely sad, outraged or hopeless about. I won't go too much into the political detail but just broadly it is very hard to live in a place where those in power deny things like racism, feminicide, homophobia and climate change, abuse their power to protect themselves while depriving us from investment in basic things like education.

Some people say "Brazil is back on the radar of investors" but it really doesn't feel that way to me. This country is going down the toilet. Everyone I know, so well-educated, informed Brazilians feel the same and are extremely worried about the future.

I have work opportunities that I could pursue outside Brazil and could just live abroad forever if I really wanted to. As attractive as that might sound, and I have done that for a few years, I actually like my country. I like feeling the sun on my face even during winter, eating rice and beans at mum's, hearing people speak Portuguese, being able to hug a childhood friend.

I am not leaving Brazil even though I could, but still I feel like I am trapped. And the fact that my job puts me in the frontline of all the absurdities that are going on in Brazil often make me feel like I might lose my mind.

Lately I have been thinking about using my skills in things like NGO work to help counteract the damage this government is doing in some many areas but to be honest, I don't have the energy, influence or direction. I also thought about doing work in something totally unrelated and maybe hiding away and doing something like permaculture somewhere, reduce my living standards drastically just so I can minimize the contact I have with what's going on. My life feels like a dead-end really. Sadly, I know this is what the government wants. :(

I know that this has been a reality in places like the US for many so it would be really helpful to hear how folks who strongly oppose what the government is doing are managing to keep sane. Any experiences and/or suggestions around how I might be able to deal with feelings about external developments I cannot control would be very welcome. Thanks for reading this.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (6 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I used to focus a lot more on the life I was 'supposed' to have, the life that was implicitly and explicitly promised to me as I grew up. I had to come to terms with the fact that no matter what happens - even if things get better, even if some things get better than they ever have been - that specific life won't be happening. I had to grieve for it before I could look to the future as it exists now and adjust my plans accordingly.

There is actually some freedom that comes with this. If the vision you used to have of 'success' is no longer possible, you now have the freedom to redefine what success would mean for you now.

Another thing that helps me is redirecting my energy to local matters. I can't really do much to change my national government. But I can change my city - people are doing it in a hundred ways every day, whether through their work of their activism or just their kindness. Personally, I used to work for an international nonprofit and now I work for a local one, and it's much more rewarding. If you can find a way to do something like this, you may feel less hopeless.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:02 PM on July 31, 2019 [6 favorites]

For me, if I find at least one group that meets in person that addresses one issue that I am worried about, I can rein in my despair. Sometimes it can be mutual aid or straight up how can I make someone's day-to-day a bit more bearable (Occupy Sandy, the activists turned disaster relief group, is an example I think about).

I need to keep in mind that the issues I deeply care about (housing justice, especially decriminalizing homelessness and increasing renters rights) pre-existed the 2016 election and there are groups already doing great work that I can help support. I'm not the only one appalled, and people have done really smart analyses of how to address structural / historical injustices.

I also need to keep in mind that the strategies that I am excited about are not the only strategies to address the f-ed up state of society. I can't find the exact quote from the Lesbian Avengers that I wanted, but the idea that there are many modes of activism and I don't have to participate in the ones I don't like, but nor do I have to dissuade people from engaging in the kind of activism they want to:
People are different. We are most effective when we work with people who share our basic ethical and political perspective, instead of trying to pressure everyone into a single strategy or single organization. We believe that there are hundreds of ways of organizing and just as many approaches to fighting the Right. We don't require our allies to agree with us on every subject, but to get things accomplished, it makes sense for us to focus our support on working with people who are committed to doing out, visible, grassroots organizing. This is the kind of work we believe in and at which we can be most helpful... If people disagree strongly about strategy, they should work in different groups. It is a waste of time, not to mention emotional energy, to try and argue everyone into consensus; what inevitably happens is that some people—usually those without resources and/or confidence—simply give up and others end up determining the strategy. (Lesbian Avengers Out Against the Right Handbook)
p.s. co-sign with the suggestion to get involved in local activism. I am the most despairing when I spend my days reading solely national politics feeds.
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:06 PM on July 31, 2019 [4 favorites]

I think you should get out if you can.

Because if you stay and at some point decide you must oppose the regime, and are at all effective, they will come for you.

If you oppose them from another country, you not only will be more effective in getting media attention for the abuses happening in Brazil, there will be an extra layer of protection as long as you've chosen a country which won't hand you over or look the other way while Brazil sends people to take care of you, the way Argentina did with Chile.
posted by jamjam at 2:26 PM on July 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

Parliamentary democracy hasn't done a great job at getting climate change reversed or keeping people from being sent to war and worse. It never will.

Some of us have joined the International Marxist Tendency study and organizing group. Do a little reading before you rule it out entirely: Western capitalist media have done a great job of demonizing a lot of good work.

If you do some reading and prefer another left tendency, one that organizes for direct action on climate change and so on, I'm sure they are to be found in Brazil. Watch out for groups that organize on FB, though.... it's not a good idea for reasons that should be obvious but apparently are not.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 2:29 PM on July 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

I live in Mexico but still consider the U.S. my home. Watching that shitshow from afar is as hard as watching it in-country.

So I ignore it as much as possible. I focus my efforts on helping people here and now, whether that be making sandwiches or bringing my professional expertise to online forums. And most importantly I try to treat everyone kindly and be a calm and steady presence.

I strongly suggest the book Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh where, if I may be so bold as to summarize, he offers the argument that peace will never come about through anger and mass upheaval. It will come, if it ever does, one person at a time as they learn to be peaceful with themselves.

“If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:07 PM on July 31, 2019 [4 favorites]

You protect your mental health from political upsets the same way you protect from other upsets, honestly - self-care, creative expression, social supports, therapy, journaling, medications as needed, meditation, good food and physical activity, etc.

But some political situations also require action that is outward-facing. Protests, activism, resistance, political and community organizing, campaigning, donating, and writing letters/making calls to representatives are all activities that can help the soul and feed well-being.

Stay well.
posted by acridrabbit at 9:13 PM on July 31, 2019

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