The Kavanaugh hearings put me in the hospital a few weeks ago.
It sounds so ridiculous now, but I watched the full testimony of Christine Blasey Ford and most of that of Brett Kavanaugh, and then, as the judiciary committee came to vote to advance his nomination the next day, I felt the familiar rush of a panic attack that snapped me into Afib and, as sometimes happens, I couldn’t get myself out.
I started having these episodes about five years ago, at a very low point in my life and career. I clearly remember the first one, on the day of the Boston Marathon bombing. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t even in the state, but I was in the car, after having taken the boys to a museum in Portland, Maine. I was listening to the news reports on the radio and my heartbeat became so rapid, I started looking for a place to pull over. A few seconds later, the sensation stopped. Over the next several months, I had a few more episodes, one of which landed me in the hospital, and then nothing for several years. I was convinced I’d beaten it.
This summer, when I got laid off, the panic attacks returned. Sometimes I can recover on my own, sometimes I need medical help to resettle my heartbeat. It’s frightening enough to me now to ask for more serious help to address the root causes. For the first time in my life, I’m looking for a therapist.
Nurses in the hospital told me that when Trump won the election, that they saw several patients who had a physical reaction similar to my experience with the Kavanaugh hearings. Since the election I’ve heard from many women experiencing a low grade depression or anxiety that won’t go away.
I’m someone who has been an observer of the political “game” for a very long time. I used to be able to predict a campaign’s or a party’s next steps and messaging, and understand why it was happening. I paid attention. Although there was a nagging feeling in the back of my head that Trump could win, I think the bottom fell out of my world when he did. I certainly wasn’t alone, especially here in Massachusetts, but it was around the same time that my health problems really started to limit what I could do, and I needed to spend the energy I had on the work I was doing to get paid. We did find some medication that helped, but it is exhausting trying to maintain a normal life with chronic illness.
Family and financial stresses have added to the vortex of doom that I’ve been experiencing for most of this year. I have two teenaged boys, generally great kids, but we’re going through that “I know everything” stage. Ugh.
I understand these things are cyclical; politics, financial strain, attitudes, but things have felt very bad for a long time. Given our particular constraints at this time, it’s often hard to see the way forward, to have confidence that we will survive this regime, this dark time in our personal and social history.
Events of the past week have driven home that some will really not survive this. The murders of eleven Jews in their temple in Pittsburgh, two Black seniors in a grocery store in Kentucky, the hanging of a Black Lives Matter activist in Missouri, and the attempted assassinations of several prominent Democrats and other public figures, make it clear that the danger we are feeling is not theoretical. That’s not to mention the kids in cages on our Southern border, the repeated attempts to strip healthcare away from the most vulnerable, and the deliberate assaults on environmental protections.
I grew up in New Jersey, I could smell Trump’s con for miles, but it is so much worse than I imagined. His collection of corrupt kleptocrats is far larger and more virulent than this country has seen, maybe ever. How does this end?
It’s become increasingly clear to me, with all that’s going on personally and politically, that I am going to need some outside help to restore my equilibrium so I feel like I have a fighting chance. So this week, during a visit to my primary care physician, I let him talk me into a small dose of anti-anxiety meds, a huge step for me.
On the way home, there was a rainbow over Boston. Coincidence?