Every day is a new outrage. Fatigue is setting in. How long are you expected to marshal all your resources against this problem? I mean, doesn’t Oprah say to cut toxicity out of your life? Does the phrase “banging your head against a wall” mean nothing to you? How about “taking a bucket to an ocean”? Even easier: “Get over it,” or in the ancient words of Elsa of Frozen, “Let it go.” If this person were your employee, you’d fire them; if this person were your employer, you’d quit; if this person were an older family member, you’d cut them off. And yet, none of those things seem to be options.
Yep, I suppose it’s fair to say that raising a severely autistic child prepared me for the Trump Presidency.
So I have some advice for half the political columnists I read, who are clearly in uncharted emotional territory. But before we go there, please indulge me in a long block quote from a piece published in Vulture yesterday:
A minister friend of mine once cautioned me against comparing my own grief to anyone else’s, especially when it led me to conclude that my own was not so bad in comparison. He said that no matter what sort of loss you experience – a parent, a child, a spouse, a friend; even a nonlethal loss like a divorce, a layoff, or losing your house in a fire or flood – the event opens up an emotional abysss that you fall into. “It’s all the same abyss,” he said. Some people fall more deeply into the abyss than others, always for their own reasons. And once you’re down there, he told me, ‘There are no magic words from other people that can get you out. You stay down there until you’re ready to climb out.
Matt Zoller Seitz published those words yesterday. You could call Seitz a role model of mine, to say the least. He wrote a book, TV: The Book, that I’m trying to emulate in a current round of pitches. Seitz runs rogerebert.com and (more or less) vulture.com. And the show he’s writing about, The Leftovers, based a recent episode (“It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World”) on Seitz’s writing, as its creators told him. Seitz is terrific, and he’s obviously more connected to The Leftovers than I will ever be, but his review of its series finale missed something crucial. The show is not only about the sort of loss that one can compartmentalize, not only about the sort of abyss that one can climb out of.
The Leftovers is also about perpetual trauma, the kind that you can’t really recover from, partly because the trauma is affecting more than just you. It’s affecting more than you and more than the people who want the best for you but are pained to see you struggle. This is living with chronic disability. This is also living with President Trump.
Let me be clear that I have 100% sympathy for those people who explain that their loss (“a parent, a child, a spouse, a friend…divorce, layoff…”) is as painful as raising an autistic child. I have equal sympathy for veterans reliving the trauma of war. PTSD and triggers are real, and not confined to veterans. But…that’s not my support group. I’ve been in that support group before. When my mother died, I felt that my life was over in some way. She and I had been each other’s world, she my only parent, I her only child. And 12 years later, I still dream that she’s alive and I wake up and it’s like losing her all over again. BUT…that’s not the same. Somehow, the compartmentalization of that is more real. That’s only about me.
Losing a loved one has an irreducible finality. Mourning them is intensely and ultimately personal. Sure, you can feel some guilt for the pain you’re causing others as they watch you suffer as you come to terms with it. But that is not, not, NOT the same thing as the guilt of failing to raise a child to the best of your effort. Failing as I fail every month is closer to not having any custody of your kids at all, and wondering how they’re doing as you languish in your literal or metaphorical prison.
The difference between losing someone forever and living with chronic disability is the difference between standing in quicksand and running in it. I believe it. That’s my support group.
As it turns out, the country needs us. Because we can’t just walk away from this toxic president. (I like that word “toxic” because the right hasn’t yet appropriated it for Nancy Pelosi et al. Give them, oh, I’d say, another week.) This toxic president is a chronic disability for this country we all love. And we all feel like we could be doing more. So what’s my hard-won wisdom from a half-decade on the autism front lines, then?
Pace yourself. Don’t try to do everything at once. Yes, take some occasional me time. We will need your strength and courage.
That said, make sure you do at least one thing for the problem every day that’s a little hard for you. Sometimes this means doing something new.
See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?
You’ve got this. We’ve all got this. We have to believe in hope. What else is there?