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How Should a Patriot Act, a Continuing Conversation on Mental Health and Self-care During Hard Times

The last month hasn’t been an easy one for this country. It also hasn’t been an easy one for me personally. It’s certainly been anything but “dreamy”… Except if by dream, we mean the ultimate nightmare.

So here we are again, lamenting the broken state of “The American Dream” and the broken state of myself. 

WARNING: This story addresses some very sensitive topics, including frank discussion of suicide, and it includes some coarse adult language. Reader discretion is advised.
Photo by Andrew Davey

I may not have been around all that long, but I’ve been around the block long enough to see a lot on the ground. I’ve been called “fake news!” by Trump supporters at Donald Trump’s campaign rallies (including the one he did last September). I’ve also been accused of peddling “fake news” by a few (former?) fans of a Democratic politician over my reporting on the 2016 election. I’ve been stared down by Bundy supporters who sometimes suspiciously viewed me as some “government toadie”. And I’ve lost count of all the times I’ve gone through heavily regimented security checkpoints in order to cover campaign rallies.

And yet, none of those prepared me for a 72-hour period in the first weekend of this month that not only turned my life upside down, but also shocked and horrified the entire nation. If anything, the El Paso Shooting triggered feelings and fears within me that I thought I had successfully suppressed for years.

On Friday, August 2, I was preparing to cover a day-long presidential candidate forum the next day and several other campaign events that weekend. On Monday, August 5, I made my fourth suicide attempt of 2019. On Monday, August 19, I made my fifth. And on Wednesday, August 21, I made my sixth. What the hell happened to me?

What happens when the horror movie becomes our own societal reality show?
Photo by Andrew Davey

Over the course of my work life, particularly ever since my “accidental stumble into journalism” nearly five years ago, I’ve tried to portray a kind of toughness that I always assumed was necessary for the job. Sure, I might be greeted by a torrent of insults and attacks, but I take them in stride. Sure, some government officials might give me the run-around and force me to play a twisted game of Where’s Waldo to the point of a total nervous breakdown under the hot desert sun, but I can totally handle it. Sure, oppression and suffering have become mainstays in news coverage around these parts and elsewhere, but I’m totally not affected by any of it.

Right? Wrong. Like everyone else, I have feelings. Like everyone else, I remember the insults, the attacks, the breakdowns, the oppression, and the suffering. Yet maybe unlike some others, I can’t just “turn it off” and pretend none of this is happening when I’m done with my work.

Unlike some others, but probably like many of you and/or loved ones in your life, I’ve experienced some terribly fucked up shit in my life. And once more, with feeling, I just can’t forget about it and/or pretend it never happened.

And then, I look inside
Photo by Andrew Davey

Back in January, right here on this site, I revealed publicly for the first time the frequent psychological abuse and occasional bouts of physical abuse I suffered during my childhood. The unfortunate reality of growing up with this abuse is that I developed the habit of falling into unhealthy relationships.

When my mother (falsely) accused me of sexual affairs, theft, murder, and all-out fealty to Satan, I felt ashamed. Even though I never actually did any of this, it cemented the narrative that I’m a horrible person who deserves nothing but eternal punishment. And of course, that made it even easier for her to subjugate me until the final night when the cane came out, then I was ultimately taken out of her home.

In the years since then, I’ve tried my hardest to rid myself of the false accusations, the gaslighting, and all the rest of the coercive control abuse that I was subjected to. And yet, I kept finding my way into other relationships involving people who seemed helpful, and those people gradually morphed into people I wanted to help. But ultimately, these people tapped into the same narrative and ultimately amplified the message that I’m evil, I’m ugly, I’m awful in so many ways, and I don’t deserve to live.

So what now?
Photo by Andrew Davey

On Monday, I panicked over a temporary internet outage. Yesterday morning, I panicked over missing my house keys. These typically aren’t things that make someone suicidal. And really, these aren’t the things that make me suicidal.

It goes back to trauma I suffered early in life, and it’s since reemerged in other stressful moments and during the depths of toxic relationships. I can’t say how much Donald Trump himself triggers my PTSD, but much of the hate and extremism behind his political career can contribute to it, especially on days like those first days of August, when it became so tragic and incredibly palpable.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Other times, it’s been a seemingly innocuous mishap that triggered panic due to it connecting to much more severe pain and trauma, as has been the case this week. And as I wrote back in July, “It’s certainly not [what] I was originally expecting to write. But if this open and frank discussion on mental health and self-care in times of crisis and hardship can help anyone else experiencing similar struggles, then this will prove to be totally worth it.” I still stand by these words, and I’m still working on taking my own advice.

If you or someone you know is facing a major life crisis and struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always there at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). So is the Crisis Text Line, where you can start a conversation with a volunteer counselor by texting “START” to 741741. And for LGBTQ+ youth in need of immediate help, the Trevor Project has a 24/7 hotline at 1-866-488-7386 and a text option (text “START” to 678678) available.

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