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Stress Eating, Retail Therapy And Outright Despair In The Age Of Trump

Brenda Villa, left, comforts her 11-year-old daughter, Kathryn, after speaking during an immigration rally and protest in Civic Center Park Saturday, June 30, 2018, in downtown Denver. (David Zalubowski/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Brenda Villa, left, comforts her 11-year-old daughter, Kathryn, after speaking during an immigration rally and protest in Civic Center Park Saturday, June 30, 2018, in downtown Denver. (David Zalubowski/AP)

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Since Nov. 8, 2016, I have gained 10 pounds. And I had nowhere to put them. It is of small comfort to know that I am not alone -- actors and late night TV hosts have confirmed that "the Trump 10" is a thing.

If only it were freshman year of college. If only I were eating pizza and sugary cereal for dinner in the caf. Instead, I am wolfing down my children’s Fig Newtons after checking headlines on my phone in the morning. Since the debacle of child separation, Justice Kennedy’s retirement announcement and the Helsinki Summit, I’ve added stale Goldfish crackers to the mix.

People are numbing themselves, and not just with food. One friend recently described how the occasional vodka tonic while out to dinner has turned into a daily habit in the privacy of her home. Another told me doing hot yoga blots out all thoughts of carefully coiffed politicians. Still another friend has experienced persistent migraines since the election, and developed a dependence on Ativan to cope. Other friends say they have gone on media “diets” and use their partners as filters for the news.

And why are so many people in survival mode? Many abuse survivors have told me it feels like an embodiment of their abuser is occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Every time the president flashes on a screen, tweets, or sounds off for the microphones, they are thrown into the darkest moment of their lives. And ultimately, he speaks the language of the abuser. He lies to his citizens, his victims. He denies the abuse, gaslighting us all.

The truth is, the executive, legislative and judicial branches currently controlled by hardline Republicans are harming a wide range of citizens with their agenda — ethnic and religious minorities, immigrants, people with disabilities, the elderly, children, the poor, union employees, the LGBTQ community. Even the most privileged members of society are negatively affected by the government’s policies — the erosion of civil discourse and democratic norms, the attack on the environment and the decline in our standing in the global community are having both short- and long-term consequences. And if we see ourselves as a people, then the harm done to one of us is done to all of us.

But many people are channeling their anxiety and anger into action. Since Trump was elected, one person I know has gone on a rage spending spree, donating to organizations such as NARAL and Democratic political candidates, and subscribing to news organizations. A writer and digital artist I know has been creating protest art and donating the proceeds to Planned Parenthood. Many have joined political action groups and attend rallies in response to gun violence, immigration abuses, racism, misogyny, science denial and homophobia.

My book group no longer reads books. When we met, in December 2016, to discuss our latest book, we realized we couldn’t focus on point of view or character because we were so distressed about the election results. We turned ourselves into an unofficial political action committee on the spot. Since then, we have hosted a fundraiser for a progressive congressional candidate, walked in marches together, gone door to door to register voters, and plotted our strategy for the midterm elections. I am still reading, but instead of literary fiction, I have started reading mystery novels. I worry about the fact that I find murder comforting, but it helps me fall asleep at night.

Our very humanity is threatened, and there is a continuum of responses to this menace, ranging from self-soothing techniques to civil disobedience. We must survive and simultaneously fight with all our might. My boss recently told me his greatest coping mechanism is hope. The audacity.

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Deborah J. Bennett Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Deborah J. Bennett is a writer and professor at Berklee College of Music.

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