Yesterday was one of the hardest days of my life. But I'm alive, I made it through, and I'm hoping–praying–the worst is over. Donald Trump is the next president of the United States. Even just writing that feels wrong. I can't believe it. I don't have any thoughts about that at this point, and I don't think I will have any anytime soon, but I want to share the story of the emotional roller coaster that was the night of Election Day and the morning after, for myself more than anything else.
At about 10:30PM on Tuesday night, when the results weren't determined yet, but things weren't looking good, I start to panic a bit, and that's when I figure I should try to head to bed; otherwise, I wouldn't be sleeping at all. I turn off the lights, lay down, and put on my favorite ambient album to try to calm myself down. My heart is racing and my mind is running wild as the reality of what might be happening starts to set in. I lay motionless, the music calming me down just barely, with my mind conjuring up all the possibilities of what could happen. As the album ends and the silence starts to set in, my heart begins beating out of my chest, all while I'm still laying there, motionless. After about two hours, I manage to fall asleep, only to wake up in the middle of the night and cycle through tossing and turning and motionless panic. Needless to say, I didn't sleep much.
At 6:30AM I finally decide to get out of bed. Petrified of what would be on it, I pick up my phone, and only then does it hit me that this is real: I am in a nightmare I can't wake up from. I start crying. I want nothing more to curl up into a ball and keep crying, but life goes on, and I have work. I go through the motions of getting ready for work, having never been less prepared to take on the world. This was a feeling I had never before felt in my life: I was scared... legitimately scared, and I didn't know what to do about it, I didn't know what to say, and I had no idea what would come next. I was legitimately afraid of what could happen, to me, to my family, to my friends... and to this country that I've called home for all of my life.
I make my way down to the lobby of my apartment building and am greeted by a woman at the front desk, this incredible African American woman who is one of the most cheery and uplifting people I've ever met. As she asks me how I'm doing in her usual cheery tone, my eyes well up, and she knows. She nods in solidarity, wishes me a wonderful day as she always does, and I head outside. It's a dreary rainy morning, which was fitting. As I walk through the rain, staring at the ground, a few extra raindrops come down from my eyes.
I get into my car, crying again. Sitting at a red light, I cover my face and avoid looking towards the cars next to me. I've never felt comfortable crying in front of people, and I don't for that reason. After a few minutes of trying to compose myself, I call my parents. My voice breaks as I speak to them. Like most, they're shocked, though they don't seem to be nearly as concerned as I am. Talking to them helps. I stop crying, now feeling numb, which is relieving, since the last thing I want is to be crying at work.
At work, the atmosphere is ominous. I sit down, look at my to-do list, and try to get back to work, hoping to regain some sort of sense of normalcy. It's nearly impossible to focus on much of anything; work doesn't seem all that important. My sister texts me asking when we're going to move, and I don't have any answers. I do my best to comfort her and offer words of encouragement, trying to convince myself of what I'm saying as much as I'm trying to convince her. I have no idea what I'm saying. I reach out to friends, friends reach out to me, and it's clear that I'm not alone. I want nothing more than to talk to people, but I really have nothing to say and don't even feel like I can come up with coherent thoughts at this point. The day rolls on. I waver back and forth between numbness and crying, taking a few trips to the bathroom to compose myself. I forget to eat lunch, not that I have much of an appetite anyway. I reluctantly force feed myself my chicken sandwich and push myself through the day, trying to get all my work done so I can get out of here.
At 3:30PM, I've had enough. I have a headache and need to get out of the office. Earlier in the day, I received an email about a mindfulness session in the afternoon. Let me explain: back in May, I participated in a mindfulness pilot session at work, where on Friday for 3 straight weeks, we would meet for an hour before work and practice mindfulness and meditation. Each time I went to one of those sessions, I always came away feeling so much better. Given the angst of the election, the organizer of the pilot session reached out to us to come in and clear our heads. As much as I wanted to go home at that point, I knew I should probably go.
I'm driving to the location of the mindfulness session, stuck in traffic. I look at the time, realize I'm going to be late, and ponder whether I should just skip and go home, not wanting to add to my anxiety by being that guy that walks in late, but I know that I need this. I finally arrive and walk in about 15 minutes late, where I'm welcomed in. There are four people there, only one of which I've met before. They're going through introductions, and I make it just in time for my turn. I give the standard intro: my name, my job position, and then I start to explain why I'm there. Before I can even get the words out, my eyes well up, and for the first time since I was 13, I find myself crying in front of others–strangers nonetheless. I explain my background, how I am legitimately afraid, and how I don't know what to do or say, and how all I want at this moment is to feel somewhat normal again. It feels oddly comforting to be crying in front of a bunch of strangers, and they console me. It resonates with me this time: I am not alone.
I don't know what I hope people take away from my experience. I'm still grieving, and I guess this is my way of using writing as therapy, as a way for me to distract myself or reflect upon what's happened or something. I don't know much of anything right now. I guess what I hope is that this serves as an assurance that you're not alone–we're not alone.
I also want to make something clear: although I am Muslim and an Arab-American, I know that I look white, and that makes me one of the "lucky" ones. It's an extremely complex feeling, because while I don't feel white or identify with white people, I can't deny that I benefit from white privilege and that I can never fully understand the depths of the experiences people of color go through. It feels weird, complicated, and uncomfortable. There's this omnipresent guilt I have for being the way I am, guilt that I imagine is similar to survivor's guilt. I don't want or expect any sympathy for this, but I do want to share my perspective and let everyone know that I am fully aware of the position I'm in. It weighs on me heavily, especially now.
I'd also like to offer what might be a potential solution to help reconcile the emotions of everything that is happening: mindfulness and meditation. It's something I've taken an interest in over the past year, and I've found that it does help my mental clarity and sanity; it got me back to a functional state yesterday. We've all been told of how important it is to take care of our bodies, and how we can go about doing that, but we've never been taught how to take care of the most important muscle we have: our mind. That's what mindfulness is. I know, I know, if you're skeptical, it may sound like total crap. That's alright; there have been studies that show those who are skeptical of mindfulness tend to benefit from it the most, and science does support the benefits of mindfulness. Think of it as exercise for your brain: when you first get started, it's hard, you can't really do much, and it kind of sucks. But if you stick with it, it gets easier, and you eventually start to see benefits, even start to enjoy it. The New York Times has a great guide on mindfulness and meditation. Give it a try, you have nothing to lose.
This has become a whole lot of words that may or may not make sense, so I'm going to wrap this up. Again, I really don't know much of anything right now, and that includes what to say. I do consider myself an optimist, a pragmatic idealist, and the optimist in me looks for silver linings, such as how in times of tragedy, people come together, like this. The pragmatic idealist in me says that we need continue to come together, take some time to reflect on what we want this world to be, and then be an example of that. For me, that means to be a little kinder to others, listening to what they have to say, even if I may disagree; that means individualizing people rather than painting people with broad generalizations, and recognizing every single person is a three-dimensional being with feelings, problems, hopes, dreams, fears, and insecurities. That means doing everything I can to spread love and express empathy. I'm still scared. But that's all I know.
Please reach out if you would like to talk, because heaven knows that I do too. Lastly, please be safe out there.