I found out Donald Trump had won the Electoral College while midstream in providing a urine sample for the emergency psychiatric staff of a New York City public hospital…
For the preceding witching hours of election night, I had lain in a fetal position amidst a cast of anonymous men nursing their own crises, my hands clasped tightly over my ears. It wasn’t that I minded the howls of the guy nearby who was shackled to his cot and monitored by an unimpressed brood of policemen. Instead, I wanted to spare myself any word of the far greater insanity unfolding beyond the hospital walls.
Drained of tears, too tired to sleep, I stared at the fluorescent ceiling lights —which, indifferent to our suffering, remained on throughout the night — and endured the passing time by willing my thoughts to vanish into the dull glow. For a second, I imagined someone would burst in and proclaim, “It’s all right, Hillary won!” and I would bound out of bed, awoken from this nightmare…
A while before, during the final hour of November 8, I had committed myself to institutional psychiatric care. A generation or two ago they would have said I was suffering a nervous breakdown: catatonic, plagued by involuntary jerking motions (my head furiously shaking “No! ”), speech patterns disjointed, weeping uncontrollably.
During the final hour of November 8, I had committed myself to institutional psychiatric care…
I tumbled from quite the perch of high expectations…
My fundraising scored me the hottest ticket in town: entrance to the VIP wing of the would-be election Victory Party at the Javits Center in Manhattan. (It has a glass ceiling!) I bounded into the space at 6 o’clock in a frolic of an outfit: a red belt, white skinny jeans, and a blue Hillary-as-Rosie-the-Riveter T-shirt, my hair lavishly coiffed into a confident pompadour.
At first the sprawling party was a lark. I hobnobbed and table hopped. I couldn’t wait for a catharsis 25 years in the making. My only concern was the inevitable hangover.
Then came the 9 o’clock hour…
“I want to die,” I replied.
Coping with stress is about two things, both of which this character failed to do.
First, accept reality unhesitatingly as soon as you are positive it is reality. Hillary lost. Accept it as a baseline, and reboot your amygdala with that as the baseline. This character kept waiting for someone to walk in and say, “Hillary actually won!” That is a very bad thing to do. Notice it is also the product of a psychology that is designed to expect free resources, to the point even the past losses can be rewound and turned into wins retroactively.
A large part of this is expecting victory, which turns a loss into a violation of expectation. If he had expected this loss to be his reality it would have been much less amygdala-hijacking.
The amygdala shuts off in response to a decision point passing, or at least it is supposed to work that way. As soon as a decision point passes and fate casts itself in stone, the amygdala should re-establish its baseline and look forward to the next decision point. Outside of learning lessons, the past holds no opportunity for you, and energy is best served focusing on the next opportunities.
Tom Brady drops a game as the Patriot’s QB? He doesn’t dwell on it. That game was lost. It happens. Learn what you can, and focus your amygdala on the next one. It is how things are designed to work. If Tom Brady kept in the back of his mind that maybe there would be a review of the game by the commissioners and they would overturn the loss, or maybe he could still win it by going back and appealing it – that all would stall his amygdala on the loss and prevent it from moving forward. That is stressful, for no purpose, at the very time your amygdala should be focused on your next opportunity. That is how you produce another loss, and a stressful life.
Second, feel the amygdala burn, and welcome it. When I encounter stress now, I stop, center myself, and focus on the feel. I welcome it like a good burn in the biceps, pumping them up, and making them grow in the future. I view it as pumping up my amygdala, to make me harder in the future. I embrace the stress, recognize its purpose, and recognize that the feeling of it is toughening me in ways other people are not tough. I think about how well I will handle more stress when it comes. By welcoming it and every facet of it, instead of fearing the idea of it, I reduce the load on the amygdala. I prevent the fast-forward effect which this character obviously entered, which ended with him actually thinking about killing himself to break a cycle where fear of amygdala produces more amygdala, activating more fear of amygdala, triggering even more amygdala and on and on. If you fear the amygdala hit, you make it ten times worse. Embrace it, and it will be defused.
Learn to hit pause when you are stressed, focus on the feel of the amygdala, and realize how that feeling signals your adaptability to the high-stress environment.
Welcome it, if for no other reason than it will help you to never be writing an article like this guy.