Wellness Tools for Surviving the Ameripocalyse

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Yes, it’s here. In case you’ve been living in the Antarctic in an alternate universe in which the internet and porn stars and toxic nationalism have not yet been invented. Compared to the zombie apocalypse, the Ameripocalypse is less gory over all. Unfortunately it’s also more complex and psychologically destructive. And still pretty gruesome to watch.

You know the story. Twenty-score years ago or so ago a bizarre collection of pioneers, outcasts, religious zealots, profiteers and general riff-raff began colonizing this continent, introducing its native peoples to things like shipwrighting, private property, cultural hegemony and smallpox. Shortly afterwards a group of white male gentry influenced by the Enlightenment, Cicero and quasi-humanist optimism, along with a fair amount of self-interest, formulated the concept of the United States of America. Voila, from an underdetermined philosophical nest, in the context of institutionalized racism (aka slavery) and patriarchy, a marriage of free market capitalism and democracy was proposed, a nation without nationality was hatched. The great American experiment had begun.

These days every one’s talking about the value of failure. Entrepreneurs are told to expect it, innovators to embrace it. Even us social scientists are coached that the complete and utter failure of our hypotheses to hold up to experimental data is actually a good thing.

By this reasoning we should not take the failure of the American experiment too hard. So the idea of America as the pinnacle of civilization, opportunity, and multi-culturalism has completely exploded. So the values we thought the country stood for have been trampled by the Four Horseman of Bigotry, Authoritarianism, Oligarchy and Social Media. So the social contract we believed we signed up for is has been revealed as a sham. This should be a good thing.

From the sociological point of view what we are experiencing is collective cultural crisis. Decades from now, though, we’ll see the Ameripocalypse as an important transformative moment. A ‘learning opportunity’ we came to embrace. It will be good for us. It will make us better, stronger, wiser. As so many learning opportunities, though– having your job outsourced, being dumped without explanation by someone you thought really liked you, or getting hepatitis from your favorite restaurant– it may seem hard to appreciate at the time.

If we do it right we will gain tremendously. The disintegration of our national identity will inspire an improved American experiment, with better information and without little things like slavery to keep us back. This could lead to the decoupling of wealth and politics, myth and government, race and incarceration, privilege and health. It could take us into a new New World in which everyone gets an equal chance to achieve their potential.

The Ameripocalypse gives us a great opportunity to reset our course as a people. And at the moment, in most ways, it totally sucks.

Living in transformational times sounds exciting. But really it’s not much fun. Many Americans are on edge every day. For very good reasons. We are stressed, enraged, desperate, depressed. Our collective mental health is worse than its probably ever been. Along with all-time highs in Amazon shopping, hate crime, and erectile dysfunction medication sales– anxiety, mood disorders and substance addiction top the charts today, with more deaths by overdose and suicide than ever recorded.

This is not a coincidence– and it’s not getting better any time soon. Our dirty laundry of inequity, economic disparity, injustice, racism and sexism is out there, and there’s a lot of it. These things are not going away with the mid-term election. Legislation to meaningfully reduce access to military-grade human-killing machinery are not even on the calendar, policy fixes to bias in police practices and sentencing are pretty slim. And even these would not stop the social disease of hate known commonly as free speech, twitter and Uncle Andy’s posts on your Facebook page.

The Ameripocalyse is not going to be easy on anyone who does not have a very long yacht and personal resort to dock it at. The truths we face in ourselves as a nation now are like that moment of walking in on your parents having sex.

Something we never wanted to see. Something we never can unsee.

The result of all this, psychologically speaking, is that for many millions of smart, sensitive, attention-challenged, vaguely aware or even occasionally thoughtful people in this country, living in these times can: alter cortisol and related hormone levels, foster cognitive distortions, enhance baseline anxiety, drive compulsive behavior, reduce serotonin availability and exacerbate irritability. In other words, we are all on the verge of losing it.

Losing it can be appealing. It doesn’t usually work out so well though. Losing it at the housing people doesn’t help your friend with their Section 8 application. Losing it at Fox News anchors only feeds their hate creation machinery so they grow bigger and more powerful. Losing it in the most general sense can lead to dehumanizing treatment in psych wards, loss of child custody and civil rights, unfathomably complicated medical bills and people awkwardly trying to avoid you at the office holiday party.

Let’s be clear. To make good from this Ameripocalypse, we need many people to take many important actions. Staying sane then, is both important and challenging. And to do so, we’ll need help.

Many “wellness” and“self-care tools” are widely available these days, for all sorts of problems. They can be accessed in the forms of apps, blogs, to-do lists, becoming-your-most-awesome-self podcasts or inspiring Ted talks. Some of these genuinely help people with difficult emotions and self-image issues some of the time. There are also those things that fall into the category of stuff-you-know-you-ought to-be-doing-to-make-yourself-a-better-person-and-why-don’t-you-because-really-you’re-so-pathetic-you can’t-even-get-off-your-butt-to-write-your-90-Day-Happy-Wealthy-Sexy-Me-Plan.

In today’s times, though, the self-care strategies offered in airport newsstand books featuring pictures of cheerful women wearing J Crew probably won’t cut it. Under the conditions of the Ameripocalypse, in fact, some may even make it worse — by leading you to believe that your failure to be happy, healthy or mindfully wise is your own fault. This is akin to being in a building that’s on fire and blaming yourself for coughing.

In fact there is a significant gap in self-care tools available to the public to help manage the stress brought on by amoral leadership, cultural implosion, looming race war and environmental catastrophes.

People in the mental health recovery movement, however, know a few things about managing adversity during a crisis. These tools go beyond just helping you feel better — they help save lives in the toughest of times. Based on such crisis-oriented techniques, years of related mental health field research and intense public need, then, the brainacs at Rock Change Now! have prepared a new set of self-care tools designed to help you make it through the Ameripocalypse with a smile.

Eight Wellness Tools for Surviving the Ameripocalypse

1. Embrace the Discomfort Zone.

Are you seeking to be relaxed and at ease and at peace with the world? Are you frustrated by your lack of ability to stop seeing red when a news email beginning with “The T_ administration” hits your inbox? Do you feel bad because your houseplants are dying, your friends suddenly seem really annoying, you can’t concentrate at work and so you get out too late to make it yoga to clear the phlegm out of your chakras?

Give yourself a break. This is the Ameripocalypse. Feeling bad and out of sorts and on edge is not only okay– it’s important. If you are comfortable with what is happening in the world or this country that’s a real problem. If you’re not upset by things like the vilification of seriously traumatized teenagers who don’t want others to die, the appointment of people to government agencies that have no clue as to what they do, foreign powers meddling with Aunt Sally’s Facebook account to undermine our electoral process, or the financial destruction of the middle class in favor the very wealthy, you should go back to Oval Office, blame someone for your own incompetence and fire them.

Embracing the Discomfort Zone means recognizing that you, yourself, are experiencing a hell of a lot of stress and anxiety — that it is not your fault, or your landlord’s or your partner’s. Everyone is freaking out and so are you and that’s a good thing. When people stop freaking out about injustice, authoritarianism, the scapegoating of the immigrants, or the murder of children, we will be truly lost.

One positive side benefit to this is that, since you are uncomfortable already, it’s much easier to do new and different things. Break up with so-and-so, shave your head, find yourself on the Appalachian trail or in a pool of ayahuasca vomit. There’s never been a better time to join a local nonprofit board, start an inane YouTube vlog or punk band, try your luck at stand-up comedy or politics. It’s hard to say what the post-Ameripocalyptic landscape will look like but, you’re in the Discomfort Zone now so why not use it for your own personal transformation too.

2. Music, music, MUSIC!

Switch the TV, radio or feed to music. Right now. Ideally really loud music. Ideally REALLY REALLY LOUD MUSIC that focuses on social injustice, revolution and fighting the power. Crank the volume, put on the headphones. Don’t wait till the end of the article on NPR that’s going to make your head explode. Switch right in the middle of it, to your playlist, your CDs or noncommercial music station. Proceed to bang your head, belt your rhymes, sing as loud and off-key as possible.

This critical wellness strategy may in fact save the world, several lives on the freeway and your touchy relationship. Getting edified and demoralized on your commute home is a poor choice when you could instead thrash about, rap and shout, and entertain others stuck on the freeway with your best karaoke Ramones or Madonna. (They can’t tell when you don’t know the words anyway.)

At home, pull that old tube amp or drum kit out of the cobwebs. Do awful terrible things to them and your neighbors and your Chihuahua. Then, as soon as possible, go to a local nightspot with real bands that have actual people playing real instruments. For those of you who haven’t tried this in a while it is a bit like YouTube, yes. But, rather than digitally manipulated ones, zeroes and photons, the musicians and the sound you experience are actual size -and they will actually affect you in very good vibrational ways.

3. Cry.

Crying never goes out of style but this season it’s really ‘in’. As a result of the Ameripocalyse, most everything you thought your world was built on has either been completely twisted, revealed as a sham or confirmed in it most heinous form. As trained counselor might say — ‘that’s a lot to grieve.’

If you’re not already, plan to cry often and vigorously. In the shower, in the break room, on the subway, in the car, while streaming reruns of Breaking Bad, working on your motorcycle or watching roller derby, justified tears are always right at hand.

The Ameripocalypse is everyone’s chance to up their game on sobbing, wailing, drenching of pillows, rending of garments, ruining of mascara and tearing out of hair.

For us cisgender men this strategy can be tough at first. Crying for many males still feels like a kind of failure. But guys, everyone knows that’s cultural BS we were sold– like the idea that cargo shorts make you look hot, we just need to let go of it. This is the moment for us Y-Chromosomers to take the lachrymal challenge. There’s never been a better time to ‘man up’ and stop failing to cry.

Meanwhile, women, non-binary and otherwise gendered– you can take it up a notch too. There’s no call in these times to be satisfied with restrained weeping over cappuccino or tearing up while watching puppy videos. If you’re not inspired enough yet, sign up for our 24/7 news media feed, “10-days to Bawling your Eyes Out”.

4. Use Situationally Appropriate Linguistic Modifiers (SALMS)

Conventional expectations in oral and written communication, such as the proscription of expletive, vulgarities and hyperbole, function to preserve civility in public discourse, and to support status among adults. These norms fall short, however ,when the public discourse itself has been massively shifted or realigned by childish idiots with Twitter followings. Worse, using emotionally distanced, nuanced language to refer to reprehensible behavior and the deterioration of civil society has the sociolinguistic effect of ’normalizing’ what is in fact unacceptable.

Fuck that. In today’s context, our whole vocabulary needs to be employed, to express the extremity of the situation and our outrage at it. To be clear, using SALMS to attack individuals personally is not productive, even when it feels good and accurate. Calling attention to things that are unacceptable in language that was not acceptable before the Ameripocalypse, though, is valuable— because in the face of so much social injustice, we need to be really pissed off.

Put another way– these are not normal times and things are really shitty and there’s not a better way to say it. Power isn’t listening to our handwringing policy points about fairness and equity. So rather than complain quietly among ourselves about how things need to change right now–we need to get up, stand up and fucking shout it.

5. Be kind and actively help others.

Most everyone around here are suffering now, and even if they are not, you can improve your own well-being by practical helpful actions. It doesn’t have to be grand or costly or even planned. Giving the girl on the other side of the counter genuine attention and asking about her day, getting your face out of your cellphone and opening the door for the guy with all those boxes, ceding way to someone on the freeway.

Simply giving a smile to a person you may not ever have another moment with could do wonders for them. And expressed goodwill tends to spread itself too.

We can do more than just being nice to the nice, too. Consider the most despised of all humans– the parking violation officer. She has struggles and a soul too. Or the grouchy owner of the deli. Before you flame him on Yelp, try some positive regard instead, by thinking into what might be causing his suffering. After all you go there for the great sandwiches and maybe t

Taking this to another level, if you are feeling wretched, despairing about the end of Game of Thrones or the number of children that will die by suicide this week, few things can help like supporting someone else. Getting out of your own mental weirdness for a few minutes is therapeutic. You don’t need to be in a good or even positive frame of mind to listen to someone else. You know you have a friend who’s been having a rough time. Next time you feel terrible call them. Don’t talk about your stuff at all. Just listen to theirs. And it will get better for you too.

This practice of helping others when you feel bad runs counter to the conventional egoism of self-help, which suggests you must always take care of your own emotional state first. It is, however, well-supported by rigorous research, peer supporters everywhere and the World Confederation of Jewish Grandmothers.

6. Break the bonds of Stockphone Syndrome.

Our cellphone masters are working every day to ensure that we are addicted to them and the distraction they provide from whatever that thing was I was about say before I heard the beep that could be a text from my crush or my mom or Verizon demanding its monthly tribute.

It’s never been harder, or more important, to break the vicious cycle of mobile use/ADD medication that leads directly to MethaGram addiction. Leave the beast at home, in the car, with a friend. Or just turn it off intentionally for a full hour.

In addition to the more obvious things like turning off notifications and alerts and moving apps to where they won’t call your attention, try a little exercise in ‘positive inhibition’. Observe how often your intention goes to checking your phone for something. Each time it does, take a breath in, let it go, then note it with an X on a business card or something else you keep with you. Every time you actually do pick your phone up mark it with an O. See if you can shift the balance.

When things get tough, hold your phone in front of your face and say “YOU ARE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!” Repeat this several times quickly, building up energy that you can release by hurling it out the car window or at least across the room onto something soft that won’t crack the screen.

 

7. Radical Acceptance of Fucked-up Shit (RAFS).

Take a moment to breathe deeply. Hold it in until you can’t. Say quietly to yourself “Really fucked up shit is happening all around me. This feels terrible and unbearable and I fully accept it.”

RAFS can make all the difference when negative shit threatens to overwhelm you with anxiety or despair. Radical Acceptance, a process employed in Dialectical Behavior Therapy and related therapies, helps people deal with emotional intensity and difficult situations where the most immediate gut reaction is to fight, flight or freeze. (i.e. the activation of the ‘fear’ stress system). By acknowledging the truth and pain of difficult things, one gains power of one’s emotional systems.

Similarly, acknowledgment of what is really happening during the Ameripocalypse provides one with mental space to respond with calm and wisdom, rather than smash the radio or dive for the Cherry Garcia upon encountering the outrageous or deplorable act of injustice that is surely coming in to your world in the next three minutes.

It is important to know that RAFS does not mean that we will not work to change that which is so fucked-up, or that we will detach ourselves from the problems that lead to it. On the contrary, serene acceptance of the fuckeduptedness of shit means that shit cannot control us and destroy our spirits. And, therefore, we can find a way to intentionally engage in making positive change.

Try it again, a little louder. “I fully accept that things are truly fucked up and it feels terrible and the world as I knew it is over. And I will do something about it. And I will get through it just fine.”

NB: Learning RAFS is particularly challenging for oppression-deprived people like white men, Kardashians and Harvard MBAs. If you struggle with the practice of recognizing how pervasively fucked up shit is in this country, we recommend consulting with people of color, people with disabilities, those of sexual and gender minorities, and/or women.

8. Get Active to Make Change.

One of the toughest parts of the Ameripocalyse is the sense of helplessness that we feel regarding the massively intersected injustices in our society. The truth is you can make a difference with only a little bit of time. Get to work, even in a small way, on a social justice cause you care about. Contrary to misconceptions, being an activist does not require you to stop using antiperspirant or to identify as a radically/postsexual/Latinx/kombucharista.

Two key points that people get stuck on are figuring out a) what issues they want to be active in, and then b) how to make an impact on those within their limited time. Take a few minutes to research those things that make you tear up, or want to scream and break things, and punch some pompous ass in the face. Learn a little more about what groups and people are working to change them. Connect to national orgs like UnidosUS, the ACLUIndivisibleAmnesty International or others.

Look as well for local places to be active beyond giving dollars and getting newsletters. Electoral politics is important but also consider criminal justice reform, advocacy for child welfare, disability discrimination, food insecurity, homelessness or institutionalized racism. Committees, non-profit boards and community meetings are a great place to start and there are many out there waiting for your leadership now. Rock Change Universityalso provides training on helping you find your passion and skills to make change.

9. Expect the Unexpected.

Stock market shocks, the complete disregard for due process, heat waves and tidal waves, tweets that break through the ceiling on stupidity in leadership, men crying in their cars and at the roller derby, homeless attorneys, women getting equal pay for equal work, Halloween parties in May, children breaking the strength of powerful lobbies, riots, white men being killed by black cops, lists of eight things that include more than eight things. These anomalies and more are on their way.

During the Ameripocalypse the unexpected is the new normal. Don’t be surprised when someone you don’t know does something nice for you, or your editor calls you having ingested a lethal dose of Xanax. If your ex gives up banking to become a porn star, your country splits up into five regional self-determined economies, your mother stops putting you down, or your cat leaves you for the pothead chick around the corner, consider this is the nature of life in transformative times. Roll with it, laugh with it. And then go on to do something unexpected yourself.

Conclusion– It’s not you.

Almost any of our Wellness Tools for Surviving the Ameripocalypse can be applied in your life beginning today. Pick whichever speaks to you first. Or choose a couple and then move on to others.

All told, your mental wellness will be more stable when you understand the insane and unstable nature of these times. But taking action is crucial too. The Ameripocalypse is not something one can avoid. Retreating into Cheesecake Factory and PBR and Netflix for the next ten years, appealing as that sounds, will likely lead to congestive heart failure. And things will still suck.

When you see that the insanity of these times is not your fault, you realize that what you are struggling with is not something wrong with you. That in your relationship with your country, just like your last relationship, the problem is not really you, it is in fact them.

Yes, it is them — it is shareholder greed destroying small communities and business– it is bigotry and alienation leading to mass murder and police violence– it is bullying masquerading as leadership– it is racism built into public policy. It is the growling shadow of fascism that spreads when social instability and economic inequality converge. These are the things that tear at our psychology as a nation, and our mental health as individuals. And they do really fucking suck.

But with the Ameripocalypse we have hope too, for deep and enduring change in those things. Thanks to outrage at the rise of demagoguery we have more energy than ever. We have the fire of activists from Occupy to Black Lives Matter, from the Women’s March and #dreamers and #enough to inspire us.

If we do things right, the Ameripocalypse will help us get this country to what it should be– what it never has been. In our suffering we will find the commonality to get beyond ideology, to gain focus and tear social injustice out of our nation by its root. Rather than each other, we will attack our social problems. That will result in a difference for us all, and a better America for our children.

We can’t predict how long the Ameripocalypse will last. To get through it as a society, everyone’s individual wellness is crucial. Now it the time to take care of yourself in new and different ways, to make music, to make noise and to make a difference. Remember, though, that you are not broken and you are not weak. It is not you but the world that needs fixing. Join us in the crucible of this Ameripocalypse to forge a new country that will serve all its people equally, a place where we will find true wellness together.

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