“This entire ordeal has been like one long, rage-filled fever dream.”
That’s a text message I sent to a friend of mine on the evening of October 18th, after he asked if I was watching the third presidential debate.
I’d made an agreement with myself that I was going to skip this one, the last and likely to be the angriest and most vindictive debate in an election cycle typified by anger and vindictiveness. I thought it a radical act of self-care, an effort to curb what the American Psychological Association has deemed “Election Stress Disorder” — and a promise to myself that seemed easy enough to keep.
I don’t know why I thought, as a child of the new millennium, that I could flop contentedly down on my sofa for an hour and somehow avoid the zeitgeist. Can I scroll through Instagram? No; tonight it’s replete with memes branded with misquotes and half-truths. Can I hang out on Facebook? Nah; I deactivated back in 2013 in an effort to preserve my sanity. Can I check Twitter? Huge LOL; according to many reports, that’s where the trolls are hardest to avoid.
After a while, put off by the proliferating auto-play videos and cheeky hashtags, I decided to get ahead on some work. Part of my job, however, is managing the social-media channels for Experience Life.
The election fervor has been inescapable, to my memory, since around midsummer of last year. Many of us have been engaged in a full calendar year of fear, indignation, frustration, and potentially uncomfortable conversations with friends and family — some of which have played out on social media, where tempers are higher and inhibitions are all but nonexistent. Maybe we’ve said some things we don’t really mean. Maybe we’ve taken some jabs at people with different opinions because we’ve been angry, or we’ve been distracted from the issues that matter — or because that sort of behavior has been modeled for us at the highest political level for an entire calendar year. When it’s over, it may naturally feel difficult to leave all of that behind.
In August, I wrote about why I was making the choice to lean in to those potentially difficult conversations, because I decided that being real with the people who matter to me — especially with respect to issues that I care deeply about — was more valuable to me than personal comfort. In a few instances, that effort has born a bit of good: productive conversation, broadened perspective, a new thing or two learned. A few instances, to be honest, have been more of the crash-and-burn variety.
A lot of people in my life have expressed a fear that, even though the polls have closed, it’s not really over — that the talk, the dissatisfaction, the media coverage will continue for weeks, if not months. It may cast a shadow over the holidays, may start the new year on a sour and disconsolate note. Perhaps from mere inertia, the majority of us will continue to gripe and argue and criticize, compounding our anxieties and fears, until it’s time for the next campaign.
In “A Complaint-Free World,” Brian Johnson writes that not complaining doesn’t mean you have to feign optimism or pretend that the circumstances you find yourself in are markedly better than they really are. We’ve all been dissatisfied, at one point or another, during this cycle. “The first step towards progress is dissatisfaction,” writes Will Bowen, creator of the 21-Day Complaint Free Challenge. “But if we stay in dissatisfaction, we never move forward to brighter vistas.”
This morning, I’m giving myself permission to wake up from the fever dream. I’m practicing my three deep breaths and choosing to move on, rather than remain absorbed and rattled by what’s happening in my news feed. I’m choosing — and I hope you might, too — to live through my holiday season free of complaint.
Kaelyn Riley is an Experience Life associate editor.