08 November 2008

post-election stress disorder

The Obama Family, courtesy of barackobama.com

Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax. It’s done.

These words have looped through my head in the days since the election. Even in the days just preceding one of the most historic votes in our nation’s history, I had to remind myself to remain calm.

This seems to happen on a smaller or larger scale every four years when our nation goes about the business of choosing a president: the candidates emerge and we choose sides. Debates ensue and the occasional piece of real or metaphorical rotten produce is tossed in the general direction of anyone whose affiliation does not match our own. Otherwise civil and respectable people bare their teeth and snap at friends and neighbors who are voting for that other guy.

I thought it would be easier for me to breathe post-election – that I wouldn’t harbor as much stress in my body as in the days before. But I was wrong. Initially, it got worse (and it’s no great secret that the candidate who got my vote won).

It started in the weeks and months preceding Tuesday’s historic decision: blog posts, articles, news reports, debates. While I was not shy about making my decision known, I didn’t actively participate in many of the discussion threads that I saw. Like many people, I recognized a propensity in myself to be swept up in the moment and to do or say anything that was less than loving. I made an intentional commitment to be gracious and I will admit that my resolve was imperfectly kept. For that, I apologize.

This is not the first presidential election in which the democratic candidate has gotten my vote, but I don’t think I have ever felt my defenses rise in response like I did in this election. None of my personal acquaintance were rude or ungracious in maintaining their differences. My defenses rose primarily when I, as part of a collective of voters who had chosen to support the democratic candidate, was asked to examine my decision more carefully.

Christian leaders urged us to vote our values, to choose life, to be thoughtful and deliberate in our decisions, and to pray long and hard about who we would vote for, and the implications of that plea were profound. In other circles, I found that my decision meant to some that I was endorsing socialism, that my vote would be sure to contribute to the decline of democracy and to create a welfare nation. I know I’m not the only one who felt the heat of this fever pitch and who, however indirectly, felt like their faith and values were in some measure on trial as a result.

I remained certain of my decision, listening to and taking in a variety of opinions. I respected that others held views different than my own and most were gracious enough to satisfy my curiosity when I asked for their reasons, even though they owed me no explanation. I was thankful to have the same courtesy extended toward me.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget sitting here in my living room, as I glued my eyes to CNN and watched states turn blue and red, as I watched predictions being made with such certainty. I wept with joy as they declared the winner, and I danced like a fool in my living room, shedding any pretenses at composure and letting my tears and happy incredulity have its way during the victory speech. History was happening, and I was a part of it. I was so thrilled, I couldn’t sleep that night. Relief flooded through my body.

It didn’t take long for it to start: defiant declarations of “he’s not my president”. I saw depictions of the president-elect cast in red with horns added to his temples. More than one racist epithet was passed my way and I heard more booing, more hateful and murderous shouts from people unhappy with the outcome. I read from various news sources of anti-Obama websites where people vowed to stand against the new president for the length of his term and make his job as difficult as possible. I only had to imagine the other possible outcome to understand their disappointment, but this was too much. Even more than my dismay that some hatefully disagreed with the decision made as the result of the democratic process, it also felt like a personal affront.

No matter how much I understood that these hateful, indignant accusations were from a (loud and vocal) minority, I felt the weight of it compounding and started to feel like I was splitting down the middle. For reasons I cannot fully understand, it felt deeply personal. Something inside me snarled and snapped in response and I looked for constructive ways to respond. I wrote different drafts that mounted a defense of my choice. I would wake up hours before my already-early alarm and found myself unable to go back to sleep. The stress took its toll on my body. I was unable to concentrate as different arguments and defenses looped endlessly in my head. I noticed with sadness that my post-election elation had dissipated as a result.

And then I had a conversation that changed it for me. It seemed so simple.

The beauty of America
, she said, is that you have a choice when you vote. It’s always an imperfect choice made by imperfect people. But no matter what anyone else says or thinks, no matter who disagrees and no matter how they disagree, it’s still yours. Like everyone else, you have to take in the information, make the best imperfect decision you can, and let others do the same.

Relief flooded through me again. As soon as I let go of the idea that I somehow needed to offer my reasons for choosing one imperfect choice over another, to list why I believed my decision was a good one, I relaxed. The interior snapping stopped and the snarling was silenced. Tension melted out of my body. I didn’t need to be right, I only needed to make the best imperfect choice that I could. And I did, without regret. I even danced around my living room a little bit to celebrate.

I never knew oddly liberating imperfection could be.

I feel like there’s more of this journey waiting to be written, but it hasn’t yet made its way into words and I don't know yet if or when that will come. I hope that as a nation, we can all take a collective deep breath and get on with things. I hope you will not think me biased when I say that I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s going to be alright.


  1. WOOHOO! That's how I feel about your epiphany there at the end, the liberation of imperfection, the ability to just be where you are.

    You know I got your back on that one.

    True to form, you wrote all of this with depth, humility, and beauty. Sometimes I read your words and still marvel: "I'm this girl's friend? Good friend? Lucky me!" :)

    What a wild ride this year has been. I profess ignorance to past years because I didn't get caught up in it and didn't really care. For some reason, I was one of the droves who cared this time . . . and it has indeed been fever pitch, as you said.

    I can identify with all the emotions you shared here. Thanks for putting into words your experience. It's so much my experience, too.

    Love you,

  2. i really appreciate that you expressed these thougts here. it made a difference in a positive way in my feelings about the political process. and i will have to think about it more and see how this applies to other things...for i have already come to this conclusion about the church and did not apply it to politics...i just did not make the connection somehow.

  3. My heart resonates so deeply with this. I, too, found the days after the election an attack on me, for voting like I did and for still believing it was right. I actually doubted myself, wondered if I'd gotten my thoughts twisted up somewhere or voted the way I did because it was cool to do it. But then Dave said something that touches on what the person you talked to said. He said, "Both parties have their sins as well as their benefits. Whenever you vote, you vote for a set of sins as well as a set of benefits."

    Oh, right. My soul felt so relieved. Just because the party I voted for will sin in particular ways doesn't mean that I chose wrong...it means that we're all human, that there's not a perfect choice since God wasn't running (now wouldn't THAT be a race).

    Ok, all that about me to say that I deeply resonate with your story here. I love you...thanks for sharing.

  4. I haven't discussed politics online b/c of the hostilities (except for one blogger b/c I knew I could trust her).
    Here's the thing, whether or not you voted for him, this is your president, and we are called to respect him, so when people demonize him or disclaim him, that bugs me.
    Also, it's exciting to see how far our country's come to be able to elect a black president.

  5. Hi Kirsten - i linked over from NaNcy's site, and am glad I did. Your heartfelt prose reads like music. In some ways, when I see the vile response (even if its in the minority) it actually makes me feel that much better about the candidate I voted for.

  6. christianne
    i knew you would get this, friend. it seems are journeys are meant to be intertwined for a time. i'm honored to walk beside you. after reading your thoughts, expressed (as always) so graciously, i am also one who says: "i'm this girls friend? good friend? lucky me!".

    thank you for the insights you've shared, for working hard to understand what pulls at your heart, and for giving us all something to think about.

    i have a hard time thinking positively about the political process myself. it is a broken and imperfect system, but it is our system nonetheless.

    you can relate too? i'm glad i'm not the only one ... on the one hand i thought all my stress was silly, but then i wondered if my other obama-voting christian friends suffered in similar ways.

    i love dave's insight: neither party is endowed with perfection. none of us has a right to condemn, judge, or question's another vote.

    i can appreciate your staying out of the fray. even with the best intentions, conflict and tension seems to be present. for some, all civility goes out the window.

    and you're exactly right: for better or for worse, he is the man who has the job and we best all pray for him.

    ed g.
    thank you for your kind words and for sharing a bit of your heart here, too. the vile response just makes me sick to my stomach.

  7. I have been called a Flip flopping prig for reminding people of what Titus has to tell us as well as proverbs about authority. I am so very disappointed with people in the church right now. This is part of the reason that I readily associate with the Emergent Church. They are much more, dare I say "enlightened" and actually try and live out the biblical standard.

    It is no secret that I voted republican, but I have also voted democrat since my days of voting began. I am FIERCELY independent and will not register as one or the other. I believe it to be idolatry anymore, especially in evangelical circles.

    Ultimately our citizenship is in heaven, and we will not be asked how we voted, what ideal we held to, etcetera. We are going to be asked "but did you follow me?" And I want to hear the answer "come and partake in my joy, well done good and faithful servant".

    As for the Christian Republicans who are still fighting against it and who are saying "he is not my president" they are being so myopic and short sighted I fear for their souls... truly I do.

    History was made Tuesday, either way you slice the pie.

  8. Kirsten, I'm really sorry to hear that you've had to deal with all that. It's no secret that I disagreed with your choice, but I do hope I wasn't one of the people who made you feel small for making the choice you made. If I was, I truly apologize.

    Even though I didn't vote for Obama, I am fully committed to support him now that he is president. To pray for him and to do what I can to help make our country the best it can be.

    You're totally right. . . each vote cast in this election as cast by an imperfect person for an imperfect candidate. And, Sarah-n-Dave had a good point, too, that each party has its sins. I chose to support the McCain ticket because abortion is a huge concern for me. But I totally recognize that had McCain been elected, he would have brought with him many other things that I didn't care for.

    Like I said in my post-election post, my biggest concern right now is to pray fervently that God would give Obama wisdom and humility to love mercy and to do justly, particularly in regards to abortion.

  9. carl
    i'm sad to hear that you've gotten flack for reiterating the biblical command to respect the governing authorities. you'd think that with christians, scripture would be the final authority. and if christians were commanded to do so during the reign of nero, i can't imagine that we would get any exceptions in the case of a president we didn't vote for.

    it was a history-making election and on that score, i'm proud of our country. i wasn't sure i'd get to see that in my lifetime, and now i have. it's pretty amazing, huh? we'll all remember where we were!!

    you did not offend me in any way, my friend. your views were expressed so thoughtfully, graciously, and passionately, and i respect them deeply. i think i said this in the post (can't remember, it took me so long to write it!!), but none of my friends ever expressed their difference disrespectfully toward me. it was when i saw and heard of the reactions from complete strangers that the weight of this stress took its toll on me.

    i agree that abortion should not exist (it would be better that it were wiped from this earth, and from our collective human memory). it's one of the most horrific thing i can think of that has come from our sinful and selfish ways.

    when i connected the dots in my own mind and heart, it was freeing to realize that we all necessarily made an imperfect choice. and then it just seemed silly to bicker over who's imperfect choice was better than another's.

    i stand with you in prayer for the president-elect. he is imperfect, he will make mistakes, and he will never please everyone. that's a promise we can both be sure of.

    thank you for sharing your heart and for being part of this larger dialogue.

  10. Hey Kirst,

    Just stopped by to say that the whole "imperfect parties, imperfect candidates, imperfect choice by all of us" thought has come up at least twice in conversation between me and Kirk in the past two days. It's given us a lot to think on, and an encouraging way to think of it, at that! Thanks again for sharing that.

  11. christianne
    you can thank my mom (and jim wallis, a little bit) for that thought. ;o)

    i'd be interested to hear (if you're willing to share, of course) how it's shaped your discussion.

    love you, girl. so much!!

  12. Go USA!!! Aren't we just so blessed to live here!!! I have to admit a great peace about this election and am looking forward to the future of this country.

  13. Hi, I came over from Joelle's blog and share many of the thoughts you mentioned here the comment from the person that laid your heart at rest for your decision spoke volumes i look forward to a new beginning

    grace & peace
    Yvette Massey