Fight Election Depression
I've had an extraordinarily busy month. Swords & Wizardry 3rd Printing was my first ever Kickstarter, so it was a giant roller coaster from one end to the other. It went exactly as was predicted to me on day two, but it was still a ride. Immediately after it closed, while I was on an exultant high, the election happened. Like everyone, I'd expected Hillary to win. I wanted to go to bed with my eyes raw from tears of joy, not tears of fear, anger, and sadness. I was beyond shattered. Still am.
There wasn't any time to think about it, though. I had a major deadline, and still needed to do prep to run Zaya's Promise at U-Con in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who'd graciously invited me to be a Guest of Honor and welcomed ConTessa with open arms and a great deal of excitement. Out of necessity, I buried myself in my work and largely ignored social media, save for allowing myself a little time here and there to keep up on things. I finished prepping and packing only a few hours before I had to leave, and man was I in a sour mood. It took six hours to get to Detroit, during which, whenever someone asked me how I was, I honestly replied, "Terrible."
I knew things would start turning around when I got to Detroit, and they did. I got to meet a whole lot of new and wonderful people, including a friend I've had online for a few years, but have never gotten to meet in person. And lo and behold, she's like the sister I never had. We were nearly inseparable, and even though she played Swords & Wizardry for the first time on Thursday when we arrived and Bill Webb promptly TPK'd the whole group, Emily was co-GMing Zaya's Promise, taking over whole battle sequences with 12 players by Saturday.
There was an incredible OSR panel on the aesthetics of the OSR where people in the crowd kept glowing about how much they loved the new edition of Swords & Wizardry. The room was filled with men. There were only two women in the group. One of them was Emily, and the other was another woman who came to that con in part to hang out with me. But, the guys were all talking about diversity and how they wanted more of it with their old school gaming, how they wanted their daughters and granddaughters to feel like it's their space, how they wanted to raise boys that respected - and celebrated - the fact that everyone games. Not gonna lie, it gave me a lot of hope to hear these guys talking. Once it's edited, you'll get to hear it, too... Drink Spin Run recorded the panel.
U-Con is entirely run by volunteers, and many of the volunteers who do all the organizing and make it happen are women. This was a big selling point to me when it came to taking ConTessa to U-Con in the first place, and I was pleased to see we filled up quite a number of events under the ConTessa banner. I gave the registration desk a hundred of our lanyards, and they were gone in a flash. I got choked up every time I saw a little girl come bounding down a hallway, a rainbow-colored lanyard with her badge on the end bouncing up and down. The organizers each took time to talk to me and introduce themselves and give me hugs and tell me how important it was to have ConTessa - and me - there. I was happily overwhelmed.
We had a GM's breakfast on Saturday morning that was only supposed to last an hour, but we sat and talked for three hours about sooo many things. Politics, activism, gaming, daily life, you name it... it's a wonder and inspiration to meet so many great women, and I feel honored they share pieces of their lives with me. It keeps me going to hear about their struggles and their triumphs. To make the world a better place, to keep hoping.
These were the things I needed right then and there. The things that would get me through the coming weeks and months and years. Sunday night, after the con wrapped up, we were all talking about con drop and how it would be worse this time than any other time. We'd managed to build a bubble full of friends and laughter and fun and stories, and that bubble was about to pop. The real world was going to invade again, and it was not a pleasant place.
I cried when I had to part with Emily at airport security. I cried when a TSA agent walked through the nearly-silent baggage claim area an hour later singing a perfectly in-tune rendition of 'Ooh Child'. I made my way home on a long, lonely day of travel writing some about ConTessa, planning for the future, and worrying about the present.
When I got home, life didn't slow down, though. My husband, Rob, is a high school drama teacher, and two days after I got home, the school's fall production was about to take the stage. The digital proofs for Swords & Wizardry came in, my layout editor had notes for me as she was working on Zaya's Promise, I had a whole crapload of ConTessa emails to get back to, two sets of interview questions to write up for some women who have been doing amazing things, two sets of interview questions to answer for people wanting to know more about me, an online convention in February to start recruiting for, a fundraising campaign to get started, and as if all of that isn't enough it's also the time of year when I start talking to Gen Con about what we're going to do next year.
I am so tired I can barely keep my eyes open, but you know what I'm not? Depressed. I won't try to make things seem like they'll magically be okay. The rapist on the golden throne in the high tower who tricked millions of gullible white people to vote against their own interests will make things harder for me and all the people in the world I care the most about. A Republican-controlled congress and a coming ultra-conservative Supreme Court mean rights I thought my mother's generation secured for us may be evaporating. Who knows what will happen with the greater world. We are on the verge of World War 3, and a lunatic rapist is at the wheel.
We will fall backwards, but we will eventually surge forward again. The best, and most important thing we can do is not give up, not give in, not back down.
If you are experiencing a great deal of depression right now, that's completely understandable. Getting out of that depression will be different for every single person, but here are a few things I've found help me out (and might help you out, too):
1. Ban Social Media
I have opinions about whether or not to engage people who I disagree with on social media. I don't. I unfriend them, unfollow them, and otherwise remove them from my life entirely. There are people who think this is wrong and that I should be facing them, or else they'll never change. The reality is that engaging with people whom you disagree with on social media is entirely a personal choice, and no one should shame you into punching yourself in the face over and over again while constantly telling yourself, "this will help".
The phenomenon of confirmation bias is well documented and researched. Getting someone to change their minds about deeply held beliefs is incredibly difficult. In most cases, presenting them with the facts just pushes them farther into their fantasy world of belief. Pushing even a little on someone's cognitive dissonance can actually strengthen their beliefs and make matters worse, so you're really playing with fire when you step into someone's thread and try to school them on what being a proper human being looks like.
There's another reason to not do this, too... not all opinions are equal. We have a real problem in the modern world with false balance. We take the idea that everyone has a right to an opinion to an extreme, putting bad opinions next to good opinions as if they have equal merit. When we do this, we end up with an argument to moderation. Rather than seeking the objective truth about the subject at hand, we allow two extreme sides to "compromise", which often causes more harm than it does good.
A good example of this is in the teaching of evolution over creationism. Evolution has been proven through the scientific method again and again and again and again, while there is not one shred of evidence to indicate there's anything at all reliable or true about creationism. In fact, there's a ton of evidence that's been faked to give creationism a whiff of legitimacy, and it's been proven as being fake again and again and again. Yet, we still allow people with beliefs in creationism into our conversations like their completely wrong beliefs have equal merit to our time-and-science tested facts. This leads to legislation allowing parents to decide whether or not their children are taught truths or lies at our public schools.
This is also responsible for climate change denial, and beliefs that vaccines cause autism. By engaging your totally ignorant Aunt as if her lie-based opinions hold an equivalency to your well-researched, fact-based opinions, you make her beliefs appear legitimate when they're anything but, and you're most likely pushing her even further into her deluded world than you are pulling her out. That's not to say it never works, but more often than not engaging results only in frustration, anger, and an increased level of polarization.
Whether or not to engage is entirely up to you. If, given these facts, you still feel as though you can make a difference by continuing to engage with people living outside of fact-based reality, then by all means go for it. But, if you find that you're constantly angry, frustrated, anxious, and depressed, chances are you're doing more harm to yourself than you're doing good by changing the minds of others. Stop. Self care starts with the realization that destroying yourself does not help the world.
2. Seriously, Ban Social Media
Even if you've got well-maintained friends lists and circles where you're not constantly hearing a bunch of stupid opinions based on lies, turning off social media or limiting the amount of time you spend on it is still an excellent idea. Everyone is talking about politics, and they're going to be talking about politics for some time to come. It's bad news. It will continue to BE bad news. And... it'll be there tomorrow, too.
If you need help, there are several tools out there that will cut off your access for you. On my mac, I use an app called SelfControl, where I've put together a blacklist of the social media sites i want to ban myself from for the day or even just a few hours. Before the elections, I used this to make sure I focused on the work I needed to do. It was an effective cap to my anxiety and depression levels. After a few days of strategically blocking myself for a few hours, I found I could recognize just when my mood started to turn sour while reading social media.
You don't need to constantly steep your brain in negativity, and your brain will thank you for the break. Turn off Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Shut the notifications off on your phone for a while. The real world isn't quite as terrible as the posts on Facebook make it out to be, and there are still good people out there... which brings me to number three.
3. Spend Time With People You Love
...and people who are like you and love you for who you are.
This is the week of Thanksgiving here in the US, which can be an extremely depressing experience if the day is often spent with family members whose politics you strongly disagree with. Whether or not you choose to hang out with those people is entirely your choice, but remember you don't have to unless you're a minor. If you have to deal with a family that is largely bigoted or racist, I suggest having a friendsgiving instead. You are not a horrible person for taking care of yourself first and foremost.
Surround yourself with people who are like you. Throw a friendsgiving and have a meal at your place with all your friends who feel the same way you do. Have all your friends over for a night of gaming and relaxing. Go out to lunch with someone you share opinions with but may not have hung out with for a while. Surround yourself with people who you love and you love you in return not despite who you are, but because of who you are. This will help. A lot.
If you don't have anyone around you, consider running a game via Skype, Google Hangouts, Roll20, Fantasy Grounds, Discord, or any of the other methods for chatting with people using your actual voice and/or video. This is the second best thing to getting to hang out with these people in person. You are not alone, and by being with them, you're helping each other.
4. Be a Volunteering Activist
When we reach out and make connections with other people, we heal our wounds as well. This has been one of the biggest lessons I've learned over the years while running ConTessa. Nothing makes me feel better about the world than putting work into ConTessa. Women talk to me at conventions all the time about their trials and tribulations, but most of the time they tell me about how ConTessa forever changed their lives. How it made them more confident and courageous, how they feel like they're not just 'allowed' to sit at the gaming table anymore, but they feel like gaming is just as much their space as it is anyone else's. How this was their first time GMing, and they had a blast doing it. How afraid they were until they sat down in front of the group. How much they want to keep doing it again and again.
Other people's stories heal my wounds. Sitting at the ENnies this past year and watching women winning more awards than I've ever seen healed my wounds. By the end of every convention, I'm exhausted, but filled to the brim with hope and joy and love. These connections we make with people who have similar fears and experiences to our own are powerful. They remind us that we're not alone, they make us feel less powerless, they give us an opportunity to right our little corner of the world.
Find an organization you can volunteer for that upholds the ideals you believe in, and put your heart and soul into helping other people. It will help you more than you know.
5. Make Art
Art is one of the oldest forms of protest, and gaming gives you ready access to create that art even if you don't believe you have any artistic talent whatsoever. Create and GM an adventure where the alt-right are the bad guys (or, you know, just use Nazis, since that's what they are). Think about how you can make Trump and his family into the ultimate bad guys, and tear them apart. Build an adventure that's entirely an allegory. As terrible as what's going on right now is, there's also a lot of gamable material.
Or, go in the opposite direction. Create a game showcasing the kind of world you want to live in. Make something light, fluffy, romantic, and full of optimism. A world where no one blinks an eyelash at poly vampires or gay superheroes or trans werewolves.
It doesn't matter if you're good at it or not, if your work will be published or only seen by you and your friends. It doesn't matter if it's polished and laid out perfectly by an expert designer. It doesn't matter if you get halfway through writing it and get interested in something else. The only thing that matters is that you're making something that's an expression of what's going on inside you.
6. Get Out of the House
A lot of the people I talk to are freelancers like me. Do yourself a favor and get the hell out of the house. Go to the library, out to lunch, grab a cup of coffee, do the grocery shopping, go for a walk, whatever... just don't stay cooped up in your house and your own brain. Being out in the real world is a great antidote to depression (and one I frequently balk at, myself).
It may be hard. You may just want to lay in bed and stare at the ceiling. Don't. Get up. Put one foot in front of another. Even if it feels robotic, go about the necessary movements to take a shower, get dressed, and leave the house.
7. Hang in There
Remember, no matter what people say, no matter what happens, no matter who says or does what or makes you feel inferior, there are people who love you just the way you are. Progressive movements frequently get shoved back a few steps, but then surge forward again, eventually. So stay strong, and hang in there. It won't always be this bad.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to gild the pile of crap that are the results of this election. It's going to be shitty, rights are going to be in danger, and there's a lot of fighting to do... but this will not be permanent. The light at the end of the tunnel may seem very, very far away... it may only be a little pinprick of light if even that, but it's there. Trust that it's there. Have faith that it's there. We will find it together.