At Penn, I was involved in over ten extra curricular activities at once. At times, this meant I was stretching myself too thin. Most of the time, however, it just meant that my days were teeming with community and purpose - both of which I think are necessary ingredients for a happy, fulfilling life. Enough can't be said about the role these clubs played in making my experience at Penn so phenomenal, but let it suffice to say that they were instrumental to my growth and glee. Upon graduation, I knew I would miss them tremendously.
Of my extra curricular activities, the vast majority pertained to social justice; work that demands a lot of soul searching, commitment, dedication, vulnerability, and solidarity. Though most of us who worked in these groups were pretty resilient, we all had our days of feeling deflated and dispirited. Eventually, when inequity and injustice got us down (as they are wont to do), it was the solidarity that was our saving grace - a team, or rather, a family, of peers who were ready to bolster each other's spirits, comfort, and commiserate.
In the wake of the 2016 election, there was nothing I craved more than to be back with my communities at Penn.
Like so many others, the results of the 2016 election devastated me. At 5am here, when the results were finally clear, I cried hot, tired, disbelieving, and horrified tears. It was so wildly inconceivable to me. In the weeks that followed and for the very first time in my life, I had to make a concerted effort to feel like myself - stable, at ease, happy. I would become consumed by articles of hate crimes around the USA. All I wanted to do was sleep. I would suddenly find myself short of breath, and have to count slowly to finally return my breathing to normal. I lost my appetite, and even my favorite Ivoirian meals couldn't rouse a sense of hunger. I'm sure to many who haven't experienced this, it sounds dramatic - like the cliché of someone who has just broken up with their significant other. I get it. It even sounds dramatic typing it! But plain and simple, it was me having to deal with faltering mental health for the first time in my life.
As the weeks passed, I gradually buoyed. I listened to LOTS of Harry Potter books on tape (Jim Dale only, no Stephen Fry) and Solange's Weary, which I found surprisingly comforting. I threw myself back into the activities that brought me joy (dancing, friends, and above all, my students!!!), and I tried to channel the negative feelings I had into acts of kindness, advocacy, and love. I reached out to friends in the USA who might be struggling. I used my English Club as an avenue to discuss human rights. Pretty soon, I was feeling like myself again.
The experience, however, left quite an impression. In looking back, I can't help but think:
1. Damn, I'm privileged!
At Penn, (thankfully and necessarily) I became increasingly aware of the various privileges I have. This election, however, brought them - and many newly discovered privileges - into sharper relief.
- MENTAL HEALTH: this was the FIRST time in my life that I had to make a concerted effort to feel good. It startled and scared me. More than anything though, it made me conscious of how drastically quality of life can be impacted by mental health. This seems obvious, and in many ways it is. After all, I'd always known passively that depression and anxiety sounded undesirable. I think few of us would sign up for them voluntarily. But it's difficult to fully appreciate the toll of mental health struggles if you've never had to deal with them. My brief and ultimately benign experience impressed on me just how privileged I've been to have stable mental health, and how incredibly strong and deserving of support others are who consistently live with mental health problems.
- IDENTITIES: Ok, so as a white, cis-gendered, straight, currently not even living in the country!, upper middle class woman, I was terrified by the election results, enough so that, for the first time in my life, I had to work on my mental health. In other words, I - who am insulated by privileges that I have neither earned nor deserve - felt myself unravel. It's impossible to over-stress, therefore, the damning, alarming, and urgent reality that so many others have it / will have it so much worse. For the most part, I will not face the violence, marginalization, discrimination, prejudice, and inequity that I believe will be hallmarks of a Trump presidency. But my friends will. My friends of color, friends from the LGBTQ+ community, friends with disabilities (physical or mental), my Muslim friends, and my immigrant friends all will. While this demands some serious action on behalf of allies everywhere, it also demands that we all reacquaint ourselves with our privileges and understand how our own identities play into / benefit from / or perhaps even perpetuate unjust systems.
2. Damn, this is tough alone.
I'm doing loads better now. My post election blues have morphed from a painful experience into a learning experience (though, obviously, the two aren't mutually exclusive). Nonetheless, it was really striking how badly I craved my friends, family, and Penn communities. Of course, I have community in Côte d'Ivoire, for which I'm incredibly grateful. But there's something to be said about having community who shares your values, your work, and perhaps most of all, your pain. People say misery loves company, but so does healing. My sadness was amplified by a longing for community and solidarity that I couldn't quite satiate. Despite being a very positive, independent, extroverted, and emotionally self-sufficient person, this election made me realize that I am not impervious to gloom, loneliness, or the need for solidarity. For a lot of November, I would have done anything to be back at Penn.
Until Next Time,