Is it ever acceptable to make a conscious choice to fully disengage from the madness of the political realm? That’s a rather bold question coming from someone who is as opinionated as I am. But I’m beginning to notice a somewhat disconcerting trend in the clients I interact with on a daily basis. Working in a mental health clinic has its inherent challenges. Many clients are already feeling the complications of chemical imbalances and stress factors, both internal and external; it is elementary to see how these existing conditions are exacerbated by the constant bombardment of media via portable electronic devices and TV news. Social media only serves to further augment the sense of siege that many of my clients feel that they are under; many cannot differentiate between legitimate news and the ever-increasing flood of “fake news.” I don’t think I need to elaborate on the difficulties faced by individuals with mental health problems in terms of processing information that they’ve heard or read; fear mongering and overt negativity can push unstable people over the proverbial edge.
But the manifestations of media overload aren’t just impacting people with diagnosed mental illness. We can see the evidence of this at family gatherings and social events with friends–some clinicians might have us believe that everyone suffers from some sort of mental imbalance and while I can certainly bring myself to appreciate their perspective, I am not convinced that this is universally true. Essentially I’m referring to otherwise fully functioning individuals who, as a result of a number of factors including the 24/7 news cycle, attachment to social media and political polarization which is leading people to shelter themselves from individuals with differing opinions by associating only with people who fit their own political mold, are becoming mentally and emotionally frazzled and even unhinged. I can recall numerous gatherings in my younger years where politics would be the debate topic du jour, but they never resulted in outright screaming and vitriolic ad hominem attacks; recently, however, the viciousness has become far more commonplace and this is simply not healthy for any parties involved.
It is this behavior that is prompting me to wonder if it might not be best for some of us to take some time off from the game of politics. I realize that in doing so, especially given the current global political climate, one risks enabling the potential forces of authoritarian populism to spread unchecked. Could we perhaps remain in tune with the “top stories” for the sake of keeping an eye on things while maintaining a certain distance? I suppose this is possible, though I am suspicious. I don’t know if there is a middle ground to be found. My primary concern is far more micro in scope; I’m worried about individual people and their mental wellness. Of course rampant fascism would not bring any greater semblance of mental stability to the nation and world as a whole, but I often wonder if some–not all, mind you–of the political boogeymen that we encounter on our social media feeds are contrived for the sake of stoking fear and instilling uneasiness in us; what is it that we are fundamentally lacking as a species that lends itself to our collective trepidation?
I’m not one to preach; those who know me personally know that I am a practicing Catholic. I will be the first to acknowledge that I am a terrible Catholic. I need my Church more than it needs me. I find a sense of peace in my faith and I understand why many people who are opposed to the notion of religious belief feel the way they do; some would accuse me of attempting to artificially manufacture a sense of purpose and security in a world that is chaotic and violent. I stand accused and guilty of their charges, in that I do find purpose and security in my faith; as to whether or not it is manufactured, we will simply have to agree to disagree. I’m the last person who is going to try to convert anyone, as I have always seen my faith as something that should be personal in words while being visible in actions–I don’t mean outward expressions of wearing my faith on my sleeves, so to speak or making the sign of the cross after scoring a goal in pickup hockey; I mean kindness, empathy and a sincere attempt at trying to see the goodness in all people as they are, not as I would will them to be. I am not trying to say that the decline of religiosity is the hole that we are trying to fill as individuals and as a society; but I do believe something is missing from our psyches and our souls that might otherwise provide a sense of clarity and/or groundedness. It doesn’t have to be God as I would think of God or even a sense of mysticism but perhaps something as simple as wonder would be sufficient, as I feel that we have collectively lost that sense of wonder. We have become so literal and material as a society that we are starting to become too fragile, too sensitive and generally morose and stoic. What happened to our joy, our benevolence, our desire to see our neighbors succeed alongside us?
Considering how health conscious–relatively speaking–we have become as a society, why is it that we seem to neglect our mental health? The electronic leashes that we have all willingly embraced, despite all of their potentially negative side effects, are still essentially tools. Just like a table saw, they have the ability to make our lives easier in many ways, provided that we use them properly. But I’m beginning to think that they are serving a detrimental purpose by keeping us plugged in to an ever more deleterious and malignant stream of bad vibrations, which, at their root, feed upon those of us who are reaching out for something, good or bad, that could consume us. Feed the good wolf, my friends; tis’ far more preferable.