As I rode the crosstown bus, I imagined my new psychiatrist would ask how I was feeling. I had seen her for the first time a week before, after months of feeling anxious and unhinged by the deaths of two friends over the summer, overcommitments at work, and a childcare situation that seemed unbearably complicated. When my 45 minutes was up, she suggested that I come back.
In the week between our appointments, Donald Trump had been elected President and everything had changed. It seemed like my frayed nerves had been projected outward and my personal problems would need to be recalibrated in proportion to the atmosphere of shared grief and despondency.
I hoped this new doctor could help me to make sense of the changed scale of my worries. When she asked, I told her I felt so devastated by the election that I was having trouble sorting out my own sadness from the collective despair of the city around me.
I had many reasons to be demoralized by the outcome of the election. My younger son is disabled, and I was appalled at a candidate who wrote a book called Crippled America, mocked Serge Kovaleski (an investigative reporter with disabilities), and proposed to slash funding for Medicaid. That, along with his lack of experience, opposition to reproductive rights, disrespect for women and minorities, promise to deport undocumented immigrants, build a wall at the southern border, and ban Muslims from entering the country.
My older son and I had canvassed in Pennsylvania, and I had taken him to vote with me, hoping we could witness together the historic election of the first woman president. We both cried while watching the results come in on Tuesday night. Wednesday was my birthday. After staying up much of the night, I stumbled through the day in a fog of exhaustion as I met with students, colleagues, and neighbors in tears.
In such a situation, how could I gage my own mental health?
The psychiatrist cut me off.
“Rachel, let me tell you something,” she waved her pad at me. “I voted for Trump.”
I looked at her in stunned silence.
“He is a good man. I know this,” she said. “I have many good reasons. He will stop the practice of ripping babies from their mother’s wombs at six months. He will stop drugs from pouring over the border. He will get rid of people who are here illegally, committing crimes and draining our country’s resources.”
I started to argue. I told her how painful it had been to see Trump imitate a reporter with disabilities, to fear for my undocumented students, and witness a candidate run on a platform of hatred and fear.
“He didn’t do that,” she said firmly. “Those are lies, all lies from a biased liberal media.”
Suddenly, I was Harry Potter in The Sorcerer’s Stone. The person I took to be the ineffectual Professor Quirrell had just unwrapped his turban to reveal the Dark Lord Voldemort in possession of his body. But unlike Harry Potter, I am deeply averse to confrontation. As the psychiatrist lectured me, I sat frozen in my seat, retreating to some inner place for the rest of the session.
When the appointment ended, I walked out onto the sidewalk in a state of disbelief. In addition to the vitriol, one of the most disheartening features of this election cycle was the sense that the facts didn’t matter. Seemingly incontrovertible things like where Barack Obama was born or whether the climate was changing were called into question. Institutions dedicated to impartiality were contaminated with partisanship. From the Supreme Court to the news media to the pollsters, it was a tower of red and blue turtles all the way down.
Now even my doctor, whose professional duty was to care for my mental health, had suggested that my reality was a lie.
Obviously, I couldn’t see her again.
As I rode the bus back across town, I comforted myself by planning how I would find a new doctor. But that reminded me of my privilege in having a job that offers good healthcare coverage. Under a Trump presidency, thousands of Americans are likely to lose their insurance, making them unable to access treatment for mental health.
I felt again the precariousness of that pile of turtles. Red and blue falling, falling all the way down, hoping to reach solid ground.