The Campaign's Over, Now Can I Finally Let Go Of My Election Anxiety?

I have a history of dramatic dreams during election season.
Publish date:
November 12, 2012
mitt romney, barack obama, election night anxiety

I’m a worrier by nature. Some (like my therapist) might even call it anxiety. I often find myself having to choose between meditation and medication. Sometimes this worry translates into nightmares, and this election year was no exception. After all, I do have a history of dramatic dreams during election season.

During the Democratic primaries of 2008, I was torn between voting for Barack or Hillary. The night before the primary, I dreamt that I went into a high school gymnasium with a ballot marked for Hillary. I’m about to cast my vote when I look up and realize there is a giant polka dotted banner strung across the room with the words “VOTE FOR BARACK OBAMA.”

Clearly, my subconscious was trying to work it out for me. So, Barack-The-Vote I did that day, and have ever since. Still, my anxiety didn't lessen.

I vote in California (where I live), but this summer I took a trip to Ohio to visit my parents and was shocked (horrified) by the number of Romney signs everywhere. As I drove through the suburbs to visit old friends from high school, I grew more and more slack jawed at the number of Romney signs in front of manicured green lawns. It hit me -- I realized then I'd been living in my nice California bubble, where even rich movie stars scorn you if you don’t vote democratic.

As I flew back from Columbus thinking, oh, no, OHIO! my anxiety increased. I thought I would channel that worry into excitement and action: I came back psyched and ready to volunteer for the Obama campaign. I knew grassroots efforts were a huge part of his success -- our success -- in 2008, and that this year, that dedication would need to be doubled.

But my commitment to the campaign, like so many New Year’s Resolutions, wore off. There’s a phone bank on Wednesday nights? That’s my yoga night. Road trip to Nevada? Eh, I’ll think about it. Friday? Sorry, that night I’m seeing "Book of Mormon."

When the debates started, I became convinced the world would vote for Mitt, with his Madmen haircut; his gravelly voice; his emotion-wrought, glassy eyes that the camera loves; his Vaseline teeth.

Like a bride who had failed to follow her Weight Watchers plan, the political wedding was tomorrow, and there was no way I was going to fit into my size 6 Obama dress. I had to accept my failure. Why bother now, I thought, stuffing another animal cracker into my mouth. Elephants for Republicans. Donkeys for Democrats. The other animals were indistinguishable, but I knew this: I was the little crumbles at the bottom of the box.

When I lay my head down to sleep the night before the election, I had an unsettling feeling, like the night before a big exam, when you’re trying to convince yourself you’ve done enough (but know you haven’t). Hoping against hope that the whole thing will be essay questions you can just fake your way through.

My head on the pillow, my inner monologue yelled, “Why didn’t I do more?!” I squeezed my eyes shut and flopped over.

I said a lame prayer that launched me into fragmented nightmares a la Disney’s Winnie the Pooh: the scary, dissonant music of, “They're here! They’re there! They’re everywhere! Pink Elephants on parade!”

Then, the dream shifted: I’m in a massive, cavernous space, with an airplane inside it. The flight attendant, Princess Leia, brings me a glass of champagne. As she leans over to serve it to me, she whispers, “Help me, Obi Wan Sarah. You’re my only hope.” She disappears, and I realize the cocktail napkin she placed down says, “Air Force One.”

Then, all of a sudden the plane transforms and I’m inside the dark screen of a game of Donkey Kong game, wooden ladders everywhere. A smooth, dark-haired, glossy-eyed Mario/Mitt runs through the gauntlet, missing every wooden barrel Donkey Kong throws down at him. The Donkey is defeated: Dark-haired Mario/Mitt rescues his blond little girlfriend, and the screen flashes “GAME OVER”.

The next morning, I walked down the street to vote in a middle school auditorium, worrying about the time. It was 7:45am, and I was expecting long lines. I worried: Am I the only person in the world this morning stressing about how short the line is? Where are all the people? Aren’t they voting?

I’m pretty sure my neighborhood is generally an Obama neighborhood, but this was making my heart race. I got lost in a daydream: it’s like on American Idol when the favorite gets voted off because everyone thought “everyone else” would vote for them. OMG, I think. Obama is my Jennifer Hudson.

I went into panic mode, head spinning, chest heavy. I stood silently in line, and began taking inventory of all the ways I had failed Obama. I should have done more! Registered people to vote! Worked the phones! Stuffed envelopes! A few Facebook posts do not an activist make. If he loses, I will have no one to blame but myself! My face flushed. Is this what a hot flash feels like?

My anxiety-addled mind reeled. Deep breaths didn’t help. I raided my purse for a Xanax. Nada. I had to calm myself down. Dare I look at exit poll results on my smartphone? No, instead I looked around for some sign of hope.

I looked around for black people.

Uh…there! Okay, good. Two black people. And another lady -- there! That’s three…no, wait -- she’s not black. Okay, maybe South American? Yes, I decide. South American who came here as an immigrant? Sure! Even better!

I spot fit, slender, hottie, snappily dressed guys together in line. Fingers crossed –- gay? Thanks be to God! Pregnant woman? She’s probably for Obama care. Non-pregnant woman? She’s probably for reproductive rights!

I have imaginary backstories for every person in line! Now I can breathe.

I go into the booth. There are little “O” shaped bubbles on the VeriSign ballot. "O" looked like "0," zero. As in, you, Sarah, who didn’t do jack shit for Barack. The ballot itself is reprimanding me, and I get lost in a voting booth daydream.

I close my eyes and look down at Barack Obama’s name. I’m sorry, I telepathically apologize to him. I didn’t do enough for you. I’m sorry! I swear, I was always thinking of you! You have to believe me!

He answers me, voice booking, “Then why didn’t you call?”

“I don’t know. I thought about calling you, Barack, I did."

Obama’s voice gets closer, until he whispers in my ear, “I saw you reading that book on your nightstand. The paperback? It’s called “He’s Just Not That Into You.” I shuddered. ”So, Sarah,” he boomed, “actions speak louder than words. I guess you’re just not that into me.”

No! I cry, reaching for him, but he’s already gone. He slams the White House door in my face. I notice there’s a U-Haul already in the driveway. I throw my body up against it, weeping softly until a secret service man takes me by the elbows and tosses me out off the gates on my ass.

I cast my vote anyway and go home to cry into my coffee and Cap’n Crunch.

Later that night, I have both Kleenex (Mitt) and "Champaign" (Obama) at the ready.

Waiting for the election results, I downed a bottle of Liberte red and couldn’t bear to turn on the TV until 8pm. By 8:30pm, the Champaign was flowing. But, though I celebrated into the wee hours, I woke up with the hangover I knew I deserved.

Like so many exams, I’d made it by the skin of my teeth. In the morning, it was time to get up and brush them. I noticed a bad taste in my mouth. My dentist had warned me that a lack of flossing could cause this. I ripped open a new container of floss and vowed to use it later that night. Start over. A clean slate. "I can do this," I told myself. I just had to commit to it. Even when I’m tired, even when I’m feeling lazy.

But it was a busy day, and by 11pm that night, all I wanted to do was crawl into bed. Flossing just seemed like another step.

"Don’t get complacent," Obama whispers in my ear. Ughh. He’s right. I wind out a nice long piece of the Scope-flavored thread, and start right there, in the middle tooth.