Reposted from Medium

Have you ever been in a car crash? Do you know that weird, numb, nauseous, out-of-body feeling that hits, after the adrenaline fades?

You’re in shock.

Now imagine that you were in a car crash every day. How would you feel, after a month?

Now consider the fact that we describe the world as a car crash, every day these days — are you in a situation something a little bit like that?

Now consider how you felt after that car crash, and how you feel these days, when you read the news, when you try to sleep, when you wake up. Aren’t they a little similar? Isn’t that weird, funny, strange — and gruesome?

There’s a line I’ve always loved from Office Space. “Every day,” the main character says, talking about his working life, “has been worse than the one before it.” Does that sum up American collapse so far? Every day — weirder, more numbing, more adrenalizing, more panic-inducing, than the one before it? Maybe even something like living through a car crash — every day?

If I had to try to pin down the mood of the nation — maybe the world, at this juncture — I’d put it like this. A kind of weary exhaustion. A sense of grim fatigue. Everyone just feels drained in a way I’ve never seem them before. The life is going out of us. Would you say that’s fair?

I think that we’re in shock, my friends. Not physiological shock — blood draining away after a major injury. But psychological shock. Which, curiously, is analogical to the psychological kind, too.

I think that America, maybe the world, is experiencing almost the classic, textbook definition of psychological shock — in response to the rise of extremism, fascism, hate, spite, and ruin. “What? Is he serious?”, you ask. I couldn’t be more so. These are existential threats which trigger shock responses in us, over and over again, which then leave us exhausted, debilitated, depleted — not just in some casual sense, but in a genuine psychophysiological one.

Consider a tiny example. There you are, checking Twitter or Facebook, a hundred times a day. Wow? The bad guys said what? Whoosh! You feel a surge of rage. You want to scream and shout. Furious, you type out an expression of your anger.

Fast forward on hour. You’re checking the headlines. The bad guys did what? No way. Impossible. Sshooomm. The pit of your stomach goes cold. You feel nauseous, jittery, weak, suddenly. Maybe you push that lunch away, just unable to eat it.

An hour later. You’re back on Twitter. Wait, what’s the latest scandal? Zap!! Are they really going to — you read tweet after tweet. Your mind goes foggy. You can’t think anymore. Everything’s a haze. How is this even real?

You’re driving home now. You put the news on the radio. Wait — the bad guys want to what? Your chest goes tight. How will you pay the bills? What about those poor kids? Is this country livable anymore? You feel disconnected, as if you’re not in your own self anymore.

I’ve exaggerated — but only slightly, I think — to make a point. Can you see yourself in my tiny example? I can see myself in it, funnily and sadly enough.

Here’s what really going on in it, psychologically speaking. Hypervigilance — constantly scanning the environment for warning signs, threat signals, danger. When you find them? Whoosh! An adrenaline rush. Fight, flight, or freeze. Your muscles tighten up. You breathe faster.

Do you see how exhausting this all is already?

And then, as the response fades, later that night, as you unclench, your mind goes into overdrive. Therapists speak of “Trump Anxiety Disorder” by now, and point to a huge uptick in people in distress.

So there you are — you’ve spent the day hypervigilant, triggering your own shock responses, over and over again, which has drained you, but you don’t know it. And now what happens? Overwhelming anxiety. Insomnia. Restlessness. You can’t relax. Your mind won’t let you. Why not?

You’re having flashbacks. Recurrent thoughts that won’t go away. They echo and spiral. Your mind is busy trying to survive the next day — which it knows is going to be just like this one. It’s re-experiencing the shock of today, and yesterday, and trying to figure out: how can I cope with it? And so you’re flooded with thoughts of the dread of self-preservation. What if they really do what they say they’re going to do? What if the next election doesn’t fix this stuff? Can I even live here? How am I going to survive?

You’re still in shock. In fact, you’ve never gone out of shock. During the day, you experienced psychological shock, and at night, you re-experienced it, to anticipate tomorrow’s so maybe you could survive it better. Maybe you don’t feel like that every day — but I’d bet you feel like that at least some days.

Is it any wonder we’re so exhausted, then? So bone-weary, drained, and utterly worn out by collapse? Collapse is leaving us in shock. But being shock is an exhausting thing. All that adrenaline. All that tightness. That shortness of breath, that numbness, that nausea. It wears down a body, consumes its energy, depletes its physical and psychological resources.

And then, when we should be resting, we re-experience all the above, so we are not really recovering, rebuilding, replenishing ourselves, either. When we should be sleeping, our minds are half-awake, or maybe consumed by restless dreams. Genuine rest, when every day is a recurring shock, isn’t just a luxury — it might be an impossibility.

I don’t want to give you simple “solutions” — turn off social media! Go meditate! Read a book!! Certainly, all those things would be helpful. But “solutions” miss the point in a way — if you don’t understand what the problem really is. We’re not just “tired” in some allegorical metaphorical sense. Or even in some literal, physical one.

We are exhausted, mind, body, and soul, through the depletion of all our resources, which never seem to be replenished, because we are in recurrent shock. We’re drained and worn out by collapse — since we reexperience its shock over and over again, every night, every day. And that is not a healthy place for a mind, a body, or a society to be. Shock is a hidden cost of collapse we haven’t yet really reckoned with. And yet reckon with it we must. Because leaving us in shock, worn out until we are paralyzed, is exactly what the bad guys want.

August 2018


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