All of my life, I had heard about the concept of depression from other people, but it always appeared to me as a foreign object that I would struggle to understand. People I know over the years would talk about their depressions or nervous breakdowns, or those of their own family members and friends. But I would be on the outside looking in, like watching it snow inside a snow globe but not understanding what it would be like to get 5 feet of snow dumped on top of my head and stay buried under it.
All that would change. November 8, 2016 started out great enough. As a New York City civil servant, I got election day off that day, just like I had every year. I woke up on that nice fall day in Brooklyn and went to vote at a school in my awesome neighborhood called Cobble Hill. There was a beautiful five year old girl waiting in line with her mother, and on my way out she asked her mom if she could get an “I voted today” sticker that she saw on people’s shirts. Just as her mom told her it had to be earned by adults who voted, I gave the little girl my own. I felt great and so did the little girl.
It was a happy moment for me, and the first of many on the day. I hung out for the rest of the day off with my good friends in the hipster enclave of Red Hook, joking, laughing, eating, drinking, walking, talking, flirting with strangers, and trying to soak in the fact that within a few hours, America would finally vote in its first female president in history.
By 11pm that night, I went into a state of physical and mental shock. I exchanged a set of WhatsApp messages with my close relative, who was sitting on a beach in India and drinking beers early in the morning, India time, seeing the same live US election results that I was. Indeed, he had predicted Trump’s victory months earlier, but I refused to entertain even a hint of that thought. “Are you doing okay?” he asked. For the first time in my life, after quick consideration I responded to him with the honesty that a close relative and friend deserved: “No,” I replied.
It sounds cheesy to say this when so many people have worse problems than me, like painful stages of cancer, dead children, blindness, or missing legs. Plus I am by no means alone in falling into a dark abyss late in 2016. But I had to admit to myself that my world had shattered. Many others probably felt as bad or worse, for example those who worked on Hillary’s election campaign and were cheated out of victory.
But I can only speak for myself. I finally learned what depression meant, the hard way, as I mourned the end of America as we knew it. It was like a family member I loved dying. My optimism, which always drove me for 36 years of life was melting away in real time. I went from an optimist to a cynic. And being unused to cynicism, I found out for the first time that it’s a very hard way to live.
I have always had jobs since my 16th birthday, and I always worked hard. But on November 9th, 2016, I could not do a single shred of work properly. I sat and largely stared at my computer screen. My body felt frozen. My mind was numb. I couldn’t focus for more than three minutes at a time. I was surrounded by colleagues who were going through the same thing, and on this particular day, it was considered acceptable and almost predictable to be useless and unproductive. After all, most of us lived and worked together in New York City. We knew the criminal scumbag con man Trump better than anyone else did. It wasn’t us who voted that charlatan and his evil family in, it was the rest of the country’s fault. Not that it made us New Yorkers feel any better.
The next few months were painful as I descended into feeling hopeless and helpless about the world, and wondering what the point of it all was if we were headed toward destroying humanity and our planet anyway at some point soon. Family members and friends were feeling many of the same cynical things and didn’t offer a way out. I burned. I started giving up on trying to be healthy, or caring about current events, or the future. Classic depression type symptoms. And I was smart enough to know it.
But then something happened. By February 2017 we began seeing the flickering glimmer of a path towards takedown and impeachment, which I am now confident is inevitable. I went through a few dark and deep spiritual experiences in this period of time. My optimism gradually and slowly re-emerged, like a glorious Phoenix from the ashes of the very fire that had burned me.
I got serious about writing fiction, something I had been talking and thinking about since I was 12 years old. I entered a fiction contest on a whim and got second place. I became active on Twitter, starting arguments and rants and making jokes, and it all felt therapeutic during a hard time. I started donating to political campaigns, and signing petitions. I regained some of the joy and fun in dating, which had been absent for several years since my divorce, a period when I viewed dating as a chore and a bore. I initiated a serious job search process, which resulted in me moving out of New York City to Wisconsin to take on a new job, career trajectory, and life in an extremely different place. I began playing the tablas again after a 20 year hiatus. I began playing the drum set again after a 20 year hiatus. And between 2017 and early 2018, I finally completed a first draft of my novel manuscript.
If I were to blame Trump for feeling depressed, it would only be fair to assign my nearly pathological quest to improve myself in isolation on an island while the world was falling apart all around me, to his specter too. I was forcibly stuffed into a dark place by a monster. I feel that I have clawed my way out of the hole. Shouldn’t the monster get at least some of the credit too?
I believe so. And I also think that other people, and the national conscience as a collective may be able to do the same, and use the sorrow and hate and rage and depression to their advantage, and our advantage. Donald Trump, his supporters, and all of the evil that they represent can be viewed as a giant stress test– on you, on me, on the country, and on the world. Assuming we survive the stress test, we will be better off. That which does not kill you will make you stronger.
I feel like I am living proof of that. Now, when the idiot tweets something, threatens somebody, lies about something, bombs somewhere, or goes golfing while the world burns, I don’t give a shit like I used to. I ignore it. He is too dumb to be worth my time. SCREW HIM. It’s up to the creaky system now. Let the old white Republican men like Comey, Mueller, Rosenstein, Flake, Corker, and McCain take out their own trash.
I’m going to be over here, working on becoming a constantly new and improving version of myself. Thank you. I mean that sincerely for helping me become a better man. I am using you like the tool that you are.
-Mahanth S. Joishy