7 min read

Coup Self-Care

On staying grounded in impossible circumstances

I’ve been trying to write this for about an hour. I keep losing time, in ten- and fifteen-minute increments. I tab over to this page, and then I blink and more of the day is gone and the thing still isn’t written.

This kind of stress — the stress of a fucking coup happening in a big country that tends to be irresponsible with its feelings — is hard to weather. I’d wager I’m not the only one struggling with work today.  Yesterday I didn’t struggle with work, because I have the luxury of being able to say “nothing is getting done today” when there’s a coup happening. So I didn’t struggle with work, because I didn’t even try to work — instead I watched what was happening, had phone calls with friends and family to process the domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol, and reached out to loved ones in an effort to remind all of us that we are not alone.

Because in some ways, I think that might be the most important thing right now: we’re not alone. You’re not alone.

Humans aren’t built for ongoing unpredictable unheaval. Our brains are great at acclimating to new circumstances, but that acclimation takes up a lot of capacity, and when circumstances keep changing and changing and changing, it’s hard to focus on much else. This is part of what makes moving so stressful — the process of packing things up changes your brain’s environment a little at a time, every day, and then suddenly your brain is in a whole new place, and then that place changes a little at a time as things get unpacked.

But at least when you move, there’s a sense of agency. Your brain might be stressed about the changing circumstances, but it has some semblance of control over them, and can engage with them directly. Your actions can have an impact on the acclimation process.

What’s happening in America right now, for most of us, doesn’t feel quite so navigable as that. The coup isn’t something we can reach out and touch and change and solve. There are a ton of possible consequences and outcomes, some which we can predict and some which we can’t, and all of them will effect us, and none of them feel like things we can control. This shit is scary and destabilizing. It’s okay to feel scared and destabilized about the things we can’t control.

It’s also important to remember that the things we can’t control don’t take up the entire horizon. It’s easy to feel swallowed up by that sense of helplessness — but we aren’t helpless. There are things we can’t control, and there are things we can.

Let’s take a look at some things we can control. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen some of this before, but look through anyway to remind yourself of the places you can stabilize. These might not all apply to you. This is intended to be a broad assortment of options, not a definitive list! Take what works and throw the rest in the trash.

Are you breathing? It's easy to freeze up and hold your breath when you're feeling activated. Try to make a little more space for breath if you can. If you're able, inhale for 3, hold for 4, and exhale for 5.

If your breath catches in places it doesn’t usually catch, notice what your body is trying to tell you. Breath can be like a grease-trap for grief and anxiety and held-back tears. It’s okay to allow yourself to breathe into those places, if it feels safe to do it.

  • Check in on your posture. When we’re stressed, we tend to clench up and make our bodies as small as possible; you don’t need to make yourself small right now. Do all of this only inasmuch as you are able, safe, and comfortable: Roll your shoulders back and down. Gently stretch your neck from side to side. Roll your hips from side to side. Rock your pelvis front to back. Feel the way your body aligns from your skull to your tailbone. Try to find the places where you’re collapsing into yourself, and allow yourself to expand, instead.
  • If you usually have sensation in your extremities, check in and see if you have that same amount of sensation now. In a stress-state, our bodies start to shut down sensation and circulation to things that it can afford to lose. If you’re reading this, you’re probably not at immediate risk in the way your brain is preparing for. Give your hands and feet a gentle massage, or run them under some warm water. Watch the water hitting your skin, and connect the thing you see with the thing you feel.
  • If you have a plant or animal nearby and you’re able to look at and touch it, do those things. Most of us are wired for biophilia — an attachment to living things and the living world. Spend a few minutes watching a fish swim around in water. Rub your dog’s ears and tell them how great they are. Study the intricate network of veins on the underside of a leaf. You are capable of caring for these things, or they’re capable of caring for themselves. The world is big enough to contain your stress and their calm. Maybe you can take a break from your fear and fatigue and inhabit their calm, just for a few minutes.
  • Are you hydrated? Can you drink some very cold water? For many people, the act of swallowing water makes the brain release calming chemicals, and the shock of a very different temperature is a good way to get out from between your ears. Your body is a living, dynamic thing that is keeping you safe as it can.
  • Have you eaten? Anxiety loves hunger — hunger can stimulate adrenaline production, and right now, your brain might think it needs that adrenaline. Try to eat something. It doesn’t need to be something that’s good for you. It’s okay to seek comfort where you can find it.

Check in on your hygiene practices. Even if you can’t bring yourself to wash the entire creature that is you, go do a brush and a floss if you can. Mental health struggles often lead to dental health struggles. Let’s prevent that as much as possible.

If you’re able to, a bath or shower would be a good idea. Water can be deeply grounding, and the gentle physical stimulus of immersion can be a great way to soothe an activated brain.

If you’re sighted, look at the place around you and take an inventory. Check in with your senses as they apply to you: What’s one thing you can taste? One thing you can smell? What are two things you can feel? What are two things you can hear? What are three things you can see? Name them out loud if you can. If you’re accustomed to hearing the sound of your own voice, it will be a familiar comfort to your brain, and a reminder that you’re a person grounded in a particular time and place (rather than a brain adrift in the riot of stimulus that is The Internet).

Now, are your surroundings in the state you like them to be in? Are there things that need doing that you can do right now? I don’t like it when my desk is untidy, and when I’m stressed it feels overwhelming to try to clean anything up — but once I get started, my brain suddenly remembers that this is something it controls, and the stress eases  up a bit. So, once I finish writing this, I’m going to tidy up my desk, because I’m in control of that part of the world.

  • It might not feel like you have power in this moment, but you do. Contact your Congressperson to voice your support for moving forward with the Articles of Impeachment as drafted by Representative Ilhan Omar, and calling for their vocal support of the invocation of the 25th amendment by Mike Pence and the presidential cabinet. You can read more about the impeachment process here. You can find your representative and their contact information here.
  • Contact your senators requesting their vocal support of both the Articles of Impeachment and the invocation of the 25th amendment by Mike Pence and the presidential cabinet. The Senate can’t act on these things independently, but their vocal support matters, especially in a moment when some people will try to quietly avoid condemning yesterday’s actions. A call is best, but if you can’t call, here’s a link to a form email you can use to demand action. Here’s where you can find your senators and their contact information.
  • Write a thank-you letter to the staffers who work for your Congressperson, because they had a fucking terrible day yesterday and deserve a little support. You can find your Congressperson’s staffer information here.
  • Check in on your loved ones. It’s okay if you don’t know what to say. “Hey, everything is a lot right now, and I love you” is enough. A few emojis is enough. You can reach out to the people you care about, because you’re not alone, and they’re not alone, either. If that feels like a bridge too far, but you still want the reminder that you’re not on your own, the comments section is just a little ways down.

No matter how you navigate today and the days to come, please remember that you are enough. Remember that you are loved and worthy of love. Try to care for the creature you are with the tenderness you’d show a beloved friend. Do the best you can to hang onto hope, because it’s the most powerful weapon and the strongest shield there is.

If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll consider subscribing to this newsletter. The subscriber community is a wonderful and supportive one, and we’re going to spend 2021 finding new ways to stay connected and share experiences. If you already have a subscription, you can also gift a subscription to someone who you’d love to share these experiences with. I would also be personally thankful if you would consider giving this newsletter a shout on social media — your testimony would truly mean the world to me.

Also, I have a book coming out in just a little over a month! You can pre-order The Echo Wife wherever books are sold. Here’s a twitter thread with a lot of different options, if you’d like to avoid supporting monopolies. I’m so excited to share this book with the world.

In the meantime, care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.