You can read this series from the beginning here.
"Thank you for seeing me on such short notice," I said.
"You’re lucky we had a cancellation," the psychologist said. "My colleagues and I have been working double shifts since Tuesday. We just happened to have a situation where a young staffer on Senator Harkin’s committee staff picked up a job with the National Association of Part-Time Amusement Park Employees. That did wonders for her depression, apparently. I wish everyone were so easy to treat."
It was a week after the midterm elections, and I was feeling despondent about the Republican victories, and it looked like I wasn’t alone.
"I started feeling symptoms of pre-traumatic stress disorder a week before the election," I explained. "I self-medicated with Halloween candy and binge-watching old reruns of The West Wing. But I wasn’t prepared for what actually happened. How could anyone have been?"
The psychiatrist motioned me over to her couch. "Sit, please. Relax. It’s all going to be all right."
"That’s what I kept telling myself. It’s going to be all right. We were going to hold tight in Kansas and Kentucky and go in strong to the runoff in Louisiana and Georgia. It would have been enough. I was already thinking about going down to Georgia and volunteering for the Nunn campaign–you know, really being on the ground, making a difference. It could have been the difference, really. I had an apartment all picked out in Atlanta, walking distance to Whole Foods. And now I don’t know what to do."
"It’s just an election," she said. "They have one every two years. Believe me, we have Republicans coming in here when they lose elections, too. It passes. Give it time."
"We don’t have time," I said. "We don’t. The oceans are acidifying right now. Family farms are being sold to large agricultural corporations right now. Universities across America are overpaying college football coaches right now. And there’s no way to stop any of it now that the Republicans… the Republicans… oh my God… oh my God…"
"Calm down, Mr. Fairchild. You’re going to hyperventilate. Breathe. Put your head between your knees if you need to."
"Trudeau," I said.
"What about him?" she asked.
"It’s my name. Trudeau-Fairchild. My mother insisted."
"Oh. Your mother’s last name is Trudeau?"
"Actually, it isn’t. It’s Parker-Leibowitz. She just had a crush on Pierre Trudeau around the time I was born."
"I see. Sorry. I was looking at the insurance forms. You don’t turn twenty-six for another year or so, right?"
"Oh, my God. They’re going to cut my health insurance. I just realized. The Republicans are going to kick me off my parents’ health insurance coverage. I’m going to get lupus or something, and I’m not going to be able to get health care."
"Mr. Trudeau-Fairchild, please," she said. "You’ll do yourself an injury. Calm down, relax, and get your mind off politics."
"How?" I asked.
"Well, are you involved in any relationships? A nice young woman, perhaps?"
"I’m seeing someone, She’s an intern who works with me. She’s got an appointment with another psychiatrist, two floors down. We rode over here together."
"Oh, dear," she said.
"She’s worse off, if anything. She’s got election-induced Tourette’s Syndrome. You’ll just be talking to her, and she’ll say something like ‘Majority Leader McConnell,’ and then cry for an hour. It’s not been a good week for either of us."
"What about your family?"
"I called my dad on Election Night. I think he laughed for twenty minutes straight. My mother is at a conference in Pyongyang right now–she usually just listens to state-run media while she’s there, and they haven’t reported anything about the US elections, so we’re hoping she hasn’t heard the news yet."
"How long have you been involved in politics?" the psychiatrist asked.
"I was eight years old before I figured out that C-SPAN wasn’t what most kids watched on TV," I said. "I have all the governors of Connecticut memorized. I have read every page of the Affordable Care Act."
"Mr. Trudeau-Fairchild, you need to take a step back and re-evaluate what you’re doing with your life. You are putting your happiness in the hands of a hundred million registered voters, who don’t know you and don’t care about how their decisions affect you."
"You’re forgetting all the people who didn’t vote," I explained. "And the people who couldn’t vote because the Republicans suppressed their vote. And the undocumented workers and convicted felons who ought to be able to vote."
"Setting that aside for a moment," she said. "Do you have any other interests? Hobbies? Sports teams that you follow? I will say that if you follow the Redskins, you ought to stop doing that right now."
"I write a blog about my experiences," I said. "I take care of myself by eating locally-grown vegan food. I got an 8096 tile once."
"You need to do something else," the psychiatrist said.
"Candy Crush Saga? I tried that, but I get nervous on the timed levels."
"No, no, no." she said. "You need to do something other than politics for awhile. You need to leave Washington and go and do something useful with your life."
"I don’t understand," I said. "What I’m doing is useful. It’s more useful than anything else I can think of doing."
"I know you think that," she said. "But that’s because your focus is on winning elections and public policy, not on making Justin Trudeau-Fairchild a well-rounded, happy, adjusted person."
"But my needs aren’t important," I said. "Not nearly as important as delivering on the promise of hope and change."
"And on the other side of the aisle, there’s someone working just as hard as you to keep their own promises, which are opposite from yours. And that’s always going to be the way things are. Why should that struggle be more important than your mental health?"
"Hello? Which party is in favor of more mental health services?"
"You’re missing the point," the psychiatrist said. "You are driving yourself crazy with your relentless obsession with politics. Why not take a vacation? Why not fly out to Colorado and get a job as a ski instructor for awhile? Why not teach literacy courses for Vietnamese shrimp boat captains on the Gulf? Why not go to Vermont and scoop Ben and Jerry’s for a few months?"
"Or New Hampshire," I said.
"No. Do not start worrying about 2016. Live for the moment."
*
"Sounds like good advice," Polly said.
We were in a bar in Adams-Morgan, and Polly had bought us both a pitcher of Doghead Fish beer, or at least I think that’s what they called it. She said it was locally sourced, so I decided to at least give it a try.
Polly was down in DC looking for work. She’d had an interview at the National Institute for Speech Disorders Research, but she didn’t think anything would come of it. She had remembered her promise to buy me a beer after the elections, and she’d downed most of the first pitcher and was getting started on a second.
"I mean, really, when you think about it, the best advice you can give anyone is to live for the moment," she said.
"I want to live for a bright, progressive future for everyone," I said. "Even Republicans, although they don’t deserve it, and wouldn’t appreciate it."
"The bright future is one thing," Polly said. "Got to have that. But there’s life out there, you know? Your life. And you need to live it. Can’t be stuck in this town all the time, worrying about arcane policy stuff that matters not one bit to people out in Wilmington, Delaware."
"But I don’t want to be in Wilmington, Delaware," I said. "I want to be here."
"I do, too," she said, "but Wilmington is nice, too. Or Nashville. Or Austin. Listen to your shrink. Get out of this place and go live life for awhile."
So that’s what I’m doing. I have given up my lease on my apartment. I broke things off with Emma, who threw one of her shoes at me, which left a mark. I told Aunt Joan I was taking an extended leave of absence, and she gave me a hug and told me to have a good time finding myself.
I have given away most of my furniture and put my books and my silverware and my Barack Obama commemorative plates in storage. (The plate with Barack and Michelle on it got kind of chipped in the process.) I am going to put the blog on pause for a few months and go out into the real world, traveling America’s backroads and byways (so long as they’re not too far from Amtrak stations), and trying to figure out why so many of my fellow countrymen reject the policies that could benefit them.
I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a woman being catcalled on a New York street, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a conservative radio host using inappropriate language towards an MSNBC host, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way Vox writers explain things slowly and carefully, using data and graphs. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they get a nutritious free lunch at school. And when the people are filling out their health insurance paperwork on the Affordable Care Act website and living in rent-controlled apartments in ungentrified neighborhoods–I’ll be there, too.
And one day, I’ll be back.
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