So, sometimes I get stuck inside an apocalypse. Some headline gets inside my head and I spin out into a state where the only thing I can think about is the pure dystopian hell of it all. Because of the way my brain works, when it gets stuck, sometimes it gets really, really, really stuck.
The other day Max pointed out to me that I was extremely, extremely fixated on Elon Musk and I was like YES BECAUSE IT’S ALL INSANITY, just like I was extremely fixated on how John Yoo justified torture way back in the 2000s and on this or that injustice as it rises and falls in headlines.
This year there was a confluence:
“Silicon Valley leaders welcome Elon Musk’s management of Twitter.”
“President Zelensky of Ukraine Rebukes Elon Musk’s peace proposal”
“Elon Musk hopes to test a brain implant in humans next year.”
“New York City to begin hospitalizing mentally ill people involuntarily”
“San Francisco supervisors vote to allow police to use robots to kill”
I am a mentally ill queer Jewish woman who works in tech, and fed headlines like these my brain, like the superadvanced ChatAI it is, very rapidly built an entire apocalyptic sci fi novel out of this stuff. There’s a clear Elon Musk theme going on, mixed in with a lot of anxieties about self-determination and personal safety mixed in with a lot of stuff that 50 years ago was definite “you’re paranoid, honey” territory and is now just How Things Work.
So I built this world inside my head out of actual headlines that are about actual things actually happening in the real world, but the result was paralyzing. All I could do was lie in bed with my mind endlessly screaming about the nightmare reality we were all trapped in.
This was extremely unpleasant and also debilitating. It is hard to do anything useful from this place, and in fact, I could not. All I could do was take some extra Seroquel and pet the cat and draw some pictures and write some extremely weird poetry that sounded exactly some stuff Teresa of Avila wrote. I had to take a couple days off of work, which I do not like to do, because work is generally a stabilizing influence in my life and a source of well-being and satisfaction. I direct my life towards having positive impact because directing it towards joy or contentment has generally been a bad match for my mind.
Anyways, this sucked, but it happens sometimes. I am used to getting stuck.
This tip is about, if you find yourself in a similar situation, getting unstuck.
First, remember that there are many true facts in the world. There are more true facts in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your Twitterverse, Amy. Eric Adams may be forcibly hospitalizing mentally ill people but Eric Reinhardt is organizing psychiatrists against the carcereal state. Elon Musk is emboldening the billionaires but the Patagonia family gave all their money away. The SFPD voted to use murder robots, but people I know personally were on the ground fighting against it, and the SFPD just reversed that decision. Timnit Gehru is starting her own AI research center. My little corner of tech may be presided over by a megalomaniac who admires Musk and thinks DEI is over, but I know plenty of people in the community who are strenuously and actively objecting to that guy and his opinions, every day. Adrienne Marie Brown, Joanna Macy, Rebecca Solnit, Roxane Gay, Ijeoma Oluo, Emily Bender, AOC, Jorts.
The way out of an apocalyptic death spiral is through disconfirming evidence, through acts of protest or imaginative building of something new and different, and through solidarity.
1. What are the things making me crazy?
2. What are some alternative and equally true facts about the world that run counter to my sense of imminent apocalypse?
3. What actions can I take to combat the things that are making me crazy (lots of things I identify in step 2 are good inputs to this)?
4. Who can I take those actions with?
I don’t want to imply that meds are not helpful and that the rest wasn’t helpful, but ultimately the way out of this particular version of crazy is the active production of hope.
And that is the key thing I want you to hear: hope is not something we have or don’t have, that is granted or not granted to us — it is something that we can ourselves produce, deliberately, if we have run out of it endogenously, if we have lost sight of it, if we’re running on fumes. It is intensive labor, to produce hope for oneself, to be sure, but it can be done, and it’s a good skill to have. Hope lights up the darkness and returns us to sanity when we are lost in a nightmare.
It sucks that my brain can be so easily lost in nightmares. But it’s made me very good at the production of hope, and hope is a currency that always holds its value, whatever the billionaires do.