teresa sabatine

ts coaching & consulting

The Stress of A Nation: How the Stress of These Past 14 Months Has Changed Us

Texas is freezing over, people are wearing double masks, and we are all left wondering what the hell is wrong with us.

I saw a post today about the past presidents. Someone went through each President of the United States and charted all of the ways they were horrible. One by one you saw racism, misogyny, war, negligence, infidelity, and greed. 

I started to wonder, how often are we sitting on the internet reading these memes about how horrible the world is? And how does this visibility into the trauma of our communities and our fellow humans change us? 

I sat with this for a while. Lately I have stopped reading the internet. I have stopped reading the news. I have stopped following the headlines. 

I have thoughts of guilt, is it privilege that allows me to ignore these things? Is it selfish to not engage on these topics on the daily? Or is this what my father always called, “self preservation?”. 

I have chosen a different approach. I show up for the things I am capable of showing up for, I highlight those who I think are aiding the world, and I commit to my work to help people better understand themselves so they can better serve their communities. 

But lately, this just doesn’t feel like enough. Radical response feels like the only way out at this point. More on that later. 

I scrolled a little further down to see images of Texas. I am supposed to be in Texas today. Right now, I am supposed to be hanging photographs on the wall of my new home. I decided to move to Texas a few months ago after exploring cities across the United states in 2020. Yes, you may be wondering, how did you explore the country in the midst of a global pandemic? Well I did. In my Mazda SUV with my 80 pound dog. We went from airbnb to hotel to campsite to friend’s homes back to airbnbs. We masked up (well I masked up, Billy did not) and we stayed safe, but we kept our promise to ourselves. 2020 would be the year we explored the country and figured out where we wanted our next home to be. 

Back to Texas. So I am not in Texas. I am at my Aunt’s in Florida waiting for my movers to move my things from Chicago to Austin. A few weeks ago they were to drive from Indiana to Texas and I was to meet them in my new home to offload my things and start my next chapter. 

But God had other plans, and apparently knew there was a storm on the way so he held me here where I am safely stored until further notice as are my personal belongings in a warehouse somewhere on the southside of Chicago. 

Status: Waiting to be loaded. 

I am not a person who waits. I am a person who acts. Good or bad, I am always in action, and this waiting to be loaded thing is not frustrating because I want to be settled, it is frustrating because I am needed. 

Needed. It is something we have all felt this past year. There are fires everywhere and not enough firepersons. And on top of there not being enough people to put out the fires we weren’t even allowed to try to put out the fires. We were asked to sit on our hands in an effort to keep more people safe. We see the collective suffering, we witness failing leaders not capable of solving the problems, and we sit, on our hands, wondering what can be done. 

As I scrolled the images of a freezing Texas, of my fellow humans in line waiting hours for groceries, boiling water, and some even dying from trying to keep their homes warm, my heart breaks again, for the 900th time.

I am what modern society calls an empath. Some do not believe in this term, but that is what they have coined it so here I am, empathic. I sit around with other empaths and we talk about how we feel everything. How we have felt everything since we were little kids. Sometimes when I share how much I feel of others and how much time my brain spends processing those feelings people say to me, “Your problem is that you need to learn to care less”. 

So now I have a problem, apparently. I think the biggest problem right now is that we have all been conditioned that the strong thing is to care less. To have less emotion. To feel less.

I have tried this. I even talk with other empaths about how interesting it might be for one day of my life not to be able to feel all of the things around me.  “Wouldn’t it be great to care less?”, I ask. How does one begin to do that?

I haven’t found a way to care less. I have found a way to not punish myself for how much I care, but caring less hasn’t landed for me yet. 

And so I spent all night, until about 1am on the internet reading about Texas freezing, and Presidents who are apparently complete failures as leaders (this seems to be a abhorrent pattern), and shelters that need heaters to protect the animals, and a grandma and her granddaughter who died trying to heat the house.

And it had me thinking a lot about these past 12 months. Of all of the conversations we have had in my inner circles about race.  About fear. The loss. The collective grief. The stress of a Nation. 

I cannot help but think that you are not also an empath. I think the difference between knowing you are an empath and not knowing is that no one gave you language for what you are feeling, and I have more words for what I feel than one could ever need. I think we are all feeling the feelings of others. I think we are all built to feel. I think the difference between me caring and you not caring is a difference in how we have been taught to survive. And I don’t really think there are people out there not caring, I think there are people out there trying to survive.

The stress of a nation.

It keeps coming up for me.  To think that because you are not in Texas means that you are not affected by what is happening in Texas is an individualistic slant.  One that requires you to believe that we are not all connected and that your actions do not affect me and mine do not affect you. 

But we know this isn’t true, because we see every single day how our actions affect each other. We saw it at the United States Capital on February 6th. We saw it for four years as a nation became more and more divided by rhetoric from a singular source. The actions of one affected us all. 

And in this day and age you cannot escape what is happening in Texas. Even Australia is talking about what is happening in Texas. So ignorance may be bliss, but none of us really have that luxury anymore. 

And we are grieving. Do you see that? Do you see that we are grieving together as a nation but also apart as a nation because we no longer understand where we stand with one another? 

It’s like one part of the nation is going to a funeral, and another part of the nation is holding their own funeral but at the end of the day we are mourning the same thing. So why are we having separate funerals? 

Some of us send messages to one another, “Are you ok? Is there anything I can do?”. Others send defensive messages of why certain behaviors and happenings are not our responsibility or our fault, “those environmentalists and their progressive wind energy agendas did this, it’s not on me”, and others don’t send messages anymore because they can no longer communicate with their loved ones due to the divide. “Better to say nothing at all then cause a fight”. 

Justification, defensiveness, apathy, avoidance, divide. Major key pieces of the individualist puzzle. 

This isn’t because one is a group of inherently bad selfish people and one is a group of loving thoughtful people. It is because we are trying to survive and when we are in this state of stress, of grief, our capacity is diminished. And when our capacity is diminished and the shit keeps hitting the fan we lose our wits. We storm the capital. We steal. We lie, We hurt. We attempt to preserve whatever sense of stability we have left and in doing so we ostracize those who we’ve been taught to believe could threaten that stability. 

If she gets that, will there be enough left for me?

If I don’t protect my family, who will?

If we let black people have equality, what happens to our power? 

Individualistic. 

A mayor in Texas ranting and raving, “I will be damned if I am going to provide for anyone who is capable of doing it themselves.” 

A mayor. Isn’t the only job of a mayor to provide for the people? 

A mayor, in stress. Responding with no capacity. Faced with his own inadequacies and inability to protect his people, scapegoating. 

I think it is important that we address the stress of this nation as a collective experience. That we realize that no one is void of this stress. No one is getting out of this without feeling this. We are all at the same damn funeral. 

We know that there are sectors of the population who have been feeling it way more. Left without power, water, food, medical resources, without the privilege to quarantine. 

Essential workers. 

Essential workers should come to mean all of us. We are all essential workers in this moment of time. 

I am getting messages of how grateful my loved ones are that I am not in Texas. And I am with them, in so many ways, on so many levels. And I am also frustrated. Because I am needed in Texas. We are needed. 

I have clients messaging me throughout these months, “What is wrong with me? I cannot seem to do anything. I feel so…tired.” 

The stress of a nation. 

We don’t get to move forward anymore without acknowledging the collective grief. And if we honor this collective grief, and we see it as all of ours, as our responsibility, it is from that place that we can mobilize and respond.

It’s not that I don’t care about the news. It’s not that I don’t care about the headlines. It’s that I just want to go where I am actually needed. I want to respond within my capacity to the stress of this nation. I do this in my work, with the women in my programs. We respond to the stress together, we learn how to manage our capacity so we can mobilize and respond and not defend and scapegoat.

Maybe if we acknowledge our stress, process and honor our feelings, and then reach out from this place of awareness we can turn this ship around?

Radical action. It keeps coming to my mind. Is there any other way to respond to a radical trauma than with a radical response? 

And what does that look like? 

Texas is freezing over, people are wearing double masks, and we are all left wondering, what the hell is wrong with us?  

Nothing. Nothing is wrong with you. This is your stress response. But if we continue to ignore that stress response, and we continue to scroll headlines, push ourselves to our limits, choose apathy over empathy, and fill our minds with division and fear, we will remain here, in our stress response, incapable of feeling what we need to feel to create space to discover the radical response needed to help. 

We are all at the same damn funeral, so why can’t we just mourn and move forward together? 

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