Have you ever tried to be an activist when you have anxiety? Spoiler alert: it’s hard.
Sometimes it feels like I’m anxious about everything. Sudden illness. My family dying. Interactions with cashiers and waiters. Voicemails from people I love. Voicemails from strangers. Facebook messages. Auditions. Not going on auditions. Leaving the house. Staying inside. I have anxiety about my anxiety. Is it affecting my work? Is it ruining my relationships? Probably. But what am I supposed to do about it? That question makes me anxious too.
In my journey with my anxiety, though, I’ve come to one very helpful conclusion so far. My biggest anxiety is that one day, I’m going to die. Rational, right? It’s the thought that motivates me most of the time. To do work hard and do everything I can and want to do before that happens. Sometimes – possibly often - to the point of self-detriment. Example: have you ever met anyone who literally doesn’t know how to relax? Like, attempts to do so typically result in freak-outs of the “I’m-wasting-my-time” variety? Hi. My name is Emily.
So you can imagine what this election season has done to me and people like me. It’s been difficult for everyone, to be sure. But I already can’t stop thinking about rights for women, LGBT+, and minorities being constantly challenged and rolled back in this country. When you put that and worse into the realm of actual possibility, it makes that feeling a hundred times more horrifying.
But there’s an upside to my anxiety in this case. Because I am terrified by the idea of not doing anything, especially when it involves something so important to me, I decided to do something.
I started out by donating to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Not much - fifteen dollars here and there. I’m an actor and a writer who has a day job as a preschool teacher, so no real lucrative occupation whatsoever. But I decided I either needed to find time to volunteer to work, or give some money so it could go to other people’s work. And I had less time than spare change.
But then I started to have more time than money. And also, I wanted to do more. I started to get that feeling that I get when I don’t feel like I’m being productive enough, even if I was actually doing something worthwhile. Basically, the feeling went like this: “You should be volunteering for Hillary Clinton right now. Because in the grand scheme of things, there’s nothing more important than this election. Nothing you’re doing could be more important.”
For the past two days, I’ve been phone banking for Hillary. From my own home, to minimize the social anxiety. This went against every instinct I’ve ever had. I have so much phone-related anxiety that most of the time, I don’t even pick up if it’s my friend calling, let alone an unknown number. But a bigger anxiety won out; the one that’s horrified of the idea that a racist, sexist demagogue could be the leader of the free world.
But, really, making campaign calls broke me a little bit. I didn’t make many, not compared to a lot of people who’ve been doing the same thing. But it was all I could manage with out being overwhelmingly depressed. Most of the calls were not picked up, but each time my anxiety would act up in preparation anyway. I got a few wrong numbers. And the rest both lifted me up and slammed me down in almost equal measure.
I called a woman who seemed to support Hillary, but was annoyed with me for calling, insisted she was on the “Do Not Call” list, and interrupted me as I was trying to thank her for her time before hanging up on me.
I called a woman who did support Hillary, but hung up before I could make sure she knew where her polling place was.
I called a man who just said, “I’m voting for Trump.” I said thank you anyway and hung up. I live in a progressive area, so I don’t think I’d heard someone say that in real life yet. He wasn’t hostile, but it was disheartening.
I called a woman who just said, “Gary Johnson” and hung up.
I called a man who said he was not a Hillary supporter and didn’t want to talk about it. “I understand and appreciate what you’re doing,” he told me, “but I’m just tired of talking about it.” I said I understood and hung up. He was kind, truly. But still.
I called a man, 20 years old, who told me yes, he was a Hillary supporter. “Great! So how are you planning to vote in this election – have you already voted or are you voting tomorrow?” He wasn’t. He isn’t planning to vote at all. There wasn’t even an option for that on the response form that I filled out.
The hope that I feel every time I hear Hillary speak, or see a video from her campaign – all that idealism and excitement – just fell flat after those calls. Don’t get me wrong, I am a very strong supporter of her and have been throughout the election. But I can stay in my own liberal bubble, with my young, educated friends who don’t need my posts on Facebook to know who they’re voting for. Talking to people who don’t live in that bubble is hard. Hearing that they really do exist, and there’s nothing I can do to change their minds is hard. Activism hurts.
But there were other calls, of course. Several people who told me they already voted for Hillary. Several who appreciated the information about their polling places. Several who thanked me for the hard work I was doing. The last part was the best – after a sad call, it really made me feel better.
Then, there was this one call. A woman in Virginia, whose husband picked up to say she wasn’t home. I identified myself as a volunteer for Hillary Clinton, just to let him know who I was, and thanked him for his time as I went to hang up.
“Let me ask you a question,” he said, just before I did. “In your heart of hearts. Is she really the right choice?”
“I really believe so. Everyone has their own opinions of course. But I really, really think so.”
He asked me further about what I thought. He expressed that he was an Independent and an undecided voter, and he was trying to figure out who will be best for the job. He told me some things he liked about Bernie Sanders, and he also told me he was worried about putting another establishment politician in office. I explained to him why I support Hillary, that her stance on civil rights for everyone is the most important thing to me.
We talked for a good while, and then his wife got home, so he handed the phone to her. She expressed similar concerns. She is an immigrant, and told me she detested Trump’s rhetoric on immigrants. But she hadn’t heard either candidate speak about the environment, which is the most important issue to her. I explained to her that Hillary supports taking action on climate change, while Trump does not even believe in it. But I encouraged her to look at Hillary’s website to read more details on her environmental platform and see if it aligned with her beliefs.
We talked for twenty minutes. Both of them were undecided voters, and still were by the end of the conversation. But I really felt good about that discussion. I really think that, at least for twenty minutes, I made some semblance of a difference.
Today, just before I started my ‘shift,’ I got two stickers from the Hillary campaign in the mail. They were thank you gifts, essentially, for donating. One of them, next to an old photo of Hillary, simply said, “Let’s make history.”
And I just had a flash-forward to, one day, showing it to my granddaughter in an old scrapbook or something. I’ll be giving her my HRC t-shirt, because it’s vintage and it’ll impress her friends. And I’ll tell her about sitting at my little desk, calling people, and how it sank my heart and made it sing. I’ll tell her how it felt to fill in the little circle on my absentee ballot, knowing I had never wanted anything more in my life than for it to come true. And I’ll tell her how it felt to watch her win.
And she’ll say, “I can’t believe you got to vote for the first woman president!” Or, if she’s a different kind of girl, she’ll say, “Whatever, grandma. It’s 2010s day at school tomorrow and I just need a cool outfit.”
But it won’t matter. Because she grew up in a world where women can do anything. Where the idea a female president is just a foregone conclusion. And that is just worth it. That is worth all of it.