On November 9, 2016 I was in my office, getting ready to see patients. It was the morning after Donald Trump had been elected President of the United States of America.
His election sent shock waves through the country and the world.
A dark cloud seemed to hang over my patients. Most expressed disbelief that this person—one who ran a campaign of misogyny, racism and Islamophobia, who lied with impunity and who picked as his vice presidential running mate a hard core homophobe and creationist—could possibly win. Yet he had.
The election of Donald Trump has no parallel in modern (or perhaps in all of) United States history. I have been trying to understand it. One way I have found is to think of Trump’s ascendance as an exotic virus that has entered our national bloodstream, infecting the body politic. I call it “Trump Induced Stress Disorder,” or TISD.
We organize our experience based upon what we have known up to any given moment in time. We categorize, cross reference with other members of our social/cultural group, and anticipate the future. Our thoughts and actions are based largely upon conclusions drawn from our mental surveys.
But there are moments in life, personally and historically, when there is a cleavage of past and present—when what occurs radically departs from the expected.
Most of us believe that to become President, one has to have experience working in government or in the military; that one should be well-spoken, modest, trustworthy, a unifier, even a role model. We teach our children to be kind and respectful of others, including those who might be different from ourselves in some way: culturally, religiously, racially, or in their gender or sexual orientation.
Yet the man America is now placing in its highest office was and is the antithesis of all of the above.
TISD has much in common with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is “a mental disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event such as sexual assault, warfare, traffic collisions, or other threats to a person’s life.”
But with TISD, the stress event is of unknown duration. One cannot only look back to the initial stressors (like the campaign and election) because in TISD the damage is ongoing. Each new outrage compounds what came before.
In TISD, our bodies “fight or flight response” is activated: blood pressure rises, muscles tighten, our vision is focused. One gets ready to “attack” a wild animal or to run from it. But in the wild, these encounters are brief, the danger passes (or one is eaten!) and the body goes into recovery mode.
With TISD, the encounter goes on and on. There is no reliable return to a normal baseline. One remains frozen, in a state of high alert.
Trump, the virulent
Since his election, Trump has continued to “shock and awe”, picking cabinet and staff members who are notorious climate change deniers, racists, Islamophobes, and/or simply incompetent for their positions. He still refuses to release his tax returns and separate himself from his businesses interests. He tweets antagonistic messages in the middle of the night about China, oppositional union leaders, and Saturday Night Live skits. Most recently he has been making statements about initiating a new arms race. He continuously praises the Russian despot, Vladimir Putin. It is difficult to avoid the feeling that we are living in an outtake from Dr. Strangelove.
The President-elect seems to be treating his new position as if he were the host of a new reality television show–but with long-range nuclear weapons!
While there are multiple psycho-somatic manifestations of TISD including anxiety, sleeplessness, depression or exacerbation of pre-existing physical complaints, the chief symptoms/signs are behavioral:
—A compulsive need to talk about Trump with friends and/or strangers;
—Spending long periods of time on social media, particularly Facebook, reading and writing about Trump;
—Waking up in the middle of the night thinking about Trump;
—Waking up in the morning thinking about Trump;
—Having nightmares about Trump;
—The need to write blogs about Trump!!
Treatment has several phases
First, take a break from social media–especially Facebook—to avoid the continual irritation of news, both real and fabricated, and the hostile confrontations with Trump supporters.
Second, understand that TISD cannot be cured in isolation.
Treatment for TISD requires cooperative action. Community must be nurtured; concrete steps planned and taken. Peaceful protests, boycott of Trump industries, work with local politicians to retake the Congress. There are many paths. And they are all long. Understand that the Trump threat is too great to be defeated individually. No pill can fix it. When the medicine wears off, the pain will be there waiting.
To sustain ourselves through the long haul, we must nourish our bodies and souls. Fortify with mindfulness meditation, good nutrition and healthy exercise. Spend time with friends, create art, play music, see comedy.
TISD is a psycho-physical response to a world shattered by external events for which many were unprepared.
Giving into despair will undermine our ability to fight this disorder. It will sap our strength. The collective prognosis will be dire.
Those with TISD are still in its acute phase, when a cure may seem impossible. But with clear and concise action to fortify the individual, social and political bodies, the cause of the disease can be eradicated and the symptoms can be resolved. The only real cure for TISD is to join the resistance, work together and defeat Trump!
Dr. Ricky Fishman has been a San Francisco based chiropractor since 1986. In addition to the treatment of back pain and other musculoskeletal injuries, he works as a consultant in the field of health and wellness with companies dedicated to re-visioning health care for the 21st century.
Copyright 2017 Ricky Fishman, DC