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Kalish: An Anxious Year

For me, 2017 was “The Year of Anxiety.” I’ve always been a somewhat anxious person. But, thanks to a rapid-fire sequence of deaths during my 30’s, I am now one of the approximately eighteen percent of American adults living with an anxiety disorder.

Really, it hasn’t been much of a problem for awhile. That is, until last year.

A portion of my job requires that I stay abreast of the news. I teach about law, public policy and the Supreme Court, and students will often show up at my office wanting to chat when an exciting news story breaks. It’s actually a wonderful part of my job.

But, I have to say that being a news junkie in 2017 was bad for my health.

Of course, the signs were there at the end of 2016. The end-of-year rise in bias-based attacks had already started to mess a bit with my sleep. But I just wasn’t prepared for the way I would respond to what became an almost daily onslaught of bad news.

And it really was bad.

From record setting natural disasters, to record setting mass shootings, 2017 was a year of destructive extremes. The threat of nuclear war reasserted itself with, at moments, a seemingly terrifying imminence, bringing back fears from a Cold War childhood I thought I had left behind.

Social norms I never dreamed would be challenged proved to be as thin as tissue. White nationalism, while it obviously never left us, became an overt part of American political discourse … and was espoused by groups that politicians were willing to court openly. Those in the highest offices attacked the institution of the free press. And the nation seemed to decide that both provable facts and provable falsehoods were merely matters of political opinion.

My anxiety highlighted my lack of control: I couldn’t re-enter the U.S. in the Paris Climate Agreement; nor could I de-escalate “rocket-man” rhetoric with North Korea.

It’s likely I’ll find a lot to be anxious about in 2018 too. But my resolution for the new year is to experience my anxiety more as I do in my personal life, as a friend or a partner who is giving me feedback that I need to hear: telling me that it’s time to focus on the things I can do to make the world that I inhabit – however small – a gentler, more compassionate space.

Julie Kalish is a Vermont attorney and Lecturer at Dartmouth College in the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric. She is a board member for Vermont ACLU. She lives in Norwich.
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