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OPINION | DEBRA HALE-SHELTON: Worries in the middle of the night

by Debra Hale-Shelton | September 6, 2020 at 8:16 a.m.

I’m losing my hair and my hope. And one has nothing to do with the other.

Between renewed health problems that date to my teenage years and a deadly, politicized pandemic, I am juggling emotions that range from anger to depression, embarrassment to fear.

Factor in the hate, lies and a lack of law, order and common decency both in the White House and on America’s streets, and perhaps you will understand why my nerves are frazzled, my sleep is brief, and I wake up in a sweat most days.

While I’m sure that thyroid problems are contributing to my hair and sleep problems, I am also certain that the political and social climate in the United States is to blame for the lack of hope I am experiencing in 2020. I’m far from alone.

Federal data gathered in June and released in August showed that one in four people between ages 18 and 24 said they had considered suicide because of the coronavirus pandemic. According to Politico.com, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 40 percent of the 5,412 surveyed said they had experienced a mental or behavioral health condition related to the pandemic.

“While 10.7 percent of respondents overall reported considering suicide in the previous 30 days, 25.5 percent of those between 18 to 24 reported doing so,” Politico reported. “Almost 31 percent of self-reported unpaid caregivers and 22 percent of essential workers also said they harbored such thoughts. Hispanic and Black respondents similarly were well above the average.”

Michelle Obama, the former first lady, recently spoke of her own “low-grade depression,” which she blamed on the pandemic, racial strife and the Trump administration’s response—or lack thereof—to the pandemic.

“I’m waking up in the middle of the night because I’m worrying about something or there’s a heaviness,” she said on her new podcast.

For me, the year started off with two heart surgeries in January. Since then, I’ve fully recovered. My heart doesn’t hurt these days, at least not physically. I’m not short of breath anymore either.

Yet I am among many emotionally exhausted Americans, worn down by the pandemic, the racial unrest, the hate pervading our country, and the contention over everything from Russian trolls to self-declared armed militia and now masks.

To many of us, the masks have become both fashion accessories and lifesavers during the pandemic. To others, they’re part of a bizarre conspiracy to take control of their bodies. “My body, my decision” used to be the mantra of pro-choice activists. Now, the anti-maskers have appropriated it.

I’m a journalist, but I would love for there to be a week, even a day, without so much Donald Trump news. Maybe he could stay home and watch a “Law and Order” marathon some Saturday. He could go to church Sunday (without the tear gas and rubber bullets, please).

A bonus would be a day without any lies, insults, tweets or retweets.

Like Michelle Obama, my sleep habits are erratic these days. I rarely fall asleep before 3 a.m. anymore. Sometimes it’s 5 a.m. or later. Even then, I usually sleep only a couple hours, then wake up. I feed my cat, take my dog outside, then try to go back to sleep. Whether I do or not and why are as much a mystery as are the dreams I don’t remember anymore.

I blame my own depression partly on the pandemic-related isolation. When my daughter came home from college last week, we couldn’t even hug each other, and she wore a mask when she was near my 90-year-old mother.

I blame the federal government’s willfully inadequate testing and response for the more than 184,000 coronavirus deaths. I blame politically based ignorance and denial, and I blame greed—the kind that values wallets over human lives and that forces teachers and other school employees into already-crowded classrooms.

I blame those who express justifiable concern about college students transmitting the disease at parties, but then cheer for high school and college football teams and tell the players not to shake hands, though tackling is fine. I blame politicians who think they know more about proper treatment for coronavirus patients than medical experts do and push hydroxychloroquine as a cure even though the nation’s top medical experts advise against it.

Like Michelle Obama, I also blame the nation’s racial strife. I want law and order on our streets and in the White House. I see the hate against those who are not white, who are not submissive. The peaceful protests remind me that we live in a democracy.

But I am disheartened by looting and vandalism, which defeat the good that can result from protests. Conservatives and liberals should leave their hate and their weapons—whether they’re baseball bats or long guns—at home when they go to protests. Even where open-carry is legal, it may not be wise, especially if the carrier is declaring himself part of a militia or using it to intimidate others.

There’s plenty of public corruption too. And a true law-and-order politician will follow the law and leave Vladimir Putin out of the campaign. If a politician does things right, he won’t have a line of former staff members waiting for a vacant prison cell either.

I’d like to feel certain that if a president loses his re-election bid, he will leave the White House peacefully, that we won’t need the military to escort him out. As it is, I fear our nation’s 244-year-old democracy may be nearing an end. It’s certainly endangered.

Because I am sane and do not rely solely on Facebook or cable TV for my news, I grimace at the mere thought of an authoritarian country headed by anyone, but especially by an aging tycoon who insults a dead war hero but admires a murderous Russian dictator so much that he, Trump, sent Putin a fan letter.

And with that, dear reader, I’m going to count sheep instead of dead people and cancel plans to stream “House of Cards,” the TV series where Kevin Spacey plays a corrupt and murderous president.

Debra Hale-Shelton can be reached at dhaleshelton@gmail.com . Follow her on Twitter at @nottalking.

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