Two weeks ago, I dropped off my ballot at a polling place in Pennsylvania and an absolute wave of unexpected joy swept me from head to toes—the very first time I’ve felt truly relaxed and happy during this torturous election cycle.

Sorry to say, it didn’t last long, but it did grant me a brief reprieve from the constant cycle of edginess and fear that’s been nagging me for months.

While those emotions are shared with many others in our critically-important swing state, in my particular case it’s complicated by my bipolar II diagnosis. I’m never sure if my highs or lows are normal responses to stress or signs that I should pay closer attention to my mental state.

Since my diagnosis of bipolar II in my 40’s, I’ve managed my condition with medications—a mood stabilizer and anti-depressant— along with weekly talk therapy. Landing on a diagnosis took a bit of work—for years I had been depressed and diagnosed with a mood disorder. But once a more precise evaluation took place, it was easy to realize that my rapid-fire talking, my impulse buying and decision making, and (in my earlier years) sexual bedhopping and drug use that cycled with deep depressive episodes made perfect sense.

Over the years, I’ve recognized triggers that tend to set off my moods. High anxiety situations, taking on too much work, feeling overwhelmed (whether emotionally or physically), or getting too much or too little sleep can all make normal life suddenly appear overly bleak or much too exciting. To gauge my moods, I’ve often depended on my husband or friends because I—like others who suffer from mental illnesses—can’t rely on my own ability to assess things clearly.

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But at the moment, with almost everyone I know experiencing some kind of presidential election-induced stress, it’s sometimes hard for them to help me differentiate between justified depression or a bona fide mental health episode.

Given this, plus how much the election has impacted my mental health, I’ve added it to my trigger list. But unlike some other triggers, the race for the leader of the free world is hard to avoid.

Breaking Up (with Bad News) Is Hard to Do

While my therapist has warned me off consuming ‘too much’ news, I along with legions of others, have become obsessed with the ins and outs of our daily tweeter in chief, whose outrageous statements lift not only my blood pressure but my anxiety levels. And even if I swear off CNN or the New York Times for a day or two, daily headlines manage to reach me. Despite my promises to my therapist to go cold turkey, I often find myself up at three a.m., doomscrolling through a hearty list of political pundits and news outlets until dawn.

I know that this is bad for me, and not only because my therapist says so. Over the past months, I’ve had trouble focusing on work and days when I simply don’t get much of anything done. I’ve also experienced greater irritability and restlessness, particularly sparked by wonky polls or the nomination of a Supreme Court Justices hell-bent on destroying women’s rights.

[Click to Read: 5 Things to Stop Telling Yourself If You Want to Improve Your Mental Health]

Trump’s personality hasn’t helped, either. His bullying and dismissal of women and minorities and his fondness for chaos feeds into my mental illness and can send me into a worry spiral about not only the future of the country but the future, period. And while I welcome Biden’s humanity and humility, the uncertainty of the election’s outcome can send me down that same depressive path.

More and more I notice that my weekly therapy sessions are dominated by the political cycle.

My therapist tells me I’m not alone. She says that about 70-80% of her patients are talking politics during their therapy time, a subject that worries her as well. Although we switch back and forth from personal issues to political ones, it’s hard to deny that at times, as I click off our telehealth sessions, that I leave more worked up than I entered.

What to Do?

The first is the same old, same old: try to stay healthy, take my meds, chart my moods, and take a break from some of the more egregious moments of this volatile election. While I’ve always been an ardent election volunteer, I’ve decided to sit this one out, in part because I feel that being around people who talk about politics day in and out might be damaging to my mental state.

I feel bad about this, but at the moment, it’s my form of self-care. I’m also trying to take mini news vacations—I don’t avoid the news entirely but try for one brief NPR broadcast a day rather than barreling through the Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. (Late night doomscrolling has been harder to abandon, however.)

I take more long walks outside—I figure outta sight, outta mind.

I also keep in touch with friends, sending pictures of cute dogs, witty election memes, and anything else that can provoke a giggle. We all—suffering from mental health issues or not—need the laughs.

Despite my worries, I think I’ve managed my bipolar II diagnosis as well as possible during this tough stretch. Yet, with experts predicting that election results won’t be resolved on the night of November 3rd, I’m currently working on how to handle the next few months that could be rife with strife and even violence.

So far, I plan to begin a long-delayed writing project and add an online Vinyassa yoga class. Perhaps some downward dogs and sun salutations might re-kindle that moment of sheer joy that swept me as I dropped off my ballot.

It might be a challenge, but I’m aiming for it to last longer than a minute.

Last Updated: Oct 29, 2020