“Always aim high, work hard, and care deeply about what you believe in.” — Hillary Clinton
“When they go low, we go high.” — Michelle Obama
I’m trying, ladies, but it’s been hard.
It’s been 2 months and 12 days, and I’ve been trying for every single one of them to look for the good, to find reasons to be positive, to hold on to hope—in short, to be the Katie you’ve all come to know over the last four years here at NGN. But 2 months and 12 days ago, something inside of me broke, and I’m still trying to figure out how to fix it—or if I ever will be able to fix it.
Positivity, optimism, and hope do not always come easily for me. When you’ve lived with anxiety for as long as you can remember, you have to fight every day to be someone who tries to see reasons to feel good about the future instead of reasons to be terrified at every turn. And for a long while I was doing a pretty good job with that; I was fighting that good fight every day, and it felt like I was winning.
And then Hillary Clinton lost, and, in a major way, it felt like I lost. It felt like the things I had fought so hard to believe and preach with conviction and truth every day in my own life—the power of light in the face of darkness, the importance of choosing hope over fear, the belief that people are stronger together, the importance of diversity, and the value of women—were suddenly no longer valued by my country. In the days and weeks and months following that seemingly endless Election Night, I’ve come to discover and embrace the fact that more of my fellow Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump, and that has given me some comfort in the dark times I’ve faced. But that’s often felt like a tiny bandage on a gaping hole in my heart.
It’s been all too easy for me to slip back into old thought patterns. I’ve been so anxious lately that some days I find myself crying or panicking while putting on my makeup or sitting at my desk. I’m filled with doubt about the world and my place in it, and the uncertainty in our country has made me question the certainty I used to feel about nearly everything in my life. Fear, anger, and apathy have been creeping back into my life in the last couple of months—to the point where I haven’t even wanted to write anything here or work on The Fan Mail Project because I haven’t been able to find the strength to see much good in anything or much of a reason to hope that I can effect any kind of positive change through my writing.
I think that was the hardest part for me, accepting that sometimes you can put the work in and it still won’t matter. I wanted Hillary to win. I didn’t vote for her just because I disliked and feared the possibility of a Trump presidency; I genuinely believed in her and believed she could change our nation for the better. I donated, I wore the shirts, I decked my car out in the stickers, I convinced family members and friends to vote for her, I wrote extensively about what she meant to me—heck, I even wrote a biography of her for fourth graders thanks to my job. And to see all of that passion, work, and genuine belief end in the worst-case scenario had me spiraling. For the first time in a very long time, it made me question if it was worth it to ever care about something with my whole heart again.
All in all, I’ve been far from the best version of myself for these past 2 months and 12 days, and it’s been especially evident in the immediate lead-up to today’s transition of power. Yesterday I cried for a long time about a lot of things, and it hit me mid-sob that one of the things I was doing was grieving.
I hadn’t let myself grieve.
And so I let myself cry for the dream of myself and millions of other women—a dream that we would get to see ourselves reflected in our nation’s highest office instead of seeing a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women in that office instead. I let myself cry for the country I had come to know and love—a country that is and will always be imperfect but had become more inclusive, open, and vibrant under the Obama Administration. I let myself cry for the sense of safety and security I had felt over these past 8 years—a sense I know I won’t feel again for a long time. And I let myself cry because of the bitter realization that sometimes even when you work hard, have all the qualifications, and everything seems to be in your favor, you’ll still come up short to an under-qualified, ignorant, intolerant, sexist man.
I cried because sometimes you don’t get the happy ending. Sometimes the bad guy wins. Sometimes the worst thing happens. And you just have to face that fact and decide what you’re going to do about it.
So what am I going to do about it? I wish I could march with all the other wonderful women and men participating around the country and around the world tomorrow, but I have to work. However, I’ll be working with a group of young female tap dancers of different body types, races, ages, and economic backgrounds whose encouragement of and ability to work beautifully with each other inspires me every time I see them. If I was marching, they’d be one of the reasons why. They represent this country’s bright future, and I want to fight to always keep that future bright for all of them. I want the girls (and boys) who are too young to fully understand why this hurts so much to grow up in a world where they never have to feel this pain themselves. I want them to grow up in a better world than the one we’re living in right now, and I know that won’t come from our country’s current leadership; it will come from its people.
It will come from me.
It’s hard and it’s not going to get easier, but I’m going to fight to reignite the fire of hope and optimism that got snuffed out in my heart on Election Night. And I’m going to fight to pass that fire on to those who need it—just as I have from the day I started NGN. That’s what I can do. That’s how I’ll rebel. I let sadness silence me for 2 months and 12 days, but I refuse to be silenced anymore. I have a voice, and I will fight to continue to use that voice and to encourage others to use theirs. I’ll donate to causes that need it and speak out against injustice where I see it. I’ll write my truth and share my story and stand my ground as a woman who is so much more than her body. I’ll continue on with The Fan Mail Project, celebrating the power of strong female influences and the beauty of women’s stories.
America doesn’t belong solely to its president and those who voted for that president. It belongs to all of us. And the day we forget that is the day our country is truly lost.
Today has been a hard day, and it will be far from the only hard day over the next four years. But it’s up to us to turn our anger and anxiety into activism. It’s up to us to continue to fight for the best our nation can be—to always aim high, no matter how low they go or how low we may feel. Because, as a certain white-pantsuit-wearing, popular-vote-winning woman once said, “When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.”