I'm kind of freaking out.
The news seems to be a constant reminder that we're living in dark times. From terrorist attacks to collusion with Russia to the stripping of American rights and values, it's hard not to panic, to think that the world is plummeting to its inevitable end. I'm a politics junkie–in a kind of sick way, I enjoy reading about everything that's going on in the dumpster fire of a White House we have now. It's imperative that the Resistance stays alert over the next few years. But I understand that it's getting overwhelming. But the trick to keeping up on everything and staying sane is both extremely simple and immensely difficult: Don't Freak Out.
We were smoking pot on the floor of my new roommate’s single. The week before, I had returned from summer quarter at Stanford University, where I studied film photography and marketing. It was sophomore year; I had just turned 20.
I smoked a lot of weed during this period in my life. That very summer, in fact, I attended San Francisco Pride with a good friend of mine who introduced me to “dabbing,” or smoking extremely concentrated THC. I became a marijuana connoisseur and my tolerance got scary high. My new roommate was a spitting image of Debbie Thornberry from “The Wild Thornberrys," and she liked pot as much as I did. We had smoked and eaten a few edibles–by this point, we had so much THC in our bloodstreams my best friend starting seeing shit. My new roommate noticed her panicking. “Hey, hey,” she said to get her attention. “Don’t freak out.”
It was both a joke and a way of life, hilarious in its simplicity but profound in its implication. “Don’t Freak Out” became our dorm mantra. My best friend even illustrated a beautifully elaborate word art sign to add to our new roommate’s boho wall deco. It was the first really stressful semester of college. I was trying to recover from a plummeting GPA–I had failed a class the previous semester after a very old friend of mine died. I was taking my first real film production class, cranking out a movie a month. I had fallen in love with someone who took advantage of me. I suffered an eating disorder and hated my living situation. I had sleep paralysis almost every night. It was probably the worst semester of my college career.
But every night, my new roommate and I would smoke together on her floor, and we would talk about everything that had been bogging us down. We would let it off our chests and validate one another’s feelings. And that made it possible for me to check myself when I became overwhelmed, when shit got too real. I would just say to myself: “Hey man, Don’t Freak Out.” The result: I didn’t freak out.
The Manchester bombing on the night of May 22nd and the following attack just last weekend on London Bridge was a solemn reminder that terrorism is alive and rampant in the West. When there’s a bombing or attack in, say, Iran, we tend not to bat an eye–that stuff happens there all the time. But the Middle East is not necessarily the hot zone for terrorism. Bombings and mass shootings are legitimate concerns for many Westerners, particularly considering America’s lax stance on gun control. Keeping up with the news is crucial to being an informed citizen, but how do you keep your cool when every bit of news is bad news? When nowhere is safe, not even a pop concert, a church, a nightclub, or a fucking elementary school? In a world where the expectation of meeting a violent end is not so far fetched, how does one not freak out?
The answer is not to disregard the news. On the contrary, it’s to analyze, understand, and interpret it. Read as much as you can, from as many points of view as you can find. Release yourself from your echo chamber and look elsewhere, to other sides of the aisle, to other countries, to other worldviews. Even if you don’t agree, more often than not, it will help put the issue in perspective, and it will break what seemed like a huge, hulking, frighteningly unsolvable situation into digestible pieces. This is step one to not freaking out.
After you’ve interpreted what happened in solitude, talk to others about it, whether they be friends, family, coworkers, or even strangers. Politics should not be a taboo topic to bring up in conversation, and it only is because it’s easy to misinterpret opinion for character. Remember that your opinion is not necessarily “right;” in fact, be ready to be wrong. And when someone else is wrong, remember that just because they may believe something bad does not make them a bad person. And if you simply cannot reconcile your views: Don’t Freak Out.
“Don’t freak out” is still my mantra. It took me through my eating disorder recovery, my work placement with the BBC in London, the making of my first film, college graduation, the series of shitty part-time jobs I racked up subsequently, and the shitty first full-time job I’m sitting in right now. It took me through the mess that we called a presidential primary and the election of the most unqualified and incompetent presidents in American history. It took me through coming out, breaking up, and that terrifying conversation with my parents when they announced they would no longer be supporting me financially. And it can get us all through the next four years.
The weed helps, too, though.