Anxiety and Kavanaugh
I am one month away from my thirty-sixth birthday, and it’s only within the last year that I’ve realized that I struggle with anxiety (or, as I often think of it, Anxiety). My anxiety waxes and wanes. Some days, it hardly bothers me at all. Other days, it rises up like a wave and crashes over me, flooding me, making me choke. Sometimes, my anxiety manifests itself emotionally; I feel sad, or angry, or defeated. And sometimes, I don’t even realize I’m anxious until I start to have physical symptoms. Sharp prickles in my pinky finger, as if it has fallen asleep. Neck pain. Back pain. Painful, raised bumps on the sides of my hands. Headaches. And, my least favorite, insomnia. When I can’t sleep, all of the things that worry me, distress me, and enrage me rise to the surface. Try as I might, I can’t turn my brain off. And this past week has been a particularly sleepless one for me.
I didn’t realize at first, when the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh started piling up, how much this particular news story would affect me, would spark feelings of helplessness and rage in me. But this story has wormed its way under my skin, making me itch. I spent all of yesterday watching and listening to the testimony of both Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh, and I came away from the experience shaken, disturbed, angry, sad, moved. Both of their testimonies brought up complicated emotions and memories for me.
Watching Dr. Ford testify, I was astounded by her sincerity, her rawness, and her bravery. She didn’t want to be a public figure, to relive the most traumatic event of her life in front of the world. But she did out of a sense of civic duty, and she was right to do so. When she says she’s 100% sure Brett Kavanaugh was the person who assaulted her, I believe her. She has chosen, reluctantly perhaps, to torpedo her own personal safety and well-being in order to do what she thinks is right, and I have tremendous respect for her decision. I kept thinking: could I do this? I honestly don’t know. I’ve already talked about how I’m still too afraid to name a man who sexually harassed me when I worked for him twelve years ago, who now holds a position in the Virginia state government. Small potatoes, compared to what Dr. Ford faced.
Then, watching Kavanaugh testify, I felt my heart-rate pick up and my hands tighten into fists. His entire testimony was spent angrily denying responsibility for any of his past behavior. The righteous indignation he showed (the yelling, the lecturing, the finger wagging) was a stomach-turning display of the unbridled sense of entitlement that runs rampant among a certain type of spoiled, rich, obnoxious man. I’m very familiar with this type of man; I’ve met many of them at Stanford, Harvard, and in the larger world (especially, and not at all coincidentally, in the legal profession). This type of man feels that because he has come to a certain point in his career or academic life, he is owed whatever prestigious thing comes next. Brett Kavanaugh went to Yale Law School. He became a judge. Therefore, he is owed a life-time appointment to the highest court in our land, and how dare anyone try to snatch away the fortune that was promised to him? How dare anyone bring up things he actually did or said in his past? (I’m leaving aside the extremely partisan tone he struck in his testimony, which makes me fear for his ability to leave politics out of his judicial decision-making, because I don’t even have the bandwidth to go on a separate rage spiral right now).
Putting the gross sense of entitlement aside, the thing that struck me most about Kavanaugh’s testimony was the ease with which he lied, and his refusal to admit any wrongdoing whatsoever, no matter how small. He said he never drank to excess, never blacked out. (Riiiight.) Even more ludicrously, he claimed he’s spent his whole life promoting women’s equality. One look at his high school yearbook page, in which he refers to being a “Renate Alumnius,” puts the lie to that assertion. When he claimed during his testimony that this reference to Renate was not sexual, was not intended to humiliate or demean her, I nearly pounded on my TV screen with my fists. He was lying; anyone with half a brain and any experience of the type of entitled, shitty high school boy that Brett Kavanaugh clearly was can see that. (And the woman he was referring to, Renate Schroeder Dolphin, was hurt and humiliated when she found out about this, thirty-some years after the fact). Men who spend their whole lives promoting the dignity of women don’t refer to girls and women the way Brett Kavanaugh did in his yearbook. Period. The whole Renate Alumnius thing really touched a nerve with me because it reminded me of something that happened to me in college, in which I found out that a guy I liked had made humiliating insinuations about me (on Facebook, no less). It was one of the worst things that happened to me in college, and I doubt that guy even gave it a second thought.
Which brings me to the possibility that Kavanaugh believes his own hype: that he’s either convinced himself he didn’t assault Dr. Ford, or, more likely, that he simply doesn’t remember, because it was such an unremarkable event in his life. As Rachel Reilich put it, “The scenario in which Kavanaugh truly doesn’t remember this night, or this party, or having ever met Christine Blasey Ford, and is truly astounded to find himself accused. How could he forget something so horrible? Maybe because, for him, to Mark Judge, ‘the night was unremarkable.’ The incident didn’t sear into his brain. It didn’t eat away at his conscience – what he did was normal. He, like so many entitled, carelessly brutal men before him, assaulted a young woman. It was just a regular party. A regular day with his horse and plow.”
And so, the day after the Ford/Kavanaugh testimonies, here I sit with my anxiety, reflecting. My anxiety and my increased reflection on the past are woven together, often interlocked. If you tug on one thread, the other comes along, tied tight. To be clear, the things that happened in my past do not cause me anxiety in the present. Instead, I worry that not enough will change by the time my daughter is making her own way in the world. Usually, I tell myself that the world is getting better for women, that things keep improving, and mostly, I think that’s true. But I wonder if the world will ever be as good as it needs to be for our girls and the women they’ll become. In the meantime, I deal with my anxiety as best I can, and focus on living my life the best I can in the present moment. Last night, I gave my kids extra big hugs and said a silent prayer that, years later, when they revisit this moment in history, the world of 2018 will be nearly unrecognizable to them. As Theodore Parker once wrote, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.” Let’s hope.