Over the past week, I like the rest of the country, have been trying to make sense of the chaos that surrounds me. I have analysed, soul-searched and questioned, using the tools that I have on hand to try to come up with viable answers. And I’ve come to see multiple parallels between what I have suffered in a society taught to hate overweight people and the way that both sides of this debate seem to feel in the aftermath, but I’ll get to that later.
“I want my country back!” This has become the central chorus of both the Leave and Remain camps over the past few days, since the Brexit bombs landed and blew holes in our perception that we live in a welcoming and co-operative society. For Leavers, the country’s control is in jeopardy owing to a perceived foreign threat, for Remainers, the illusion of an open-minded, tolerant and caring society has been shattered, and we are all grieving for the loss of a country that perhaps only ever existed in our minds.
Twenty sixteen was supposed to be the year that I turned things around. Systematically addressing the things that have caused me most anguish in the preceding 28 years, I too, was driven by a desire to take back control, although in this case, it was from another, more distant part of myself, rather than from an Other. One by one, I have worked through the issues that have haunted me my whole life, to try to feel for once that they didn’t rule me; taking back control of my internal situation has been the single best thing I have done for my mental health. Unfortunately, as this happened, we all started to lose grip on the control over our external surroundings. For Remain voters, this was the feeling that our country was starting to walk down an ever-darkening path towards “independence”, at the expense of our liberal-minded collective imagination, our freedom and our financial stability. For Leavers, this came with the realisation that they had been cheated, lied to and sold promises that were built on a bed of quicksand. Like or loathe the decision, we feel powerless, united by a singular feeling of confusion; we have been divided, fault lines have been exposed between our friends and family, and we have lost control.
So now, as we struggle to pick up the pieces of the shattered hopes laying strewn around us, we must act in the only way we can, by taking back control, but not of each other, of ourselves. The feelings that this week has thrown up resonate a lot with how I used to feel about myself. The sense of powerlessness, of having no control over the future, of dread, of being unimportant and silenced, of resenting others and of feeling the resentment of others, and of not being able to see a way out, feels all to familiar to me. Such was the potency of my emotional reasoning, the future looked bleak, and I believed that I would never be able to take back control of my own destiny. But here’s the thing, I did.
The main thing I have learnt from being on the receiving side of society’s judgement is that a little compassion goes a long way. That even in days when I blamed myself for my own misfortunes, the kindness of others was enough to keep me afloat. And that on days when I blamed others, this same kindness is what brought me back to rational thinking. To seek to blame an Other, either external or internal, for the current state of things is tantamount to giving them control over your own destiny, and that is the last thing we should be doing in these trying times. I’ve learnt through my own personal struggles, that action is the best antidote to helplessness. That doing something, big or small, is the only way to begin to claw back power.
So for now, we must pull together, look collectively inwards, dissect the issues that have polarised this society and confront them together. If one positive thing has come from this referendum, it’s that we can no longer ignore the fundamental problems that have been bubbling beneath the surface of our society for years. By “taking back control” as a nation over the fear that has threatened to divide us, we are much more likely to overcome it, and extinguish this hate, bitterness and resentment once and for all.
So please be slow to judge, listen compassionately and remember that we all have a role to play in moving forward. For now, in order to do that, we must take back the control together that we have so readily thrown away, and work towards building a brighter future for each and every one of us. In order to do this, we must find some common ground and turn our raw emotions into fuel for action: protest; petition; engage; complain; fight. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth fighting for ever is, and now is the time to prove that we are “stronger together”, even if for the moment, that means just as a country and not as part of the wider continent.