The Scourge of PESTS

This morning at the farmer's market, I spoke with a woman selling handmade cedar soaps. We were having a perfectly casual conversation until she complimented me on my earrings. "Last night I had a dream about earrings just like that," she exclaimed. "Oh," I said, "that's funny. Last night I dreamed I was forced into being a suicide bomber." She gave me a frightened smile and moved on quickly to the next customer.

I chalk up the awkward conversation, and the dream, to PESTS – Post Election Stress and Trauma Syndrome. This new disease, with which I am severely afflicted, seems to be sweeping whole areas of the country, with doctors and concerned friends and family reporting new cases each day. The symptoms vary region to region and person to person, but the general diagnosis is the same: severe disorientation, melancholy, a need to be around like-minded others and a lingering fear that the country is going to hell in a handbasket.

Howard Menger, a film technician in New York, woke up with PESTS on the Wednesday after the election. He called his old friend Jerry in Ohio, who'd been the best man at his wedding, and left this message:

"Just calling to make sure, for the sake of me and my family and people around the world, that you didn't vote for Bush yesterday. Give me a call and reassure me."

By Sunday, he hadn't heard back. "I have a gut feeling," he says, "that it might be the end of a 10-year friendship."

Elena Cafferty is a waitress in New Mexico. She lives just a few blocks away from her mother. However she and her mother voted for different presidential candidates and they haven't spoken to each other since Tuesday evening, after Elena caught a bad case of PESTS.

For some, the symptoms are private, but no less intense. My neighbor woke herself up in the middle of the night and realized she had been braying like a wounded donkey. It wasn't until she talked to her husband in the morning that she realized it was probably a symptom of PESTS.

The disease seems to hitting those in progressively-isolated areas particularly hard. Laura Young lives in Virginia and recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of her marriage to her girlfriend of three years. However, since she's contracted PESTS, she's had a hard time going to work. "I found myself throwing paperclips and kicking the copier," she said. She's called in sick for the last two days.

Some have compared the feeling of communal sadness after the election to the feeling after Sept. 11, when friends called each other across the country to make sure they were all right. Yet one of the many key differences, of course, is that the results of this election were self-inflicted. According to psychoanalysts, it is this disconnect between the sadness and trauma for half the country and the sense of moral victory for the other half that triggers PESTS.

Some sufferers are looking for a spiritual cure. The Buddhist Peace Fellowship reported 25 new online memberships the day after the election. Others reported going to church for the first time in years in the hopes of finding some spiritual ease. "The singing in church helped," said Marianna Juan. As a green card holder, she hadn't been able to vote in the election.

Others are attempting more worldly healing. Mike Howers, a bartender in Oakland, Calif., said he has seen an increase in both attendance at the bar and the quantity each person is drinking. "Definitely the night of the election and the night after were particularly busy for us," he says. National manufacturers have also reported a slight increase in chocolate sales.

Some have tried to heal from PESTS by diving immediately into action. Hundreds marched on the courthouse in Columbus, Ohio on Wednesday after the election, defying orders and risking arrest to protest what they believe were uncounted votes. Holding a banner that said, "ONE VOTE DENIED = DEMOCRACY IN TROUBLE! THOUSANDS OF VOTES SURPRESSED = DEMOCRACY FAILED," Holly Roach of Toledo, Ohio spoke of her 74-year-old father, Frank Roach, and her 89-year-old grandmother, Hazel Thompson, who both requested and did not receive absentee ballots and then were prohibited from voting. And in San Francisco, over 500 people marched in the streets, demanding that the president end the war in Iraq.

Protesting together is a salve for some of these PESTS sufferers. However, still others are suggesting more unorthodox tactics to eradicate the disease. "I propose all the sufferers be quarantined together," said Jason DeAntonis, a carpenter who has been feeling the symptoms for almost a week. "For safety's sake, we should be kept far away from those who are celebrating."

Doctor Alan Steinbach, an emergency room physician and professor of public health, applauds people's efforts at curing themselves, but cautions against expecting immediate results. He says PESTS is a serious disease that could last up to four years. "Patients should be kept well-hydrated and active and should stay in regular communication with other people, " he recommends.

Dr. Steinbach also warns that sufferers from PESTS may feel a bit fragile and cynical, and that telling them to "get over it" and "move on" might just make symptoms worse. Instead he suggests that friends of those suffering give them time to heal, flowers and other nice presents until they are ready to re-emerge. Luckily for me and those thousands of other sufferers, he also sees a bright side to the epidemic. Patients who recover from PESTS often emerge wiser, more energetic, and more politically active than ever before.


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