In evolutionary biology, a maladaptation is a trait that makes survival in the current environment harder. Such maladaptive traits are often the result of biological inertia; when the environment an organism has spent eons adapting to changes quickly, the same traits that were previously beneficial or harmless may now be causing it harm.
In psychology, the similar concept of maladaptive behavior exists. Maladaptive behavior is often behavior that is self-soothing — it reduces or helps manage anxiety — but which is unhelpful. An example of maladaptive behavior from my life is maladaptive daydreaming, or Walter Mitty syndrome: the tendency to retreat from stress into a detailed and time-consuming fantasy life.
In the years after I first moved across the country, while my mother was sick and I was broke and depressed, imagining increasingly detailed scenarios where I had magical powers that could fix everything became basically a full-time job to me. It helped me manage the stress of living, but it kept me from living my life and dealing with the actual sources of stress, to whatever limited extent I could have.
These days when that tendency flares up in me, it tends to be late at night when I’m lying in bed. It can literally keep me up at night — I’m a chronic insomniac even without it — but it doesn’t keep me from living my life.
Maladaptation is on my mind today because I’m still processing what a traumatic and stressful time the past four years has been for those of us who lived through it. Many of us have lost people. Many have also lost comforting illusions about the world. We’ve lost money, we’ve lost jobs, we’ve lost a basic sense of security.
My career started on a very different and completely unforeseen trajectory sometime in 2015, solidifying late in 2016 and while I don’t think my work is done I’m still figuring out what exactly my work will be.
I know the past four years have changed me. I feel more stretched thin. More brittle. More frazzled and frayed around the edges. I am less a less charitable person, here referring to the spiritual virtue of universal love rather than the tendency to hand out money when it is needful. I am less quick to assume the best of my neighbors and more prone to things like pettiness, gloating, and schadenfreude. Which, again, help me diffuse sky-high levels of anxiety but don’t help with much else.
As someone who basically lives and works on Twitter, I’m still adjusting to the new reality that settled in the day that Trump was banned as part of a larger ongoing purge of some of the prime instigators of violence and purveyors of disinformation on there. My daily routine changed literally overnight and I’m still not fully settled in to one that doesn’t include checking to see what, if anything, I need to respond to from him or finding out what trends I should be tracking from certain less famous quarters.
Ever since back in November when it was first apparent that President Biden had won, I have been thinking about ways to regain my equilibrium once Donald was gone, ways to strengthen that stretched-out core of myself that has been so badly bent out of shape over the past four years. Now that it has happened I find that I am not in a hurry to make drastic changes to that which changed slowly over time. I know that the psychological and practical survival traits that served me well in the era that’s ending won’t necessarily do the same in the one that’s dawning, but I don’t yet know the shape of the day.
And so for now my approach — which I share with anyone who finds it useful — is to be mindful of how I’ve changed, and how the world is changing. To look at myself and do inventory of how I’ve changed. To take stock of what it is I am carrying with me into a world after Trump, and what I leave behind.
It’s long been a bit of a joke on Twitter that people who built their careers around Trump will be out of a job when he goes. As the quote tweet format goes: I’m people. I don’t think the demand for my skills has gone, but the nature of that demand is changing and I’ll have to change with it.
The good news is that I didn’t set out to be a pundit or commentator and while it’s become my main focus, my creative endeavors still exist as side hustles. I could support myself with my fiction-focused Patreon even if all my newsletter income and Twitter tips dried up overnight, though I would have to drastically lower my support of other artists on Patreon and I’d prefer not to do that. Luckily for them and me, there’s no indication yet that my other income streams are disappearing.
So for now, I’m not worried about my long-term financial survival, which means I can focus on my psychological survival and emotional and spiritual health. I’ll have to figure out what I’m doing professionally, but I have room to experiment and try things, which is where I tend to do best.