Two births: A child and anxiety
My daughter was two when the first massive fires came to BC. Before that, my anxiety was born of common parenting realities: sleepless nights; colds and flus; the terrifying experience of clipping minuscule fingernails.
I had already experienced a new feeling of vulnerability inherent with being charged with the safety of my child, but I drastically underestimated the level of fear that I would face as I sat under a blanket of smoke and choked on my lack of control over her future. I never would have imagined that eventually, as I embarked down the rabbithole that is climate awareness, it would end up crippling my ability to engage in the movement for change and force me to redefine my relationship with the battle for the planet.
as I ventured further into the vortex, I felt less control and as a result, more anxiety and despair
Action: the antidote to despair?
I think it’s natural when confronted with a daunting and scary reality to search for ways in which one can scrape some semblance of control from the situation. In my case, this manifested as a long list of things that I felt I could accomplish that would either make me feel A: safer, or B: like my family was living a more sustainable existence. However, as I started to tick off the boxes on my to-do list (buy an electric car, check; divest from oil and gas assets, check; build apocalypse bunker, not quite there yet) I began to realize that while these tasks made me feel more responsible, they did not make me feel any safer.
In fact, as I ventured further into the vortex, I felt less control and as a result, more anxiety and despair. I also noticed a strong correlation between my heightened anxiety and a disengagement with the climate crisis; in short, I was shutting down.
Another major contributor to my anxiety was that as I tried to go about my daily life, it didn’t seem like anyone else was experiencing my level of panic regarding the future. I would run into an old friend who would say “isn’t the weather great? It hasn’t rained in ages!”
Meanwhile I prayed for rain to abate the forthcoming fire season and struggled to find meaning in work; I lost my ease of connection to the world and nature, and lived with an overwhelming sense of dread. And yet, everyone else seemed fine. How was this possible?
With this, I felt compelled to educate myself and others of the bleak reality. I attended conferences and spent hours poring over research. I could see that the catalyst for change would come from a heightened sense of awareness and as more people awoke, I would feel less like a salmon swimming against the current. But I quickly found that this path triggered anxiety which physically overwhelmed me and I knew continuing meant a sick and depressed existence.
Finding an alternate path
I felt lost. My sense of responsibility to my children overwhelmed me and I wondered how I could have an impact if I couldn’t engage in educating others. How could I catalyze change if merely reading an article left me in a cloud of fog and depression?
Maybe what was needed were tools and a community to help face eco-anxiety and stay engaged in the conversation.
And then I began to wonder if perhaps others were insular about their fear as a sort of survival mechanism; that perhaps the reality of the situation was so overwhelming and so dire they chose to push it out of their minds. If this was the case, wouldn’t more awareness have a negative outcome for those already suffering from eco-anxiety? Maybe what was needed for those who already accepted the realities of the climate crisis and for those on the fringe wasn’t more information about the state of the planet, but rather tools and a community to help face eco-anxiety and stay engaged in the conversation.
Recently the media has made climate a focus unlike at any other time in our history. To quote Al Gore: “TV news is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation.” While this increased exposure is important in raising awareness and catalyzing movement, it has given birth to the subject of eco-anxiety. This topic is now a buzzword connected to the crisis as others discover the double-edged-sword of an abundance of climate coverage: with more knowledge comes crippling anxiety.
As I write this, my level of anxiety about the world in which my kids will live has not abated. I still struggle through the daily news. But I have come to feel less alone. I realize now that there are others out there, perhaps in droves, who also aren’t sure how to connect to this threat; who want to know how to make a difference, but are overcome by their feelings and anxieties.
Movement will happen through storytelling, shared resources, and a sense of community.
So it is through this lens that I choose to engage in the battle for my children’s future. If we can help to narrate stories of how others are facing their eco-anxiety, then perhaps more people can stay engaged. Maybe movement will happen through storytelling, shared resources, and a sense of community. I still believe that there is time for us to change course and I know that it will take an unprecedented movement of passionate people to do so. It’s my intent to fuel those suffering and help them engage in the fight for our future.
Let this platform be a port in the storm, a beacon of hope, and an elixir of strength. May we overcome our anxieties together and face the future bravely: the world needs us terribly.