I understand Climate Depression; I’ve definitely sunk into it a few times this year. (The More You Know!) But what haunts me far more frequently is Climate Anxiety. It manifests as a pair of equally insidious Mxs. (plural for Mx.) Yuck-type parasites that sit on my shoulders, choking off any organic action, shouting contradictory half-remembered rules before every eco-related decision I make, and squeezing out any space reserved for the mythical good angel, who would tells me that I am okay. Well, eco-decisions can’t happen more than a couple times a day, right? Oh ho ho, if only you were right. You see, the indomitable bond of too much climate knowledge and too much self-criticism is far more powerful than either one alone, hamfisting its way into my consciousness in countless ways. For example:
You should go work out so you don’t get depressed
- but that just burns more calories, so you eat more food
- and leave a bigger footprint
- jesus, are you kidding? what good are you when you’re depressed?
- what good am I when I’m not depressed?
- well, for one thing, you’re less likely to eat chocolate picked by enslaved children in Africa and shipped half way around the world for your pleasure
- you know, the world’s running out of chocolate: do you need the chocolate? doesn’t someone need that chocolate more than you?
- fine, I’ll go to the gym
- you’d better bike
- I’m going to bike
- yeah, but you were going to go to the hardware store later; maybe you should go to the gym on the way; it will save time so you can get more accomplished today
- too bad you’re not a real environmentalist – then you’d find a way to haul that lawnmower home on your bike
- fine, I’ll drive; but it’s only on the way if I go to the other hardware store
- is that one farther? then you’re contributing more CO2
- yeah, but doesn’t the closer one engage in more unethical practices?
- Shut up! I’m biking!
- even though you’ll use the time it eats up as an excuse to get less done today
- My bike bag’s filled with crap
- careful what you do with it!
- what kind of crap? recyclable? compostable?
- some kind of plastic
- recycle it! Wash it out first.
- No, don’t! That wastes water.
- you have to wash it so it’s not tainted
- is this even recyclable anyway?
- there’s food in it…
- COMPOST IT!
- damn, you waste a lot of food; you should be ashamed of that
- I am
- not enough to stop doing it
- but what about the plastic? what’s the number on it?
- can you even read it? your eyes are terrible. probably because of all the sugar you eat; sugar’s destroying the swamplands, you know
- some kind of plastic
- Fuck it. Just throw it all in the garbage. The world’s ending anyway.
… leaving the door open for climate depression.
So that’s about 5 minutes of my life. Not every day. No… every day, but not always that bad, or maybe it will only happen 5 times a day. But on days like yesterday and today, when (hormones? low iron? gray skies?) I am walking that fence between depression and functionality, there’s barely time to regroup between episodes. I can literally do no right, so it’s difficult to do anything without a looming sense of doom.
This is despite knowing that most of the things I agonize over have little impact on the climate. Little enough to be functionally zero. And that on the flipside, the incessant agonizing itself can be debilitating, preventing me from making any decision, let alone an ostensibly “good” one, and injecting a cloud of fear into everything I do, climate-related or not.
Because when it comes down to it, it’s not about climate. It’s about self-loathing. There’s a theory (which has worked for me) that a lot of back pain is psychosomatic – real pain created by your brain to distract you from difficult feelings. It manifests as back pain because your brain is an avid trend-follower, and knows that lots and lots of people have back pain, and the sources are often inscrutable and cures unsuccessful, so it creates back pain. My brain is doing something similar, and gadblessit, it’s trying sooo hard to protect me. Just as it used to do with my back pain. But instead of throwing a blanket of physical pain over me to distract me from anger and sadness, it’s trying to make me perfect so that I will be lovable. It’s not about the environment. Eco-morality is a convenient rubric by which to judge and critique and guide and advise me into becoming a good and worthwhile person.
I know this, too. But there’s knowing and there’s knowing, right? I’m going on vacation in a few days, and I was thinking of trying to take a vacation from Mxs. Yuck as well. To see if I might be happier, more productive, ultimately better if I refuse to indulge the voices that are trying to make me better. I’m thinking about it, but it’s hard because the Yucks are almost always right. What right have I, a middle class American White woman, to stop worrying about ethics for a week?
- But, Z, you’re just making yourself miserable. What good does that do the world?
- What good does abandoning morality do the world?
- You couldn’t abandon morality if you tried.
- But that’s because of Mr/s Yuck.
- No, it’s not. You have to trust that it’s in you.
Trusting yourself. Another thing the Sloathed (for self-loathed: I’m trying to get this trending: hah? haah?) suck at.
What would it take for me to unplug the voices and let it all go for a week? Massive amounts of mind-altering substances? Positive reinforcement? Will the world survive if I stop yelling at myself? Of course it will, but I still feel nauseated just thinking about it.