Monday, 4 July 2011

Climate Blues - Tristesse or Clinical Depression?

Picking up the thread from my last post on Solastalgia, a term coined to express the feeling people people have when the natural environment around them degrades, I'm delving a bit more into the whole climate depression subject today. If you didn't read this Wired article on the term, and the subject matter behind it, I thoroughly recommend it!

The ecosystem we live in isn't the only victim of climate change, our mental health is too. Certainly, not enough people are concerned about the climate crisis, much less aware of its gravity, but those of us that are concerned and aware are naturally worried. I was at a friend's place Friday, and we talked about our climate angst, my friend pretty much sharing the same sentiments as me. It's not like people in general don't have enough on their plate as it is. Life is a constant running mill of spouses, jobs, expenditures, deadlines, maybe also children thrown into the mix. Plus friends and the extracurricular stuff that makes life worth living. That's quite enough to keep most people physically busy and their heads reeling. To have the added, pressing worry that the very base that sustains all of the aforementioned elements is being undermined by the prevailing paradigm that we are an integrated part's a lot to swallow. No doubt loads of people are simply ignoring the news and the facts, and shoving it to the back of their minds, simply so they can go about their daily lives. Done that myself.

Back to the main point of this post - mental health. I'm blessed to know two psychologists from my closest network of friends, and they've both been involved in my own personal climate crisis. The one had things to say about it around 3 years ago. The other, just last week. I'm not going to give a detailed description of how my climate depression has progressed through the years, I'll save that for later posts, but I will give a quick run down of the implications.

I had my second child in 2007, and immediately after, no doubt in a rush of post-partum hormones mixed with a lot of doom and gloom climate news, I had a breakdown. People were worried about me. Which was kind of funny, since I wasn't worried about me, I was worried about them, albeit in a more meta way. Psychologist friend number one, my good friend Niels, said two things - 1) that I should talk to a shrink. 2) that I should be careful in defining myself as having a depression.

I did call a shrink to make an appointment, and since she wasn't by her desk at that moment, she couldn't mark me down for a time, and asked me to call back the day after. We did end up talking for about 30 minutes though, enough for me to explain my troubles, and enough for her to explain to me that it was a matter of "distance". "Distance" is apparently the mechanics behind us not falling into a sobbing heap everytime we see a commercial with hungry children or abused animals. We create a distance, since obviously, it's not directly affecting us or our loved ones. I got her point about it, didn't agree (though I didn't tell her that) but to be honest, just having a candid talk with someone, admitting to a professional that the climate crisis had an effect on my mental health was liberating. I never did call back to make an appointment.

The fact that I needed "distance" to keep myself sane was disturbing. Climate change was too far off to be considered an immediate threat for most of us, and I entertained the notion that the psychologist didn't have any thoughts about how climate change was going to affect her life, otherwise she wouldn't be spouting that all I needed was some "distance". Since 2008 there have been more and more natural disasters caused by global warming - we don't need "distance". I certainly don't want "distance". This is a very real threat, it's happening right now. I want to feel that threat and have it compel me to act on it.

The second thing that Niels said, about identifying myself as having a depression, I tried to heed. I just stopped talking about it. I didn't want people to worry anymore. I also stopped reading so much about it, and tried to concentrate on my studies at the university instead. But looking back on it, the condition has been there all along. I had, and still have, a climate depression. It is too late to identify myself otherwise.

In the 3 years that have passed since Niels and I talked about it, the situation has gotten only worse. Here, I am talking about the political will to take the measures necessary to prevent the worst case scenarios from happening. The issue is even more pressing. The scenarios are becoming more dire. My angst comes back tenfold for each climate related article I read. Not two weeks ago, I read an article on the state of the world's oceans. It made me cry. I was feeling extremely low that day, since the oceans have actually absorbed way more carbon that the atmosphere around us (which is bad enough), and ocean life is facing "mass extinction" within "a generation". Always fun to read those words combined in an article about the place you live! Not. My day was not going to get any better without some help, so I texted my second psychologist friend, Maria. She could meet me at a café later that day for a chat. Again, just the prospect of speaking to someone was a huge relief, I dried my eyes and got on with my day. What I also wanted to talk with her about was the prospect of going to a psychologist and getting a diagnosis of having a climate related depression. Would that help me? Should I get a prescription for something to help me get through the day? Would it be helpful and for the greater good if people like me were recognized politically? Would people start taking us seriously?

Well. And this is where it gets tricky. Because politically, Maria says, recognizing people with environmental worries as being clinically depressed will set a whole apparatus going that will basically ostracize people like me, categorizing us as "sick". As in, something is "wrong" with us. In my optic, that couldn't be farther from the truth. People are inclined to worry about their day to day needs, rightly so. Us climate worriers are concerned with our living environment in the future, the near and almost tangible future at that. The last thing the world needs is to keep us back.

That said, some of us may still need help. There is no doubt in my mind I have a depression. In theory, I could get a clinical diagnosis and probably some lovely anti-depressants to go with it. But 1) I don't want the political apparatus concerning climate depressed people to start rolling, and 2) I don't want drugs to dull my climate nerves. I need to hold on my feeling of angst and fear, because that's what drives me forward on climate awareness, even though my daily life takes a hit now and again.

Now, I still want to function. As I've discovered time and time again, the best antidote to a bad climate day is to talk about it. I choose my conversation partners carefully. People too close to me just worry. Likeminded people open up, and a constructive dialogue is started. It's not enough, but it is a start. On Maria's recommendation, I've started taking an herbal remedy (it's even from the pharmacy, for the sceptics out there) that's pretty effective. Since taking it I'm about 50% more productive, starting this blog, doing some creative work, sleeping better. Placebo? Maybe. But effective nonetheless. I also got the name of a good psychotherapist, but I'm a little afraid of "too much talk and too little action". We'll see.

What I want to stress with this post is that climate depression is real, it's not just having a bad day or a bad week. People like me are out there, and there will be more coming. It's an issue, it's not an illness, there is nothing wrong with it, but there are steps we need to take if we don't want our angst and depression to be completely fruitless.

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