Is There Enough Time?

I went to a rally this past weekend called Rise Up for Climate, Jobs, and Justice.  I did so by overcoming my social anxiety which often makes it hard to interact with large groups.  About halfway into the event I decided to leave early.  I had started to get taxed by the social aspect of the event and I became depressed because my mind wandered to a question which has preoccupied me for a number of years now.

That question: is there enough time left for humanity to save themselves from ecological destruction?  A more specific question concerned me on the day of the rally: is there enough time left for a political movement to build that stops ecological collapse from destroying a path, any path, forward for humanity or is the shit too deep?  We are already seeing effects from climate change and we are already seeing extinction rates much higher than the background extinction rate.  Now I refuse to give up as long as there is hope but I fear building a traditional political movement that can effectively solve the myriad but interconnected environmental issues would simply take longer than we have before humans don’t have the ecosystems they need to survive on this planet.

Another option I have encountered is to intentionally cause the collapse of global capitalism with or without the consent of the majority of the population of humans.  This would be drastic and I am not sure it is even possible, or if it is technically possible, one could get enough people to bring it about.  There is also no guarantee that we aren’t too far along for this to work.  We could already be to the point where we need negative emissions technology and/or to actively restore ecosystems but I suspect if a growth based economy were eliminated, species and ecosystems would bounce back.

Of course we could just sit on our hands and hope things play out such that our growth based economy comes down on its own before ecosystems are so decimated that humans can no longer survive but I believe if there are options available to us then for the survival of humanity one must act!  So what are the realistic options left to us within the available time left to us?  Are there other options outside of bringing capitalism down or traditional political movement building?  I honestly have no idea but until such options are presented to me I am going to struggle with the question I have presented. However, I shouldn’t struggle too long if I am to participate in the environmental movement in some way.  I just want my participation to be useful.

I don’t have any definitive answers in this post and would welcome any comments.  Thanks for reading about this depressing topic.

 

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Anticipatory Anxiety and Agoraphobia

I work at a Target near several universities and colleges and “back to college” is like Christmas for us, maybe even busier.  You see, crowds increase my anxiety; they can even give me panic attacks.  Two years ago was my first “back to college” and I was gung-ho to work extra hours so I could make extra money.  That is precisely what I did.  I pushed through the anxiety and forced myself to work.  Following the peak of Labor Day weekend I sank into a depression, a deep depression.  Most of the time my motivation was nearly gone and my ability to feel the emotions was squashed.  I didn’t have any suicidal ideation but I didn’t really care about anything nor did I care what happened to me.

With prompting from my fiancée, I contacted my primary care physician.  Through a series of events I ended up in a mental health assessment.  That same lack of motivation and not caring led to me being sectioned; that is, I was involuntarily committed.  I spent nine days inpatient for the second time in two years.  This time I had a lot less hope and motivation for the process of healing.  I felt utterly defeated and only participated in the process of care through a habit of obligation.  Eventually the process took hold, I was discharged and went to a partial hospital program followed by seeing a regular counselor.  I was able to slowly rebound from the experience.

Now to the anticipatory anxiety promised in the title of this post.  The following year as “back to college” approached my anxiety took hold.  It got so intense that I called out of work because the mere thought of interacting with the crowds was causing panic.  Again through the prompting of my fiancée I sought help.  This time I was able to avoid inpatient and go directly to a partial hospital program.  Again I was able to rebound and return to work but of course “back to college” was over.

This year I am damned and determined to make it through “back to college”.  There are about two weeks left.  I feel much more secure about doing it but there is still plenty of anticipatory anxiety going into the peak of this busy season.  I am working with my counselor to understand the roots of my anxiety and healthy strategies to survive the next couple weeks.  Basically it comes down to fear of things that both produce anxiety as well as exhaustion.

The first of these things is my social anxiety.  I have come a long way from my childhood in which I had few friends and constant anxiety about socializing with my peers.  However, I still get anxious over social situations, particularly those that involve people I don’t know and situations that are unanticipated–basically the type of interactions that are common in retail.  I have been using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to try to challenge my thoughts and keep my expectations of outcomes realistic.  It has been helpful to remember that other people are probably anxious about the crowds too.  I have seen it in their eyes, that overwhelming anxiety that comes about in new and/or uncomfortable situations. I have also been keeping in mind that this will pass.

Another thing that contributes to my anxiety during “back to college” is the intense and constant need for bodily awareness.  You see, I am not all that good at being aware of my body’s location in space.  I can be somewhat of a clumsy person and prevent this only through intense, exhausting, conscious effort.  This tendency only gets worse when I am nearly paralyzed with anxiety.  This one I am having more trouble coming up with ways of managing other than reminding myself that this too will pass.

The anticipation of feeling dreadfully exhausted, resulting from both of these things, further amplifies my anxiety for I remember what happened two years ago.  I think the exhaustion stems from the fact that I am most comfortable being in my own head and things that drag me out of my head drain me. If you know the Myers-Briggs personality test, I am an INTP.  The I stands for introverted as opposed to extroverted, the N stands for intuitive as opposed to sensory, the T stands for thinking as opposed to feeling, and the P stands for perceiving as opposed to judging.  I think all four, with the first two being most important, contribute to my discomfort with the interactions of the retail environment.

This too shall pass.  The mantra of my survival of the next two weeks.  Of course I plan to use other CBT ideas as well to navigate my anxiety but ultimately what matters most is the temporary nature of the situation.  I am also focusing on self care and letting other concerns in my life slide for now.  I anticipate making it through but recognize if I don’t it is not the end of the world.  If the past struggling with my mental health, particularly the past few years, have taught me anything is that I will be able to move forward.  One more thing I am keeping in mind is that I have a plan to eventually exit retail and finally use my education but I will leave the details for another post.  Lastly, I will update my blog on the progress over the next two weeks, something I didn’t do a year ago.

Fast for Climate Change Conclusion

Monday night I ended my fast.  I didn’t quite make the forty-eight hour mark.  I ended it two hours early due to a persistent migraine.  The second day of my fast was a lot tougher than the first day.  It wasn’t just the migraine though; I also was also filled with doubt and depression.  My two blog posts (here and here) I wrote during the fast didn’t perform that well.  I wasn’t all that surprised considering my political posts have tended to not perform as well as my mental health posts but in a more physically vulnerable place I had trouble keeping perspective. I know climate change, for most people, isn’t yet as personal as one’s mental health and that goes for me as well.

However, for me my views on the environment, and I would argue the data backs up my views, very much influence my mental health.  Thus I would like to make this post about climate change and my mental health.  The future impacts of climate change are none too pleasant.  I often wonder if there is even a future for humanity at all or if civilization is redeemable.  Changes in climate, of the kind we are talking about with a business as usual scenario, are going to put an almost impossible to imagine strain on civilization and society in general.

Thinking about these things, as I think we must, creates intense stress for me.  I grew up with a hopeful Star Trek kind of vision for the future of humanity.  I wanted technology to bring about a post-scarcity society in which humans can continue to understand the universe around them with poverty expelled to oblivion.  I now seriously doubt this future will happen and mostly just hope humanity simply survives climate change.

It has taken time for me to come to grips with the mental health impact my environmental concerns have on me.  It has taken even longer to learn how to manage the negative impacts these concerns have on me.  I understand the need for balance.  I understand the need to still engage the world as a human being with all its complex connections to other things and other people.  I have come to realize I struggle with these connections and that my disconnections include my lack of relationships to nature and nonhumans.

Realizing this has lead me to a book called Radical Ecopsychology: Psychology in the Service of Life by Andy Fisher.  I am still in the early chapters of the book for I am taking my time trying to digest it bit by bit.  One of its premises is that the root causes of our society’s prevalence of mental illness are related to our environmental problems.  While the author hasn’t really brought up evolution thus far, I think it makes sense to bring it up.  For most of the time humans have been earth as well as our evolutionary ancestors, connection to nature was just the way things were.

Now that so many humans live in such a dramatically human-altered world we have become quite disconnected from nature–from it cycles, from the ubiquity of nonhumans, from where we get our food, water, shelter and possibly even from how our survival depends on community.   I am in the early stages of learning how to reengage with the various aspects of my life including my relationship to nature.  One day I hope to walk into the woods or other nearby ecosystem and tell you what each plant and animal is and more importantly how they interact, compete, and depend on one another.  I also hope to gather food, collect water, and build shelter.  Further, I want to be more connected in my life to the people closest to me so that our lives are further enriched.

I am slowly working towards this future, frustratingly slowly at times, for the climate change clock is ticking.

The Second Day of my Fast

Well, I am a bit tired this morning, slightly light-headed, a little hungry, and a little depressed.  I will be taking it easy today.  Yesterday I wrote about the need for self sacrifice in the environmental movement as well as the need to communicate the need.  Today I want to write more about the need to communicate in science.  I hope I am able to make this post coherent.  I will start with my favorite Carl Sagan quote:

“We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. That’s a clear prescription for disaster.”

The quote clearly points toward a general need for science education but I think we also need to be as comfortable talking about it in our everyday lives.  Climate change science, it seems, has become like politics and religion, not to be talked about in polite company.  I would argue that we should talk about politics, religion, and science in daily conversation because they are important.

Climate change, and environmental destruction in general, are too important to not take the social risk of communication, for the very future of humanity is at stake.  If we don’t talk about climate change then social change on the issue is unlikely to happen.  We must create awareness of climate change’s science, problems and solutions.  Another way I like to put it is, we need to decentralize the knowledge of climate change so that it is not held by a few people, while the general population lacks the information.

Talking about difficult subjects is uncomfortable but a necessary part of being a good citizen of a community, country, and planet.  I hope my readers will consider climate change a conversation worth having with the people in their lives and a conversation worth having more generally by being an active educator in our society.

Start of my Fast

As of about 8:00 pm last night I started my fast.  It is a symbolic act meant to bring attention to climate change and the need for personal sacrifice in the fight for a sustainable future.  I had intended to start my fast on Earth Day but delayed it because of mental health concerns.  I feared that the combination of stresses I had at the time might be made unmanageable if I added in a two day fast.  Before I postponed my fast I wrote a primer on climate change, focusing primarily on some of the basic terminology.

In this post I would like to expand on the need for personal sacrifice.  Some believe that the future is bright and technology will come about that will solve all of our ills; that we will be able to continue on living more comfortably as time goes on.  Others and myself call this a techno utopia future.  I don’t claim to know if this is possible or not but it seems foolhardy to risk our future on something that has never happened before.  In the past, civilizations collapsed.  That is the starting point I believe we should begin with.

In that vein, I think we should try to lessen the threat of climate change and other environmental destruction on our biosphere to lessen their impact on any collapse of civilization, whether it is caused in part by them or not.  To do this requires sacrifice.  It would require reevaluating many of the ways we live.  For example we should fly less and rely on slower modes of transportation that produce less greenhouse gases.  We should also eat less meat which would both produce less greenhouse gases and free up land that can be restored to a functioning ecosystem not based on agriculture.

There are many ways we can individually reduce our carbon footprint, and more generally our ecological impact, but in the end it will only work if we collectively sacrifice.  Thus the need for individual sacrifice must be communicated to others; i.e., one cannot remain silent.  This is hard because most people are not cued into the need for dramatic change so talking about its need to happen can feel like it’s falling on deaf ears.  However, I think of it as planting a seed, that is putting the idea out there so that it has a chance to take root.  For too long too many people concerned about the environment have stayed silent, presumably because it wasn’t popular, but time is ticking and the window will close when change will no longer matter.  Our future is at stake and, it is beyond time for personal sacrifice to be taken mainstream.

Social Interaction and My Mental Health

There are two core reasons why I like to limit social interaction in my life.  The first reason is that I am an introvert.  I tend to get emotionally drained from interacting with people.  This doesn’t mean I don’t like or don’t need to talk and hang out with people, it’s just that I have limits to how much I can take before I get burned out.  As a human being, I am a social animal, and I need relationships with both other beings and things.

The second reason, which might be related to the first reason, is that social interactions don’t always make sense to me.   This was especially true as a kid.  I was and still am so obsessed with abstractions and understanding the world around me.  This led to certain social situations like socializing just for fun or socializing out of the need to fill the silence being confusing to me.  It wasn’t that I was totally incapable of doing these things but I didn’t understand their primacy in other people’s lives.  Most of the time, I just wanted to play with concepts (and/or be outside but that’s another story).

I have never been tested for Asperger’s and I am not sure the diagnosis would fit me.  I only mention it because I have had people with Asperger’s ask me if I have it but then again I have had mental health professionals be quite skeptical when I bring this up.  I am not sure there is a diagnosis for me and if there is, if it is necessary for me to know what it is.

The closest I have come across is the Myers-Briggs personality test for which I  am an (I)ntroversion, i(N)tuition, (T)hinking, (P)erceiving as opposed to (E)xtroversion, (S)ensing, (F)eeling, (J)udging.  Introversion I discussed in the first paragraph.  Intuition has always been more comfortable for me than my senses.  Thinking and logic have always been in my comfort zone whereas feelings and emotions have not been.  Finally I tend to not see things as absolute and coming from a perspective.  I also have trouble making decisions because I tend to see multiple choices as valid.

As I’ve gotten older, I have adapted better to socializing.  Intellectually I now understand that there are multiple reasons human socialize and as I have intellectually understood this, I started to begin to emotionally understand this.  Thus my personality has shifted with age, and I think other people’s personalities shifted with age as well, so that I can now relate to most of my peers.  I am still confused by others at times but I suppose everyone is.

Five Written Works that Influenced Me

I have always liked making lists so here is one on writing that impacted me in some way.

  1. Living my Life Volume 2 by Emma Goldman – I was at a library looking up anarchist literature and came across this book.  The library only had the second volume but I picked it up and basically spent every spare moment reading this five hundred page book.  For those of you who know me it takes quite a lot to keep my attention when it comes to reading.  The combination of being a slow reader and having ADD make reading challenging and frustrating for me.  Emma Goldman’s life was truly amazing.  She experienced so much in her life and always stuck to her guns when it came to her beliefs.
  2. Last Standing Woman by Winona Laduke – This is the first book in a long time that gave me hope for the future.  It is a book that doesn’t pull punches but leaves you recognizing that the future isn’t without positive possibilities.  Louise Erdrich writes in the blurb on the cover “This book goes out into the world much as a prayer.” I am thankful to have read this “prayer” and I am thankful for all the good work Winona Laduke does fighting for Environmental Justice.
  3. Storms of my Grandchildren by James Hansen – Professor Hansen lays out climate change with scientific clarity.  Unlike the last book, this book gave me little hope for the future but I find it incredibly important and it heavily influenced me.  I wish more scientists would take the time to engage the general public.
  4. The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben – This book describes the very complex lives of trees, especially when they are living in a “wild” forest.  I also think it is also an important example of a scientist trying to engage the general public.  It is also mind blowing and is a good example of normal versus revolutionary science as described in Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”
  5. The first chapter, On Economy, in Walden by Henry David Thoreau – This chapter in this famous book is incredible.  It provided many moments of insight for me, both intellectually and personally.  I very much relate to the idea of living with economy and would like to relate to it even more.  I have wasted so much time in my life on things that are unimportant.  I have always enjoyed getting to the root of the matter, now I want to bring that to how I live.

Update 2

I actually wrote this post over a month ago but never published it.  

Well, it has been about two months since last posting in my blog and even longer since I posted a serious update on my mental health.  I figured it is long past time that I at least write another update.

The past few of months have been been quite mixed.  Early in April my last living grandparent, my maternal grandfather, went into the hospital for issues with his heart.  He was released a couple of weeks later only to go back in around the time I was going to go on my fast.  It was incredibly scary because for a while we weren’t sure if he would ever be healthy enough to leave the hospital again.

I had been planning a vacation with my fiancee during the first full week of May.  This time, of course, changed into flying back to the Midwest to see my grandfather.  He was released from the hospital the day before I got there into hospice care.  My mother had already moved into my grandfather’s place to be there for the rest of my grandpa’s life so she was and is there to be the primary caretaker for which I thank her.  I was able to spend time with my grandfather, make him meals, and play the card game Pitch.

I have tremendous respect for my grandfather and will probably write an entire post about him but I want this post to be an overall update of the past few months.  During the later part of March through the early part of my visit with my grandfather I was quite productive on my thesis.  While I hadn’t written a whole lot, I was reading consistently and came up with very specific things I want to put into my thesis.  I was reading every day by the end of this stretch.

Now, I have always found keeping desired habits to be fragile with me.  I can be going along well for months and then something interrupts me and I just stop the habit.  Well, the something that interrupted my habit of working on my thesis was a close family member falling off the wagon while I was back in the Midwest.  This led to interrupted sleep and stress on top of the stress I was having regarding my grandfather.  I just stopped reading.  Now something else would probably have eventually caused me to drop the habit, but the stress of someone you care about risking and threatening their body like that can be overwhelming.  It wasn’t just their alcohol use but their suicidal ideation that was causing the stress.

It took me a couple of weeks to recover from the experience but I have started to do healthy things again with the goal of resuming thesis work.  I have started hiking once a week at the Middlesex Fells near Boston for about four or five hours at a shot.  I have also signed up for an online Al Anon group and while I haven’t posted anything yet I have been reading some of the material.  I also went to the pride parade in Boston and wore all my bi pride paraphernalia including a five foot flag that I attached to my backpack.  It was incredibly fun and affirming.  Seeing all the other bi pride flags helped make me feel like I truly belonged there.

Anyway I think I will stop there.  I hope to get back in the habit of writing my blog on a regular basis.

 

An Update on my Fast

I have a lot going on in my life right now so I have decided to postpone my fast to a later date.  Probably sometime this summer.  I apologize for not following through but I fear my mental health is at risk if I were to add two days of not eating on top of everything else.  I will try to update my blog later this week for I need to write for my own well-being.  I will also update the dates of my fast when I have scheduled it.