Wednesday, 16 December 2009

My Life as an Antibody

Charlotte has been writing about the darker side of Transition - the uncomfortable aspects we'd rather not discuss. Ed wrote movingly about his experience of talking to his friends about climate change. So I thought I'd try to explore the sadness, you might say depression, I've been experiencing recently.

What do I mean by depression? Well, the usual stuff. Not always wanting to get out of bed in the morning. Feeling tearful in the face of everyday difficulties, or for no reason at all. Lacking the courage, at times, to take on tasks that are in any way challenging or out of my comfort zone. Feeling weak and lacking in energy. Or just feeling sad.

Why am I experiencing these feelings? Well, probably for more than one reason, including the fact that I was recently made redundant. But I believe a significant part of it is my growing understanding of climate change and how serious the threat is that the world, and how little we're doing to avert it. I think it's important to say that it's not Transition that's depressing - on the contrary, Transition and other efforts like it provide a glimmer of hope. What's depressing is the threats to which Transition is a response, and particularly climate change.

It occurs to me that these feelings of sadness can come from two quite different conditions, grief and depression. Grief is a response to loss - of a loved one, a relationship, a job or whatever. It's a healthy and natural response and the trick is to go through it, feel the feelings, and come out the other side. Depression on the other hand is a kind of illness. Angie tells me that often it occurs when we're angry at someone or something but don't express those feelings. So I wonder if I'm experiencing grief at the loss of my old beliefs and expectations for the world. Or whether I'm feeling angry with someone about climate change. But, as Charlotte pointed out in her blog about The Wave, the trouble with climate change is that we're all responsible for it, so it's difficult to be angry with anyone in particular. Possibly I'm angry with everyone in the world who has yet to wake up to how urgent this problem is - which is just about everyone.

Those whose job it is to help us back to mental health sometimes tell us that it's best not to focus on environmental issues, because they're bound to be depressing. In fact, I rather believe that if I were to seek out a counsellor to help me with this sadness, he or she would almost certainly tell me to forget about climate change. The view seems to be that to face up to the reality of the climate crisis is itself a kind of mental illness. But that strikes me as a really strange perversion of the truth. In fact, it seems to me that to live in denial of reality is a clear example of mental illness. If I am saddened by the knowledge of what we are probably deciding to inflict on ourselves and our children, can it be healthier to ignore that reality and instead to wait until our inaction brings those events into being? Won't the reality be even worse than the anticipation?

Would it be better not to know? As Adam found, the tree of knowledge is a dangerous place to eat, but an irresistible one. As we gain in knowledge we lose our innocence, we have to grow up and take responsibility. If we are the antibodies in the world's immune system, then our job is to fight its infection. It's not necessarily a job one would choose, but it's the job that we seem to have been given. If you're reading this, you've probably been given it too.

So, I'm not going to stop being concerned about the climate crisis. Where I find some relief is in my family; in taking some practical action to reduce my own contribution to climate change; and in the company of people like those in Transition Norwich who share an understanding of the urgency of the issue and are also trying to take action. I hope someday I'll feel more cheerful about it.

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