As a person with mental illness, you would be correct to wonder how I respond to all the increasingly dire climate news. After all, although you wouldn’t know this, I’ve my periods of suicidal ideation.
I’ve found that I no longer have any periods of suicidal ideation.
How can that be?
To understand why that is, remember that each person with a mental illness will see and react to things just a little bit differently that someone who even has the same diagnosis.
Also remember, that the external motivations of those of us so afflicted work in unexpected ways.
I no longer have suicidal ideation since the endgame of abrupt climate change has placed an event horizon on my life anyway. I merely have to give in to every sybaritic pleasure I’ve ever wanted to indulge in and wait for the inevitable.
Having a 10-year (or less) event horizon on societal collapse, renders quite a bit of the things that deeply worry me, well, moot. In a way it’s like the tagline of my all-time favorite movie ‘Dr. Strangelove,’ or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.
The fuel that runs my conditions and all their attendant symptoms are the things ordinary people worry about all the time but get blown out of proportion by myself. Things like: worrying about keeping my job, whether everyone can be made to like me, will I ever find my purpose in life, am I going to die of cancer, whether I have enough to retire on, etc. etc.
The likelihood of social collapse due to global climate change has freed me from all that.
The one thing I have learned is not to worry about things that are out of my control and climate change and societal collapse are WAY out of my control.
And to add something else that must be admitted: the medications I am on make it very easy for me not to worry about things I can’t control. The downside is that I’m unable to experience joy.
It’s a necessary tradeoff, unfortunately. Me unmedicated is not good for myself or anyone else.
I’ve spent a lifetime vainly trying to find a mission. Climate change and societal collapse has given me one: you’re reading it. And my podcast as well.
Why do I do it?
Because I can and do feel terrible for the people mentioned in this article because I used to worry as they do – to the point of being all but dysfunctional. It’s not their fault – worrying about having your future cut short is very legitimate.
Being something of an empath, I don’t have to personally know the people in the article to image the pain they are in. Everything I do now is an attempt, in some small way, to help them.
I believe we must not lie about what is coming. My greatest fear, one I still possess, is being blindsided by bad news. Setting people up to be blindsided by the sudden realization that climate change and its attendant societal collapse was not a Socialist plot by evil scientists is going to hit people very hard.
Not that people shouldn’t protest or do what they can on a local level to help the earth, but we need to be realistic: for every tree we plant, Brazil cuts down 30 and the industrialized nations pump untold millions of cubic tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Meanwhile, the threat of a giant methane threat looms. And with Trump and Johnson in charge of the US and the UK, things will just get worse.
Physically, most people can bear a surprising amount of pain and stress. Mentally, things are a different story nowadays. Western societies, especially the US, have given their people the expectations that each succeeding generation will have it better than the one before, technology will free us from our mundane existence and provide us with so many wonderful toys, and human progress is measured in an ever-increasing GDP which will one day make everyone rich.
The whole idea that everything in that preceding paragraph set us up for this disaster is something people are not handling well. They shouldn’t be expected to.
This is not license for people like me to run around pointing at people and screaming ‘you’re all gonna die and you deserve it you bastard Capitalists!’
Most people simply believed what they were told. And why would the government and corporations lie to us? In the absence of other competing information, what were people to think? Surely a climate Armageddon seems so far-fetched!
Although I consider myself an agnostic now, I was raised Catholic. In Catholic school, while my eyes glazed over during most classes, it seems that Catholic social teaching, derided as it was at the time by many of my classmates, stuck. And the whole ethos of Catholic social teaching can be summed up thusly: ‘we are made for service to care for all men.’
The masses of people are going to have a hard time imagining their hopes, dreams and aspirations being cut cruelly short. They deserve our care and sympathy, not derision. The denialists, well, OK, they deserve derision, but ordinary people need care.
I’m 56 years of age. It’s easy for me to say I’ve had a good run. But for my sons, for your children, for those embarking on their adult lives, for lives of those being born now, this is a monstrous thing.
Even if we can hold civilization together for 10 years or more, our children will remember these times of relative plenty as they live on a globe radically different than the one they knew just a scant decade ago.
What will we tell them? How will we prepare people for this? How do we ease the pain of knowing, of realizing? How can we nurse humankind into their fate?
There’s an oft-quoted line from the movie Braveheart: “Every man dies. Not every man really lives.”
And there’s another, just as important: “I’m so afraid. Give me the strength to die well.”
Regarding the first quote it is imperative that we assist people, not to stand in frozen terror, but to go out and live as they have never lived before; to try everything they’ve ever wanted to do; go everywhere they’ve wanted to go. If you feel called to devote the remainder of your life to the Earth through Extinction Rebellion or another group – great! Bucket lists must be honored. Enemies must be forgiven. We must reconcile ourselves to whatever spirituality we seek. For the love of all that’s holy – live with reckless abandon. The future truly is now.
As to the second one, if what I have suggested people do in the paragraph above is done well, then dying well, whenever and however it comes, will come with satisfaction of a life, perhaps shorted than we envisioned, but just as well lived as any longer.
When I was in Catholic elementary school, we had a nun who taught math to the junior high grades. In our intentions said at the beginning of class, she would make us all pray for a happy death.
As you can imagine, this was quite a shock to 13-year-olds. But as she explained it, the concept was very important. In her mind, when the time came, we should look with favor upon our lives as servants to God and God would look favorably upon us and, thus, we had nothing to fear from death but only the grand expectation of an eternal afterlife.
For those of us not Catholic or Christian, a ‘happy death’ can mean being reconciled to all that is good in your life, forgiving yourselves and others of transgressions, and having a minimum of regrets to how one has spent their time on Earth. Or it can mean whatever the bloody Hell you want it to mean.
I know one day that I will face the fear that my medication and psychology has buried. Until that time, I must do what I can to help people with the transition.
So, I dedicate this to all of healers of the Earth, of humanity, the people in the helping professions, all those who believe they are their brothers’ keeper. We all have work to do.