Write into your climate anxiety: it will make you feel better
The day the sky turned orange outside my California home, my younger son, Nikko came upstairs and asked if this was the apocalypse. As he sat here in his Scooby Do pjs squinting into the smoke-filled sky, I knew he was losing so much in this world. Not just coral reefs and soccer-filled summers without smoke, but also a sense, like I had grown up with, that the world would offer him wonder and joy. I pulled him close so he wouldn’t see my tears.
It’s not news to tell you that our climate crisis is messing with our mental health. 75% of young people are frightened by our climate crisis. Over 50% of all Americans across political parties want our government to take meaningful action on climate change. The general perspective is that there’s little we can do and leaders aren’t making our climate a priority. In fact, some leaders are using insane amounts of fossil fuels to invade other countries to get more fossil fuels. Ugh.
Many of us feel a despair that frankly paralyzes us. It’s soooo much easier to just watch the next Bridgerton or get excited about the 2022 World Cup. Or do like I did that morning the sky turned orange and turn on some new Marvel movie so I could pretend there was some superhero to save us.
But being a climate activist, a mom, and a writer paid to journey around the world to witness the effects of our climate emergency and meet the people stewarding fragile ecosystems, I knew one thing. I needed to feel all the yucky feelings I was afraid to invite in so I could have the energy to get my butt off the couch and stop feel so crappy all the time.
Writing into grief helps you move through it
By the third day of too-smoky skies forcing us inside, I decided it was time. Climate grief is real and if not addressed can eat us up the same way traditional grief can. A therapist friend told me that I should work through these feelings like I do the seven stages of grief. Effectively, the only way to move through grief is to go into it.
Writing has been the tool that always helped me process icky emotions. At first I just bemoaned the moment. The insane wildfires eating up California; the hurricanes flattening to Caribbean; the floods in Japan. It seemed everywhere I looked another natural disaster had affected another place I loved.
Instead of ignoring my sadness, on the page I invited it in. And in truth, it was hard. Really hard. I didn’t want to think about how messed up it was that my kids would know a fifth season during the year — fire season. I didn’t want to process that places I’d loved — Hawaii, Venice, Thailand, the Amazon — might not be sustainable for my grandchildren. And yet, I forced myself to face it by writing about all the places I was sad to lose. This turned into a morning ritual that helped me feel better.
A writing practice to feel better
Every morning before I write, I carve out time to listen to nature. I close my eyes, open a window and listen to the birds, the wind, the loud talking walkers. I take deep breaths to smell the hint of skunk, the salt in the air, the eucalyptus tree. This gets me into my body: not a hunched over body focused on my digital world, one firmly planted in the real world around me.
In this way, we can begin to allow ourselves time to grieve what has already been lost. As my friend Charlie Jonas, a grief counselor, told me the other day, we should not just celebrate what we love, but also catalogue our losses.
After about ten minutes, I begin to write all I fret will be lost, all that is already lost, and what hangs in the precipice. For just ten minutes a day, I free write all the emotions that are coming up when I meet my grief about our changing climate. I write it all down. Release it all. It doesn’t release the pain, but it sure as hell helps me move through despair. Some days I just write the same ideas. But over time, by giving myself just ten minutes to write, my ideas begin to evolve. No longer am I just complaining about the state of the world. Instead I begin to ready myself for the work I can do.
Because we know we can’t sit back and wait for someone else to fix this mess any longer, these morning writing sessions help me plant a garden of ideas and start fertilizing it like hell. Each of us resides on a tiny speck of land. Each of us has the power to strengthen and safeguard the land we call home. Each of us can gather our community to tend to the land beneath our feet. But before we do any of that, we have to face our fear.
Taking the time you need to welcome your anguish — it is what makes you realize how much you love this weird spinning ball in the sky — helps us figure out how to start planting seeds of change. Once we start seeing a problem, like actually looking, at some point, we want to help fix it.
Recently after the latest IPCC report came out, I started making a list of how to lessen my dependence on fossil fuels. How long will it take? How can I find ways to afford this? How can I speed up this process? At the same time I was writing down how to regenerating the land around my home. Suddenly, I realized that my morning grieving session were becoming a solutions list. yeah, I’m still sad, but I also feel better because I am actually doing something about it.
Healing is a process. For us. For the Earth. It’s time we started prioritizing both.