by Anna Blackmon Moore
When I was 16, I was watching a sitcom on my 8-inch black and white TV. Outside my bedroom window, the sun had set. At the start of a commercial, it occurred to me that I was wracked with fear and dread. By the commercial’s end, the dread had anchored itself inside my body— my chest, my limbs, my temples.
I wasn’t better the following day; I wasn’t better the following week. Anxiety became incapacitating. Two months later, I was taking a now ancient antidepressant, beginning what would become a lifelong path of medication and treatment.
Over all these decades, therapy has been crucial in my recovering from neglect and abuse and countering a deep sense of failure. The issues and illness I confront require consistent strength and will to overpower the monsters in my brain — but relief has always been accessible. I can take my pill. I can unpack personal despair, understand that feelings can be distortions. I can meditate. In short, I can change. Serenity isn’t easy or always achievable, but the tools are there. It will never be too late to use them.
What does my therapist say when I come to her with panic and dread about the approaching demise of the human race? My anxiety is no longer rooted in my brain or perspective. There is no personal distortion in facing the facts of climate change. Foreboding and fear are no longer part of my illness: their cause is global warming. The extinction of human beings is likely to happen within my lifetime.
Is it okay to just come out and say it?
This might be the place in the essay where writers offer hope. Where we list all the activist and political and scientist groups that are protesting like mad. (Too few in number.) Where we discuss the technological innovations that could save us. (Currently unrealistic.) To offer ways that we as individuals can change our consumption habits to make a difference. (Get real.)
But generating hope and respecting good work and making ethical environmental choices will not force corporate and government leaders to take the drastic action that’s needed to stop or slow global warming. Eventually, political protests and boycotts might force leaders to change industrial practices or public policies. But tangible results from political action take time. Time that we do not have.
Of course we take action anyway, because we love our children, the warm beauty of a morning sun, the fulfillment of justice. We take action because we care about one another. But I take it with the knowledge of no longer emotional but literal impending doom. I am wide awake while the monsters are no longer in my brain, but under my bed. I cannot shrink them, or weaken them, or come to understand that they are not there.
Is this depression? Is this my illness?
No. This might be how I am at the end of the world.
Is everyone else feeling it too?
In 1992, I was a senior in college. A close friend called and asked me to come over. “I keep having this vision,” she said, when she arrived at my apartment. “The end of the world will happen in my lifetime.”
She had had two other visions since childhood and both had come true. She was sure this one would, too. There on my sofa, as she wept and trembled and the TV played a Sunday afternoon rerun, I convinced her that her vision would not come to pass. We hugged, immersed in relief. Life! We had so much time! Everything was okay! Really! She left to write a poem. I left to finish a Shakespeare paper. Human life would end in a million years — whenever our sun collapsed into itself.
My friend and I knew nothing of global warming. Nothing.
My therapist’s strategy for a client who is fixated on global warming depends on her client. There is not, for her, a one-method-fits-all. She does not claim that everything will be okay, and she works with clients wherever they are. In my case, she attempts to help me stay in the moment, feel grateful for what I have, accept the limits of what I can do and understand what I cannot control. Ironically, I have attempted to live in these states of mind since I was 16.
But now, I make these efforts while the world turns to ash. My medication works while the Amazon burns. I live in the present while Greenland melts into the sea. I take political action while 10 inches of rain comes down in a day. Nothing changes and everything changes.
I take it in and goddamn it, I will do what I can, all I can — what activists and actual leaders have always done. I will do all I can despite the fear because I love my children, because I love children, because when I see an infant sleeping or a toddler laughing I have to wince away tears of grief and joy. I will do all I can despite the mental paralysis because I’m a white, privileged person who believes in justice, and those of us who get the least of it — the poor especially, but also people of color and marginalized groups of all kinds — will feel global warming more extremely than anyone else.
And this truth, grounded so tragically in thousands of years of history, is just not fucking fair.
Life isn’t fair, we might say. But it could be.
I will do all I can despite the hopelessness, because if I don’t, what is it that I’m living for?
Maybe my purpose — our purpose — is not to go gently. And we won’t. We will fight it. We won’t stop until we die.
Anna Blackmon Moore is an adjunct professor of English at Chico State University and a member of the Bidwell Parks and Playground Commission.