A few months ago I wrote an article about ‘Climate Grief’. It created a bit of stir and led me to think more deeply about the impacts trauma might have on our ability to respond to ecological crises.
As part of that exploration I came across an excellent piece on ‘Climate Trauma’ by Zhiwa Woodbury. I was particularly fascinated by the idea that for the first time in human experience we are inside trauma as it is happening. There will be no post-traumatic stress, just perpetual traumatic stress.
I then had my own taste, in a way that surprised me by it's stealth. A friend sent me an article by Catherine Ingram which was immediately appealing through its reference to the author’s personal relationship with the late Leonard Cohen. I was drawn to reading it through my love of Leonard’s dark art, only to find myself in deep water.
It wasn’t until about ten days later that I realised just how depressed I had been as a result. It named a few fears that cut through me - mainly as a parent. Despite my life’s work around precisely these kind of issues, I found myself dragged under. All the common symptoms of anxiety. Wow. The dive stopped when I was reminded about the futility of holding on to such overwhelmingly bad news: what can I do with this information that I am not already doing? How does contemplating these terrifying possibilities change me beyond making me feel despair and disempowerment?
Today I came across this outstanding piece of journalism about the impacts of climate change on the people of Greenland. Something deeply grounding and powerful about these personal experiences of fear and bewilderment. The final few paragraphs reminded me of an article I published about language as part of the Topographies and Tales art project some years ago. A symptom of catastrophic change is when we run out of words to describe what’s happening to us. When our experience of the world falls beyond our ability to describe it. And thus off the map we go, dumb-struck, into the unknown.
For so many reasons, it’s time for a real and comprehensive engagement with our ecological mental health crisis. If we are to act on the scale required, we must find ways of being inside trauma without being overwhelmed by it.
Photo: Annie Spratt