Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 8/29/18

Weather: Hot. Heat index over 100 at the start of my shift.

Number of people: 3 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

Dogs seen: 3

Dogs pet: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.15

 

Observations:

I arrived late for my shift (combination of a late start, the heat, and a shortcut that wasn’t) and also stayed late sitting on the cool grass having a wonderful unofficial conversation about the relationship between community organizing, mental health, and care.

The market managers lent me a shade tent.

There’s a family of kids who lives around the corner, and they were much in evidence today. They all wanted to pretend to take the silver dollar I keep in the money jar for luck, and some of them added to the map. One of them reminded another one of the conversation she’d had with me about her grandmother, over a year ago.

A monarch butterfly flew past while I was sitting.

The second conversation here is with my friend Ash Sanders, who ran a project inspired by this one in Salt Lake City.

 

Some conversations:

My son gives me really bad anxiety. He’s really hyperactive and I can’t handle that sometimes … He likes to tell little white lies to get out of a situation, like, “Oh, I need to go peepee,” and he doesn’t need to go. And he gets really physical when we’re playing, he thinks we’re actually fighting.

What do you do when that happens?

I try to calm him down. But when I do that, he takes me as a joke and he goes to his father … He doesn’t give people their personal boundaries. You see him playing over there with that little girl, or if he’s playing with me he’ll be right up in my face … When I can’t handle it I’ll just walk away. But I have to do that constantly. I never get a break, it’s 24-7, it’s just go go go anxiety.

*

A big anxiety for me is how much I care about climate change and environmental stuff. I feel like it’s too intense. I can’t do it in a normal, more socially acceptable way, I have to do it in this way that’s more intense and—I guess darker. I feel like I’m holding back a lot. I’m not doing anything about it right now, and I’m scared to be my old out-there self, but I feel phony in a lot of ways. I’m scared of feeling exhausted all the time. I’m afraid I’ll open something up that will never stop hurting, and that I won’t know the difference between guilt and actions that I should take. I feel guilty all the time, and maybe I should. [I was raised Mormon] and you’re expected to be deeply obedient, and the extra politeness veiled a lot of evil and wrong things. I did push against that, but it exhausted me. And I’m scared that what this situation [of climate change] requires is unspeakable in public.

Who is your public, like which public are you thinking about when you say that?

I’ve been getting into conversations with friends in New York about whether or not to have kids because of what’s happening to the planet. And I am very opinionated, so I started saying more and more. I got tired of saying the “right” thing, so I said more and more what I felt, and I could see the discomfort in people’s eyes. Like I was implying that they weren’t good people. … I read and read things looking for somebody who thinks and feels like me, and they’re there, but they’re in the corners of the conversational world.

And another thing is that I’ve become concerned with animal rights really broadly, and that’s a hot-button topic among left-leaning people. I’ll hear a lot of people be like, “I’ll care about animal rights when human rights are accomplished.” Or like, “Fuck polar bears.” It makes sense, but it puts me at odds with people who I’m not otherwise at odds with.

… I started having these conversations hoping it would unstick me. I’m very tired of carrying around the bag of my cultural upbringing, and I want to know, where could I go if I weren’t carrying it? Mormons really believe in the power of language, the power of telling the truth, and a lot of the truths that they asked me to accept were quite boring but I did internalize that words can change people, and change the people who hear them … I’m pretty good at being brave, at being like, “Do it anyway, feel afraid but do it anyway,” but it never changed this basic really core part of me. And I think that might be beyond language, this thing that needs to shift.

… I’m really conscious about the passage of time. What time is mine to take when all this is happening in the world? I’m so exhausted by the rah-rah kinds of actions, I think they are required but I don’t necessarily feel capable of them right now. When I was doing [those kinds of actions] fast and well, I was depleting myself intensely and I was estranged from a lot of people, but it felt more true, and that’s confusing.

How does it feel reading the things by people who feel the way you do?

It’s intense, like some part of me is going out to meet them in the ether. A kinship thing. And I’m also thinking, “This person is so brave. I used to be like that.” So—relief and kinship, and maybe some jealousy and self-doubt. And then I’m like, Who’s reading them besides a few people? So I read this, and I feel more intensely, but…

Have you written back to them at all?

In a way I think the process of talking with [other] people has been a way of writing back to them. Maybe the reason I don’t just do that is because I feel like I should be honest with some of the hardest people for me to be honest with. Like with my parents, I’ve kind of given up on the idea that we can talk about this. And then I think, my dad will die and I won’t have said one honest thing to him. I would really like to be able to give them a bunch of books and articles and be like, “Let’s talk about it.” Mormonism teaches you that there’s one truth for the whole world, and it applies to every person, every time, every place, every situation, no variants. And [it teaches that] if you do say something different, you wound the person you’re saying it to irreparably. I realize that I think of my dad as an extremely fragile person, maybe more fragile than he actually is, and I’m terrified of but deeply want to talk to him in a real way. I’ve been protecting people, and I never have practiced saying what I meant [to him] in any honest way.

… It’s often been my role in a group to be the one who says that it’s okay to feel a lot of things, to have really strong opinions. … I’m good at being brave for others, honest for others, but I have to calculate how much energy something will cost me. I have chronic pain, and everything takes so much energy. I’m afraid of putting myself in high-energy situations. I’m afraid to put my foot across the line, I’m like, “Oh, God, I’m gonna get so tired again.” I don’t know how to say no, because I feel so guilty, and I was really trained to not have any boundaries as a way of showing love. When I’ve done things in the past, it can’t just be one thing—I have to be involved in six organizations and in charge of all of them. So maybe I have to give up my usual roles, let other people do those things.

*

On the map that asks people if there’s a place in Rhode Island they’d like to protect, kids wrote, “your though” (which might mean “your thoughts,” not sure), “place I care about is my country. (Ethiopia.)” and “I care about nauture living things,” with some pictures of trees.

map 8-29-18

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