Why I Didn’t Attend the Climate Strike: a confronting detour into the reality of my mental health

Today dawned much like any other day. Or at least any other day in a world where there’s a nascent fascist dictatorship, my mother remains severely physically and mentally disabled, my father is waiting on a diagnosis for the illness that killed his mother, and my country is only a year or two from total environmental collapse.

Which is to say, I got up, had a shower, got dressed, logged on to work and made myself a cup of tea. Because the most extraordinary thing about the calm before the storm is not the storm but instead the calm. It’s all just so normal, like ducks gliding along the surface ignoring the effort down below it.

It’s like we’re stuck in a daily ritual of pretending that everything’s normal by being normal.

It’s been a few years now since I realised that I was angry. Truly angry. Not at the corruption and the greed and the lying. Not that, that’s just us. That’s just people. “People suck” I used to say to my relatives and I don’t think they knew what I meant. I think some of them are realising it now.

I was angry at other people. Normal people like me. I was angry at friends and family for doing exactly what I was doing just this morning – pretending everything’s normal while the world dies around them and kids live in cages and cops gun down people for being black and mining magnates are handed slave labour and nobody cares.

I was angry at my parents and my siblings and my aunts and uncles and cousins. I was angry at those I’d broadly call the Baby Boomers for amassing great wealth due to free education, healthcare, infrastructure and good wages and then voting systematically to deprive their children and grandchildren of the same opportunities.

I was angry at my country setting up concentration camps full of abused brown people and then getting self-righteous at the word ‘concentration camps’ as though, if they do it, it’s somehow shiny and special and fine and it’s only a problem if it’s the other people’s concentration camps. I was tired of people acting as though they’re snowflakes and as though the rules apply to everybody but them.

I was angry at people in the street for presumably voting to perpetuate policies that would destroy their own children’s lives and for what? Franking credits? Negative gearing? Their fourth investment property? A retirement village in south-east Queensland where they could walk their dog every day and never have to worry about being homeless or hungry or having enough water?

I was angry at them for being complacent. I was angry at them for being entitled. I was angry at them for being cruel.

I was just angry.

Over the last decade, my anger has eaten me out until I’m hollow inside, until anger is almost my only emotion. I’m a misanthrope now (I had to acknowledge that too. Self-awareness is still a virtue, I think).

The anger, I suspect, is the reason for my creeping nihilism and feelings of hopelessness. I make plans for the future, then wonder why. I have conversations at work about ten year plans and then feel ridiculous and wonder why nobody else feels the same way. I sign a new lease on my house or a new phone contract and laugh at how stupid and pointless it all is.

And I can’t help feeling as though the health of my parents mirrors somehow the health of the planet; as though it had a stroke five years ago when my mother did and now it’s waiting on a death sentence cancer diagnosis like my father. If they time it right, they will both die right when the world does, limping through its last few years on crippling chemo with half a brain and only one arm obeying its commands. And it will seem like a giant metaphor for everything.

This is getting too personal. Or maybe not personal enough. I don’t know anymore.

The thing is, I wanted to strike today. I wanted to. I was determined to. Because days like today are giant messages in the sky to stop being a self-absorbed fatalist and realise that it’s not about me. Giving up is selfish. Talking doom and gloom is self-defeating. I have a banquet of good things in my life.

“We’re all fucked” might be true but it’s also a statement of giving up trying. And a baby born today doesn’t need my generation to shrug, say “we’re all fucked” and pour a bottle of gin down their throat. A baby born today needs me to do something, anything, even something as small as marching in a strike.

But I couldn’t even do that.

My anger has eaten me out until I’m hollow inside. And today one small conversation with my father filled that hollow with a grief so profound and so unexpected that I was unable to function; becoming useless to anybody, up to and including myself.

I don’t know if my father is going to die, but after the small, inconsequential conversation this morning I know that he believes he will. He’s cleaning house, tying up loose ends, making plans. I was at the front door to leave when it hit me. I started crying and I haven’t stopped since.

And now I don’t even know what I’m crying for.
Myself. My parents. The planet. Our children. Or just my own uselessness and impotence.

I didn’t march in the climate strike today.

But I’m not writing this to justify that decision. Far from it. I’m writing this because I know others feel this way. That there’s no hope, no future, no point. That we’re merely killing time till the end – whether we bring that about ourselves or wait for the inevitable. That the whole of life is just waiting for everything you loved to be taken away until there’s nothing left.

I’m writing this to let those people know that they’re not alone in feeling this way. The impact of climate change on mental health is something we’re only just now beginning to document properly and to acknowledge. It’s real and it affects us all to some extent. We’re all going to have days when we want to just stop the world and get off.

But as I write this, I hope – for my sake and for yours – that tomorrow is a different day. Today, hundreds of thousands – possibly millions – of people will manage to make it out that front door and onto the streets. They’re a reminder of what it is we need to fight for and why we can’t let this anger, helplessness, misanthropy and fatalism win.

There is still time to turn things around. If we’d done it 20 years ago, there’d have been little to no pain and those opportunities are done. Now it will be painful, it will be hard, but it can still be done.

We need to remember that the people we’re marching for are not people like the farmers who voted for drought and then demanded to be saved from it, or any of the other over-privileged groups who have created hells of their own making and then cried foul.

The world is full of the innocent. The children marching are those innocents. But more importantly, there are hundreds – thousands – of adults marching with them. A reminder that we’re not alone in this. And that’s a message we should always remember.

You’re not alone. I’m not alone. We’re not alone.

Even on days like today when we feel like we are.

The world may be ending but it hasn’t ended yet. So maybe I didn’t fight today. But I hope I’ll find the strength and courage to fight tomorrow. And you should too.

 


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