Trigger Warning: suicide, ED, mental illness
Writen by Ayla Liebenberg
Image by Nahum Gale
It is the curse of our generation.
The Thing that keeps us up at night.
It is the pressure on our chest; the fear flowing through our blood.
The never-ending existential dread.
Climate anxiety is an almost inescapable by-product of being alive in 2021, and if you were born after 1990 its practically our birth right. Climate anxiety is like a macabre inheritance we received from a past generation, gone and unfortunately never forgotten, that fucked the planet so fast and so hard we barely had time to figure out what was going on before it was too late.
Most people would argue that it is too late. I mean, sea-levels are rising, animals are dying, and the air we breathe is becoming more deathly than life saving. It is fucked.
My high school years were branded by teenage angst, queer-questioning, and climate anxiety. The perpetual fear and debilitating doom engulfed my life. A lot of the time I felt like I was drowning as if the impending disaster of climate change was just seconds away and, at any moment, we would all burst into flames and die a terrible fiery death. I was a very dramatic teenager. Although the reality of the situation is sometimes scarier than just bursting into flames. So scary it keeps me up at night, and has for seven years.
Climate anxiety may be our inheritance, but it does not have to be our doom.
From when I understood what climate change was, I was in disbelief that nothing was being done to fix it. I mean, besides the water efficiency sticker on my washing machine and the litter picking initiative at my school, there was nothing in my world. So, in my mind, we were pretty much passing the time before the earth just… ended.
Hopelessness was a pretty defining characteristic of my adolescence. I would spend countless nights staring into the dark, thinking of all the ways I could kill myself before climate change killed me first. I made suicide pacts with myself and promises that I would not make it past thirty. I thought it was reasonable, because, in a world of chaos and destruction, anything is reasonable to a scared and lonely teenager.
I did not kill myself, obviously, and I am grateful to myself every day. There are a lot of times where I thought I would not make it, and that the fear and the doom and the hopelessness would catch me again, holding me tighter and tighter until I could not breathe. Until I started to drown again.
Climate anxiety may be our inheritance, but it does not have to be our doom. I learnt that when I realised that in chaos all people want is control. All I had to do was find what I could control. That took a few times to get right and, along the way, I made some pretty crucial errors. But with practise came perfect(ish).
Climate anxiety may be a by-product of our generation, but I do not let it control me anymore. Instead, I try and control it. Doing what I can, changing my ways, making decisions in the interest of the planet rather than the interest of capitalistic corporations that thrive off the destruction of our environment and home. Swapping meat for veg; fast fashion for slow; Tupperware instead of takeaway; love instead of fear.
I try love our planet as hard as I can. Harder than the mining companies are drilling its soil, more than the factories are pouring into its oceans, and as relentlessly as fossil fuels are being pumped into the atmosphere. There is hope in the individual. There is enough love for the planet in us all.
We cannot save ourselves, each other or our home without trying. We cannot battle the hopelessness with action. Take control, even if it is the small things, and stay alive for all the good that there is to come.