Climate anxiety/depression

Terese Teoh looking into the camera, putting her thumbs up

An oversensitive person by nature, I get easily overwhelmed by too much sensory stimulation: I get mildly irked by blaring neon lights, roaring car engines or jets of diesel fumes. On a different level, perhaps being oversensitive—as well as a combination of other factors, like being introverted and self-critical—is why I suffer intermittent, brief episodes of depression from time to time, especially after something stressful. 

We all first begin to learn about “climate change” before we learn about the “climate crisis”. If you’re in Singapore, you might have learnt about it the way I did— in an air-conditioned classroom, where the teacher plays a video of a natural disaster and then tells us solemnly, “Climate change is real.” 

Or perhaps you might learn about it while walking on the street, and a colourful advertisement bombards you: “Let’s Game-Change Climate Change!” Which hurts, because it oversimplifies the issue, with the assumption that deeper discussions would “be too difficult for the layman to understand”. But by oversimplification it denies us from having meaningful, urgent conversations.

Yeah, I know I need to be a good citizen. Do my part for the environment. But neither does it make sense to be actively complicit in a system that knowingly manufactures the climate crisis. But coming to this realisation at eighteen was nothing profound, on the contrary, it was when my brain began to hurt—what could I(we) exactly do about it, right now? What did I(we) exactly wish to achieve? 

I don’t know. Why care so much about an issue that seems to have no solution? Why try so hard to restore an environment that is beyond repair? Why pit yourself against a highly efficient society married to air-conditioners and cars? Why invest so much time and energy? Perhaps I should just care less, for the good of my mental health—

‘Sometimes I’m just so tired of caring about the environment,” I blurted to my mother, trying to erase my mind of the styrofoam box I used yesterday, trying to swallow back tears. “Sometimes it strikes me as just not worth it, that my efforts don’t even matter.”

“That’s right, you’ve finally realised, there’s no need to care so much,” she smiled, holding a styrofoam food container herself. “More important things to care about, yeah?”

I couldn’t accept that. There must be some meaning and purpose in this cause. I must keep digging, I just hadn’t found it yet. I found comfort in articles and books about healing the environment and renewing hope. I devoured books that claimed to know a fix to climate change. Tell me that everything will turn out fine. Tell me that the environment is still a cause worth fighting for. 

People say that if you take action, you can cure your eco-anxiety. So I formed a team to tackle environmental problems in my Junior College. I started an advocacy page, believing so whole-heartedly in its conception I poured money from my own savings into it, as well as consulting old and new friends for their thoughts on how to make the page better. When things didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, people said it’s okay, push on, it’s great work. I pushed myself until I got so sick of all the work I did, I started burying it somewhere under my feet where my heart had already smashed. I didn’t want people to talk to me about it. It was my pile of shame. I never want to look at it again. 

With the feeling that no one around me would understand, I turned to online spaces. But nothing really worked. I tried speaking to someone on BetterHelp, but gave up after the website asked for money. I also read online that if you force a smile for one minute everyday, you will eventually cure yourself of this intense sadness. (Please don’t do that, it only made me feel 100x worse and now I know that’s called toxic positivity.)

People say go get some fresh air, go take a slow walk. So I went to the park and tried hard to relax. But that was too difficult. In the end I just sat down on a lone patch of grass, and for the next hour cried my heart out.

With each passing day I could feel a stone nailing itself deeper in my chest. Everyday I woke up feeling sad, went to sleep feeling more unaccomplished, pained and sad. I tried to avoid talking and socialising. Conversations felt meaningless, stressful and fake. I tried to avoid speaking about it with other people, because I didn’t know anyone who really experienced this combination of sadness and loneliness over something so abstract. No one could understand me, I thought, and if I had conjured up this problem with this stupid brain and heart of mine, only I could be the one to solve it by fixing myself. As I fell deeper into the hole I had created for myself, the thought that it would never end began to crystallise. 

Things started changing after I joined climate advocacy groups, like Singapore Youth for Climate Action and NTU Divest (my university’s fossil fuel divestment group). Within a community of like-minded individuals, I began to find people who shared my passion. People I felt comfortable with talking about climate and other social issues. Being in this new community, being able to speak my thoughts freely, is liberating. 

Another turning point in my journey was when I learnt about intersectional climate justice. That climate issues didn’t just happen in silo from other social justice issues. Because attitudes that breed the climate crisis are also the same ones festering other social issues, like economic inequality, wars, and discriminations of every kind. This makes the climate movement so much more worth it: we’re not doing it to ‘save the earth’ alone. We’re not even doing it for ‘future generations’ alone. We’re doing it for the people here today, who are struggling with environmental injustices of every kind. They’ve been unheard and ignored for too long. Things have been oversimplified for us for too long, denying us knowledge of the multifaceted and intersectional realities of this world. 

With these realisations, they’ve nurtured my energy and I haven’t looked back since. Now, there’s a fire burning in each of us for a unique cause in this world, go kindle that fire. Then when our paths intersect (they will!), I’ll see you then and we can join hands. <3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *