I know better than to self-diagnose but I thought for sure I knew what I had, and a bad case of it at that. It’s going around. It’s not as contagious as I thought it would be (or even as I think it should be) but those of us who get it tend to get it bad.

No, I don’t have covid. What I thought I had was eco-anxiety, otherwise known as climate-anxiety, or eco-distress, defined by the American Psychological Association as the “chronic fear of environmental doom.” All my symptoms pointed in that direction. Eco-anxiety can then lead to ecological grief, which is defined as “grief felt in relation to experienced or anticipated ecological losses, including the loss of species, ecosystems and meaningful landscapes.” Anyone who regularly reads this blog would probably agree with that diagnosis and a secondary part of my distress was the fear that my friends would ostracize me, afraid of ‘catching it,’ or even just finding it ‘unbecoming’.

In her book, Generation Dread, author Britt Wray argues that “we should be proud and relieved to experience these emotions; they are a sign of our humanity.”

That made me feel a little better.

She continues. “A sense of realistic danger is what’s fuelling the rise of eco-anxiety. It emerges when we feel our vulnerability and connections to what’s unravelling around us, and becomes adaptive when we are in touch with our ability to care. In this sense, eco-anxiety works like an antidote to the culture of uncare. That’s why some call it eco-compassion or eco-empathy. It is what happens when we bring our thinking and feeling together – a healthy, human way to function, as long as we stave off its ability to hijack our brains entirely!”

So that’s where the misdiagnosis comes in. I like to think I have eco-compassion or eco-empathy, not the more negative sounding eco-anxiety.

Joanna Macy, activist and author suggests “…it is a measure of your evolution, it is a measure of your humanity, it is a measure of your nobility that you have a heart-mind big enough to see and empathize with the outrage being inflicted on our world and all our relations.”

Noble? Me? That might be a stretch, but again, her words make me feel, well, nobler.

And, from the Lancet, a well-respected medical journal, “Recognizing that emotions are often what lead people to act, it is possible that feelings of ecological anxiety and grief, although uncomfortable, are in fact the crucible through which humanity must pass to harness the energy and conviction that are needed for those lifesaving changes now required.”

Very helpful.

So, I’m calling my ailment eco-compassion and I don’t want to get better. Don’t get me wrong, I want the health of our planet to get better, much better, but I don’t want to lose my sense of care for our one and only beautiful planet and all its living beings.

“Only when enough hearts break wide open will we start to heal the broken systems that are causing us to suffer in the first place.” (Britt Wray)


Photo from eco-age.com