Thursday, August 9, 2018

Resiliency in the Face of Devastating Diagnoses

Related imageAnyone paying attention to climate change carries fear of the horrible suffering we have already locked in. A sense of hopelessness that often falls away to doomerism.

Doing the hard work of decarbonizing our economy seems to fail to grasp the enormity of the suffering and pain of drought, hunger, migration and loss.  How can we take these mundane steps when the world is on fire?!?!?

But when you are given horrible news, after you cry, you have to pick yourself up and do what has to be done, even the mundane.

One of the challenges is that the damage we have locked in is enormous, even by conservative projections.  Physically unavoidable harm already certain to come, already here. 

This is a huge blow to anyone first looking at climate change.  Before learning about the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and Greenland melt or the concerns about methane pockets in the Arctic, they think, "well, this is a giant problem, but it is purely technological and we can fix it.  I will find out how."

Then they start to dig and they find out that it isn't that simple.  Huge changes are already bought and paid for.  Nonrefundable.

So the thing they first sought out to save is no longer savable.  AND that is when they throw up their hands and say "it's too late."  Understandable... IT IS TOO LATE TO SAVE SO MUCH.

But anyone that has been diagnosed with cancer will tell you, that is when you cry.  Like hell.  Cry, cry, cry.  THEN, you make an appointment for your treatment and you work to extend your chances of being alive in five years from 50% to 60%.  Or hope that it will turn out they've got good margins on the tumor and you actually are looking at your ten year survival chances, not five year.  And sometimes you cry again.  Often times.  Because we have a lot to grieve.  

Grieving is an important part of resilience.  But it is resilience that we need now.  The ability to incorporate our horrible news without becoming dysfunctional.  Without losing functioning.  Still being able to act.  We must get up and do the mundane and we must do it with strength and power and humor and the whole of our human spirit.

But how?  That is no easy task.  So I looked to the American Psychological Association's words of wisdom on resiliency.  What they have to share is quite useful.  I guess it turns out they know something about human psychology. 

They have ten tips to building resilience.  I’ve quoted their steps and interspersed their application to climate within each numbered section:

(1)  Make connections. Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.  

I joined Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) and I find it hugely helpful to work with others for a meaningful solution, the revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend.  I know that my own actions are amplified by the actions of 100,000 others.  And vice versa.  Actually, hugely helpful is an understatement.  Highly empowering.  I have learned a lot from the group.  But CCL isn't for everyone.  There are many other organizations out there working for climate solutions.  If working with a group sounds appealing, find one that is comfortable for you.

(2) Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You can't change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations.

In climate, this is a major stumbling block.  For me, I hold onto the reality that the scientists just are not 100% sure of anything.  There remains great uncertainty about how bad the positive feedbacks will be, how resilient ecosystems will be, whether we can develop means of removing carbon dioxide within the next few decades.  We can see those uncertainties as death sentences or as avenues for working things to our benefit.

(3)  Accept that change is a part of living. Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.

This is HUGE.  We cannot avoid warming the planet.  We already have, about 1C.  And we are seeing fires and droughts and floods and extreme storms, refugee crises, rising sea levels, increases in vector borne diseases.  And we have locked in much worse, that we cannot change.  But there is a difference between seeing the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in 50 years versus 300 years.  Our ability to adapt and mitigate suffering is vastly different in 4C warming versus 2C warming, whether we are looking at sea level rise, crop yields, storm damage, diseases, or any of the impacts of climate change.

(4) Move toward your goals. Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, "What's one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?"

Some days, this is as small as recycling your shampoo bottle.  Other days, it is teaching someone else the value of recycling their shampoo bottle.  And some days, it is seeing your Republican Congressman sponsor a resolution to act on climate.  And on really great days, you see hundreds of thousands march in New York City, or see the Pope release his encyclical, or hear that nearly 200 nations actually agreed on something. 

(5) Take decisive actions. Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away.

'Nough said.

(6)  Look for opportunities for self-discovery. People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality and heightened appreciation for life.   AND (7) Nurture a positive view of yourself. Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.

Climate activism offers benefits like connecting with others who share your concerns.  You can learn new skills, like writing letters to the editor, making difficult phone calls, or presenting to a local town board.  For me, personally, I am learning to find my own voice through climate action.  And, as it turns out, I won the lottery of climate action perks. I fell in love with a fellow climate activist.  :)

(7)  Keep things in perspective. Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.

Well, I don't think we are in danger of committing this one.  Climate is a really big deal, and it is almost impossible to overstate its impact.  My daughter may have achieved this one a few years ago.  She asked me if creatures like cockroaches and bacteria would survive climate change.  And I said, that, yes, I thought so.  Her response may be resiliency incarnate:  "Well, good, then if we fail, we get to start over."

(8) Maintain a hopeful outlook. An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.

Those uncertainties?  See the path to success.  It is like playing miniature golf.  You have to see where you want the ball to go if you have a hope of getting it there.  On the days we can't do this, take a walk.  There is no reason to make seeing failure a habit.

(9) Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.

Know what keeps you feeling strong.  The climate movement sure could use more parties, more shared dinners, more music festivals, more time celebrating successes, no matter how small.

(10) Additional ways of strengthening resilience may be helpful. For example, some people write about their deepest thoughts and feelings related to trauma or other stressful events in their life. Meditation and spiritual practices help some people build connections and restore hope.

The key is to identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience.  Me?  I am writing this blog. :)

It is clear that the past 50 years of warnings on climate have not led to resilient behavior.  We have shut down, denied, ignored or succumbed to the doom of the horror.  Practicing resiliency within the context of climate action may be an essential way to move beyond that.

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