2020: the age of anxiety

Here we are, in the latter half of what’s been a bloody gruelling year and I know I want to write again, to air out my frustrations and re-learn how to start sharing my attempts at living a sustainable lifestyle, but it feels so much harder than before. So much has happened recently that could easily destroy anyone’s faith in humanity. Politics is a shit show. Globally, not just locally. The public’s views seem to be more extreme either way than ever before, at least in my mere 26 years of experience. The media has more control over how we think and feel than most of us ever fully realised, which is terrifying, and social media knows more about us nowadays than we know about ourselves. Yet there is still hope, in a few places.

People like AOC and Jacinda Adern and the late RBG inspire me to push through and get to work on making a better future by acting now. Even closer to home, each time I speak to or see Sophie on my weekly Ripple shops or Phill & Deb on my almost-just-as-regular Dusty Knuckle indulgences I’m in awe of their sheer will, determination and incredible resilience to keep carrying on, despite the world seeming to work against us at every given opportunity. And that’s what keeps me going, what’s pushing me to overcome my mental block and eco-anxiety and get back to it.

The thing that’s been holding me back is that I just feel overwhelmed. And anxious as a result. I don’t even know if you’ll have read this far, thank you if you have. But I can’t be alone in this feeling that I more and more often need to take a step back from environmental news, from online activism, from self-education and all the other things that consume our lives as environmentalists so much so that there’s hardly any room for anything else. There is nothing else, everything relates back to this social and environmental injustice that we cannot escape.

And escaping it at all is a demonstration of my white, cis-gendered, middle-class privilege that I haven’t earned in any way, shape or form and undoubtedly benefits me more than I can ever fully understand, despite my best efforts. So why should I? Why should I get to put my phone down and walk away when others can’t? I don’t deserve to take a break because the world doesn’t take a break. Capitalism and racism and LGBTQIA phobia don’t take breaks. But I have to otherwise I’ll explode. You can’t give from an empty cup, or however the saying goes.

Where do I start from then? To get back on course with doing all I can possibly do to make things change – or at least, sharing it. And herein lies another problem: I’ve plateaued in my ‘sustainability’ attempts. If anything, 99% of us will have gone backwards during the pandemic, but some sort of normality is returning in the sense that plastic-free fruit & veg is still pretty widely available, veg boxes and recipe boxes are still available and hopefully many more people are now enjoying the benefits they bring with them. Zero waste/refill shops are back open, my local Ripple is now letting us bring our own containers back which is a life saver (I’m awful at working things out by grams) so there are already habits we can bring back into our lives to give us a bit more sense of control over the situation, albeit limited compared to before.

In Cardiff, several of our wonderful local indepedents are championing a Contactless Coffee campaign where they’re allowing people to begin using reusable coffee cups again in a bid to bring them back into public normality. Indeed, scientifically there is no reason why everywhere can’t now accept them back, but there’s resistance to change for fear of liability and/or of a virus we don’t really understand. Where possible, therefore, it’s important to support those that are already brave enough and conscientious enough to do this – you can find a list here. In even more recent news, Refill have now updated their app to allow you to find nearby places not just to refill your water bottle, but also your coffee, take your own food containers or shop plastic free. These are just two small ways you can bring some control back over the single-use waste in your life, and it’s a lifeline for the eco-anxiety we all feel now more than ever. That’s not to make light of anxiety, I actually do mean anxiety. Since the pandemic hit, we’ve seen a sharp rise in the number of people reporting high levels of anxiety and almost 1 in 5 UK adults feeling hopeless (compared to 1 in 3 18-24 year olds). I’m not ashamed to admit I had a few more counselling sessions to work some things out – and fortunate enough to have the privilege and access to do so.

Although this is another thing that’s stressing me out is this seemingly constant need to justify everything at the moment. To constantly acknowledge my privilege when referring to anything and everything. I’m not saying don’t acknowledge it at all because that would be part of the problem, but I finally seem to have fallen down the hole I successfully avoided for so much of my online life of not feeling good enough or woke enough to be able to exist or compete in the online sustainability space. It’s exhausting. I used to do this for me and only me, I wasn’t worried about acceptance or being proven wrong. It was enough just to have a passion I could share with the world.

Well, rightly or wrongly I want that back. I’m determined to back myself again in this space because one person can make a difference, we’ve seen evidence of that time and time again. Do the work on the social injustice, diversify your social media feeds and continue the background reading but for F sake don’t be afraid to share your sustainable little swaps with the world in case someone might criticise your privilege. There might be someone that comes across your sphere of influence who genuinely learns something new, or if you’re lucky, feels inspired. (Talking to myself here). Just yesterday I watched the final episode of Zac Efron’s Down To Earth on Netflix, which takes a fascinating look at examples of sustainable living from around the world and how small changes in our behaviour can make a difference. However, in this final episode there are California wildfires whilst Zac and co-host Darin Olien are off-grid in the Amazon. They return to civilisation to find that Darin’s home has burned down and he now has everything he owns with him on this trip. It’s astounding. Gob-smacking. And this is someone who has many of the same privileges as many of us in the UK do, does all he can possibly do to tread lightly on the planet and encourage others to do the same, yet he has still been directly impacted by the very climate crisis we try to work against. I’ve heard that Sir David’s latest documentary is having a similar impact on people, I just haven’t emotionally prepared myself for it yet because I know I’m going to weep, but I’m simultaneously thrilled that it’s reaching a wide audience.

These things have reignited a fire under my arse to share my findings, no matter how small, because you never know who might be listening (or in this case, reading). So with this in mind, here are a few things we can all do right now to regain some control on our lives:

  1. Allow yourself to take digital detoxes. Whether it’s an #Offline48, turning your phone off at 9pm, or just muting social media for a few hours a day, it will all help. You need your energy to keep fighting.
  2. Wear reusable face masks as often as you can. It’s not always possible, but try to always keep one on hand.
  3. Take your shopping bags with you everywhere. This hasn’t changed since the pandemic and it’s just one of many ways we can keep pesky plastics at bay. (The best thing we got during lockdown was a granny trolley, highly recommend).
  4. Find out where nearby you can take your reusable coffee cup/containers and make sure you do it. Support them. If your favourite places aren’t doing this, kindly point them to research which supports it.
  5. Plan your meals to avoid wasting food (& money). Freeze leftovers or keep them for another day. Plan in your treat meals so you can still support local restaurants – within your own means.

More on this coming very soon…

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

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