07 April 2013

I Experienced It! Visceral Denial! And the Solution is Simple

My best friend and life partner, my husband, is ill. Not with the flu or a cold but with something much scarier, a repeat of an illness that left him crippled with fatigue 12 years ago.

This was unexpected. He's been feeling much better over the last few months, so we thought he was "a new man" if not quite "his old self." But this thing has hit with a vengeance, and it couldn't have come at a worse time. (He's trying to get ready to present his life's work 
on climate change at two upcoming conferences.)

I'm so busy and stressed out and angry trying to keep it together and take care of him and get him to medical appointments that I haven't allowed myself to cry yet. I don't know which way this will go yet, so I've been keeping my reaction all bottled up inside.

But because my husband is a retired doctor, he does have a good clue about what's going on. The other day, he sat me down and tried to explain it all. And that's when I felt it. That's when I finally understood your everyday, garden-variety climate change deniers! I could sense myself glazing over. I could feel myself shutting down. I could see myself doing an interior "La la la, I'm not listening!" When he was done explaining, it was like I had to snap out of a daze — and apologize, because I hadn't heard (or at least, hadn't taken in) what he'd said. 

I started wondering why I can face the climate change emergency with strength, courage and determination, but I couldn't even listen to what's happening with my loved one's health. And then it struck me. 

It's because I haven't cried that I can't hear it, can't let the bad news in. I haven't been willing (or able yet) to "feel" my fear and sadness, therefore I am not willing to countenance the severity of my husband's illness, nor able to think about it or even conceive of it.

So I've had it wrong all these years. I've been thinking that if we could just get people thinking about climate change, learning about it, then they would feel the sadness and therefore get to work on behalf of their children and all future generations. 

It turns out we probably have to help people feel the pain of the realization that we've condemned our children to a future of climate hell, and only then will they be willing to start learning about it and able to start thinking about it rationally.

The other thing that breaking through that emotional, visceral denial does is make it very clear how much of the life we live day to day isn't important. And who the heck wants to face that truth until we've psyched up and it's spiritual spring cleaning time?

I've written about this issue before (see You CAN Handle the Truth!), but I had the order wrong. My thinking now is that we have to help people open to the sadness, lament and grieve, and then tell them the truth about the climate crisis.

Remember that old show, Laugh In? (Okay, some of you are too young to remember it.) You could almost hear the laughter coming out of people's homes up and down the streets of every neighbourhood in North America when that show was on! 

Renée Jeanne Falconetti as Joan of Arc
Maybe it's time to create a new TV show: Cry In. One that will help people get their tears and sadness out so that they're ready to open up to the sad reality of climate change.


  1. Hello Greenhearted, I think you're absolutely right - and I've found your post because you found my page - Grieving For Our Dying planet on Facebook - which I set up for precisely the reasons you say - as an ex-psychotherapist I know that until we grieve - feel - we can't find the motivation to act. I'm in the middle of a lot of things right now - as are you, obviously - but I just wanted to make contact and say hi, and I hope we'll talk more soon. Meanwhile, I'm really sorry to hear about your partner's illness. Sending love. From Sue. x

  2. Sue, many thanks for taking the time to write! My learning in this post was just a gut reaction, a personal insight, so I'm gratified to hear a professional psychotherapist confirm it. I sometimes laugh and lament (two ends of the same stick, I think) that a main reason we're not moving faster on the transition to a zero carbon way of being? Cuz we don't want to "feel bad." People don't grasp that once they feel the fear, the sadness, the anger, they'll get juiced enough to want to act. It is certainly a quandary.

    Meantime, my hubby (we got married a week after I posted this!) discovered that his condition, while unbelievably painful, is not degenerative! It was a huge relief. Thanks for your kind thoughts, Sue, and thanks for Grieving for Our Dying Planet.


I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?