On the solstice of what seems destined to be a difficult winter, the words of Valérie Lefebvre-Faucher come as a healing balm.
It’s been a long time since we last saw each other, but I’m thinking of you. I dream of gathering you together around a banquet table with your new creations, our children, our parents, and shared food — but this isn’t going to happen any time soon, and so I’m writing to you.
I’m struck by how many of you are showing signs of emotional distress — a distress I hadn’t noticed before this year. I want to hug you tight and take you out dancing or walking in the woods. (Especially because you’ve done this for me before. Yes, I’m usually the melancholy one, who always has an apocalyptic prophecy on the tip of my tongue. I’m usually the anxious one in need of comfort.) My hope is that my words might create a space where we can be together, your head resting on my sentences.
It’s true that this winter is dark and terrifying. It’s true that we are racking up grief. I’m not an expert in psychology, but I want to tell you about the way I’ve experienced eco-anxiety for so long now. It’s more of a confession than a piece of advice.
For me, this anxiety is the flip side of a sense of deep connection with the world: we are nature. We are not “interrelated” — we are part of it.
The pain comes from belonging. It doesn’t have to be painful all the time; in moments, it’s full of love and hope, too.
We are nature.
And nature is sick.
The forest, like us, is out of breath; the birds fall; the coral grows pale. What’s happening to us is planetary. When we catch illnesses caused by the destruction of ecosystems and natural barriers, when our bodies curl up before distressing news, when we don’t laugh anymore and can’t even feel moments of beauty because sadness always takes precedence, we are this ailing nature. We are this ailing nature when we become so afraid we buy guns; call for punishment, surveillance, prohibition; when we accept hate as a part of our lives. We ourselves can be cataclysmic events. Or we can be carried off by the storms around us. I think we need empathy for the suffering that causes so much unhappiness: may empathy animate us more strongly than fear of the other. But above all, we must remember that we can overcome. Storms have an end. Anxiety has an end. And before taking actions we’ll regret, it’s better to find a way to rise above.
What I want to tell you is that you already know how to do this.
You know how to resist perceptions of reality that make you sick. You have helped those around you heal, educate themselves, reassure themselves. You know how to get through seasons and challenges. Anxiety begins in the gut, along with all the negative things we digest. You know how to find little bits of sweetness each day to feed yourselves. Parents, nurses, teachers, community workers — when you feed those close to you, when you take care of all these people, when you make the world around you livable through gestures large and small, you are nature healing itself. These things are often overlooked, often tedious, but they are gestures of life itself, our ways of resisting sickness. Caring for children, keeping house, building harmonious relationships — all these things bring neither prestige nor profit, but they are the repetitive and essential actions through which we persevere.
You’ve planted gardens, made preserves, made the rounds to visit friends and family. Nature gives us a wealth of working medicine. So please remember to take care of yourselves, too. If we hope to “save nature,” we must also be willing to save ourselves.
One part of anxiety is a refusal of the speed at which we’re asked to operate, a refusal of the imposed violence, and an army of small refusals that eat away at whatever they can find to feed themselves. I hope you can slow the rhythm of what eats at you. It’s not your body that your anger should be destroying.
What I wish for us is a winter of convalescence. When we’re sick, we need to be willing to fall, to be told no, to be fragile. We need to stop. It’s so dark we may feel the need to hide under a duvet, like a cat curling in upon a wound. Stopping has a cost, of course, but it hurts less than stubbornly pressing on down a dead-end road. We don’t need to know what to say or how to act right away. Anyone who has fallen knows it doesn’t do any good to leap up again without taking a moment to breathe, to find the ground beneath our feet. My hope for us is that we will rest and build peace and scars. And gather our strength.
The light is already returning. And with it, the time of desire. By the time the spring thaw arrives, we’ll need more than survival: we will need to be the form of nature that defends itself.
Depression is what the feeling of powerlessness does to our bodies. It’s the shore that absorbs oil spills, the prisoner who doesn’t leave their cell when the door opens. When we’ve rebuilt our strength, we can combat depression through movement.
We know what is real and sacred, and this sense will guide us through the darkness. Already, in the middle of this long night, the world is preparing to rise. Soon, we will grow buds, build nests and dams again: find unforeseen pathways toward our survival and renewal. Nature holds not only law and order, but disruption, invention, and surprise. Let us embrace the unexpected.
There will surely be relapses and moments where we relent. If we’re scared, it’s because we’re trying so hard to find a way forward.
There’s no backtracking in terms of the environment: we can only defend ourselves to the end, make space for the green world, save the most life we can and create more, find ways to escape fate, and refuse to accept the unacceptable.
Our planet, approaching the end of its night, is preparing to take us elsewhere. The sap is returning, in the form of all of your courage.
I love you. Hold on.
Valérie Lefebvre-Faucher is a former editor at Écosociété and Éditions du remue-ménage. Her writings include Procès verbal (Écosociété, 2019) and Promenade sur Marx (remue-ménage, 2020), as well as pieces in several collective works, in particular Faire partie du monde. Réflexions écoféministes (remue-ménage, 2017).