Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Our world is heating up. Polar bears are drowning, bee colonies are collapsing, island nations are submerging in acidifying sea water, coral reefs are being bleached, desertification and water security are household words, and dengue fever is making a serous come back.
Have you picked your color?
I am sitting in a brown massaging chair, a rolling machine kneading and digging up and down my spine, both feet soaking in a warm bluish bath. A twenty something woman with ladybugs painted on each fingertip smiles at me patiently. I set down my bottle of Gobsmacked Butter London Nail Lacquer. She nods and I lean back and close my eyes.
Relax. Put your feet up.
The blue footbath water reminds me of swimming in Lake Chabot when I was a teenager. I breathe in and out slowly in an attempt to unwind my shoulder muscles and still my thoughts. Arctic sea ice is melting at an unanticipated and alarming rate. The exposed Arctic earth warms more quickly as it absorbs rather than reflects the suns rays, this in turn, accelerates the release of water vapors which are a greenhouse gas –a deadly system feedback loop.
Walk this way, please.
Ladybug finger lady leads me like a lost puppy shuffling awkwardly on bare feet across a tile floor to a drying table. With a smile and head tilt she directs me to insert my fingers and toes under a purplish light beam. My nails have been sanded, buffed, polished and painted like an old house and looking shinny and new all the layers of primer and base paint need to dry. I wiggle my extremities as they bask in the UV rays. A woman next to me is wearing tan and bejeweled fingerless gloves. She smiles at me and mouths Finger cancer. I smile back not sure what to say, then we both return to clumsily flipping pages of our magazines. Kim Kardashian survived an early and dramatic baby delivery and Angelina Jolie’s son had his iPad stolen while he was playing paintball.
I watch one of the employees slip on a white paper facemask. Two teenagers in short shorts and high heel sandals enter and a bell chimes. An older extremely tan woman with gnarled feet and bright orange toes sits across from me reading People Magazine. I feel claustrophobic. I slip my Gobsmacked toes slowly into my flip-flops, wave at Ladybug and ease out the door. My polish is not completely dry and I absently pick at it, wondering about the chemical smell wafting from each nail tip. I look down at my glittery metallic toes. The silver makes them look longer and thinner.
I am on vacation and a mani/pedi seemed a small luxury in a world designed to tell me I deserve many, but the more layers I peel the stronger the scent of toluene and formaldehyde seems to become. A feeling of despair elbows it’s way past the crowd of other feelings in my stomach like teenagers at a Vampire Diaries signing at ComicCon slipping easily to the front of the line. Despair urges me to keep picking and peeling and when I remove the final Gobsmacked and basecoat layers, my nails seem large, naked and vulnerable.
Nature as we know it is dying and nature as I know it will be dead in my lifetime. The anguish this causes me when I think about it is overwhelming. I Google “eco-friendly salons + San Diego” which does not make me feel better. I am pretty sure we cannot consume our way out of global warming. I am also sure that the devastating reality of climate change is overwhelming enough to lure me into wanting carbon credits, green label purchasing choices and organic beauty salons to be enough. I know I am not alone. The reality of our planet’s possible demise looms large and immediate. I want to dissolve into the background noise of foot traffic outside and not think about the eroding shells of oysters in Elliot Bay or the tap water that lights on fire in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
As a therapist, I am a mandated reporter and am trained, educated and ethically bound to respond to emergencies. I am required to report to authorities if I have reason to believe a child or senior citizen is being abused for example. This requirement is a legal one but it is also moral, ethical. Bystanders of all kinds need the skills, support and capacity to intervene when abuse is happening. Knowing what science is telling us about global warming and appreciating that inaction will undoubtedly inflict the burden of climate change on everyone, but will inevitably impact the most vulnerable far more, I have a moral and ethical if not legal and personal imperative to intervene, to take action.
Our daily existence is intertwined with an overwhelming and ever present existential danger that threatens to incapacitate even the most resilient of people. I hope tending to the mental, emotional and psychological as well as environmental and physical consequences of coming face to face with the insecurity of nature, our planet earth, does not amount to the creation of a new diagnosis and subsequent prescription protocol. We clinicians have to get our hands dirty (mani be damned) and that means understanding, exploring and helping people navigate the links between rising rates of anxiety, depression, interpersonal violence, somatic expressions of dis-ease and global warming. Symptoms must be viewed in the larger environmental context in which they occur and the psychological impact of species extinctions, increasing weather related disasters and planetary insecurity must not be minimized or pathologized. Despair is a reasonable response to global warming and given the proper conditions, can motivate people to take immediate action. We therapists and others in healing professions of all kinds must be compelled to be part of creating those conditions by normalizing and naming the mental, emotional and psychological impact of climate trauma on everyone including ourselves.
Self-care, pampering and small luxuries are important for a healthy and balanced life and are not things to sacrifice in the name of environmental awareness and after considering the environmental impact of any self-care we choose it is critical that we make sure to enjoy it. While I will not be lounging in a brown massaging chair in a nail salon anytime soon, I will be doing self-care of all kinds. After all, we have a lot of work to do and I want to on my game.