My childhood bedroom had pastel yellow walls with blue hand-painted stars sprinkled across the slanted ceilings, a remnant from its previous resident.
At night I would lie in bed, tracing the outlines of stars with my eyes that I could just barely make out through the moonlight streaming in from a small window. Growing up, I was an anxious kid. It would often hit me at night as I was trying to fall asleep; worries that I would forget to pack my homework assignment due at school the next day, worries about making friends at the new school district we had just moved to, or worries that I would forget my lines in the next choir concert. I would lay in bed for what felt like forever without falling asleep, my mind racing a thousand miles a minute.
Growing up in Boston, I spent a lot of time thinking about the ocean. My parents would take my brother and I to visit Wingaersheek and Crane beaches just north of the city to explore the tide pools. There was nothing better than laying on my stomach on a rock that had been basking in the sun for hours and feeling the warmth on my skin, listening to waves lapping on the shore, and the cool ocean air swirling around my head. I loved peering into the world of a single tide pool, imagining what it would be like to be a snail, crab, or barnacle that lives amongst the bright green algae.
Although they are small, these creatures are also some of the most resilient, able to withstand harsh conditions like scorching sun, cold winds, and crashing waves. In school when we learned about climate change for the first time, my immediate worries were about sea level rise — how this would impact the tide pools we had seen firsthand — and which parts of Boston would be underwater if the ocean rose by one foot, or two feet, or five feet.
As I learned more about the world around me, my anxiety continued to mount.
My mom encouraged me to start writing down my worries on a list next to my bed. If I wrote down everything I needed to remember the next morning, I would have a to-do list for myself the next day — an easy solution! And so, each night before bed, I wrote. I kept a small note pad beside my Hello Kitty alarm clock and I found it a little bit easier to fall asleep, not having to spend as long counting the stars above my head.
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about climate change. At times it can be all consuming and I have felt grief in acknowledging this reality. Bottling up my grief and anxiety over climate change is not helpful. As I have learned more about myself and how to be in this world, I am more aware of ways that I can soothe and find my balance, which is so needed.
The act of writing down my worries, feelings and emotions is simple – but I know from experience that it can help to process and understand them. Not to get rid of them or stop mulling them over, but to give them validation. Taking the time I need to place my feelings, to name my worries, and to see them in a clear light is healing. When I write I can feel the tension release from my shoulders.
I’ve also learned that talking about climate change through the sharing of stories can be really cathartic, and talking about it with another person can be a sort of therapy, to feel that someone is listening and cares.
Sharing our stories is a particularly powerful and intimate way to connect us in our humanness. The relief and community you feel when someone says, “Yes, I have felt that too!” is like coming up for air after diving beneath a crashing wave.
While I am now far from the ocean, I still often think back to those tide pools. My fascination with their color and “other-worldliness” was what got me interested in studying the environment in the first place.
But, we can no longer rely on just the science to make climate action happen. The stories, emotions, and feelings of communities are some of the strongest motivators we have to build a better future.
So I’m calling on myself and my community to lean into this vulnerability as a strength rather than a weakness, because we all have stories to tell. Will you join me?