I can remember when I first came here.
I had been living in the middle of a forest for seven years, with pine trees, spruces and various kinds of leaf trees all around me. The river would run by, I only had to walk for five minutes or so to get to the beach. On both sides of my apartment there were green fields with different animals; sheep, mostly, but also cows and horses. My neighbour even had a tame white fox that would come by every now and then to see if I had been eating anything tasty, hoping I’d left a bite for him in my garbage.
My cats would run free, jumping in and out of my bedroom window at will. Occasionally, they’d be so kind as to bring me food from the wild. Mostly dead, and sometimes not so dead mice and frogs were frequently on the menu. There is nothing quite like trying to catch a snow mouse under your couch in the middle of the night!
A badger had his nest just a few meters from where I’d park my car. One time I even had two giant badgers fighting right outside of my front door, smacking it shut with a bang when my partner (at the time) for some insane reason tried to open it to see what was going on.
At night, I’d hear the moose call. I’d hear an owl every now and then, and birds would sing each and every morning outside my open bedroom window.
Then I came here.
It was OK, at first, to live in such a crowded area. I got rid of my cats, due to my serious allergies which I had been trying to ignore for way too long, and it felt so good to finally own a house, to start a real family with my new partner.
But then it set in. I had no words for it at the time, though. All I knew was that my heart was breaking. There was no place left for me to hide. When I’d feel the need to run down to the river, there was no river – only a dammed-up excuse for one. When I felt the need to smell the pine scented, warm forest, there was no forest to be found – there were a few trees here and there, and I could see the dark, wonderful forest from my porch, but it was too far away. I could see it – but I couldn’t reach it.
I couldn’t feel it.
And I cried.
My good Goddess, how I cried. Night after night I’d just break down in tears, not able to stop the endless streams down my face, knowing I would not be able to survive if I couldn’t reconnect with nature and let my roots grow deep into the new land I was standing on. I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest, so completely desolate, alone… and disconnected.
It actually took me three years to regain my balance and to discover the places I could reach from here. A nice lady told me how I could take a shortcut and get into the woods in only about 10-15 minutes by foot, and it saved my sanity. That summer was spent outside, walking, running, fleeing, crying and reconnecting with myself and with my beloved nature. I finally found rich, earthy nourishment for my roots again.
And I finally healed.
After this experience, I find I have become extremely sensitive to environmental changes in the immediate nature around me. For the last year or so my city has started chopping down forest all over the place – and I swear I can feel the trees hurting. The energy of pain is all around at such sites, and I feel so deprived. So let down. So completely and utterly miserable and ignored. Helpless. Angry and resigned.
It’s like I’m living in my very own, personal Avatar movie. I actually had to brace myself from screaming in sheer agony and frustration when I went to the movies and saw that one, because the pain was so familiar to me.
Last week I picked up a book by Richard Louv called The Nature Principle. A few chapters into it, he starts talking about something called solastalgia, a term coined by the Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht, and it hit home with me. Hard.
In a 2004 essay, he coined a term to describe it: “solastalgia,” a combination of the Latin word solacium (comfort) and the Greek root –algia (pain), which he defined as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault . . . a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.’” NY Times
I have no doubt in my heart that this is an actual, mental and emotional pain. I know that if my forest, my solace, were destroyed and taken from me, I would suffer beyond words and quite possibly manifest physical symptoms as well.
And it makes me wonder.
What are we doing to the planet, we are doing to ourselves. We are only now starting to research how nature can heal and sooth us, and how it impacts our mental, emotional and physical health. I think we’ve only just seen the beginning of this trend, and there will be many more scientific reports to come and many more healing methods based on this ecopsychology.
Because what if?
What if depressions, anxiety and general stress actually stems, at least in part, from this solastalgia? What if we actually need nature around us to feel supported, safe, sane and balanced? I know that there are many more factors that need to be taken into account, but what if access to green, living, breathing nature is one of our core conditions for living a healthy, happy life?
Would we stop destroying nature if we realized that we are actually bringing mental suffering on ourselves, in the here and now, as opposed to a possible environmental disaster in some distant future?
I truly don’t know.
But I do know this:
If you are one of the ones who feel this solastalgia, you need to speak up. There will always be someone who picks up on something first, and they need to make the others aware. Don’t think that you are insane. You aren’t.