Questions from a Texas Blue Jay

Dear Peak Shrink,

I love your website and what you do for people.

I have spent some time here reading the site and mostly I have been taking things in, but I have never expressed anything outwardly about my feelings surrounding peak oil, climate change, resource depletion, economic collapse, overpopulation or any of the many other ways I feel we are headed for decline.

I first heard about peak oil nearly 3 years ago after being bored and randomly watching a Netflix movie called A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash. From there, the bottom of my world dropped out from under me and I was quite literally shocked, astonished, upset and obsessed with the idea peak oil and nothing being as it seemed.

At first I spoke out, who wouldn’t?  I spoke to husband and family – sister, mom, etc.  But then quickly learned like a slap in the face that no one wants to hear about this.  Everyone thought I was crazy – I was dismissed.  My sister rolled her eyes at me like she knew so much more than me and I was an idiot to fall for such “liberal media attempts” to control my thinking and that we are never going to run low on oil.  It was the most preposterous of suggestions; she wouldn’t even give me the time of day.  I’ve never really forgiven her for that, although she doesn’t know it because now I keep my mouth closed about my thoughts, beliefs, and world view around just about everybody.

Even my husband, who is pretty even keeled (if extremely traditional and not always open to new ideas) was turned off and completely shut out my alarmist freaking out at the thought of what is going to happen to us.  This was around the time when oil was hitting its all time high in 2008 and every day in the news seemed to creepily reinforce what I was learning about from the web and books, and mostly just extensive, extensive reading.  He wouldn’t even consider it.  I freaked out and put it away but never really forgot it.

But the issues brought forth and my new view of what we were really doing would not stay put away.  I secretly worried about a crazy collapse like everyone running around with no food or money and no clean water, crime (I live in the city), real mad max scenarios.   How would I take care of my now 6 year old daughter?  I continued to frequent website like energybulletin.net for news about what I couldn’t understand wasn’t on the front page of every newspaper because this was seemingly the only thing that mattered.  Why wasn’t everyone talking about it?

I’ve gone through the most intense self doubt and feelings of absolute craziness – am I crazy for thinking something so counter to the world I inhabit or is everyone else crazy?  Basically ever since finding out about peak oil, I have experienced this low level sense of unreality, like how can we just go on like this? Uncaring? Unchanging?  And yet this isn’t very helpful because this describes me as well to an extent – I have not shown pervasive, broad changes in my life, although I dream about and worry about what we should do –where and how would we be safest?  Where/how do we establish ourselves in a community?  How come the whole idea of community seems so foreign?  I mostly resign myself to small changes and inaction on any large scale because how can we know what the future holds?  Where should we live?  Should we buy our own house?  We are living with my mother in her paid for home in [large city in TX], which is going pretty well, but I long to make bigger changes than just starting a small garden and it is understood that we are only staying for a while.  How do I get my family on board with me?  The issue has not gone away, obviously, my husband recently admitted in a huge blowout fight we had that this is the thing he hates the most about me – what he perceives as my unending negativity about the future.  He wrote to me in anger that no he does not want to watch another movie with me or read another article with me about how bad the world is.  He said it depressed him and makes him feel helpless.  He did say he would be willing to listen if I didn’t overwhelm him all at once.

I have been trying harder recently to climb out of my insulated way of worrying and thinking and come out to meet my husband where he is – our relationship is terribly important to me.  Although I have had at times felt like he was a hindrance to doing the things I thought I might do with my life without him, I no longer believe that to be so.

The hardest part is talking to him – I’ve etched away at him over the years – we have talked about energy and overconsumption, the damage we are doing to the earth.  (He brought that one up in a strange conversation in bed when he asked me if I ever thought the earth was like kinda trying to heal herself  – if that’s what things like crazy hurricane that kill so many people are all about.  We have hurricanes in our part of the world the last bad one was “Ike”).  We are of like mind on so many things – but not everything.  The heart of what I think and worry about is still mostly out of view, because it is so unpopular, so decidedly not mainstream, so radical.  What do you do with the knowledge that our way of life cannot continue – this is the message I carry at its most basic level. I hardly know what to do with it – the changes we’ve made are good but are really way, way too little.   Perhaps it is too little too late.

I feel this urgency to do something, to ready ourselves somehow, but I’m so fearful of making a stand and really getting to the heart of why I am a proponent for all of the simplicity I try for – for considering homeschooling, for, frugality, for considering farm life – which is a pipe dream for our family now.  It is something we all kind of think would be cool but have never really addressed seriously.  And is this even right for us?

I’ve never had that frank conversation with my husband; I so much prefer not to alienate him.  I like him when we are on the same side as we are now.  But at the same time it is painful and hard to live this way sometime – going to work and continuing the daily grind for what?  Why are we working so hard and for what?  Where are we going?  How do I sell my husband on the fact that we might not live in a bigger home than our parents and make more money than they did and be able to go on fancy vacations?  I know he just wants to be productive and useful – he’s said that to me a lot lately.   I know he just wants to enjoy life as much as he can as well.

So, how do you approach the end of growth?  How do we change our perceptions and wants?  Are we evil for putting it all away and watching Netflix?  For stuffing it with cocktails at happy hour?  For forgetting and diverting ourselves with insignificant externalities?  Should I be facing this more squarely?

The times I do face it, I run into so much resistance – there’s rancor between my husband and I.  I feel like we are in holding pattern – what is going to change soon?  Where are we going?  Where do we want to be going?  And how do we get there?  I think I need clarity more than I need harmony right now.  What do you think?

Am I too late in the game for it to matter?  What can I do?  How can I convince my husband and family to change with me?

I apologize for the length of this letter and thank you so much for allowing me the space to write this.

Sincerely,

Blue Jay from Texas

**********************

Dear Blue Jay,

The questions you ask are value questions.  They are the kinds of questions everyone needs to  focus on right now.  What do you value in your life?  Where will you put your time and attention?  If you just accept what is currently being talked about by the MSM, you have a lot to be talking about, you and your husband.  And he’s told you something very important, which is that he, too, is thinking about how he can be productive and useful.  I think you need to keep that goal of his front and center, because he means so much to you.

So how does a person begin to sort all of this out?  Where do they begin?

Pragmatically, they have to start by taking out a map, drawing two circles around their home, one 5 miles out and one 10 miles out, and start to ask very very basic questions:

  • Where does our water come from?  Is there enough of it that falls every year?  Are there laws that prevent us from collecting rainwater?  Do I need electricity to get access to my water?
  • Where are the toxic dumps near me?  How do they impact health and food growing?
  • Are their ports or railroads?  Is there another way for products to get into my area other than trucks?
  • What does the government say about the quality of my land?  Is any of it designated as farmland or livestock land?  Is any of it fit for food production?
  • Who are my neighbors?  Do I know them?  Do I have any shared history with them?  Do we have any common problems we all live with (like speeding cars, poor schools or destructive teenagers or break-ins?)  How are they ‘like me?’  How are they different than me?  What skills do they have that I lack?  What skills do I have that are useful to them?
  • What family do I have?  How far away do they live?  What skills do they have?  What “hobbies” do they enjoy?  How many are within that 5-10 mile radius?
  • What raw materials and products are produced within my area?  Will these materials still be needed as we power-down?
  • What cooking skills does my household have?  Can I make food from scratch?  Do I have a basic cookbook that teaches me how?  (one that doesn’t say “take one can of mushroom soup”)  Do I cook like this at least once a week?
  • What basic homemaking skills does my household have?  Can we put on a button?  Sew a tear in our clothes?  Make a simple shirt or pants? Knit or crochet?  Do we know how to can or dry food?
  • What basic household skills does my household have?  Can they do basic carpentry, plumbing, electrical?
  • What basic mechanical skills does my household have?  Can we fix a simple motor?  Change the oil?  Clean a carburetor?  Do simple bike repairs?  Do we know how the machines we use every day work?
  • What basic emergency medical skills does my household have?  Has anyone taken a basic Red Cross Emergency Preparedness course?  Nursing classes?
  • Are we healthy?  Have we kept up with dental care or medical check-ups?  Do we follow the advice we’re given to maintain our health?

If  you start any of these projects, you are going to feel better emotionally, and  you are going to know that you are gathering important information and developing necessary skills.

Blue Jay, this is not an “all or nothing” project.  Enjoy your movies every once in a while, but if you like wine, watch wine making videos.  Choose which YouTube videos to watch.  Not this one, unless your husband wants to learn the song and the moves to sing to you when the electricity goes out.  Maybe outdoor stuff, if it’s alien to you.  It’s okay to have fun.  You have to live in your world as it is today, while preparing yourself for tomorrow’s changes.  No one calls someone taking a Red Cross Emergency Preparedness course a “nut job.”  Anyone on a hike would me mighty glad you did, if they needed you.  The issue is not “can I do it all today?”  You can’t.  The issue is whether you are starting to take responsibility for examining  your situation squarely and weighing what you need to do in what order.  If you are frozen, start where you just “feel like” starting.  You’ll quickly know if that works for you.

Your sister doesn’t have to “believe” in Peak Oil in order to help you learn to sew, if she can do that and you can’t.  Your husband doesn’t have to be a “doomer” to get interested in putting up emergency supplies for the next hurricanes.   There is so much to do, start anywhere.  But start.  Assess where  you are and where you want to go, and until you can do the big stuff, do what’s doable.

Thanks for writing!

Kathy

“The Peak Shrink”

About Kathy McMahon

Kathy McMahon Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist who is internationally known for her writing about the psychological impacts of Peak Oil, climate change, and economic collapse. She's written for Honda Motors, and has been featured in American Prospect, Greenpeace International, the Vancouver Sun, Freakonomics, Itulip, Ecoshock Radio, and Peak Moments Television.

Comments

  1. homesteader in paradise says:

    Dear Blue Jay. Thank you for writing in to the Peak Oil Shrink. I usually have my coffee in the morning before work (while this job still exists) and read this blog.
    You have made my day! I could have wrote what you did, almost word for word. My experience in discovering peak everything (the 3 E’s)was only about six months ago. Since then I have had the same responses as you have. I have had the same experience with people as you have. But mostly I have had the same response from my wife as you have had with your husband. I think I understand why you are feeling the way you are because I am there too.
    I would like to think that my whole life I have been working to a common goal. One that was presented and formed by school, church, parents, media, and government. When I say common, I mean as shared by my peers, family, co-workers, friends, and most anyone you meet at functions and even on vacation.
    What I have come to believe is that we have discovered a reality that was really there all those years. We have just ‘awakened” to how we as people got here and where we are truly going. Something like that takes a lot of time to adjust to. Also, most people do not want to consider anything other than what they have been immersed in since birth. If you want to take a bit of a breather, watch the first “Matrix” movie again if you haven’t watched it already. In the movie, there is a person that actually WANTS to go back into the place of ignorant bliss. I believe there are people that do not want to live in truth. If they really do, but don’t jump in with you right away, try to understand that they are on there own journey and that they may never come out of the “Matrix”. You, on the other hand have decided to take the “red pill”. (a reference to the movie once again). You have chosen to wake up and have a strong desire to live in truth. I wish to do the same. It is why I went to college, purchased a house as soon as I could, followed the rest of society towards what I THOUGHT was my life’s work. Awakening to the truth has put my mind on a different course. My physical self is still going through the usual, buying groceries, watching movies with my wife and kids, going out to dinner with friends, etc. What I have been doing is reading and educating myself on how to maneuver around the idea that I am basically alone here in my thinking. The only other people I can talk to are on the internet.
    I live in a community that is fully involved with SUV’s, swimming pools, where their kids are going to go to university and when they can collect their pensions.

    I don’t think that we have that much time left before the whole thing changes. If you really look at it, you will see that we all really are wanting the same thing.
    SECURITY. The only difference that I see is that MY idea has shifted of what security really is. If I own chickens, my security in food is right there, running around in the yard clucking. If I have a garden, I am watching my food grow. My security in heating my family is a pile of wood stacked and drying waiting for the winter. My security in everything becomes a more self reliant way of living. My grandparents lived like that. They didn’t even trust the banks! Not a bad idea eh?
    So what I see that everybody else is still doing is seeking security through what they have been told to since childhood.
    Security in food is at the store, security in old age is in a 401k, security in making money is in education and a good job. Some people may make it. We may stretch this way of living on for a few more years. We will see things not get growing like they did.
    My priority is this: I need to have a partner in life that is with me in thick and thin. I am working every day to strengthen my relationship with my wife. We will need to be strong for us and our children.
    The way we think is going to be the most important piece of equipment we have. I am reading as much as I can about the three E’s (economy, energy, and environment). I am also seeing people work everyday for their security. I can function better knowing that we all want the same thing. It will take time for others to realize that security is not where they thought it was.
    Let people around you live on their own journey. Enjoy their company, and know that they, one day, may ask you what you know.
    Just not right now.
    Good luck, and thanks again for writing in.

  2. Great letter, and great response! Welcome to the land so many of us inhabit, of living a kind of double life. I have found it takes years to merge the two lives I live, and even now, I seldom talk about it fully with anyone. At work, I’m the harmless ‘plant lady’ who likes to garden. Those who are interested gravitate to my room to discuss plants and gardening, and leave with a four-pack of celery or parsley starts. At home, my husband does ‘get it’ but does not want to talk about it all the time. I have to speak to his interests, which are more on the business and idea side of P.O. rather than the nuts and bolts of practical life.
    My observation is that in most marriages one person is intensely practical about P.O. and does most of the prepping, and maybe that is a good balance- part of how we help each other in our families.
    Most of us end up promoting “other” interests- camping, bike riding, gardening, keeping chickens, saving money food shopping by buying on sale and in bulk, garage sales, and so forth. I notice the .gov is promoting an energy saving program for insulation and caulking- saves money and is a good prep.
    Thank you for your clear expression of your dilemma – it helped me!

  3. Shamba says:

    Blue Jay, remember this: You are NOT alone, you are NOT alone, You are NOT alone ….. there are lots of us who are with you.

    peace,
    shamba

  4. Stephen says:

    A very pragmatic response to something that is very, very easy to become overwhelmed thinking about. Thank you Kathy.

  5. that kind of chiming in helps folks. Thanks for your comments!

  6. Blue Jay,

    Even though it’s painful and scary and lonely, you are lucky. You really are. You know where you are and you can, as Kathy explained so beautifully, begin. Assess your strengths and your weaknesses and begin. Every thing you do now will prepare you for what is coming and help you help those you love when the time comes. They will be glad you prepared, and so will you. If they can’t join in with you, you can view your preparations as a secret gift you are giving them. When I think of it that way, it makes me smile…

  7. Hello Blue Jay, Your experience is my experience. My Peak Oil moment happened in 2005. I experienced a lot of isolation and despair and my wife has slowly come around. My happiest discovery, one that turned me from an oh-my-God-oh-my-God-nobody’s-doing-or-even-saying-anything! distractoid, was when i learned about the Transition movement. “The Transition Movement is a vibrant, international grassroots movement that seeks to build community resilience in the face of such challenges as peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis. It represents one of the most promising ways of engaging people in strengthening their communities against the effects of these challenges, resulting in a life that is more abundant, fulfilling, equitable and socially connected.” Check out http://www.transitionus.ning.com and there is a transition texas website: http://www.transitiontexas.ning.com. Please, listen to Rob Hopkins’ 17 minute talk at http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/rob_hopkins_transition_to_a_world_without_oil.html
    and you can download The Transition Handbook free as a PDF (or buy it at a bookstore). He is a Brit. The Brits and the Irish are about 6 years ahead of us on this kind of awareness. Anyway, his book was the fourth most popular book taken on vacation by British members of parliament. It is a guidebook for communities for transition to post-petroleum living.

    In the cultural transformation that has started, discovery of the need for big changes is the first step, consideration of the implications (mega die-offs, etc.) is the second step then, i believe, “i must do something!” is the third… and there quickly comes WE MUST DO SOMETHING as the fourth. You are not alone. Transitioners, Permaculture people and 4YG people and conservation and environmental activists (who have been waiting for us since Silent Spring was published) are REALLY coming together now. And now is the hour.
    I am just like you. My Peak Oil Moment was 2005. Now, i have spoken to county commissioners, county planners, city planners, emergency preparedness co-ordinators and a Rotary Club meeting. I have told them that James Schlesinger (yep, our former Secretary of Energy and Defense and a director of the CIA), said at the Energy Conference in Cork, Ireland in 2007, “the battle is over. The peakists have won. We’re all peakists now.” I’m not going to let my community sleepwalk into the future and i don’t enjoy frightening people. I want us to feel good about each other and to have real communities.
    We did get a farm. We are growing wheat (one acre) and have a half-acre garden. Most “jobs” seem pointless to me. My wife still wants me to “save our marriage before saving the planet.” (that means “get a job and help with the mortgage!”) We are all going to get real in the next few years.
    Here’s my anchor: i believe in loving God who is all powerful. We are supposed to love each other. I know it says that in the Bible. All the business crap is pretty much crap. We are not our bodies and we never were. Death is not seperation of the soul from the body but seperation of the soul from God. Our job is to stay cool, and do our best to love God and each other. I think everyone is going to come around morally eventually. (i love Pat Meadows’ Theory of Anyway: “I shouldn’t do X because it has any chance of single-hanedly saving the world; instead, i should do X just because it is the right thing to do.”) Still, we do have the greatest challenge that ever touched our civilization approaching us at an ever increasing rate.
    I’m glad you are paying attention. God bless you and the rest of us too.

  8. Thank you for posting this letter and your response. I’ve been thinking about the inevitable fallout we’re facing a lot lately, and how to prepare for it, and didn’t know where to begin. Your response helps me think of what I can start doing today, where I live, and I needed that.

  9. Start with baby steps.
    When you open a can or jar, note it on your grocery list, and next trip buy 2.It doesn`t bust the budget,but over time you can build up a store of goods.And, 10 to 1 ,your husband will never notice.This will give you some peace of mind.
    Take up a “hobby”, like canning or dehydrating. Or maybe knitting,crocheting or sewing.Husbands seem to like their wives busy with something rather than this week`s honey-do list.Leaves them time for their golf game or NASCAR race.
    Undercover prepping. It`s doable.

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