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Eco-Anxiety: My Personal Experience

My name is Margot Pomeroy and I study environmental science at the University of Pittsburgh. I am less than a year away from my undergraduate degree, though the road has been long and meandering.

This was in no small part due to the mental health phenomena termed, “eco-anxiety”. 

I was born a Pittsburgher but I have lived in seven different cities in three different countries. As a teenager, my family packed up a life that had been stable for nearly 10 years (still our longest record) and moved us to Switzerland. Now, as a consequence of my dad’s career in the airline industry (and a wanderlust that has planted his feet on 122 different countries), my brother and I had already seen so much of the world. But nothing could be more different than viewing another culture as an onlooker compared to viewing another country from the inside. Though, that’s not to say we seamlessly integrated into Swiss culture. 

Margot Pomeroy, who writes about her experience with eco-anxiety. 2020.


My mother had always been environmentally conscientious and tried to make small efforts like recycling, buying organic, or shopping with reusable bags long before it was trendy.

But even still, Switzerland really broadened our horizons.

The Swiss have culturally instilled values that favor respect of the environment and nature--values that have been ingrained over a longer timeline than Americans can fathom. In Switzerland, you clean and sort your own recycling and take it to a location somewhere in your town where you are expected to sort it yourself. This isn’t so much an optional activity as a societal expectation. And nothing can describe the heavy judgment you could incur by doing these things incorrectly. We started using public transportation. At the young age of 14, I was traveling around the city on my own, taking buses and trams to and from school. The positive environmental impacts of public transit were sort of a secondary benefit to the convenience and freedom.

And while I hear that times have changed, I will never forget the first time we went into a grocery store and couldn’t find any organic food. We asked the nearest English-speaker, who baffled us with the information that everything was organic.

So, you see, it would’ve been quite hard to expand your environmental footprint in a society where it is less convenient to do so. 

That said, my dad worked in the airline industry, which is one of the worst industries, environmentally speaking. But International experiences were very important to him. In Switzerland I attended an International School with 120 nationalities and I've travelled to 22 countries.

Coming back to the USA hit me hard.

It was painfully clear that a lot of people simply don't have an expanded perspective of the world. You return with this understanding that there is so much to learn from other cultures--things that other places are doing better--while America holds this unsubstantiated pride in their own excellence above all others. So, I am very privileged and yet often feel alienated by my own experiences and perspectives, as if there is no place for them here.

After moving back to the USA, I got into an accident and developed chronic nerve pain. I was bedridden for several years and have overcome addiction and PTSD, with no small effort. I still struggle with treatment-resistant depression and generalized anxiety, but I am doing well, all things considered.

And in 2020, I’d say that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.

When I finally made it to school, I ended up aligning with environmental science as a study. I've had an interest in sustainable agriculture for years now and I work as a Permaculture Designer. But I won’t say the experiences of my youth didn’t shape my value system.

But my college career wasn’t a straight-shot.

In fact, University of Pittsburgh is the third college I’ve attended. I will speak to anyone out there who has ended up in a major that doesn’t suit them or a school that doesn’t align with their values, doesn’t advocate for them, or doesn’t foster a student body that is inclusive--sometimes experiencing a “wrong fit” is what helps you learn what is right for you.  

I’ve learned that Environmental Science is the right fit for me.

It’s so critically important to me. Climate change is one of the few things that affects everyone on this planet, whether we choose to accept it or not. And right now the world really needs us to be involved and be educated so we can prepare for the future.

But I’ll be the first to admit, it's often quite difficult to cope with the powerlessness and doom of the Climate Change situation.

I transferred to the University of Pittsburgh after taking a whole year off of school. One of the many reasons for my time off was the challenge of juggling mental health struggles with what I had been referring to as "eco-angst" until now. Hearing Heather White speak during one of my class lectures was incredibly validating. When I had stepped away from my studies, I didn’t know if I’d have it in me to go back.

But I think that sometimes giving something a name--owning it--is what allows us to push through.

I have experienced countless severe and incapacitating mental health crisis, and giving up has never been the way out

Margot Pomeroy is a guest contributor to the Eco-Anxiety Blog. She is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh.


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