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  • Jan Flynn

Do You Suffer From Climate-Change-Related Phobia?

I can’t be the only one . . .

I’ve been focusing on gratitude this month, in both my writing and my life.

It’s November, my favorite month of the year with its cozier weather and the trees and vineyards turning colors in my corner of Northern California, stitching an autumnal-themed crazy quilt across our wine country valley.

Today, though, gratitude is not foremost in my mind.

Because where I live, we’re in our umpteenth red alert of the season. Seriously, I’ve lost track of how many texts I’ve gotten since July from the county Office of Emergency Services and our power company, warning me of high winds, power outages, and potential conflagration.

Maybe you heard or read about the gigantic power shutoffs across large regions of California, back in October? And then the Kincade Fire that tore across nearly 78,000 acres and spurred evacuations across a swath of the state from the San Francisco Bay Area all the way out to Bodega Bay?

Not to mention last fall when the entire town of Paradise, California burned down, and that was after the vast Mendocino Complex fire that ate up 443 square miles, nor the 2017 Sonoma fires that killed 44 people, sent another 192 to the hospital, and whose margins came within a mile and a half of my house.

Welcome to my ‘hood.

My husband and I, our dog, and our house, and our belongings have escaped unscathed so far, and for that I really am grateful. Many others, including friends and relatives of ours, haven’t fared so well. Ranches that have been passed down through generations, family homes that have been lovingly remodeled, new dream houses — all reduced to ash and ruin in the course of a few hellacious hours during one of those fires.

So I’m lucky, and I know it. But when the wind whips up like it’s doing today, I’m as twitchy as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

Like everyone else around here, I put up a good front.

My coworkers and I joke about what kind of hats we’ll wear to the office when the power goes out and our hair is bereft of electrical intervention. My husband prepares by loading our favorite TV shows on his iPad so we’ll have entertainment even if we have to eat straight out of our warming refrigerator. Comparison shopping for generators becomes a lively conversational topic.

Beneath the façade, however, pounds the steady, dull drumbeat of chronic anxiety. And as each fire season grows in duration and ferocity, it becomes harder and harder to avoid the realization that repeated, lengthy power failures and the threat of incipient immolation is no longer exceptional.

“Welcome to the new normal,” we say to one another, laughing bitterly as we don breathing masks when the smoke blows in.

Like a soldier who’s spent too long at the front, my bravado is wearing thin.

I recognize that I’m triggered by things I once regarded as commonplace. Which is pretty much the definition of a phobia, or a building collection of them. I’m no psychiatrist, but I’m prepared to self-diagnose. I’m willing to bet my favorite fire extinguisher that I’m not alone in suffering:

Ancraophobia. Also known as anemophobia, this is the fear of wind. According to Wikipedia, it is a disorder that anyone can develop, usually following a traumatic or negative experience involving wind.

It doesn’t take five degrees in psychology to figure that one out. The wiki goes on to assure the reader that “it is rather uncommon, and can be treated.” Also: The fear of wind is caused by the mind over-estimating the danger caused by wind, believing that wind presents an actual threat, when in reality, it may not.

Try telling that to anyone anywhere near Santa Rosa, California who lived through that demonic, incendiary windstorm on the night of October 7, 2017. In addition to a dread of wind, there is the obvious:

Pyrophobia. Asyou might guess, this is a fear of fire. I see no need to elaborate, except to say this could explain my compulsion, barely suppressed, to rear-end the motorist in front of me who tossed his live cigarette butt out of his car window into the tinder-dry brush along Highway 29. I also have a touch of:

Chromophobia. This denotes the fear of color and is the closest term I could find to denote the sinking, heart-constricting sensation I feel these days upon hearing the word “red” in a certain context. As in, “red alert.” And after losing my innocent faith that flicking a switch in my house will produce light, I am now prone to:

Adynamiophobia. Okay, I made this one up. In an alphabetical listing of phobias, I couldn’t find one that named the fear of losing electricity. Or even losing power. Trust me, though, when you’ve had your power go out repeatedly but at irregular intervals and for unpredictable stretches of time, it takes a toll on your 21st-century, tech-dependent psyche.

Adynamia is Greek for “weakness,” so my cobbled-together term literally means a fear of weakness. But close enough.

Does this post look cynical on me?

The darkness of an early November evening is descending at last, and the wind is dying down. The lights are on, the wifi is robust, and we seem to have come through another gut-clenching episode of what we desperately hope is the end of the 2019 fire season in California.

If indeed fire season has an end anymore. A siren has just begun wailing from the fire station a few blocks away as I write this. I’m not making this up.

I promise you I am very, very grateful for our firefighters.

Featured image: Photo by Michael Held on Unsplash

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