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These days, we are hearing all about “the end of the world” or some sort of “doomsday” scenario. Especially now, with coronavirus largely uncontained in various countries, it seems like we’re as close as we’ve ever been to living in a world similar to The Walking Dead or Mad Max. Doomsday preppers are having the times of their lives, wallowing in disturbing conspiracy theories and stocking up on supplies better suited for families in need.

But while I am dealing with all of the emotions any other human is dealing with when confronting this crisis, and many other crises, such as climate change and the upcoming presidential election, I am also oddly at peace. It’s a strange mix of feelings to have, but the peace I do have is something I’ve worked hard for. It’s because I have realized that in the eye of the storm, there is always calm. And with that calm means there’s an opportunity for learning and growth. For us during this time, I think there’s time to think about how the phrase “the end of the world” blocks us from actually seeing the opportunities we have to change the world for the better. It also blocks us from the solution-oriented mindset needed to make those changes come about.

Doomsdays have already happened

A cased, black-and-white image of an African American boy holding a white male baby on his lap.
Unidentified Daguerreotype of an African American child holding a white male baby, 1850s (Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture)

I’ve always hated when people try to discuss “the end of the world.” The first reason is because they generally mean “the end of human civilization,” or “the end of the Western way of life” not the actual end of the earth.

The other is a lot more layered and actually refers to the aforementioned Western way of life people are so beholden to keeping. A lot of the American fantasy about doomsday revolves around a changing of power, whether that’s the poor coming up to eat the rich, the racial bottom classes upending the racial hierarchy, or both. Take a look at America’s films about the end of the world. “The World” is usually just “America,” and “America” is usually just white people. People of color, and the amount of strife they’ve dealt with over the centuries, generally isn’t at the forefront of actual doomsday talk.

However, it is we who have actually lived through several ends of worlds. It was doomsday when slaves were stolen from their homes and kidnapped into slavery thousands of miles away in “the new world.” It was doomsday when Christopher Columbus knowingly brought smallpox to native people in West Indies, killing them en masse. It was doomsday when white settlers killed Native Americans, stole their lands, destroyed legally-binding treaties, and enacted the Trail of Tears. It was doomsday when Japanese-Americans were forced to go into internment camps because they were perpetually seen as less than American. There have been many ends of worlds, but those worlds weren’t deemed important enough by American society to matter.

There have been doomsdays across the globe, such as the Holocaust, Armenian genocide, Palestinian occupation and murder, warfare in Africa, and more. Within our country, reverberations of doomsday still continue, with unequal access to clean water and other types of eco-racism (i.e. Flint, Michigan), lack of resources for poor and at-risk families, racism of the macro and micro varieties, drug addictions and violence seizing communities, lack of access to proper healthcare, education and representation. Everyday, someone’s world is ending, so the question isn’t when the world will end, because it’s ending for someone all the time. The real question is if those of us who are affected by all of these various doomsdays will listen and do something about it.

What can we do about a doomsday? A lot, actually. But we must actually experience it first. While some of us are going through a rough ride of emotions due to the coronavirus, I experienced that roller coaster a while ago, before this iteration of the coronavirus was even in existence. Little did I know that my experience with my own doomsday would help me understand more about how we as a human collective can rethink the concept altogether.

Experiencing my own doomsday

"I needed to take a photo of someone I was familiar with, so I asked my roommate. With a packet of biscuits as payment she agreed to sit and let me and my camera delve deep"--Olayinka Babalola
Photo by Olayinka Babalola on Unsplash

I’ve always been someone who struggled with depression and anxiety because I, like many, am a perfectionist. I’ve always felt like I’ve had to overcompensate for my perceived lack, even though I’m realizing I’ve had nothing to overcompensate for. As a child, I was made to think by adults outside of the home that my emotions, particularly my penchant for crying, were weaknesses. I felt like I wasn’t made to properly exist and cope with life, so I struggled to keep my crying in. I still had the ability to stand up for myself in certain situations, but I didn’t try to stand up for myself where it personally counted—when I was made to feel less than because of how I perceived the world. Therefore, I always felt like I was a problem that needed to be fixed, and if I stressed myself out enough trying to be perfect, I could, at some point, fix myself and finally feel appreciated by those I felt were stronger than me.

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All of my maladapted coping mechanisms hit a tipping point two and a half years ago when I got a job in an office space as a newspaper reporter and social media manager. Even though I was already part of the workforce as a freelance writer, this was my first office job, or as some would say, my first “real” job. I believed that (placing my prior work on a lower rung) and wanted to make everyone proud of me. I wanted to finally feel like I was living the dream of being a journalist with a home paper to report to. But my emotional state didn’t prepare me for having a verbally and emotionally abuse boss, someone who was clearly damaged from some past trauma. Instead of being responsible and seeking help, he instead projected all of his insecurities on us workers, belittling us simply because he felt like the entire paper—a paper meant for the community—was his vanity project.

Eventually I quit. Not before giving him a piece of my mind as I quit (and finally shutting him up). I stayed at that job for a year before quitting, dealing with his micromanagement of my job, him piling on more and more duties I wasn’t getting properly paid for, him making me cry in his office and calling me the worst person he’s ever managed, him calling me all times of day and night nagging me about inconsequential things. I was a shell of my former self, my proficiency at my job was draining. I was second-guessing aspects of my proficiency I’d never second-guessed before, wondering what type of unimaginable mistakes I’ve made in my work, mistakes that only presented themselves according to my boss’ whims. My passion for journalism was nearing its end. Things got so bad that my parents came to berate him one day, and my dad said something that stuck with me. He said he knew what an abused person looked like, and he could tell I was being abused. He didn’t tell my boss how he knew, but I knew—my dad had grown up with abuse from my grandfather and did whatever he could not to follow in his footsteps. He had seen that look from my grandmother, from his siblings, and from himself. I was a reflection of what he had lived, and I resolved not to let that go on. So the next time I was chewed out, I chewed my boss out instead and quit.

But quitting didn’t solve the doomsday. It only worsened it. I felt like I had let everyone down, especially since I’d quit without another “real” job in the wings waiting for me. I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone what had happened to me for fear that they would believe my boss instead of me. All of the insecurities I felt throughout my life seemed to find a home in my boss’ lies. I would think, “If he found all of those problems with me, what if I’ve been right the whole time about myself?” I sunk in a deep depression, and my anxiety got to its highest height, to the point where I was voluntarily looking up articles on people’s ideas of what doomsday could look like. I was obsessed with painting every day as a day closer to when climate change would snag us, when our pollution would kill us. I felt like I was done, had no more options, no more hope, no more chances to redeem myself or prove my worth. If I was done, I felt like the earth was done, too.

What my doomsday taught me

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It might seem selfish to think that the earth exists on our timetables, that it is fine when we’re fine and it’s hurt when we’re hurt. The earth is a lot more autonomous than that, despite it having to deal with the issues humanity presents it. But that kind of selfishness is what we engage in when we feel like our personal worlds are crashing. When things change in a way we didn’t foresee, we feel like everything is over. But that is simply not the case.

It took me a long time to realize that my personal doomsday was something that was teaching me and making me smarter. What I experienced was putting me back in touch with myself and making me reckon with the parts of myself I had left behind. In a way, my boss was the literal manifestation of my overbearing, overcritical, hyperbolic self, the negative aspect of myself that hated everything about me. Indeed, the only reason my boss seemed to hate me was because I represented everything he hated about himself—his insecurities, his vulnerabilities, his self-confessed penchant for crying after being emotionally overwhelmed, etc. I was the worst to him simply because he already viewed himself as the worst. We were each other’s mirrors, and while it makes my blood run cold to think I have anything in common with him, facts are facts. He treated me how I had treated myself so for so many years, and it took facing him in person to realize that if I knew I didn’t deserve that type of treatment from him, I definitely didn’t deserve that type of treatment from myself.

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Even with that realization, I had many up and down days. Actual ecological disasters didn’t help things, since they only spurred my imagination on more to think of the end times and how supposedly unprepared I was. Today, I’m a whole lot better than I used to be. I’ve come a long way in a short amount of time, but not without a lot of hard, emotional work. Chief of among that work was realizing that I needed to speak life into myself, something I didn’t really do often enough.

As a perfectionist, I’d been so consumed with doing things “right” that I didn’t think about how certain habits or ideas were or weren’t serving me. Perfectionism might allow a person to feel in control, but it actually doesn’t allow for much life to be spoken into you. It also doesn’t allow a person to even think about what “speaking life” into yourself actually means.

When you decide to speak life into yourself, it means more than just speaking random positive words to yourself. It means believing you have the ability to deal with whatever life throws at you. It means believing in your purpose on earth, in your dreams and goals. It means believing that you have what it takes to make the life you want to live, no matter what. I have resolved to speak life into myself, regardless of the issues I might come up against. I realize that I am too valuable to let myself go, and I won’t allow anyone else to speak deadness into my mind ever again.

Speaking life into the world

Coney Island, United States
Best friends in summer on the beach girls. No time for doomsday! Time for community!
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I think this concept of “speaking life” has more applications than just helping yourself, though. If you can speak life into yourself, you can spread that notion to others. You can speak life into poor situations by taking actionable steps to fix them. You can speak life into the environment by planting trees, or cleaning beaches, or inventing that next big breakthrough. You can speak life into your community by standing up for it, voting for proper measures, going to local town halls. You can speak life into anything by believing in its worth. You can resolve to never speak deadness into anything you come up against, and you might be surprised at the results.

That means, therefore, that a doomsday isn’t really the end of the world. A doomsday, personal or otherwise, is an opportunity for growth. It means the old way isn’t working, so we have to find a new way of doing things. Personally speaking, my old ways of doing things weren’t working anymore, and I needed to find a new way to be with myself. Similarly, the old ways of living in America aren’t working, and it’s been past time for new ways to be embraced.

Interestingly enough, a lot of people seem to have come to this mindset thanks to the coronavirus outbreak. Over the course of these strange weeks, we have seen how the virus is showing the cracks in our society, from the financial and social sectors to the political sector. We have also seen how self-isolation has cleaned up air pollution and allowing the earth to heal itself. Panic, depression and sadness are valid human emotions during this time, especially since many of us have loved ones who are affected or dying from the virus. But it would also serve us to use this time to observe our relationships to the world, others, and ourselves.

Instead of fantasizing about doomsday, now is the time to learn more about how we can speak life into ourselves and each other. Instead of forgetting what it’s like to be social, it would seem that “social distancing” is allowing us to reconnect with family and speak life into old bonds that we thought were dead. I’ve been hearing children play in the streets for the first time in years, and that can be seen as a sign that people are beginning to speak life back into the importance of a relationship with nature. Families have to come together during this time, whether that’s virtually or physically, and that action is speaking life back into family togetherness. People are stepping up to donate to shelters and hospitals, as well as find other ways to support their community, and that speaks life back into the importance of civic duty and leadership. All of these instances of speaking life could be the seeds of a new world.

After the coronavirus crisis is over, those seeds can continue to grow if we allow them to. We can start speaking life into communities affected by eco-racism and racist policies. We can speak life into kids we might have been conditioned into thinking are throwaways by uplifting them and setting them on a path towards self-realization. We can choose to see past race, sexuality and other supposed divisions and help each other on the basis of a shared humanity. We can speak life into all of the broken parts of society by stopping and listening, empathizing, and finding solutions to ease people’s pain. We can be our own healers if we want to. We have all of the tools we need. The only thing left is believing each of us is deserving of a supportive hand.

The end of a world doesn’t necessarily mean nothing else will come after it. Usually, it means the beginning of a new world. Perhaps that’s what we’re on the precipice of—a new world that understands the importance of not giving up, not losing hope, and not losing sight of a better, more conscious, way of life. 

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