April 22, 2010
By Robin of Berkeley
As a psychotherapist, I try my best to calm down my anxious clients. But in this case, I inadvertently triggered a panic attack.
My twenty-something client Emma, a survivor of the Berkeley public schools, had a coughing fit during our session. I helpfully got up to get her some water. When I handed her a cup, she looked at it, incredulous.
Her voice quivering, she asked, "Is this Styrofoam?"
I said yes. She stared at the cup, mesmerized by this forbidden fruit. When she finally found her words, she said, "I've never seen Styrofoam before. We learned in school that it kills baby birds."
Worried that Emma would bolt, I quickly defended the contraband, "Actually, I bought the cups years ago, and still have a few left."
When Emma returned the next week (thankfully), I asked about her reaction. She flooded me with stories about indoctrination by teachers. One of her earliest memories was singing songs on Earth Day, prayerfully, when she was five.
A sensitive soul, Emma became terrified that her beloved Earth would perish, and that she'd be culpable. Starting in third grade, she became an environmental fanatic. Emma went ballistic on her disabled grandmother when the old woman threw a bottle in the trash.
After school, she and her friends would sift through other people's garbage to root out recyclables. While Berkeley has plenty of homeless folks going through trash, Emma and her friends were out to save the world.
The poor thing would even sob in her car when she had to drive more than a few miles. She envisioned the pollution burning up the rain forests and asphyxiating polar bears.
A year into our therapy/cult deprogramming, I asked Emma about her fixation with all things ecological. She replied, "I'm over it."