Getting Over My Fear of Collapse

By Theo Kitchener

Toward the beginning of March I read an article on well-respected finance website The Automatic Earth that referenced another article bearing a frightening prediction: that the US bond market would begin crashing in 6 days’ time.

As is now obvious, that didn’t happen. But here’s why it threw me into a short-lived panic…

I would’ve ignored the prediction had I seen it in isolation, but The Automatic Earth is the website of Nicole Foss and Raul Meijer, two people whose work I’ve been following for five years or so. I’ve spent a fair bit of time with Nicole, have organised events for her, given talks based on hers, and am thoroughly convinced that their argument makes perfect sense. I’ve never met anyone who, if given a couple of hours and the inclination to debate rather than just give up on the conversation, hasn’t ended up agreeing that we’re headed for collapse. And as far as I can see, no one in the blogosphere or otherwise has mounted a serious critique to Nicole and Raul’s opinions, rather, more and more commentators have been taking on their analysis. They’re also among a dozen or so people who predicted the 2008 crash, all of whom are working on the same basic theory, and all of whom are predicting a bigger crash to come.

So when I saw this article, and when I recalled that Nicole had told me that the banking system would collapse when the bond market goes, since it would mean that governments would no longer be able to prop up the banks, I quite understandably had a bit of a freak out.

I was in Tasmania for the Australian Permaculture Convergence which had just finished. Nicole and Raul had been there too, but now they were nowhere to be found. I tried to understand what I could by frantic reading online, but I haven’t been keeping up to date with things the last couple of years, so it was all going a bit over my head. I rang my friend and Doing It Ourselves collaborator Luke Neeson—who has been staying slightly more in touch with it all­—and asked his opinion. He agreed that the news seemed intense and said he’d do some research and get back to me.

Meanwhile I was about to go camping in the Tarkine rainforest early the next morning for the next three days. I wouldn’t have had any reception, which, at a time like this, felt very stressful. I was torn between going camping, enjoying the rainforest while I still could—I’m not likely to go back to Tasmania for some time, especially if collapse hits—and heading home early to organise a bunch of things. Indecision always makes things worse, and apart from that, I was struggling to contain the fear and sadness that were welling up inside me. I felt like falling apart, but I was in a space with a whole bunch of people from the conference, who, while lovely, I barely knew. I attempted to have conversations with a couple of women about it, but we ended up mostly just talking about the implications of a banking system collapse on their financial/practical situations.

In a car back to the camping grounds, I let loose. I told the whole car full of people what I was worrying about, and Steph, sitting next to me let loose with positive energy. It was amazing and I feel so grateful to her for it. “You’ve known this was coming and you’ve done as much as you can to prepare for it,” she said, and “it’ll be horrible, but we’ll deal with it”. She never once sympathised or empathised with me; she just kept going with the positivity, “whatever happens is just whatever happens, there’s no point worrying about it, you just have to see it as an opportunity to make the world a better place.” At first I felt annoyed that I wasn’t getting the empathy I was wanting. But then I remembered how right she was, and walking back to our tents I had the feeling of just wanting to stay close to her and keep on listening to her positivity.

I went back to my tent and did some journaling. I decided that instead of travelling on in Tassie I would go home the next day, to do more research and write an article about what was going on. I felt I couldn’t in all conscience avoid warning the readers of the Doing It Ourselves newsletter, who expect me to alert them when the economy is nearing collapse, even if there was a chance that it wouldn’t happen. I’d just write something uncertain – a ‘this might be about to happen’ type of thing.

Which is sort of what I’m doing now. Only not quite…

Conversations around collapse

I don’t want to go into the specifics of the argument for a crash in the bond market soon, or why that would lead to a banking collapse, because I still have so many questions about it all and I don’t fully understand it myself. But I do understand it far better now than I did before. Largely thanks to Luke, who stayed up into the wee hours of the morning researching and then writing a 4000 word document explaining it to me. I cried tears of gratitude and sadness at the state of our world when I saw how big a document it was and what time he’d sent it. I feel immensely lucky to be surrounded by people who take this stuff as seriously as I do.

I’ve done a lot of reading and thinking as well, and Luke and I have had a lot of conversations about it all this week. And the end result is that we have no idea what’s about to happen, there’s no way to really know. Nicole has said the same thing in conversations we’ve had over the last month, there’s just no way to pick the timing accurately. There are so many different dynamics going on that it’s impossible to say anything.

I will say that I think the system has been getting exponentially more and more volatile (just read the daily posts on The Automatic Earth or Zero Hedge to get a picture of what I mean). Quite aside from the potential of the bond market collapsing, there’s the growing likelihood of Greece leaving the Eurozone, the increasingly intense currency wars, and all the scary geopolitics. The financial system does seem to be stretched just about to breaking point.

You never know, the banking collapse might only be a month or two away. Luke and I came up with a list of four ways that the banking system collapse could be held off for a little while longer even if the bond market does crash, but they’re all either outside the realm of what we would normally think of as possible, or they probably wouldn’t work. But you never know, the central banks may manage to hold things off for another few years yet. Or there may never be a banking collapse – before we get there, we might have a revolution, or a transition into an authoritarian command economy. Who knows!

What I did get out of all this was a serious kick up the butt. I’m feeling really motivated now to get the rest of my money out of the bank, sell some art, and to go door knocking and get to know my neighbours. All these things are things I’ve been meaning to do for years, but haven’t because it never felt quite urgent enough.

Mostly, having gone to that place of thinking that banking collapse could be as soon as ten days away, I now have the experience of looking seriously at that possibility, nearly falling into a depression, but instead choosing to feel empowered, active and curious. The day after talking to Steph, I started talking to people and making plans for an article, a workshop on door knocking, a meeting about setting up self-managed superannuation funds, a debriefing event to discuss the situation and a new animation (as well as my own personal preparedness stuff).

Feeling the fear (and doing it anyway)

Feeling scared and sad didn’t go away, but I chose not to get lost in those feelings. A few months ago I read a self-help book called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. It’s a classic from the eighties, and by far, the best self-help book I’ve ever read. It’s about a lot more than just fear, essentially how to actually be happy. In it, Susan Jeffers recommends a really excellent process that I’ve used a lot over the past few months to get over feeling angry at certain people, my social anxiety, my fear of being creative, my overwhelm around how busy I can be, and the other night after talking to Steph, to get over my fear of imminent collapse.

It’s revolutionised my life and I highly recommend it, or reading the book even more so! This is my interpretation of the process:

So, sometimes things are just a bit shit, or really shit, and you just need to feel it. Allow the feelings to come without judging them as negative. When we judge certain feelings as bad, we end up creating all kinds of ways to avoid them, which creates other problems.

So what were my answers? Well the choices I had were about just waiting to see what happened while feeling stressed out, or getting active and doing as much as I could to feel prepared. Even though it meant I missed out on having a holiday and had to pay extra to change my trip, I decided to go with getting organised. I don’t regret it because this experience has given me a lot of strength and has been fascinating. Plus banking collapse still might happen really soon, and I’m now in the process of getting much more prepared which feels really good.

And the payoffs – this is always the interesting bit. Well it turns out by freaking out and immobilising myself, I was actually avoiding having to feel the fear and the sadness. I was constantly on the edge of ‘falling apart’, holding myself back from it, but feeling right on that edge. Worrying about something can often be an active substitute for just feeling scared of something. And worrying isn’t going to help. Once I realised what I was doing I was able to just relax and feel scared, without judging that emotion as a negative emotion. It just was, and it was ok. It actually passed pretty quickly when I allowed myself to feel it.

Also for me, there’s a particular mix of depression and anxiety that is an old and familiar pattern where I get really stressed out, do nothing, and get a lot of empathy. While mainly it’s a really horrible feeling, it’s actually quite good for me in a weird kind of way. I give up my sense of responsibility and agency and just stay in bed. I don’t feel good about it, but that’s what I do. And I think getting to not be responsible, and also getting empathy/sympathy are definitely payoffs. Seeing them as that helps me to ask myself whether or not it’s worth it. And nope, it’s not. That horridness is way worse than being active and empowered in the world, even if I also have to actually feel the fear when it occasionally comes up.

And what could possibly be good about the situation? Well, the sooner collapse comes the more likely we are to be able to positively deal with climate change. It’s also a big opportunity for political change. No matter what happens, it’s going to be interesting. And considering it’s something I’ve been waiting for, for a long time, it felt like a relief to think that maybe there would be no more waiting.

I reminded myself that whatever happens will happen, we’ll all deal with it and that it’s not all on me. The best chance I can have of changing anything is to be active and get out there and organise in my community. I started making plans and that’s when I started feeling better.

Emotional resilience

This was essentially a massively sped-up version of what I went through years back. This time round it took me eight hours; back then it took me nearly two years. The difference this time probably had a lot to do with the fact that I have gotten myself a lot more prepared than I was then, and a large part of that has been a big focus on emotional resilience.

I highly recommend putting your energy into transforming the way you are in the world. That was my priority last year. I spent a lot of time in counselling, reading self-help books and journaling, and it did me a world of wonders. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not socially anxious anymore, I’m still working through my workaholism (but I am so much more aware of it, and curbing of it than I was before), I’m also way more assertive, and most importantly, just happier. I always felt like I couldn’t make the time to prioritise my emotional wellbeing, but it turns out I could. Prioritising our personal and emotional work means we can be much more effective in our communities; it’s worth it, even if just for that.

Well, hopefully me sharing this story with you has been helpful. I reckon the banking system will probably collapse sometime soon, and the best we can do is get prepared for it in whatever ways we can, with a big part of that being about prioritising learning how to be happy. A lot of it is actually just about learning (about how our brains work, how we can change the ways we think about things like our emotions, etc) and practising what we learn. It’s stuff we should have been taught in school.

Myself and a handful of people in Melbourne are planning on starting a cooperative soon to run workshops on emotional resilience, which I’m very excited about. The more of us there are who can be like Steph, the calm within the storm, the more we can minimise the panic and transform it into action for a better world. At the more optimistic end of things, I believe that over time we can learn, as a species, to turn our work into more joyful play, and to trust in ourselves enough to just take life as it comes – which will make it a lot easier to transform our world into one that is beautiful and resilient.

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