My friend and I are having a debate. Are we better off now than we were throughout history? He says of course we are. We have untold choices, and technology frees us to learn and travel endlessly. Look at the wars and famines and genocides of the 20th Century. Yes, we are better off. I say look at our institutions eroding and kids living in their parent’s basements. Look at the conservatism sweeping our nation promoting guns and violence. Look at the racism and sexism and intolerance across interest groups. And yet. The way to combat general hopelessness has always been to get involved.
I had a client who was enmeshed with her very primitive and controlling mother. The mother was so closed off from the world she expected her daughter to behave likewise; to such an extent that she forbid acknowledgment of her daughter’s hispanic boyfriend and alienated her from the family. Fast forward to when the daughter turned 30 and the boyfriend left her. The daughter fell into a crippling depression. The years of avoidance of doing things together and interaction in your 20’s cost her deeply. If you don’t gain mastery over disappointments and fears when you’re young you reinforce fears and phobias into the next decade.
When I was 20 I went to Israel by myself on a semester abroad – for that very reason – to test myself. I knew if I didn’t I would be afraid of so many things. Learning the way from Tel Aviv to Haifa I made friends. Learning a new language I found out I’m good at language. Learning to eat new foods I found out I’m a little spicy! Did I get homesick? Sure I did. The day I found a cockroach in my bed the size of Turkey I definitely missed home! By the end though, I wanted to stay forever. I will never forget getting heat dehydration in the Golan Heights and having Israeli soldiers with guns take care of me. I survived. I would become a survivor.
I never had one patient in therapy sit on the couch and say these words, “I wish I took fewer risks.” Nobody says that. Plenty say, I wish I had taken more…
We need more Sesame Street or something to learn about each other without judgment. Who knows what another person is going through? My other client works at Trader Joe’s. She says people whom she knows come in and don’t talk to her. This hurts her deeply and they seem not to grasp whatever her life has become. (She used to work in media but after 9/11 lost everything). Young people need tools for getting involved, for getting beyond old stereotypes, for exploring their world.
LEARN NEW THINGS
- Travel on your own. My daughter asked me how to get to Brooklyn. There’s an app for that! Instead of playing with little bubbles on your phone that cost me $9.99 a month at the itunes store, google how to read a subway map. This is a good skill to have.
- Register to vote. Come on young people. Don’t tell me you couldn’t be bothered and then complain about the lack of jobs. Find out who your representatives are and call them! Tell them you are fed up with the status quo. Go march. Write a letter. Tell your friends. Sew hats. But don’t just sit there!
- Do something new every day. My client said she felt upset, isolated and bored. Set a small goal to go out of your comfort zone every day. For years she dismissed this, falling into her age-old patterns of negativity (“what’s the use”). Then she tried it. She asked a colleague out for coffee. Now she has a friend at work. I know it’s not much, but it’s something.
- Take care of yourself. If you’re not sleeping, all bets are off. We talk about sleep hygiene but how many really do it? Today’s news showed a new type of treatment where you don’t beat yourself up for not sleeping (CBT-I). But you keep trying a regular routine. It works!
Are we better off than we were a Century ago? Perhaps. I am not so sure. But I know the antidote. Get out and do something. So what if you don’t like it or you feel uncomfortable. Do it anyway.