In my local town people feel a bit chaotic these days. As Roger Cohen writes in the NYTIMES today people are turning inward because the outward is too much. With Mom’s day, graduations, college, drugs, guns and throwback draconian principles taking effect over our bodies, and racism and anti-semitism unleashed by the Mad King, it’s hard to know if we are in Westeros or New York. My friends, some of them experts in their fields, still cannot make ends meet. Our taxes are higher than our mortgages. In other words, we are shackled like so many unsullied.
So what to do with our teens and young adults? One is depressed, another won’t leave the house and still others are afraid to try anything new due to crippling anxiety.
One of my jobs is to assess the difference between normal and not. There is much talk about the teen brain, failure to launch, addiction and abuse. But when you see it over and over you begin to learn the subtle distinctions and how important they are.
1. Not leaving one’s room
2. Not sleeping
3. Withdrawal from friends
5. Major family change or life disruption
Any Two out of 5 of these means something is terribly wrong, especially if it was not present before.
Take Serina. She was a top student at a top college. Upon graduation her mother abandoned her and her father was diagnosed with a terminal disease. With no money and no prospects she started applying to grad schools. After being rejected from all of them, and with no explanation, she ended up at Starbucks, a tough gig with a few cake pops as the only fuel to continue. She could barely afford groceries. Sinking deeper, she lost touch with friends and started losing weight. This is how quickly life hits you. Thankfully with individual and group support, plus medication, she got back on her feet.
Take Mina, a lovely girl from a well funded family, she didn’t get her first choice college and started having panic attacks. Then she met Jon, a man a few years her senior with a serious weed habit. Mina starts skipping classes and by the time the semester is over has failed two. Her parents are rightfully furious due to the waste of time and money. But she can’t take the pressure, combined with her own perfectionism. She ends up dropping out and regrouping. With therapy and medication she can approach a new semester with less dread.
Finally there’s Alice, an awkward girl who was born with a learning disability and whose family was in crisis with a divorce. She felt she couldn’t work or do anything really. She retreated to video games and had no plan for her future. She started self harming and landed in the hospital, diagnosed with a host of things from OCD to ADD. Finally she got trained as a hairdresser and worked in a beauty salon. With dbt and cbt and some family therapy she learned to managed her swirling emotions.
So when the parents in my little town gossip that so and so was juuling in the bathroom I think to myself, there must be more to that story…