What Ever Happened To Generation X?

generation-xHi. Remember us? We’re Generation X. People used to call us “the MTV generation.” They also used to call us lazy. And slackers. And unmotivated. Oh, and we were also going to ruin the world. Or, at least, that was the impression we got. The good thing was, most of us were too lackadaisical to care. If you haven’t noticed yet, we were also very sarcastic.

It’s 2015 now, and you don’t really hear much about us anymore. The world seems to still be spinning on its axis, so we haven’t managed to screw things up beyond repair – yet. Most of us got jobs doing something or other, so we didn’t all starve to death in our parents’ basements. In all honesty, though, I’m not really sure what we’re up to these days. We seem to have disappeared altogether sometimes.

As a 41-year-old, I have both feet planted firmly in the generation that was defined by the most generic of letters – x. To be honest, being a Gen X’er kind of sucked. Granted, much of my perception of growing up in this generation was clouded by a depression-induced haze, but I don’t remember a great many positive things being said about us. Richard O’Connor, author of the book Undoing Depression: What Therapy doesn’t Teach You and Medication Can’t Teach You, theorizes on his website that much of the cynicism of Generation X comes from being “lied to all their lives.” I believe it could just as well have come from too much negative reinforcement.

All of the focus these days, though, is on millennials. If Generation X had no expectations placed upon it, millennials have the weight of the world bearing down on them. It is little surprise, then, that San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable Than Ever Before, reported in October of last year that millennials may actually be more depressed than their Gen X counterparts. To once again make use of my generation’s witty sarcasm, even if we didn’t accomplish much, at least we didn’t get stressed out doing it.

In all seriousness, though, millennials seem to be facing the exact opposite problem Gen X’ers faced. One generation didn’t seem to have many expectations of any kind place upon it; the other seems to be expected to save the world tomorrow. I believe the common denominator both of these generations is lacking is hope. Generation X was told to not have a lot of hope; millennials face a bar that is so high, they have no hope of achieving it. I’m obviously speaking in broad generalizations here, of course. Not everyone in the last two generations is devoid of hope. What I am referring to is more of the climate surrounding each one.

Think of the generation which preceded mine – the Baby Boomers. This was a generation which believed in “the system,” embraced optimism, and witnessed the world change through events such as World War II and the civil rights movement. Now, perhaps some of that optimism was misplaced (as we Gen X’ers found out later), but it provided a firm anchor for Boomers to hold on to. Could the dimming of this hope be the reason that depression rates seem to be on the rise with each generation? Are we actually fueling the fire of our own problem?

On second thought, maybe being part of Generation X wasn’t so bad after all. We at least had the opportunity to fly under the radar and make our own ways, and whatever we accomplished we could wave in the faces of our detractors. We saw through the system, and we carved out our own identity. Millennials seem to have a tougher row to hoe these days. Sometimes it seems as if whatever they accomplish won’t ever be enough. I hope the next generation – whatever we choose to call it – is able to turn the tide on depression and anxiety. Gen X will be watching … from over here … out of the way.

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Ten Years

I have many friends who love to eat. Not only do they love to eat, they love to take pictures of what they eat and post them on social media wolfgang-puckwebsites. I can’t say I’m a particularly big fan of this practice. I mean, if you’re out at a restaurant or it’s some special occasion, sure, go ahead and snap a picture of your plate. If it’s the Tuesday night meal at home, it’s slightly less interesting to me. Personal preference, though; you post what you want, Wolfgang.

Because I can be something of a smart aleck when I’m protected by the security of a keyboard, I decided one day to post pictures on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google+ (Yes, I actually use that one, too.) of everything I ate. It was all really mundane stuff – a banana, a peanut butter sandwich, a bag of Lay’s potato chips. I don’t know if anyone else found it funny, but I at least amused myself that day. The exercise also taught me something else, however: I don’t eat very much over the course of a day. I didn’t realize it until I saw everything laid out in pictures.

Sometimes we can’t see things clearly until they’re placed very obviously in front of us. I was challenged by someone recently to come up with a 10-year life plan for myself. I knew when they asked me to do this that it would be difficult, but what I didn’t know was that the process of trying to write it down would trigger so many feelings. Optimism, anger, frustration, depression, hopefulness, despair… Mostly, though, I couldn’t stop thinking about how the concept of seeing ten more years pass was very difficult for me to grasp. Most days, I’m doing good to make it through the next ten minutes.

That’s when it hit me: I expend a remarkable amount of mental energy just getting through one day. Addicts mention the term “one day at a time” a lot, and sometimes that’s how I feel like I’m dealing with life. If I can just get through this one day, then maybe I can face the next one. Author Richard O’Connor once wrote, “People with depression generally are working too hard but not getting anywhere.” I can’t even fathom ten years right now because I’m just trying to make it from Point “A” to Point “B.”

Sitting down and going over this plan with someone else will, hopefully, help me to see things differently. As I told someone recently about my desire to go back to college to pursue a degree in psychology, “I want to get the whole thing finished in about two weeks.” I want immediate results, but in this instance I’m attempting to unravel 40 years of thought processes. It may take some time. Maybe even ten years.

Out Of My Hands

extra_grace_1xIs there such a thing as “extra grace”? A good friend of mine who lost his mother to cancer discussed this subject with me one time.

“When I was going through the cancer stuff with mom, I just had such a peace about everything,” he said. “I just moved on with everything. If you throw something into the middle of my day that disrupts my schedule, though, I just about lose it. It’s like God gives us extra grace to get through the hard times.”

I’m not so sure if “extra grace” is a biblical concept or not, but a certain unexpected peace can arise in situations where we lose the power to control the outcome. Maybe it’s because when we know God is our only hope, we stop fighting so hard to make everything right. Once we stop fighting, we can experience rest.

Here’s an example from my own life. When my youngest daughter was diagnosed with a ventricular septal defect (medical jargon for “hole in sarathe heart”), I knew immediately that I had no power to rectify her situation. I wasn’t a heart surgeon, so there was absolutely nothing I could physically do for her. All I could do was put the situation in God’s hands. Then, miraculously, I felt a peace about the situation, even as we waited for her surgery to be completed, watched her lying unconscious in the pediatric intensive care unit, and saw the scar across her chest.

Put me in a situation, though, where I feel as if I have even the slightest measure of control or influence, and I will wreck it like a bull in a china shop. I always try to change it or turn it or fix it. Especially if it has to do with a relationship. I get so desperate to please that I lose all restraint, throwing everything onto the table and scaring the bejesus out of the unfortunate soul who happens to be on the other end of it. I really believe in my head that I have some sort of power, when, in reality, the end result is ultimately just as out of my hands as my daughter’s dilemma was.

Peace comes from surrender. In the words of author Richard O’Connor, though, “Depressed people generally are working too hard but not getting anywhere.” In other words, if I don’t feel as if I’m getting anywhere, I just keep trying harder and harder, when what I should be doing is easing off the throttle. It’s difficult to come to terms with powerlessness. It’s difficult to walk in trust when you’re not sure things will work out like you want them to.

“… Casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” It sounds so simple. Why do I always make is so hard?

Small Doses

undoingI still haven’t figured out yet if reading books on depression and low self-esteem is actually helping me or just freaking me out. I mean, it would stand to reason that someone diagnosed with depression would want to read up on and understand more about the condition, but there are just times when authors’ words hit a little too close to home and I have to take a step back to gather myself.

For example, I picked up a book at the local library this weekend titled Undoing Depression, by Richard O’Connor. Just flipping the book open at random a few minutes ago, I came across the following paragraph:

Considerable research has shown that people with depression differ from others in how we perceive the world and ourselves, how we interpret and express our feelings, and how we communicate with other people, particularly loved ones and people in authority. We think of ourselves as unable to live up to our own standards, we see the world as hostile or withholding, and we are pessimistic about things ever changing. In our relationships with others we have unrealistic expectations, are unable to communicate our own needs, misinterpret disagreement as rejection, and are self-defeating in our presentation. Finally, we are in the dark about human emotions. We don’t know what it’s like to feel normal. We fear that honest feelings will tear us apart or cause others to reject us. We need to learn to live with real feelings.

And then I closed the book, stuffed it under a pillow, and ran out of the room.

Okay, so the reaction wasn’t quite that strong, but there’s something almost unsettling to me about reading a description written by someone I’ve never met before that perfectly describes me. Even more unsettling, though, is when an author puts his or her finger right on some coping mechanism you didn’t even realizing you had been using. In a book I was recently reading on self-esteem (the name and author of which I, unfortunately, have forgotten), the author pointed out how people with low self-esteem typically imagine the worst case scenario in every situation. This often invokes the “fight-or-flight” reflex, which can, to put it bluntly, cause all kinds of hell to break loose in a person’s life.

I think I may have actually run out of the room after reading that.

After reading enough books and articles of this nature, I’m finally learning that I have to take this information in via small doses. The obvious downside of this is that it’s taking me forever to finish any of the books I’ve been trying to read. I’m 40 years old, though, and I really just started seriously addressing depression in my own life in the last couple of years. A lot of untangling has to be done, and I just can’t hammer multiple issues at the same time. So if I read a paragraph like the one I quoted above, I have to stop for a few minutes or a few hours or even a few days and let it process. I don’t know if this is the most efficient way to get things done, but it’s keeping me out of the fetal position for the moment.

So the new book is lying on the couch next to me right now, daring me to pick it up. I think I’m going in. Maybe I’ll at least manage to digest a whole page this time. I think at my current rate, I should finish reading this by 2017.