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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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.