Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Community and Isolation

This week, we're looking at emotional/psychological health, particularly as it is impacting our young people, but the truth is that none of us is immune to this sort of thing. We all wrestle with it. And that's why we started yesterday by looking at our need to just say, you're okay. This stuff you're going through, it's human stuff. It's stuff we all know too well and talk about too seldom.

The problem is that in today's world, everything has been named and categorized and labeled and pathologized so that nothing is simply human any more; everything is "weird." The world wants you to think that you're weird, that no one can possibly understand what you're going through, that you are, to put it simply, not normal. So you're supposed to go through life explaining yourself, preparing others for what happens when they encounter you, telling them all of the special ways they have to act around you.

Now, what we also know is that our culture today, and especially our younger generations, are suffering from feelings of social isolation more than perhaps ever before. Suicide rates are high, and it's because kids feel disconnected from one another. They live without a lot of close friends, but with many acquaintances, and this only increases the feelings of isolation. Add in social distancing and a pandemic...but you don't even have to.

This is exactly how this happens, though. The world has gone and labeled and diagnosed everything and convinced these young people that they are very different from everyone else around them. It has driven into their minds and hearts that they are completely alone in the world, that no one else struggles with the things they struggle with, and that no one can even understand them.

This creates two gut-level reactions. The first is to pull away from community because you think you're defective or "too much." Others just can't handle you, so why bother? A lot of today's young people think they should just pull back from all connection until they can "fix" themselves because no one should have to shoulder the burden of pretending to care for them when they are just so troubled. All those "normal" people all around them (who, we shouldn't forget, also think they are defective or too much) should be free to just live their normal, happy lives without knowing the kind of brokenness that this person knows.

The second reaction is even more problematic, and that is that you convince yourself so thoroughly that your experience is unique in the world that you won't let anyone relate to you. These labels that we have, we're being told that they only apply to us. We're being told there is such a thing as "your truth" and that no one else can identify with "your truth." This means that when these persons for whom these labels are so ingrained in their hearts come up against someone who could offer them meaningful intervention or companionship or wisdom, they instinctively explain why that's not possible. Their gut-reaction is to tell you that it's nice of you to think that, but you just can't understand. They launch into an explanation about how their label is different than what you think it is because it's theirs, it's uniquely theirs, and no one else can possibly understand it.

For example, the young person I was speaking with recently who sparked this series of blogs began talking about the subject of anxieties. I confessed, sure, I have anxieties, too. One of them is that I am anxious about heights. This young person then proceeded to tell me that when he/she gets around heights, he/she experiences physical pain. So it can't be anxiety; it's actual physical pain that results in weakness. Anxiety is one thing, but this young person's experience was not permitted to be dismissed as mere anxiety; it was something that was completely unique - he/she had been convinced of that, and he/she was not about to let anyone else claim to know anything about it.

No wonder isolation is such a huge burden in our world today, especially for our young people. They're labeled and diagnosed and pathologized, and then it's drilled into their heads that they're the only one. No one can make any meaningful relationships or connections with them because they are predisposed to believe that it's not possible.

And then we get all these talking heads that are "troubled" by statistics about isolation in young people and the skyrocketing suicide rates, and they're like, "How can we fix this? What do we do?"

How about we start with two simple words: you're okay. No labels. No diagnoses. No pathologies. No special "truth"s. Just, you're okay. What you're wrestling with, it's human.

Now, we can say, I'm human, too. Let's work on this together. 

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