“Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill or betray it, in relative opacity.”
Coming of Age
My clients and those who follow me digitally range in generational identity from The Silent Generation down to Generation Alpha. Personally, I am an early Gen X.
We were raised mostly feral. We have amazing skills of adaptation, but that isn’t always a good thing.
I Have All the Things
The first class I took in grad school was Psychopathology. This is the course that goes through the entire range of “disorders” that might be thought of as mental health diagnoses.
On the first day of the first class, my beloved professor, Joe Ciarrocchi (rest in power,) told us plainly: “As you learn about these disorders, you are going to come away thinking you have at least most of them. Trust me; You don’t.”
Statistics being as they are, one in four of us were likely to have at least one of them, but not all of them. This left us all wondering, which?!?
With this as a foundation, I check myself regularly when clients start to describe their experiences of this or that disorder and I hear myself think, “Oh wow. That sounds like… me!”
I got so good at being skeptical that through the six years that I did ADHD evals for a living, I decided I was seeing things when I observed my own ADHD tendencies. It took a pandemic shut down where all of my unconsciously constructed compensatory skills crumbled like the Berlin Wall to trust what I found in my own brain.
It’s Not (the other) Joe’s Fault
That Psychopathology class was not the only reason I doubted; It’s also because I’m Gen X.
We didn’t know diddly or half a squat about neurospiciness when I was growing up. Those of us with ADHD were told we just weren’t trying hard enough.
That was a little hard to believe as I was pulling an A+ Science Fair project out of …thin air… between 1am and 6am the day it was due. That felt like lots of hard trying. But apparently all of the abject terror I carried in even thinking about what project to do in the landscape of endless possibilities was better understood as my laziness.
Suck it up, Buttercup! Don’t make your parents and teachers look bad! I did the thing and did it well. It didn’t feel like a choice.
And Other Injustices
Those who struggled more severely were relegated to a classroom deep in the basement over by the janitor’s office. Autistic kids, kids with learning disabilities, developmental delays or serious physical health challenges were all tossed together in one classroom, tucked away from the “regular” classrooms.
Kids on the Spectrum who did well academically stayed in the “normal” classrooms. They were praised for their achievements, but shunned by their peers for being “weirdos” with a knack for saying or doing exactly the wrong thing. Post tech-boom, I find a poetic sweetness watching so many of those kids who were once tauntingly called geeks and nerds now being called… “BOSS.”
The fields of mental health and education are finally starting to recognize, reconsider and reimagine all of that.
We, the Feral Alliance (Gen X,) have been adaptively ignoring what we need for so long that we sometimes forget to update our self-databases. We’ve already decided we don’t have all the things, so it can take a 2×4 to get our attention.
This happened to me last week as a young client was coming into the awareness that he has Dyscalculia. He described my relationship with Math almost down to a T Square.
In my Suck It Up mind, I had decided that I was simply allergic to Math; That it makes me break out in attitude. While that is true, I finally understood that my “allergy” is a real thing, even down to having no innate sense of left and right, seeing my calendar “fold over onto itself,” and fighting panic when I have to figure out my prorated per hour fee. (Thank the tech gods for readily accessible calculators!)
As my Mom Mom woulda said, “Well I’ll be!”
Updating the Database
Periodically updating our personal databases in light of emerging understanding will serve us all so much better than trying to convince the generations that we taught not to just suck it up, to just suck it up.
No, dear ones. We all deserve better.
Sanity in the Middle
I was leaving the gym just now and saw a woman about my age wearing a tee shirt that read: “No one cares. Work harder.” Just, no.
A whole lot of people care that things hurt. We care that you are suffering. We care that human struggles have been belittled. The key to un-drowning is often to connect with others in empathy when life hurts and let our pain guide us to what we need for healing.
If I had a great big marker and permission I’d change that woman’s tee shirt to read: “Lots of people care. Work smarter.”
Have you updated your personal database lately? If you’d like an outsider’s view, contact Tiffany today. Let’s figure it out.