Recently, Rapper Mac Miller died of a drug overdose. Demi Lovato overdosed on heroin over the summer. And here in Columbus, Ohio at The Ohio State University, it has become a trend for students to try ending their lives by descending from parking garages. These are all young people–my peers. Suicide and drug overdoses are some of the top killers of young people. It’s not ok. We are not ok. And as much as I’d like to talk about anything else, the first step toward healing our generation is to talk about the hard stuff.
Two weeks ago, I admitted myself to the emergency room under intense anxiety and suicidal ideations. I’ve written about this. I’ve shared it. Divulging this has been uncomfortable and exposing. I am invasive with my own information, affording little to no privacy. But, if we have any shot at overcoming the albatross of mental health, it will be born in normalizing depression, anxiety, OCD, Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, etc. Socially, it needs to be comfortable and encouraged to seek counseling. A person’s ability to manage their conditions through medications or other pursuits should be celebrated rather than stigmatized. To understand what we’re struggling with, we need to talk about it in order to identify it.
I worry my candor translates to attention seeking. Yet, self-harm and suicidal ideations deserve attention. They deserve care. I want to know when you’re not ok. I want you to know when I’m not ok. I want to know how to help. I will not let you drown, but I need to know that you need a liferaft. So scream and wave your hands and disregard what those on the shoreline think of you. They aren’t navigating the treacherous rapids you are.
I worry for Millennials and Gen Z. Everyone is so busy shitting on us that certain facts are overlooked. We, two generations, do not believe in permanence. I was in the third grade when I witnessed the Twin Towers fall to the ground. “Terrorism” hasn’t escaped the cultural vernacular since that day. I was a freshman in high school when the economy dived to the lowest its been since the depression. The housing market collapsed. In my hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, the lapse of the automotive industry was felt. The Columbine shooting occurred when I was five. Mass shootings grow more common by the minute in the United States. We anticipate body counts in our headlines. Student debt is at its highest without relief in sight. Climate change is real, and we two generation will be the ones left to negotiate the colossal damage done before us. All of this is to say that we do not know things to last, only that they fail. There is no faith in the system because the system fails us.
Millennials were the first generation to grow up with computers as a household necessity from childhood. Social media is the photo album of our generation and the ones to follow. Our digital footprints are almost as old as we are. I remember my mother’s first cumbersome cell phone. Now, children tote smartphones with the savvy to enable all features. We are digitally more connected and, yet, emotionally so separate. There is no substitute for human contact. We crave close proximity and fervent gazes. We’re socially conditioned to curate our media pages for optimal online voyeurism, but in maintaining the facade, we sacrifice authenticity. We rely on the dopamine rush of likes, quantify our worth in views, compare ourselves at our worst to peer’s highlight reels and question why we aren’t happy.
We are socialized to perform what we perceive as normalcy. Yet, if we discuss common human experiences, trauma is a major one. The human race is intertwined with our not-okay-ness. I know this because every admittance I utter is a boulder on my tongue. I bear the weight until the words crush all my taste buds, and I must release. Rarely am I telling someone who hasn’t experienced something similar to what I have.
All is not lost, not even close. We are in the same generation as Malala, the Parkland Students, and so many other movers and shakers. But I don’t think we can continue going the way we’ve gone in the same vehicles and expect everything to be ok. For clarification, I am not referring to economies or governments or systems. My investment and hope for improvement lie in the personal wellness of my generation and Gen Z. Nothing will be ok if we are not ok. We have to learn to reconnect. We have to untangle the burdensome issue of generational trauma in order to feel a lightness that evacuated our bloodlines generations ago. We have to destigmatize mental illness, disability, addiction, sexual identities, and social classes if we want to learn how to negotiate those topics. We need to learn to cope and self-soothe without an illuminated screen. Our votes need to be compassionate ones because if our laws do not increase access for the poor, that are not radical nor practical.
What I propose is a tall order. What I propose is systemic restructuring with the understanding that we will fail along the way, but it all starts small. It starts with us– with each person individually. Few agonies ache like sitting in your discomfort– allowing your traumas to breathe that hot, venomous breath so you will be free to feel something else. Feel the things you’ve been conditioned to numb. Experience these sensations with the awareness that they do not define you. Connection to others roots itself in how we connect to ourselves, our awareness to our needs and desires and flaws. I connect to myself in person-first terms. I am not every pair of unwanted hands to touch me or the worst things another person rammed into my ears as a distraction from their own pangs. I am not depression or anxiety. Even when they hold me hostage for days on end, I do not surrender my joy to mental illness. My selfhood is mine. I am not a reflection of everyone who does not love or accept me.
Reader, please exist. Exist loudly. Relish and revel in the complications that comprise you. Who cares if you make them uncomfortable?! There is something liberating in living your truth– not just for you but that it gives others permission to do the same. Stay alive. Stay loud. I love you. Thanks for being here.