In our youth, every one of us is a blank sheet, a tabula rasa waiting with exhilaration to absorb the experiences the universe has lined up for us. What no one ever tells us is that we are walking into a trap. Some of us see it early, others never. The only way out, is through – no sitting timidly on the sidelines.
Too many of us leave our childhood – a fertile place of creativity and wonder – and enter adulthood, where that creativity and wonder is funnelled into (or depending on how you see it – beaten into submission) by a rigid system set up previous generations, all of whom believed they were putting down solid paving blocks for the future. Under this calcified system, many of us flourish, more of us muddle through and some of us fall hard by the wayside.
Regardless of whether you are male or female, when you reach your 30s, you are expected to know how to be a ‘productive member of society’. You’re meant to be on that career path, on that property ladder, be hitched to ‘the one’, to have children, pay taxes, to be a functioning pillar of society. If you are not, you are (in the beginning) an oddity. If by your 40s you aren’t fully committed to those things, you are written off as an ‘also-ran’, a fannullone.
What human societies and education systems never prepare us for, is how to cope with the realisation that we have little choice but to live by these rules. There is precious little existing (mental) health framework anywhere that deals with those abandoned by the system. Many of us are left to struggle with life choices we never quite thought out, increasingly punished by societal opprobrium. Where some are very happy to play the game, others feel chained to it. They feel used by a system that values success and prosperity above humanity. That conflates happiness with owning things.
I have come to call this a form of treason – treason against the human condition.
Happily however, they do say that ‘forewarned is forearmed’. Ergo, we must find ways to teach our children how to cope with life. To be mindful of how they feel when rebuffed by a potential romantic partner, their changing bodies, turned down for their dream job or simply not chosen for the school football team. The methods we have used to date simply no longer work and should never have been acceptable to begin with – “Man up and get on with it”, “grow a pair will you?”, “are you a man or a mouse?” This is ‘psychological pugilism’. It perpetuates hackneyed tropes about masculinity that are tired and unfair – no to mention exclusive of the female half of our species.
All too often in the modern age we see a church full of congregants slain by a mentally disturbed individual with military-grade weapons. Whether a home-grown terrorist or a mindless religious zealot, both suffer from a mental illness and should have been helped before it turned them into killers. Yes they rip apart families and communities, but they were also failed by the system. Most of us lack the emotional maturity to discern the signs of mental fragility in others. We must learn how to do this and fast.
Remember – it’s just us down here on this backwater planet. We need to learn how to help each other and to help those that all too often slip under the radar into the abyss.
Our mental health IS our mental ‘wealth’. Don’t squander it, but never be afraid to share it with those you love and who love you back, without condition.