We’re Sadder, Lonelier, and More Anxious Than Ever — What Can We Do About It?

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Last week, I read a well-publicized survey that half of Americans are lonely—especially the youngest generations. Today, I read that depression has spiked 33% in the last five years. And, worse, the spike in depression is most dramatic among young people, with a 47% spike among millennials, and a startling 67% spike in adolescent girls.

What is happening?!

I wrote just yesterday how I haven’t felt anxiety in years. But apparently I’m bucking the national trend.

Because a recent American Psychiatric Association poll found that 39% of Americans feel more anxious than they were at this time last year. And approximately 18% of the country currently has an anxiety disorder—nearly one-fifth of the country.

So we’re becoming a country that is lonelier, more depressed, and more anxious. And the youngest generations (including my own) have higher rates of all of it, only forecasting worse conditions in the future.

I’ll admit that it really saddens me to read these articles—one after another—and think about the pain so many people are feeling, especially given the work that I do every single day. Behind the well-curated Instagram feeds and the cleverly crafted tweets, we have a lot of disconnection in the country—and world.

As a person who at one time felt anxious, depressed, and lonely, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my own journey. On what exactly has helped me to feel the way I do today. On why I feel so deeply connected to myself, my purpose, my work, and amazing, supportive people in my life. On why I feel excited and optimistic about the future of the world—even given a lot of political challenges and foreboding studies like these.

And it all comes down to subjectivity. To beginning to unpack who I actually am. The thing about subjectivity is that it’s inherent. It’s there beneath all of the conditioning and dominant narratives. It’s what’s intrinsically true for you.

And, as such, subjectivity work is always inherently de-conditioning. Because even the intention to start to engage in subjectivity means we have to unpack the conditioning that’s layered on top of it.

And conditioning doesn’t come out of thin air. It’s an ideology or belief system—a subjective perspective—that we’ve internalized. Based on socially constructed power dynamics, someone’s particular subjectivity is prized over others, and we’re all force-fed it.

We give a lot of lip service to beauty standards. But the truth is those don’t pop out of thin air, either. They come from somewhere. That’s someone’s subjectivity—someone’s ideal of beauty—that we’ve all been socialized with.

Just 150 years ago, in Victorian England, we had very different beauty standards. Fuller figured bodies and pale white faces were seen as the epitome of beauty. And that’s pretty recent history. As the prized subjectivity shifts, so does the dominant narrative—and what we all begin to internalize.

In the age of Instagram, we’re more bombarded than ever with the conditioning of the dominant narrative. We see it everywhere. We turn on our TV, we open magazines, we walk past ads on the side of buses, or we turn on our phones and—boom—there’s the dominant narrative. Reminding us what subjectivity holds power. And that, to become powerful in this social structure, you need to adopt the same arbitrarily praiseworthy attributes.

Which is total bullshit. Why would I ever want to layer myself with conditioning—or conditions to my worth? I’m just piling on layer after layer of conditions to feel worthy and powerful and successful in the world?

And it’s constant. Subjectivity work is an everyday battle to unpack and dismantle this conditioning. The internalized racism, homophobia, fat-phobia, ableism, classism, misogyny—you name it. Because internalization of that conditioning by the majority of us is what maintains its power.

And how could I ever love—or even like—myself if I’m not me? With layers and layers of conditioning, I don’t even know myself. I’m essentially a clone of the dominant narrative. Just another mindless zombie eating, drinking, and sleeping the same force-fed perspective. Maybe it’ll subjectively resonate with me, but the odds of that are pretty slim.

I couldn’t possibly have loved myself for a long time because I didn’t know myself. And I thought that I was too thin. Or too emotional. Or too intense. Or too whatever. And therefore I wasn’t possibly as worthy. And couldn’t love myself.

And that’s not true for me at all. I’m too thin—for whom? Because I love the way I look. And I love my intensity—it’s what makes me amazing at my work. And, as I started to unpack that conditioning, I started to meet the real me. And fall in love. And then build a life around it.

Dressing not in the way I’d be conditioned to, but in ways that feel authentically and subjectively good for me. And I started surrounding myself only with people who supported my subjectivity. I refused to contort myself to fit anyone else. And doing work that felt subjectively true for me. And making life decisions that matched my subjectively.

And, soon enough, every aspect of my life was me. Independent of conditioning. And, don’t get me wrong, I’m just as inundated as anyone else. It’s a constant battle to unpack the conditioning coming at me. But I’m living a life that feels like me. I’ve fallen absolutely in love with myself. And I’m in relationships, friendships, and work that gives me so much purpose.

Because I didn’t start from someone else’s arbitrary subjectivity, I started from my own. And I’ve built a life from that place—and continue to do so.

It saddens me much to see all of the depression and anxiety and loneliness in the world. To watch the rise of social media and connection tools rise in equal proportions to the sadness our world faces. And I think about my own journey—and continued journey—to become me. To unpack the layers of conditioning that keep me engaged in the social power dynamics and away from my own power.

This is why I’m so committed to subjectivity work. And understanding purpose as subjectivity.

It isn’t easy. And there may be a lot of pushback from the dominant narratives around us. But it’s a lot easier to feel happy, connected, and relaxed when we’re just being ourselves every day and surrounding ourselves by people and jobs that support who we are.

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