Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The New Glass Menagerie

My sons are good young men. I am immensely proud of what they have become. And, I am especially proud of how they weathered the COVID storm. My younger son had to do half-online high school and my older son had to start college online. They performed admirably and with grace. 

But, a few weeks ago, my younger son sort of reflexively said that his circumstances (being really busy -- new job, school play, etc) was "affecting his mental health." I quickly pointed out that being miserable and overwhelmed is not a decline of mental health; it is a natural reaction to a difficult situation. He was quick to acknowledge it and it was obvious that he understood that the lingo of the day had simply crept into his statement. 

I mentioned, to him, a bit by our favorite comedian, Sebastian Maniscalco. Maniscalco talks about people going to therapy for depression and about his father's reaction: "I've been depressed for thirty years." This gets big laughs, but it is a comic implication that the older generation didn't run to therapist when things got tough -- they "dealt with it."

Of course, we don't want to take this philosophy too far, right? We want to outgrow the foolish bravado of not seeking help when we need it. But, as in all things, we need to seek balance. 

I think we are turning the world into a kind of glass menagerie. We are creating people who feel as if they could shatter at any time; who think that being sad is a sign of trouble; that being taken surprise by emotion is always a dangerous situation. 

The other day, I was listening to a radio program and they were doing a piece on young men who had fallen into prostitution. They introduced the piece by warning the audience that some of the details in the story might be "disturbing." My first thought is: how could it not be disturbing? Isn't that idea implicit in the anounced subject. My second though what if it is disturbing? Is the listener going to shatter to pieces?


I often find myself, here and elsewhere, lamenting the complete inability of humanity to seem to be able to ever do anything but the extreme. If one listens to the chatter about mental health, one might assume, if you will forgive another literary reference, that we live in a world full of Roderick Ushers. 

Can't we teach our kids and others to be strong when they can and to seek help when they need it? I believe this is the intention of mental health professionals and the media, but I can't help think that it is recieved as: "Seek help, because you can't handle pressure alone." Somehow, in the minds of the many, I thihnk it just becomes a constant stream of rominders that one simply is not strong enough to make it without reliance on others. 

I don't want my sons to swallow their misery. I don't want them to be stoic and incommunicative. But I do want them to be strong enough to deal with stress and high levels of difficulty. What I don't want is for them to feel like any breeze of sadness is going to blow them off of the shelf to shatter on the floor. 

We're not good at balance, though -- this society of ours -- and I think it always comes down to one thing: too much work. Why tread water in the center of the pool when one can just cling to an edge?