Millennial Depression: The New Separation Anxiety

Millennial Depression: The New Separation Anxiety
By Kaitlin Renee 

I remember her words rolling around in my head, making lots of noise but not really making any sense. I felt numb. Betrayed.

Your dad and I…

Separation…

Living here now…

Need time and space…

My third-grade self didn’t understand why the two people in my life who were supposed to be together forever were separating. I felt tears slide down my cheeks, but I didn’t know how to sift through all the information. All I knew was that things were going to be different.

I turned away from my mom’s pained gaze and walked up the foreign steps. She had decided to enlighten my sister and me in this new guest house she had rented when she had made the decision to move out. It wasn’t a proper house, it wasn’t a home. It was some walls and a roof sheltering us from the Michigan weather. She was moving out of my childhood home and into this shack of a living space, away from Dad, away from a complete family.

That was the day I realized that if you give people a chance to come into your life and be a significant part of it, you’re simultaneously giving them the power to hurt you.

As a separated couple, they would soon be unable to afford that childhood home and would uproot my little sister and me to the suburbs, away from everything we had ever known. Half the week would be spent with Mom, and the other half with Dad. If I forgot something at the house I just came from, I was out of luck unless I could convince a parent to drive to the ex’s house (not likely). That meant I carried around a mass of clothes back and forth between the two, because I wanted to make sure I had options available at all times. I’ve basically lived out of a suitcase for almost ten years, moving in between the two houses that could never quite become homes.

My story is not unique. Divorcestatistics.org estimates that the current divorce rate in America is between 40-50%, higher than it’s ever been. Most of those broken couples come from Generation X, who happen to be the parents of us Millennials. In his article “Functional Families in Modern America,” Dr. Allen Weiss noted that children of divorced parents are seven times more likely to suffer from depression than children from a united home. So is it any wonder then that CBS reports that the millennial generation has a reported depression rate of about 20%, compared to the 14% of the generation before us, and 12% of the generation before them?

Children with divorced parents often suffer feelings of abandonment and insecurity as well as anxiety due to the at-home trauma. These feelings can easily lead to severe depression if not taken care of. The problem is that most children suffering are often misunderstood by their parents; rather than seeing their aggressive, withdrawn, and often stand-offish behavior as being precursors to depression, parents see these as being typical teen attitude problems that can be solved with discipline.

Our parents want to know why we’re so closed off, why we’re obsessed with our phones and our laptops, why we’re so on edge… Is it really that hard to understand?

I’m not saying that so many of us millennials are depressed solely because of parental divorce, because that’s not the only factor. But it certainly is a major stepping stone for many of us.

We all desire connection – it’s a part of the human experience. In the earliest of life stages, family is at the core of your web of connections. A weird imbalance is formed in the middle of this web as divorce slices through these core strings where your family is supposed to intertwine, and this only makes it harder to create and maintain successful relationships with others in the future. When we should feel trust in a relationship, what we more often feel is skepticism. While I can’t speak for everyone in the millennial generation who grew up the child of a broken home, I can certainly say that I have difficulty in relationships as a result of that experience.

As a matter of fact, a social science investigation on the impact of parental divorce on adult relationships found that “participants from divorced families indicated a greater fear of being hurt/rejected” and that there was “less trust toward a variety of intimate relationships.”

My parents were together for sixteen years before calling it quits. While my boyfriend seems like Mr. Right now, there will likely come a time – be it six months from now, a year from now, sixteen years from now – that he or I decide differently. And I can never get that out of my head.

Friendships must work the same way, right? I mean, with divorce, there are legal papers and money and sometimes kids involved. Not to mention the fact that you’re breaking vows that you said in front of a huge group of people on your wedding day. With friends, none of that is stopping you, so they’ll probably leave one day too. What’s the point of relationships if they’ll so easy to leave behind?

This is the problem with a lot of us millennials – we have divorced kid syndrome when it comes to relationships. Which is probably why we’d rather be online than actually putting ourselves out there, looking at pictures of our friends or editing our own photos until we deem them acceptable to present to the public.

You go on Facebook and see picture after picture of your ‘friends’ hanging out with their friends at the beach, the mall, the movies, Disneyland, wherever. These pictures, for a reason you’re not completely sure of, make this bubble of jealousy and desire rise up inside you. You want relationships like these. You want to be doing picture-worthy things in picture-worthy places with picture-worthy people. But you’re in your room, on your computer, alone.

You feel like your life is pointless and pathetic in comparison to the edited versions of everyone else’s.

Here’s the problem. Those pictures don’t include the moment Jill got into a fight with her boyfriend, or that time Jane walked into her house to find her father drunk again and yelling at her mother, or when James found out his girlfriend was pregnant and he wasn’t ready. Nobody hangs broken pictures on the wall, and nobody puts anything less than picture perfect on their social media accounts.

The same feelings of abandonment and insecurities that developed from being the child of a broken household carry on easily to these social parts of our lives. Not only are we struggling to make connections in a virtual world, we’re also comparing our sub-glamorous realities to the ‘perfect’ internet fantasy lives of those we are friends with or are following online. Best case scenario, it makes you a competitive Instagram guru with pictures of you doing yoga and eating exotic fruits and watching sunsets (who is taking these pictures of you anyways?) on every social media website known to man. Worst case scenario, it makes you realize how alone you really are and you ingrained desire for human connection leaves you feeling empty and pathetic.

The problem for us millennials is that we’re still human. And being human in today’s world is hard. We want so badly the connections that are becoming harder and harder to obtain in our modern society. We need human connection, but often we are being met with our own skepticism instead of trust or a screen instead of a face. This disparity between what we need as social human beings and what we’re getting is causing a pandemic of depressed millennials. Many of us have separation anxiety from relationships we haven’t even developed.


About the Author: Kaitlin Renee
 
Kaitlin is currently attending Michigan State University, pursuing degrees in Journalism and Professional Writing. She’s passionate about storytelling and looks forward to a career in which she can give a voice to those without the opportunity or ability to share their own. 
 

 

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One of our rituals was in the week before Christmas, we’d go shopping and each kiddo would choose a keepsake decoration for the tree. This would forever be their decoration. To make sure we’d remember who owned what (a year is a long time!) I wrote their name and year on the box. The idea is that when they leave home, they’ll have a collection of special decorations for their own tree, plump with throwbacks (‘Oh I remember when we bought this!).

Then of course there was Christmas morning. Santa would leave a note on the table and bootprints on the front path, which smelled remarkably like talcum powder. So magical the way the snow was under the boot and never melted, even in an Australian summer! But that’s the magic of Christmas, right?!

We often put so much pressure on ourselves to make Christmas magical. Rituals can make this easier. They get the special memories, you get to make the ‘magic’ without having to come up with something new and different each year.

It’s very likely that there will already be Christmas rituals happening in your family, even if you don’t realise it. Ask them what they remember most, or what they loved most about last Christmas, aside from the presents.

They might surprise you with things you’d completely forgotten about, or which at the time didn’t seem to be a biggie. It can be the simplest things. Maybe they loved the way they were allowed to have ice-cream with pancakes at breakfast last Christmas. (Ice-cream at breakfast?! Told you Christmas was magical!!). 

If it’s what they remember, and if it lights them up, let it become a ‘thing’. Maybe they loved the magic ‘neverending carrot’ sprinkles you put on the scrawny carrot you found in the vege drawer (remembering reindeer groceries can be so hard sometimes!)

You’d be surprised what they find special. It doesn’t have to be big to feel magical.

What are your Christmas rituals? Let’s share ideas in the comments.♥️
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There's no need to enter a code. The books and bundles are already marked with their special sale prices. You'll find them all there - plushies, books, bundles - doing shopping cartwheels, beside themselves excited about helping your young ones feel bigger than anxiety, and shimmy on to brave. 
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It can feel as though the only way to strengthen them against their anxiety is to make sure they have nothing to worry about, but when their worries are real this might not happen quickly. 

Instead, we need to focus on helping them know that even though those worries are there, they will be okay. ‘Not worrying’ isn’t the antidote to anxiety, trust is. This will start with trust in you and your belief that they will be okay, and trust in your reaction if things don’t go to plan. Eventually, as they grow this will expand into trust in themselves and their own capacity to find their way through challenges to a place of hope and strength. 
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Strong steady breathing will reverse the fight or flight physiology that causes nausea, butterflies, or sick or sore tummies during anxiety. BUT telling an anxious brain to take a strong steady breath will potentially make anxiety worse unless strong steady breathing feels familiar. Practising during calm times will make it familiar. 

During anxiety we’re dealing with their amygdala, and it wants short shallow breathing to conserve oxygen. It doesn’t want strong steady breathing and will work hard to resist this. 

An anxious brain is a busy brain and it will be less able to do anything unfamiliar. A few minutes of strong steady breathing each day will set up a strong neural pathway to make strong breathing more automatic and accessible during anxiety. 

In the meantime though, you can do it for them. This is the magic of co-regulation. When you do strong steady breathing during their anxiety, it will calm your nervous system which will eventually calm theirs. You will catch their anxiety, and this will feed into their anxiety. Your strong steady breathing is the circuit breaker. They will catch your anxiety, but they will also catch your calm. Don’t worry if this takes a few minutes (and maybe a few more after that). Anxious brains are strong, powerful, beautiful brains working hard to protect. Breathe and be with. This will open the way for that distressed young nervous system to find its way home. And you don’t need to do more than that.♥️
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Needs and behaviour can get tangled up and treated as one. When you can, separate the need from the behaviour. Give voice to the need - let it find a way to breathe - and redirect the behaviour. 

The need might always be clear, especially if it’s being smothered by angry shouting words. If we stifle the behaviour without acknowledging the need, the need stays hungry. Help usher it into the light by making it clear that you’re ready to receive it. Then wait. Wait for the big behaviour to ease, for bodies to calm, and angry voices to soften - but keep the way to you open. ‘You’re a great kid and I know you know that behaviour wasn’t okay. Talk to me about what’s happening for you.’

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