June 2016, Millennial Life

The Arduous Odyssey of Self Discovery

by Trapper S. Kinchen

(Editor’s note: Julie is a pseudonym for the counselor interviewed for this article.)

FullSizeRender-6We, millennials, find ourselves in this transient space between who we were as children and who we will be as adults. It doesn’t matter if you are 13 or 35 — undoubtedly you are bound on the great and unchanging odyssey of self-discovery undertaken by each generation since the birth of creation.

Time propels each of us forward on an expedition to unlock who we are, apart from our parents, separate from what we’ve been taught. We work toward finding life-affirming careers, healthy romances, honest friendships and most importantly, an authentic relationship with God. Sometimes, along the way, our newly discovered personal truths and experiences diverge from the sentiments and facts instilled into us as children.

That separation between what we thought we knew and what we now hold to be true sometimes stalls us with a song of self-doubt and dread, and we often find ourselves in need of a little support and encouragement along the way.

I recently sat down with Julie, a friend of mine who works as a faith-based counselor on the Northshore. She specializes in individual and family therapies and works with a great many people our age. Her job is essentially to offer encouragement, and provide her clients with the tools they need to navigate their day-to-day lives as healthily as possible.

Each of the people she treats represents a unique personal history. The traumas, experiences and circumstances that bring them to her practice are incredibly diverse, but the usual motivations that spur her millennial clients into counseling are stress, anxiety and fear. Sometimes these symptoms manifest in varying degrees of depression, compulsive behavior and/or an urge to self-harm.

PI_2015-04-09_teensandtech_05As the 21st century carves its way through American culture, technology continues to play an ever-increasing role in how we exercise our minds, bodies and spirits. Julie sees firsthand the consequences that widespread overdependence on technology is having on millennials. “Comparing ourselves to other people isn’t new. But, with mobile devices, technology is constantly in our face. A general feeling of inadequacy is practically inescapable these days,” Julie said.

It’s undeniable that social media has exacerbated our national obsession with individual success. We are continually bombarded with unrealistic beauty and material standards on platforms like Instagram, and are often left questioning our worth. Are we #important, #beautifulenough, #reachingnewlevels? We wonder why we don’t have a high enough paying job, a house of our own, a new vehicle, a cohort of attractive friends, a beautiful and affectionate romantic partner or a more symmetrical face. The cultural ideals one encounters on social media have the quiet ability to undermine our confidence.

PI_2015-04-09_teensandtech_01Modern technology has the potential to enrich our lives in ways no prior generation has ever been enhanced before. Skype and social media, for example, afford us the ability to maintain visual relationships with people clear across the globe. But like any other obsessive impulse, over time, technological codependence starts to snuff out our humanity.

The Pew Research Center discovered in 2015 that 24 percent of teens “go online almost constantly.” They also found that 71 percent of all teens use more than one social media site while online.  Such a heavy amount of Internet use is disconcerting because when we glut ourselves on visual media, our desire to live life to the fullest is undermined by a compulsion to sustain a captivating online presence.

All of the externally induced self-doubt we carry, mixed with the litany of heartache and worry each of us endures on the path to maturity, can manifest into depression, anxiety, panic, fear, low self-esteem, etc., and these symptoms become unmanageably enflamed when we ignore their underlying causes. The most cathartic way to confront and reconcile the roots of any emotional or psychological unrest is to seek counseling.

When deciding whether to see a mental health professional and what sort of help you might need, Julie emphasizes that there’s a great deal to consider. As a Christian, ministry-based treatment might be the right choice for you. The differences between faith-based counseling and traditional psychological analysis are not terribly deep, and Julie insists that each technique holds merit.

FullSizeRender-7“I use elements of both traditional analysis and faith-based principles in my counseling. How much I include of either depends on the individual I’m treating. Incorporating prayer and scripture into the healing process can be very beneficial if a person is open to them,” she said. The key is to find a counselor with whom you mesh well, and whose techniques you find effective. Pray about it. The Lord will ultimately lead you where you need to go if you ask Him.

It is also important to be proactive and take a dynamic role in your own healing. To start, do some online research on local counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists. Read about their unique counseling styles and approaches to treatment before making an appointment. If you know someone who is seeing or has previously seen a mental health professional, ask if they recommend their counselor.

If you’re a student, either in high school or college, there are already resources in place to help you combat these achingly negative feeling that might be weighing you down. Go to your school counselor or the mental health facility at your university, and they will act as a launching point for your journey to overall wellness. They can either treat you themselves, or recommend someone for you to see in private practice.

If you ever get to a place of total hopelessness and dejection, Julie recommends you go immediately to someone safe who loves you and let them know how you feel. If you do not have a person you can readily approach or trust, call your doctor or go to a reputable hospital and let them know you are severely depressed. Your physician can quickly refer you to a mental health professional, and all hospitals have at least one psychiatrist on staff that can help you in case of an emergency.

Julie emphasized that if someone ever comes to you with the intention to harm either themselves or others, get them to the nearest emergency room as quickly as possible so they can be treated by a medical professional.

Julie also has some suggestions for any parents who might be wondering how they can help their depressed, anxious or panicked child. “Leave judgment out of it,” Julie said. “If you want your teenage and adult kids to feel comfortable coming to you when they have problems, listen to them and offer them love and encouragement.” Additionally, be conscious not to add any additional pressure to your child’s emotional burden. Let them come to you when they seek guidance. Be ready to hear them. Advise them when they seek it, and provide them with a silent ear when they need someone to listen. Let them know they are loved and supported, not as children who need to be soothed or disciplined, but as capable, flourishing individuals.

PI_2015-04-09_teensandtech_10When I asked Julie what she thought most Christians commonly misconceive about therapy, she said, “People often think their problems are ‘all under the blood.’ They sometimes believe the abuse, trauma and uncertainty they experience can simply be offered up in prayer and that’s the end of it. Yes, the Lord wants us to be whole and healed, and he will help you process your pain and anxiety if you’ll let him. But, each of us has to play an active role in our own healing.”

Mental, emotional and psychological illnesses must be treated as such. God has provided us with plenty of resources to help us engage in complete and lasting wellness. Depression, anxiety, panic and self-hatred are, in essence, no different than broken bones. You would not try to set a shattered femur without the supervision of an orthopedist, would you? Nor should you feel you must weather the aftershocks of mental, physical or spiritual trauma alone and unguided. Let a counselor encourage and direct you through the pain.

The route to self-discovery is sharp and twisted. The terrain is perilous, and our missteps will be many, but we don’t have to undertake the expedition alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help when it’s most needed and always remember to take your time and enjoy the journey.