Posts Tagged ‘depression’

You are each the hero of your own story

Joseph Campbell
Here I am, in my fish earrings and being all mattery.

I’ve been asking my classes this question for years now. This year I finally have an answer.

Who am I? I am a story: Rather, I am a series of stories. Imagine, if you will, that we are standing together on the front porch of my little house. All the things that make up my life are in my house, but I am more than those things. There’s a story here, a story that begins, “Once upon a time, a woman and her son moved to Milton Freewater. It wasn’t where they wanted to go, but there weren’t a lot of choices. They had to move because the story they had been living in Gresham had become unhealthy and dangerous to their bodies and souls….”

We look to the left, and there is a little brick house, with a younger woman and a younger boy standing out back in front of a door leading into a daylight basement. Water pours out of the door, soaking the woman and boy’s feet and legs. There’s a story in that house, too.

Beyond that stand the burned ruins of a townhouse just outside of Medford, Oregon. A young woman and a baby lived there before the fire.

We walk down the front steps and look down a whole row of houses disappearing into the distance. As we look, we realize that the house next door isn’t the only one with water around it—a river weaves between and around some houses. Some stand in the desert, where there is NO water.

The woman and the boy don’t live alone for much of the time. Other people move into their stories, and tell stories of their own which shape the woman and boy’s stories. Sometimes the stories are happy; sometimes sad.

Understanding who my son and I are now means understanding who we have been in the past. It means knowing the stories in which we lived.

Understanding who my son and I are now means understanding who we have been in the past. It means knowing the stories in which we lived.

Me in the fish earrings, 2022

So who am I? I am the sum of all of my stories. I am also the foundation upon which every story in my future will rest. I build from here, and from now.

But what does this mean in practical terms? What does this tell you about me? Here are a few ways that seeing my life as a story will shape our time together:

I believe things should make sense. If they don’t make sense, I need more information.

I believe life has a beginning, a middle, and an end—but the beginning rests on the foundation of others’ stories. My story, in turn, will serve as part of the foundation of stories yet to come. 

Your story is exactly the same. What does that mean? It means that each of us matter. A lot. I matter to you. You matter to me. That just leaves one question: How will we matter to each other? Because we are here in this room together, our lives have become linked. What will that mean to each of us?

I believe that while we cannot control all of the events that find their way into our lives, we can choose how we use those events in shaping our stories. Joseph Campbell has it partly right: We are indeed the heroes of our own stories—but we can be far more than that. We can be our own storytellers, too—and in choosing how we tell our stories, we choose how we will see our lives. 

Have you ever felt like you were waiting for life to begin? Have you ever experienced something so painful that you thought your life was over? I have.

Again me

We can choose when we see our beginnings. And we can choose when we see our endings. Have you ever felt like you were waiting for life to begin? Have you ever experienced something so painful that you thought your life was over? I have. And yet here I am. And the reason? I’m a part of my son’s story. I’m a part of my community story. And now I’m a part of your story. More important, I’m still exploring my own stories. I’m telling my stories, and in telling them, I’m learning who I am.

And that brings me to the last point I’ll make here—The part of me that sees life as a story has offered me a way of surviving another part of myself. I live with clinical depression and anxiety. Those are part of my story. Learning to understand how those factors became a part of my story, and learning to understand what parts of my story help me to claw my way through those dark times, has been a huge part of understanding not just my story, but my parents’ story, my grandparents’ stories, and even my great-grandparents’ stories. 

 I won’t go into great detail here because I am quite literally writing a series of memoirs and a screenplay on the subject (I told you I was all about the stories), but understanding that part of my story means that I have a set of tools to offer others who grapple with those particular challenges. I’m not any kind of mental health professional. But I am the granddaughter of an amazing man who also grappled with depression and anxiety—and who also saw his life as a story. You’ll hear a lot about my Grandpa. Here’s the first thing you should know. 

 My grandpa was the person who taught me how very important one person can be in another’s life. He taught me that I mattered, that I was an important part of his story. He taught me that when depression and anxiety strike it’s important for all of us to understand that while we might not be able to “fix” those things (if we should even try—and more about that later, too) but we can sit beside each other in the darkness. We can offer a hand in the dark. We can offer our ears. We can offer simple care. We can understand that loving each other means that sometimes we go to dark places together, just so our friends and loved ones, who must travel those dark paths, don’t have to travel alone.

We can understand that loving each other means that sometimes we go to dark places together, just so our friends and loved ones, who must travel those dark paths, don’t have to travel alone.

and me once more

 And the payoff? The last lesson for today? No matter how very final those shadows may feel, they do not have to be the end of the story. If we can hold on, the sun will rise again. The clouds will part. The failed exam will become part of our story rather than our agonizing present. The lost love will become part of our history or herstory—and we will learn to love ourselves and others better for the experience. We will remember that we matter. And that others matter to us.

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09rodaI have depression. I’ve had it for years–I suspect since I was about five. I can still remember standing in the hallway just outside my bedroom door, staring at the wall, and thinking, “The world is gray for me. It always will be. It’s supposed to be that way.” The key things about that memory for me are first, that I recognized that the world’s grayness was somehow related to me personally, second, that it would never change, and third, that in hoping for a happier, more colorful world I was somehow sinning.

The world stayed gray for a long time. It got very, very dark when I was in sixth grade, and it didn’t really get better until I began to deal with the reality of my childhood, I had my son and my father died. The gray came back under the pressures the economic crash brought, and I’ve been dealing with greater or lesser degrees of grayness ever since.

It’s hard being chronically depressed. It’s harder in some ways now, because I had several years when the clouds blew away. There’s something very disheartening about knowing that this is a battle I will wage my whole life, and never really win. My only victory will lie in continuing to fight. The idea is exhausting.

But here’s the upside: Surviving depression for this long has taught me a few tricks. They’re based on my own experience, so they work for me, but might not for you. Still, though, it can’t hurt to share, right? For what it’s worth, here they are:

1. I know the difference between being sad and being depressed. Sadness happens. We just lost Leroy. That makes me sad–but it doesn’t necessarily make me depressed. When I’m sad there’s an immediate cause–and while sadness and grief can be intense, they are by their very nature transitory. Sadness is like the surf–it comes in waves. In between, there are periods of relative okayness. Grief generates energy, and for me, grief demands expression. I write. I paint. I talk. And I ease the pain.

Depression, on the other hand, is like quicksand. There is no momentary escape. It sucks me down and down and down until it’s all I can see. There are no periods of okayness. There is only the knowledge that the world is gray, and the sun will never shine again. Depression demands that I hide–that I retreat. When I am depressed I do not write, paint, or even talk much. I live by remote control. And above all, I never, ever, share my despair with those I love the best. What would be the point? The depression tells me that there is no solution, that I have no right to burden them with my gray world. After all, it is mine, alone. I must somehow be responsible for my depression (after all, Christians are happy people, right?). I caused it. I have to fix it. And I know there is no solution. When  I am sad or grieving I ask for–and receive–sympathy. When I am depressed I don’t ask. I know I don’t deserve sympathy–or help.

2. Depression has no one solution. The doctor who first diagnosed me with clinical depression explained it well. “It’s like inflation,” he said. “Depression results from multiple factors working together. You have to address it on multiple fronts.” And then he prescribed anti-depressants. But then he said, “The pills won’t cure your depression. They just replace chemicals in your brain that make it worse. They allow you to deal with the other contributing causes from a position of strength.” And so began a journey into self-discovery–one that I’m still making.

Depression is both emotional and physical. When some of us live with prolonged pressure and stress, our brains literally “forget” how to produce the chemicals that make us feel happy. Depression medication replaces those chemicals–but it does nothing to deal with the pressure and stress that exploited our initial vulnerability. Doing that takes hard work, honesty, and the kind of courage that journeying into the alien and unknown requires. For me, that’s exactly what was required. I was taught that my only happiness, safety, and indeed survival, rested with the very people and institutions that were causing me the greatest harm, even as they professed to have my best good at heart. Relieving those pressures required giving up the things I knew all the way to my soul were necessary for my survival. It required hurting people who couldn’t understand why I was acting as I was, and why I was limiting and ending certain relationships. But I did it, and the pressure eased, and so I had a number of years where I got sad and scared sometimes–but I wasn’t depressed.

Pressure is pressure. I’m back on the meds these days. The economic crash didn’t make me sad, but it applied unrelenting, seemingly unending pressure and stress–the things that triggered my depression in the beginning. I almost lost my house. I went through bankruptcy. And then I lost my cat. It sounds silly when I say it like that, but Ginger had been with me for twenty years, through all sorts of life changes. We had History. And then she was gone. And I grieved. Grief may generate energy, but it is also exhausting, and combined with the constant economic pressure I forgot how to be happy again. The world turned gray. And because I had been here before, I recognized what was happening.

It made me furious at myself. I had not needed the meds for years. Having to go back to the doctor and tell her I needed the anti-depressants again, having to find a good counselor and start on the hard path of working through yet more junk, felt like failure. It felt unfair. I had already done all this, hadn’t I? I was Better. Why did I have to keep fighting the same damned battle over and over again? Other people didn’t. And so there I was, right back where I had been before, only this time I had a son.

I wanted the fight to end. But the only way it would end would be if my life ended. And as lost as I was, there was a part of me that still refused to do that to my son. And so I sucked it up, admitted my “failure,” and went to the doctor. I found a counselor. And I started the long, painful process of detoxing my life all over again. It didn’t feel like victory; it still doesn’t. It just feels like survival. It feels like being a good mom.

Another thing that made this time different was that I had already discarded a lot of the things that had contributed to my depression in the past. I had learned some good coping techniques. I knew to get plenty of rest. I knew to not indulge in negative self-talk. I knew to get outside in the sunshine. I knew to meditate. I knew to remember that as dark as things looked, they did not reflect reality. I knew to have faith in what my reason told me was the true state of affairs. I knew to ask myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” and look the Big Bad directly in the face, and say, “I can survive that. As long as The Boy is all right, I can survive that.” Mostly, I knew not to look to the things that had hurt me for help. I knew to ask myself, “When do I feel most connected, most my true, best self?” and then spend as much time as I could in those places, doing those things. I knew to hold onto the knowledge that nothing is forever. This seemingly endless pressure would end sooner or later, and if I held on and fought, one action at a time, five minutes at a time, the clouds would eventually roll away. And I knew that even though the pills tasted like failure, if I didn’t take them I was denying myself something that would allow me to fight my demons from a position of strength.

It works. I’m sad about losing Leroy, but I’m not depressed. I’m helping The Boy find his way through his first real brush with grief. I had a dinner for Leroy’s friends and family. I’ve notified the people who need to know about his passing. I’m working with the school to get The Boy caught up on the work he missed. I’m teaching my classes this term, but I’ll be taking a leave of absence for a year starting this summer. I’m writing again. I can see a future for us. I’m doing better than coping: I’m living my life well. Which isn’t to say there aren’t still ragged edges. I can’t find the lawn mower book, so I don’t know how to replace the battery on our electric lawn mower, or even where to get the replacement. The car needs work, and I have to arrange for that. The Boy and I still haven’t gotten a handle on the weeding. I still find finances a challenge. But the sun is shining.

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Funny how things strike us. I was just reading Susan Tweit’s amazing blog this morning. She quoted a card she’d received. “Happiness is another form of courage,” I believe it read. Susan’s been writing about her journey as Woman Alone for a while now; I encourage you to visit her blog and read some of her backlist.

But back to courage, and happiness being another form of it. I like the idea of it, but found  my stomach knotting up even as I read. See, I struggle with depression. I have for years. Much of my life has been lived under a black cloud. It’s better now. I’ve learned to regulate my life more effectively. I have a great kid. I have work I love for clients who in many cases have become dear and lasting friends. I see a counselor regularly. I take anti-depressants. I do all the right things, and some days I’m happy.

But often I’m not, and no amount of “choosing happiness” seems to help. As I read Susan’s post I thought of another example of courage. I found it in one of my grandpa’s stories. Grandpa told us stories all the time. He told us the same stories over and over–so often that even today, decades after I last heard his voice, I can still hear it in my heart, and I can tell his stories in his words. As i said, he told us his stories over and over, but this story he only told me once. And now I tell it to you.

In the winters when Grandpa was young, Pewaukee Lake froze over. Sometimes the ice got two or three feet thick. This meant many things to the town of Pewaukee. For one thing, it meant a large supply of ice for iceboxes. For another, it meant jobs.

The icehouse owner assigned jobs by the day. He recorded each man’s time in a little black book, meticulously noting starting and quitting times, time taken off for lunch and for trips to the outhouse, shaving minutes where he could. Each Friday the men lined up for their wages. He’d open his little black book, squint and mutter, slowly total up their hours that week, re-total, then carefully count out wages, reducing a week of labor to pennies and nickels, grudgingly doled out.

“We hated him,” Grandpa said, “but we needed the work.” And hard, cold work it was, out on the lake with massive ice saws, picks, and chains, hacking giant blocks from the sheet ice, grappling it from green water that froze on fingers, loading it onto horse-drawn sledges, dragging it to shore, up the rough bank to the icehouse where men manhandled it into the ice house and buried it in sawdust against July.

The icehouse had a caste system. The best, steadiest men worked in the first room, packing the large, even chunks of ice tightly in sawdust. They were paid fairly well. The weaker, less experienced men worked in the second room, packing smaller, irregular chunks of ice in sawdust. They were paid less. In the third room even less experienced, less reliable men worked, and so it went. There were seven rooms in that icehouse, and there were never enough good men. In the last room derelicts packed ice chips into sawdust for the price of a bottle. Grandpa had worked his way up to the first room that winter. So had Joe.

“He wasn’t a nice man,” said Grandpa. “He drank too much, an’ he gambled, and he had a girl and he got her in trouble, ya know, and didn’t do nothin’ about it, see. People said he hit her, but she stuck with him.” Grandpa shook his head not because the girlfriend stuck by Joe, but because Joe had fallen so low as to hit a woman, get her pregnant, and not marry her. “He was a good man on the ice, though,” Grandpa said, finally.

Pewaukee Lake didn’t freeze solid. There was a ‘drift,’ as Grandpa called it, a warm current running through the middle of the lake that always stayed open. One day, the men were hard at work cutting the ice at the edge of the drift when the icehouse owner drove up. The men weren’t working hard enough. They were taking too long at lunch. They weren’t cutting the ice right…

“We just let him yell,” Grandpa chuckled, “and went on loading the ice onto the sledge. And I don’t know exactly what happened, if it was an accident or if the driver did it on purpose, but when the sledge was full the driver started to back up, ya know, and the little cheapskate was behind him, yelling and shaking his fist, and that sledge just kept on backing up, and over he went, right into the drift.”

“Well, a course we fished him out right away, but it was bitter cold, and we knew we had to get him home, see. I had my car there, but I didn’t have no windows or a heater or nothin’—we didn’t in those days—just isinglass curtains.

“I went to work an’ put the curtains up and we got him right into the car and I drove as fast as I could, but the roads was pretty much drifted shut and icy underneath an’ I didn’t have no snow tires a course, just those little narrow things, so I had to be pretty careful. By the time I got him home he was froze stiff, all hunched over in the seat there.”

“I yelled for somebody to help and the neighbors come runnin’ and we carried him into the house and sat him in a tub of ice water. That’s how ya gotta do it, ya know, ya can’t put’em in hot water. Ya gotta start with cold an’ warm’em up real slow, see. We warmed him up real slow, and in the end he was fine.”

“But he’d lost his little black book. It must’ve fallen out of his pocket there in the drift. Come Friday the men lined up and he sat there with his bag of change like he always did. Joe stepped up to the table and the boss said, “Now, I lost my book this week, but I don’t want to overpay any of you men. You tell me how many days you worked this time, and I’ll start with the black book again next week. Now, how many days did you work?” he asked Joe.

“Seven days, sir,” says Joe, an’ he grins.”

“You sure? Seems to me you missed a couple days.”

“‘No sir. It was seven days.‘ Joe was lyin’, see, but the little cheapskate couldn’t prove it; he’d lost his black book.” Grandpa laughed.

The second man said he, too, had worked seven days. So did the third, and the fourth, and the fifth. Every man there, even the bums and winos, had worked a full seven days that week. The little cheapskate was furious.

“Most of’em was lying,” said Grandpa. “When it come my turn and he asks me I says, ‘Seven days,’ too, but I really had worked all seven days,” said Grandpa. And he laughed.

“And the little cheapskate, he was so tight he said, “But you missed a couple hours the day you took me home. And he docked my pay. I shoulda just let the bum freeze.” Grandpa chuckled ruefully. “He was mad, see, because he knew a lot of the men was lying, but what could he do? He’d lost his book, and he needed men so he had to pay.”

We sat in the warm winter living room. Out in the kitchen Grandma dropped something and said, “Oh Sheeit. Bill?”

“So what happened to  him?” I asked.

“Joe? Nobody really knows for sure. There was a blizzard that winter, and the boss told us to go on home, it was too dangerous; we wouldn’t be able to make decent time, anyway. The wind was howlin’ that day and I could barely see the trees on the hills around the lake. It looked like night, it was stormin’ so bad. Most of us just stood around the fire barrel warming our hands, and every once in a while somebody’d pull on his gloves and head home.  Joe, though, he decided to go ice fishing. He drove home and we thought he’d see sense and stay there, see, but he comes up the road in his old Model T, his fishin’ gear in the back seat. “Don’t go, Joe,” we shouted. “Ya can’t see.”

“Aw, I can see all right,” he said. “I’m gonna go to work and catch me some fish.”

He never even stopped, Grandpa said, just rattled out onto the ice, and the snow swirled around him, pulling him out of sight, then sweeping aside to show glimpses of him as he sped across the ice toward his fishing shack. The wind died, and for a moment they could hear his engine, and see the square back of the Model T disappearing far too quickly into the gloom. The snow swirled up in his slipstream. And then it cleared again just long enough for the men around the fire to see Joe’s car shoot into the drift and sink out of sight. A splash, tiny in the wind, drifted back to them.

The men ran for ropes and a grappling hook. They formed a line from the icehouse, where the rope was moored, out to the edge of the drift. Over and over, they cast the grappling hook into the lake, let it sink into the stormy black opacity of Pewaukee Lake, dragged it slowly back through the icy water.

“We threw that hook all day,” Grandpa said quietly into the dimm afternoon. “I was on the end of the rope most of the time.”

“Why? Couldn’t some of the other men have taken a turn?”

“Because I could. I was big and strong in those days, almost six feet, and my arms were—” and he flexed his gnarled arm like Popeye, and chuckled. “Who else was gonna do it? But I tell you, my arms sure ached from pitching that big hook over and over, with the wind screamin’ and the snow an’ ice cuttin’ into my face.”

At five that evening, the hook finally snagged on something. “We pulled it up real slow,” Grandpa said. “If we’d gone fast it would’ve broken loose, see.” It was the Model T. Joe still sat in the driver’s seat, blue and dead. They pulled him gently to shore.

“Some people thought maybe things just got too much for him with the gambling and his girlfriend pregnant and all,” Grandpa finished. “I don’t know. I don’t think he was the type to give up, but who knows?” He spread his hands and shrugged. Grandpa was a storyteller, not a preacher.

“Why didn’t you just leave him for spring?” I asked.

Grandpa’s eyebrows shot up. “We had to get him outa there.”

“What did you do with him when you got him?” I asked, chastened.

“Oh, we put him on a door and carried him home. And we got together a collection for the girlfriend, something to help her out a little bit with the baby. It wasn’t enough, but what else could we do?”

I shook my head. I had grown up with the gospel according to Sister White and my father—if I tried hard enough I could be happy; if I worked hard enough I could be secure; if I prayed often enough I could be saved. And yet, I Grandpa had just affirmed what I already suspected, that there are some hurts too deep to fix, that sometimes doing everything you can just isn’t enough, sometimes there is no happy ending, ever.

“Tell me about the frog in the water bucket,” I begged.

“Didn’t I tell ya about that?” Grandpa laughed.

“Yeah, but tell me again.”

And so he did, and then he told me the other old stories, and neither of us talked about what was happening all around us, what Grandpa might have seen in my face–if anything–to make him tell me that story. We sat in the dark with the golden glow from the TV room casting a soft glow over us. Grandma’s feet boomed through the kitchen, dining room, TV room, and into the living room.

“Put on the light, Bill,” Grandma commanded. “We gotta get to bed.”

Grandpa reached over and switched on the stairway light. The light from the TV room died.

I stood up, the spell of the icy lake still strong upon me. “Good night, Grandpa,” I said.

“Plant one right there,” he told me, tapping his leathery cheek.

I planted one right there and went upstairs, drawing the comfort of my grandparents’ house around me.

Choosing happiness might indeed be a form of courage. But for those of us who find ourselves at the end of the rope on an icy lake fishing for corpses unnervingly often, sometimes just throwing the damned rope one more time, even though we’ve been at it all day and have had to do more than our share not because it is right or fair or moral but simply because we’re the biggest, and strong enough to do it, can seem pretty courageous.

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HuffingtonPost has an article up today about a disturbing trend among unemployed college graduates with high student loans. They’re killing themselves. HuffPost blogger C. Cryn Johannsen writes:

I first started appreciating the depth of the problem of suicidal debtors a few years ago, with a post on my blog, All Education Matters, entitled, “Suicide Among Student Debtors: Who’s Thought About It?” I was stunned by the responses. In comment after comment, people confessed to feeling suicidal.

Some of the people who write to me are quite specific about how they plan to kill themselves. One person said, “I think about jumping from the 27th floor window of my office every day.” For suicide prevention experts, this is a dangerous sign, as it means that the person has actually devised a plan to carry out the act. In recent months, the notes have increased, and if anything they are even more desperate. One individual admitted that he thought about killing himself all the time. Another even claimed — which was beyond disturbing — that prior to writing his comment, he had been sitting in his car, with the garage door shut.

Johanssen points out that law school students are some of the most frequent responders to her blog; many have amassed crushing debt, haven’t been able to find a job, and are faced with default.

The Dave Nee Foundation’s website notes that the legal profession is already plagued with high depression and suicide rates. In the wake of law school student Dave Nee’s suicide, the Foundation formed and developed a program, Uncommon Counsel, that  they present to law school students highlighting the problem of depression in the legal industry. The ABAJournal notes:

The statistics on law student depression merit concern. Law professor Larry Krieger of Florida State University studies how the law school experience affects students’ mental health. He has reported that between 20 and 40 percent of law students suffer from clinical depression by the time they graduate; that the incidence of clinically elevated anxiety, hostility and depression among students is eight to 15 times that of the general population; and that, out of 104 occupational groups, lawyers rank the highest in depression and fifth in incidence of suicide.Complicating this is the fact that student loans are some of the few debts that cannot be mitigated by bankruptcy. Johanssen writes that, though there has been no formal study of the problem, there have been studies linking unemployment to increased suicide rates, and anecdotal evidence suggests that suicide is something that increasing numbers of debt-ridden college grads are considering.

The economic downturn has only exacerbated the problem. For a profession already plagued by suicide rates, the fact that large numbers of law school graduates are now facing  under-or unemployment.

Last year, The Boy came home with an assignment–we were supposed to sit down and develop a plan to get him through college. It was enlightening, to say the least. Like everybody else, we will be facing the issue of steep educational fees and limited income.

That assignment was enlightening. We’ve managed to develop a plan that should, with dedication, see us through. Mostly, it highlighted the fact that if we are to get him through college without a crushing debt load, we are going to have to change the way that we think about college. For what it’s worth, here’s what it looks like we’ll need to do to get him educated.

1. Stop compartmentalizing. The old system, where one went to high school, then college, then found a job, then married, simply isn’t going to work for us. For college to happen, we will have to stop thinking of it as a stand-alone activity, and see it as something that takes place in conjunction with other things. Things like what?

High school. Our part of Oregon offers high school students the option of attending college for free or for sharply discounted rates. Easter Oregon University runs a summer program that allows high school students to stay in the dorm, attend college, and earn credits for sharply discounted rates. Our school district offers high school students the option of attending Blue Mountain Community College and earning college credits for free through the Expanded Options program. One of the students in my writing class graduated from high school–and from BMCC with her AA degree–this spring. Taking advantage of programs like this can dramatically reduce the cost of college.

Working at a trade. Students have long defrayed the cost of college by holding down jobs, but the jobs students can typically work around their schedules tend to pay very little, and offer little in the way of security or incentives. As part of our college plan, we’ve decided that The Boy is going to be learning a specified trade–typesetting and presentation development springs to mind–that he can pursue while he goes to college. He needs a job that will pay enough to cover college and living expenses, and flipping burgers just won’t do that.

Living his life. We can’t think of college as something he does in preparation for life, but as something he does while he lives his life. Working and going to college takes a long time. If we don’t have a plan that keeps our life livable while eliminating the need for student loans, those years are going to be very long indeed. The old formula of high school-college-job-marriage simply doesn’t apply. Maybe he’ll need to stay at home longer. Maybe we’ll have to build a small second house on the lot. Maybe he and his partner, if any, will have to work and live and go to college. Life is long. Whoever said that college had to be over by thirty? Or fifty? We’re going to have to be flexible.

There are other, incidental things that we’ll try to exploit where we can–things like employee discounts, since I teach at a college, and alumni opportunities at the college and grad school where I got my degrees–but the bottom line is that our reality has dictated a change in how we approach higher education.

In retrospect, 2008 was the end of the world as we knew it. Our financial and political systems are collapsing under the twin weights of greed and ideology. Thriving in this new world is requiring that we rethink everything. We are being forced to revisit issues that we thought we had put behind us–things like women’s rights and racism are being re-examined and challenged in sometimes-frightening ways. The idea of job security has become a joke. Our world is breaking.

So what’s the bottom line? Darwin had it right–the organisms that can adapt and evolve to meet and succeed in a changing environment are the organisms that survive. If we are being challenged, we are also being offered opportunities to evolve. If these are frightening times, they are also exciting times. With a little creativity, a lot of elbow grease, patience, and open-mindedness we can meet the challenge.

But in the meantime, pay attention. Keep track of the students and unemployed graduates with big student loans. Understand that they’re a vulnerable group. If you love them, keep them safe. And let’s find a way to help solve the problem for all of us.

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Susan Wittig Albert

NYT Bestselling Author

Linda C. Wisniewski

WRITER, memoir teacher, knitter, quilter, happy trail walker...

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