“Good lord! …there are still happy people out there???”
Perspective: In my early 40s, STEM PhD, most of my friends from uni have PhDs in STEM, many of them dual-PhD couples, plus quite a few BSc - many in IT - so we all have access to relatively better wages and job stability locally.
Yet almost everyone is struggling, except those who were given houses early on by well off parents, or married into wealth. People I know of in healthcare, teaching, seem in pretty bad shape physically and emotionally and mentally, but frankly, everyone’s in terrible shape in some sense and burned out. Teaching kids at home while working through covid (and getting sick from covid) ruined the lives, health & mental health, of a lot of people, and honestly I’m amazed there haven’t been more divorces among the people I know.
For ‘lucky’ childfree singles like myself, ordinary stuff like dating & socialising are extremely troublesome thanks to covid (do I choose: being able to see family, or dating, because mum has cancer, dad has every possible covid risk factor, and covid wouldn’t mix well with any of that?). I should be more precise - dating is terrifying for science-inclined people. I know of multiple people who went on dates with folk that swore to god they had checked and got a negative test before meeting up… and later admitted otherwise. Cough, cough. I see covid deniers all over the place who refuse point blank to even believe I’ve lost family and friends to covid.
Almost no one here wears a mask. Between March 2020 and March 2022, I saw a total of 3 people out of this population-500 countryside-village-area wearing a mask, at any time during the covid era, including outdoor ‘lockdown parties’ in their gardens with all their neighbours & family. All 3 were postmen / supermarket delivery workers. This has a huge impact on happiness. It’s like … doctors and nurses and hospital cleaners were giving their lives to keep society going, teachers risking their lives to keep classes running, and all these people wouldn’t even make the tiniest step even in the depth of the crisis to try to help.
For most of my generation, our parents are from the baby boom generation, and quite a few are slipping into dementia, pre-dementia, or NPD levels of self-focus, bullying, selfishness. At the very least, I know of friends and acquaintances whose elderly parents seem to have their absolute worst qualities floating to the surface rather easily in the last 2 years. I wonder if it was brought on by weeks or months of lockdown? ‘how dare anyone tell ME not to do something! How dare they force ME to wear a MASK!’? Is covid is playing a role in this? Apparently a single infection doubles your odds at dementia and it’s notorious for microvascular damage, i.e. brain veins.
I spoke to an old friend who now has a PhD in psychiatry, at my wit’s end with my own elderly folk - asked for her advice. She told me: “I’m really sorry but I have no ideas. I have the same problem myself with my own parents, and I can’t find a solution either. Nothing works as far as reasoning with them goes. I had to cut my parents out of my life completely last year. It’s awful.”
Meanwhile, wages are absolutely terrible (UK currently, but also much of Europe), cost of living is almost hilariously disconnected from wages, public services are falling apart, healthcare & dentistry is near-to-inaccessible, if you report crime it may not ever be investigated, most people’s children are having a really tough time at school for these last two years and increasingly falling behind with normal educational, social and developmental outcomes. My brother’s a teacher, he says the job at this point is mostly about somehow convincing yourself to show up each day and try to do what you can, try not to take any of the awful things that happen too personally.
Then there’s the climate & environment…
The government is … I don’t even know what the government is trying to achieve other than outright, open, amoral plundering.
The housing market is going to crash hard and wipe out those who didn’t lock in fixed rates on their mortgages; I’m scared to ask my friends to find out which ones listened to my advice and took out fixes in the last few years. Actually that sums up a big part of the problem - many of us are getting scared to ask one another ‘how’s it going’ - chances are, it’s going really badly.
What else… we have the Ukraine war, burning out what few empathy neurons somehow made it through the last few years. Literally daily talk of nukes launching any day now; literally daily talk in the press of how many artillery shells nearly took out one of the continents largest nuclear power stations each day. I’m from the generation that remembers Chernobyl fallout floating down over the UK during my childhood, and all the sheep in the hills being slaughtered because of contamination. Chernobyl fallout related restrictions remained in place in the UK for farming till 2010! I don’t want that for another 25 years.
I have the feeling that student debt, housing bubbles (UK/EU/AU prices are way above US prices, especially salary-adjusted), and childcare costs have more or less broken the spirit of my generation completely, other than the lucky few (who were able to buy houses early, in the depth of the GFC, or were given money/housing).
Here’s an example. Before prices spiked upwards due to covid (forgive the pun), I took a look at my old student town. A 50 square meter, 2-bedroom little apartment in a shared building was £550,000, which at the time would have been around $750,000. That’s a student town with no jobs other than pubs, food and cafes, and a cold little 50m2 apartment. A bit like a ‘condo’ in the US, but often converted haphazard from old single-family homes and thus lacking the designed-in-small-home-features (and sound insulation) of a condo-style apartment.
Now consider: wages in the UK average around £38000/yr pre-tax (then, $53000/yr, now, $41000/yr); taxes are higher than the USA; covid housing-mania made houses rise significantly since I last looked; the pound is now worth <$1.10 rather than $1.40 which is driving the cost of everything up - food, transport and energy in particular. Also, long term fixed mortgage rates are not easily available here, which is adding to the considerable stress this year as people fall into variable rate loans.
My generation believed strongly in the tale that if you study hard, work hard, do your best, behave responsibly - you’ll do well at work, be paid reasonably well, secure job, eventually promotion. All of that so far has turned out to be a lie. In every workplace, for almost every person I know. We’re at the point in our careers where we’re all becoming pretty cross about it and telling Millennials straight: ‘be selfish, if you have to; companies do not love you, they don’t even like you - in fact they won’t even remember who are you, 5 minutes after they hand you a notice of redundancy at the worst possible time’. And the Millenials invariably reply “well of course we’re going to look out for ourselves as number 1! why would anyone ever imagine anything else might work, the way companies are?”. And we feel like fools, for ever thinking otherwise, and trusting in ‘the system’, hard study and hard work.
“Hope lies in the Zoomers”, I often say, and friends agree - “we must somehow make sure that they never experience this dotcom/gfc/eurocrisis/brexit/covid, debt-and-crap-jobs-and-crap-housing-and-crap-healthcare-and-crap-childcare-and-collapsing-public-services hellscape that we have been struggling through.”
Nonetheless; the grey-vote-elected tories in the UK seem set on stripping the accommodation absolutely bare - even the paint - before they leave.
Things are going to suck, here. A lot. For a long time.
Oh - bonus nightmare. Just now I’m moving to Belgium. Pre 2020 it would have taken me $50, a few hours to move there, register as resident and set up a business and I’d be fully established as a local. Hours.
Now it will take me months, weeks of effort, flights all over the country, and about $40000. My generation have been stripped of our EU citizenship by the votes of a generation containing far too many selfish, narcissistic xenophobes, who ‘don’t like them foreign folk’ and decided to leave the EU in a vague attempt to get rid of foreign-ness. Goodbye customers & clients in Europe, goodbye economy, goodbye escaping the economy.
How can I convey the distress that many in my generation feel about this situation?
Imagine if, in your days of youth, you lived in an economically challenged area such as Mississippi, and the oldest folk of the state voted to secede - and they outnumber you. Then they also vote to cut off trade with the rest of the USA and put in place barriers to make it hard to emigrate. Now you’re stuck there forever in Mississippi, with a broken economy and a Mississippi citizenship. Sure, that’s some people’s idea of heaven, to be trapped forever in Mississippi, and fair play to you if it’s you. But it isn’t my idea of a good time and I’m not loving it much, stuck here in the Mississippi of Europe.
There’s a saying: ‘this too shall pass’. Which helps but … when do I get to have a house? A partner, a family? Any feeling of stability or home? My parents had a house, land, pets, kids, car, money for hobbies, solid gold-plated pensions, all that stuff set in place at age 30, and yet they left high school with the absolute minimum in certificates. I - and my friends - worked our nuts off to be the best in our fields, qualifying from top universities - yet struggle along in e.g. little 50m2 apartments, trying to survive and pay the bills. It feels absurd. Knowing that at least half the planet, perhaps three quarters, has life even worse again, doesn’t help much either.
And we’re now heading into the next probably-multi-year recession and financial crisis. Let’s see: ‘neuro-atypical and unhappy’ - yeah that pretty much covers it.