The future, for me, has always felt intangible
December 5, 2021 6:12 AM   Subscribe

This article made me realize I’ve been thinking this way since I was very young.

I definitely don’t have PTSD but ever since the fourth grade I’ve thought the phrase “I have no future” a lot. Along with “ the worst thing is always true” and “nothing gets better.” These are the laws that govern reality, Ive lived my life accordingly.
posted by Vociva at 6:25 AM on December 5, 2021 [18 favorites]

I definitely recognize this. It’s one reason I left university twice - I had no sense of myself surviving long enough to reach professional goals, and in a way my whole career life had been stumbling into successes. Great overview piece.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:34 AM on December 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

People not thinking they’ve had things bad enough to have PTSD is almost as insidious as other people not thinking that someone (whose traumas they often have no idea about) has had it bad enough to have PTSD. That’s something that various friends of mine have struggled with, and it was good to see the author discuss it in the link, since I don’t see it talked about much! (Vociva, you should talk to a therapist about those recurrent thoughts, if you are able to access therapy.)
posted by eviemath at 6:41 AM on December 5, 2021 [23 favorites]

'a sense of a foreshortened future’.

GenX checking in to say "Sure, whatever".
posted by pompomtom at 6:52 AM on December 5, 2021 [75 favorites]

This sounds like me. I never expected/wanted to live past my twenties, so I just never set goals or even cared about the future since I knew I didn't have one. Then I spent my entire life internally screaming "I don't want any of this". I'm in my 60s now and I still don't see a future for me.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:59 AM on December 5, 2021 [31 favorites]

Life Expectancy of the World Population continues to increase, but somehow I doubt I'll be able to outrun it. YMMV of course: a positive outlook never hurts.
posted by cenoxo at 7:07 AM on December 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Wow, I never realized there was a name to this! I just turned 45 recently and it occurred to me that I never learned how to plan to my life other than in a vague "if I live that long" way. I still can't conceive of my future, or a path, despite my many attempts. (I'm also booked for a ADHD referral with my GP as that something else that has been pointed out to me about lifelong behaviour.)

The feeling I have about this trauma response is the sensation of being unfinished.
posted by Kitteh at 7:23 AM on December 5, 2021 [20 favorites]

This article made me realize I’ve been thinking this way since I was very young.

Jesus. Me too. I've only recently begun to understand that emotional abuse was a large component of my childhood, and that what I've always thought of as clinical depression might actually be a larger constellation of behaviours, thought processes and coping mechanisms resulting from what I still feel really uncomfortable describing as trauma.

Even when I was a small child I could never visualise the normal human milestones for myself -- career, relationship, home, family, community, security -- and reached a point where I believed it was because I didn't want them or wasn't suited to them, or simply didn't deserve them. Approaching middle age, the only one I've managed is the home, out of necessity more than anything else. I don't like being hopeful or having things to look forward to because they'll only lead to disappointment.
I've never been able to imagine myself or my life beyond the immediate future, and haven't spoken about it honestly since my teens, when it was made clear my lack of enthusiasm for my own future meant I was lazy, or unmotivated, or a disappointment.
posted by myotahapea at 7:27 AM on December 5, 2021 [27 favorites]

I've always had a sense that I cannot control my future so there's no real use planning - I just need to get my head down and survive day to day. I've always had terrible trouble doing anything to scaffold a future because I feel like it will be completely useless since I'll just be smashed by forces outside my control anyway. I know intellectually that this is the result of being bullied really aggressively for years with everyone in my life knowing about it and no one ever doing anything, except for those adults who were actively complicit, but even when you know, it's tough to shake off. I've really burned myself a lot of times by making "survival decisions" - feeling unable to stand up to people and say, "I can't choose right now" or "I need to work on that" or "what if we just did X for a while". I mean, I have made big life choices out of the sense that I will just be swept aside by forces outside my control so let's just say whatever to get more powerful people off my back.
posted by Frowner at 7:32 AM on December 5, 2021 [41 favorites]

Oh man thanks for posting this. It's something I've been addressing a lot recently in therapy. It's kind of nice to know it is a mainstream enough experience to be written about in a global rag like Glamour. Yes, it makes sense- if one is living in a state of just survival, one isn't thinking about enrichment of oneself. People who don't have obvious "trauma" may not realize that they were potentially emotionally neglected, and could be running on empty. If you feeling empty now, sure, of course, it definitely makes sense that the future seems out of reach. I'm so glad that the language of trauma and how so many people experience it and are coping is coming into the common vernacular. Being triggered by daily life throws one into a place of the past, where the present and future aren't really being addressed or considered appropriately. And when I was abused, I was quite young, so yeah, of course that's a powerless feeling. Of course one feels trapped to stay small.
posted by erattacorrige at 7:33 AM on December 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

This article made me realize I’ve been thinking this way since I was very young.

Holy shit, this is me. I've been thinking this way since my stepdad died when I was 21--he was barely 52, and as I approach that age (49 now) I also am realizing that I've never thought much about my life beyond that age, or really into middle age at all.
posted by LooseFilter at 7:35 AM on December 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” ― Mark Twain

“I'm not afraid of death; I just don't want to be there when it happens.” ― Woody Allen

“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” ― John Lennon
posted by cenoxo at 7:41 AM on December 5, 2021 [11 favorites]

Saddened but glad this is resonating with you all as much as it did with me.
posted by ellieBOA at 7:42 AM on December 5, 2021 [8 favorites]

Lots of people have noticed this in, of all things, female fashion advice subreddits — either people who read them or people who make fun of them. The posters are overwhelmingly very young women and teenagers, because they’re still learning how to dress for a lot of stuff. There are just so many of them who are like “30 is the end of fashion, you will be issued a greige sack and shoved on to the ice floe”.

I am 36 and I do not remember thinking like this in my teens and early 20s. I remember thinking that 35 year olds would be older, have some more money, and maybe forgo some of the most risqué trends but not, like, go full-on granny or even middle-aged. (Granted we had just emerged from the “View My Pubis!” era and catapulted ourselves into Full-On-Mad-Men which works well for those un-nubile 28 year olds.)

But then maybe instead of a generation gap I should have thought of it as being unable to visualize themselves at 30.
posted by Hypatia at 7:42 AM on December 5, 2021 [10 favorites]

Following up on my last comment, not watering down terminology or concepts like trauma triggers through over-use in a more general context is also important, of course. Specifically, Gen-X ironic detachment is not quite the same thing as what the author is talking about in the link, though likely many Gen-Xers who have a sense of foreshortened future have found the two to be in keeping with each other. Which may well be the case for folks posting about this being a Gen-X attitude here? If the linked piece resonated with you, know that it’s not just how life is or how your/our generation is, and that you deserve and are worthy of support if you often have such feelings and they are negatively impacting your quality of life. I think there is an important distinction, though, between what the author describes (not feeling personally worthy of a future) versus just not being able to visualize oneself as an old person when still a kid or teen, or looking at the state of the world and concluding that external events are likely to forestall much future for oneself.

That is, it seems plausible to likely to me that having a sense of foreshortened future is not necessarily evenly distributed among age groups. I think it would be interesting and helpful to also have some research into how general rather than personal traumas, like climate crisis or lack of economic opportunity, can also potentially lead to individual sense of foreshortened future. (I know this has been written about, though usually from a clinical research perspective nor using quite the same terminology, a little eg. in think pieces about Gen-Z). I imagine there’s a connection, too, to the older idea of anomie?
posted by eviemath at 7:43 AM on December 5, 2021 [14 favorites]

Saddened but glad this is resonating with you all as much as it did with me.

Thank you very very much for posting this.
posted by LooseFilter at 7:55 AM on December 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

(It is often hard to visualize what we haven’t seen enough or any representation of, and the US is pretty strongly and a-historically age segregated. So eg. I had a hard time imagining or visualizing myself as an older person in my childhood through much of my 20s, but just because I had very few models of other people who I could see myself in growing older, not because I didn’t feel like I deserved or was worthy of a future. It’s not that I either did or didn’t feel that I had a future, just that it was a blank corner of the map with maybe a couple doodles of sea monsters on it. So it sounds like my experience is different from the author’s experience is some quite important details, in that respect. Like the other issue of not feeling like one has a personal future due to external events, I imagine that there is more overlap for many other people than there was in my personal experience, however.)
posted by eviemath at 7:55 AM on December 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

During our hard lockdown last year I had this so strongly that it felt as if the future was badly out of focus, and didn't really exist. I lived week to week. On Monday, I knew Friday would come, but no more than that. Even now I find myself surprised when someone talks about something they plan for the future.
There is something soothing about others having faith that there is something to plan for. I'm not there myself yet.
posted by Zumbador at 7:56 AM on December 5, 2021 [22 favorites]

Saddened but glad this is resonating with you all as much as it did with me.

Thank you very very much for posting this.

It is saddening, but, I also take gratitude for the fact that I am not unique or alone in this feeling. Other people, who I admire and hold optimism for, feel similarly, go through similar states and struggles? Pain is our common denominator, and that is not a bad thing. Compassion is cultivated there.
posted by erattacorrige at 8:01 AM on December 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

Good to know there's a name for it. And to have confirmation that all my therapists save one have been absolute rubbish for laughing it off when I described it to them.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:02 AM on December 5, 2021 [11 favorites]

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that this isn't just from one instance of trauma in people's lives, but rather deeply tied to numerous instances of trauma, all handed down by a system that doesn't give a fuck if you exist and will punish you if you're not an obedient worker.

I'm sure people in non-capitalistic cultures feel this phenomena, too. However, it seems like our system is definitely built to reward the shittiest among us, and if you're just a halfway decent person trying to be decent in this world, by the time you hit your twenties you're already sure "someone like you wasn't meant to survive in this dog eat dog world."

So, in other words, in a lot of instances, maybe, just maybe, this is actually, genuinely because people really see their prospects for the future foreshortened, and it can feel like if all your hopes and dreams are already out the window before you even left high school, how can you expect to have any hope for a future at all?

To quote Greta Thundberg:

"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words, yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering, people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing,"

But sure, when even Scientific American is ready to admit our species may go extinct within the next hundred years, we have oh so much to look forward to and live for.

Give me a break, this is a realistic response to the real data that our planet is dying and knowing humans, we won't handle it well, and we will spend the end of human history tearing each other apart for what little scraps there are left on the hell hole of a burning planet we'll have made for ourselves.

It's hard to imagine a future when it has literally been stolen from you by robber barons. It's been that way my whole fucking life, it isn't just childhood trauma. It's trauma caused from living in a fucking society where I could be shot to death for being caught with a joint, but the rich can murder and rape with impunity. It's trauma from knowing that the world thinks you are expendable and will treat you that way. When you die, the boss will replace you within a day, the mourning will be short because this is America and we have to keep making profit, nevermind mourning the dead. It's trauma from knowing all that hard work will never be rewarded, that you'll always be in fear of dying from lack of money to afford medical bills, that you'll always be in fear of being on the streets because the cost of living has gotten too high.

I just don't know, saying this is only from childhood trauma sounds like straight bullshit to me. It sounds more like people just really recognizing exactly how fucked they're getting in life and how little control they have in stopping getting fucked like that. We don't think we will make it in this world because this world actively punishes good people and rewards the most selfish, callous, and shitty.
posted by deadaluspark at 8:10 AM on December 5, 2021 [73 favorites]

I have felt this way since about 2001. I pin it on 9/11, honestly. I was so full of life before that. I remember writing up plans about getting married and having children and writing books in specific years, most of which have passed by now. They weren't totally serious plans, of course, but they mapped on to what I could imagine -- and I could imagine.

After 9/11, I thought life was going to be big and dark and serious and I needed to be a much darker and more serious person. I made really stupid choices because of this. My imagination failed me then and it has failed me ever since, except that for the past few I have been sure that along certain lines, to a certain degree, things will be Bad.

What I do know, though, is that the badness I imagine doesn't encompass everything. For decades now, people anticipating apocalypse have taken off to the woods, but I've never thought that was a way to prepare for what it will really be like, unless you just wanted to look at the ass end of a mountain for your whole life anyway.

If I have learned one thing, it is this: the future isn't art-directed. It doesn't come in one big box on one big day, even days like 9/11. Things change, but they also go on, unexpected and unaccounted for; and some of them are beautiful.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:13 AM on December 5, 2021 [14 favorites]

I almost relate to this but for me it’s more “hope for a foreshortened future.” Not sure if that’s in the same realm, or just the depression talking.
posted by obfuscation at 8:17 AM on December 5, 2021 [7 favorites]

I'm very this but i definitely feel like I'm more even-keeled and bright on a daily basis even if i don't really plan for anything in the long term (apart from "just in case" money). But i think it's because i was dead sure i was going to die in my 20s, so everything now is extra time. Also, per Good Omens, i was definitely the same age cohort as Young Adam reading Anathema Device's newsletters, so I've had that sense of ecosystem doom for a while.

In any case, I'm single and i never really planned for a career and the prospects look dire so I'm just hanging on until a time comes when I really have to decide if this is it. But otoh like I said, i seem to be more copacetic about it? Don't ask me about a year from now but in the meantime there are small things i want to do and try. But nothing big that takes direction though.
posted by cendawanita at 8:18 AM on December 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

deadaluspark, as I wrote above, people can get a sense of foreshortened future for a variety of reasons, sometimes overlapping, one of which (and the one that the link author experienced and wrote about) is due to personal trauma. She isn’t saying it’s the only source, she’s just describing her experience and only her experience. It seems to resonate with a lot of folks both because trauma in childhood is distressingly common and because the end feeling seems to be very similar regardless of source (which is part of why it’s important not to assume that our own experiences with the described feeling are universal or necessarily the most common). And noticing both the similar outcomes and different causes are both important - the former for creating solidarity and supporting each other, the latter for identifying whether the solution for each of us involves personal therapy, collective action, or some combination of the two.
posted by eviemath at 8:20 AM on December 5, 2021 [7 favorites]

This was an extremely common experience for queer people of my generation. Most of us didn’t expect to make it to 20. Though in our case, we specifically expected we would kill ourselves before then. Even if we weren’t currently suicidal, we knew we couldn’t bear this for so many more years without becoming so. That’s why we hated the It Gets Better campaign so much.

This seems to be more of a general inability to imagine the future, but not necessarily coupled with suicidal ideation. Interestingly, while I know some queer people who still experience this, most of us cleared twenty (that is: got out of our parents’ houses) and suddenly found ourselves able to imagine the future.

I wonder if having a clear endpoint to that trauma—not that everyone does, but many queer folks have—helped in processing that in some way. I’m not sure when I started planning for the future... maybe senior year of college (which I only went to as a means of escaping my family)? But it’s been a long time since I felt like that.

I’m so sorry for all of you who still feel that. I don’t have any good words but I feel for you.
posted by brook horse at 8:23 AM on December 5, 2021 [21 favorites]

GenX checking in to say "Sure, whatever"

Assumed the linked one directed to "The Day After" on YouTube.

I don't know if growing up under the mushroom cloud contributed directly to what's been a pretty directionless, path of least resistance life for me, but it sure didn't help.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:28 AM on December 5, 2021 [17 favorites]

Yeah, this is me as well, even down to the age 25 end date that I’m well past now. I think it was William Gibson in a nonfiction piece who introduced the concept of “denarration” - the feeling that your story has come to end without you, and you go on as a disused character.
posted by rodlymight at 8:38 AM on December 5, 2021 [18 favorites]

This entire thread is genuinely baffling to me. I can easily picture my consciousness in some post-human form spending billions of years exploring the universe - not that this is a likely outcome, but it's not hard to see a path that leads there. It's depressing that the heat death of the universe will kill me eventually, but I'll have a lot of time to work on getting around that. I am most definitely the main character in my story.

But I have no history of trauma so I guess that checks out.
posted by allegedly at 8:49 AM on December 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

I am most definitely the main character in my story.
Yeah see that is the difference. For some people with a history of trauma (especially developmental), there is no secure attachment to the Self- and everything else just radiates out from there. You have a secure attachment to your Self, probably due to that being given to you as a small person by nurturing caregivers. But for those without it, having a Self and being in touch and whole in oneself was a scary and dangerous prospect. Suppressing the Self and one's own needs, will, desires, is a matter of survival for a lot of people, and these survival tactics ("coping mechanisms") also splinter one away from their deeper wholeness. It is a normal way of dealing with being powerless and overwhelmed by pain when one is brand-new and reliant on those around them. For those without this type of trauma, it is hard to imagine that they can be bereft of Self, of Home, of Wholeness.
I kind of think though that a lot more people (even adults! who are well-adjusted in themselves) are vulnerable to this separation, which is what I think happens when people join up into cults and whatnot because ultimately, life and the world are very overwhelming at times for even the most trauma-free adults. Cults are insidious because they offer a dream of connectedness but ultimately manipulate that urge to split people away from their deepest, safest Self.
I also do not think it is a coincidence that as we trash our planet, a lot of people feel a sense of strong internal disconnect- because we are part of the planet, we came from it, it made us, and we are of it. As we traumatize the earth, we traumatize ourselves, and that's something that no amount of healthy upbringing can necessarily mitigate.
posted by erattacorrige at 9:05 AM on December 5, 2021 [29 favorites]

I can't imagine a different future from now. I can't get from A to B, much less A to Z. I can't conceive of me having a different job, and frankly the world is resistant to my having one either too.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:12 AM on December 5, 2021 [9 favorites]

I can easily picture my consciousness in some post-human form spending billions of years exploring the universe

Like, I can easily picture myself living in a utopian science fiction scenario, yes, but I cannot picture myself having a job that uses my skills, planning for anything that would take place in five years, building up anything, etc. It is very difficult to do anything beyond what is needed to get through today or even the next few hours because I feel like my life is out of my control. It's not that I would be indifferent to life if I could be zapped into a post-human form and visit, like, the pillars of creation or something, it's that my feeling of the actual likely future is "it is going to be bad, nothing you can do will make it not bad, better to disassociate and/or compartmentalize so that you can obtain some scraps of enjoyment in the moment". This is of course intensified by climate and political crisis, in that whereas before I felt that it was because I was me that my life would always be bad, now I feel that it is also because everything else is collapsing. Before, if I were not me I could have done something else; now, even if I were not me, nothing else is possible.

It's not that I can't picture a way of being that would be happy; it is that I know that there is literally no way to get to that point.
posted by Frowner at 9:17 AM on December 5, 2021 [27 favorites]

On the last day of 6th grade, after a year covering for the first time in our academic careers global warming (it was 1980), the cold war, the drug war, how to recognize and resist propaganda, the Iran hostage crisis, Abscam, and that ex-actor and clearly already deep in dementia Ronald Raygun was going to be the clear winner of the upcoming election, our teacher told us, "Go and enjoy your summer vacation, because tomorrow may well be your last day." Oh, we lived in the NYC greater metropolitan area, so not close enough to be instantly vaporized, too close to avoid lethal fallout and firestorms. The class-made posters on the walls were on lake acidification (mostly now fixed here in the US, but still a global issue), blast radisues and fallout paths from nuclear strikes at local targets such as NYC, the submarine base in New London, the reserve base in Danbury; and the Salem Witch trials (which we had covered in depth, along with a comparison to the anti-communist movement.) My brother, who had the same teacher three years earlier, said they had had nothing like any of that in his class.

Yeah, I've never felt like I had a future, and suspect many of my classmates felt the same.
posted by Blackanvil at 9:30 AM on December 5, 2021 [27 favorites]

Capitalism is exploitative and relies profoundly on the power of a few to get their needs exponentially met at the cost of many more people suppressing their own needs (to survive!), so yeah, to me it also makes sense that we are being uber-traumatized in our current system because this basically mirrors narcissistic parenting to vulnerable children.
posted by erattacorrige at 9:44 AM on December 5, 2021 [9 favorites]

As often as not, I feel like I actually died years ago but by some demented twist of fate my body failed to completely stop working.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:02 AM on December 5, 2021 [21 favorites]

I had this growing up and have always linked it to my lifelong OCD/anxiety disorder. I think I’ve finally begun to be able to imagine a future after a combination of lots of therapy/meds/getting older than 25 (which is when I thought I’d die)/falling in love and going throw the exercise of fantasizing about our lives together. I hadn’t realized until just now that I’ve started to gain that ability, so thanks for posting this and sparking the thought. :)

Relatedly, when I was in middle school, we had a school conference on bullying featuring a talk given by the parent of a girl who had died in the Columbine shooting. He claimed that his daughter had always had the strong conviction that she would die early. That story freaked me out so much, because I too had a conviction that I’d die early, and hearing that this girl’s premonition had come true sent me into like a ten-year low-level spiral where I had no doubt it’d happen to me too. God, I’m so glad that’s over, what a horrific constantly-present anxiety to have lived with.
posted by chaiyai at 10:47 AM on December 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I never really knew other folks felt this same feeling I've had most of my life or that there was a term for it. I never expected to be alive in my 40s because I figured I'd eventually succeed at taking my life (3 attempts, not going to try again). Thankfully I'm a persistent/stubborn person and never quite got there. I did live into my 40s and I did finally figure out that I'm trans (and had other trauma) and this made sense of everything else. Now I am alive and happily so (1 of those attempts happened during pandemic isolation after I'd been out for a year and that was a turning point for me). So... here we are facing the end together as always. How marvelous (not sarcasm).
posted by kokaku at 11:19 AM on December 5, 2021 [9 favorites]

As a forty-two year old with vascular EDS (and have been aware of it after my father passed from it when I was 15) , I am grateful for this article
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 11:40 AM on December 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

I too felt this way as a younger person. I think it might actually be sort of normal for Americans? Like, in American society we soooo overindex on the opinions of the 18-29 market segment and I think maybe it's really defensible for teens to feel like once you pass out of your twenties you may as well be dead. For women in particular, it's always felt to me like there was this overwhelming sense that once you had kids or got your first wrinkle you already had one foot in the grave. Like yes teens talk about plans for their career or family or whatever, but how many of them really believe those plans will happen, as opposed to just saying something to have something to say? I know I always had some career I claimed to be "planning" even though in my heart of hearts I didn't think I would make it there.

I don't know. I did grow up queer and often suicidal in the 90s and maybe that's to blame, but I do think so much about modern society makes middle age seem like a foreign universe to a younger person and so many reasons you might not get there. Especially for kids growing up in the age of random school shootings and a shrinking, increasingly precarious middle class, it wouldn't shock me if even pretty normal, happy kids didn't think of the experiences of contemporary middle age as not something they could count on or expect to have.

I'm in my mid thirties now and while I can't imagine being 50, experience indicates that I cannot be trusted to predict my age at death. So, I guess we'll see what happens. I will say that not believing in my future past a five year horizon has meant I made some pretty interesting career moves.
posted by potrzebie at 11:53 AM on December 5, 2021 [6 favorites]

Does this relate to the idea of people saying they would be dead or in prison if X opportunity hadn't come along?
posted by biffa at 11:55 AM on December 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have had this feeling for most of my life (SWM 50’s now, never married, no children) and lately, I have been struggling with it very much. In addition to not being able to see a future, I’m trying to decide if there’s even a point to continuing. If Life is some sort of a Skinner maze, then it seems like all the decisions have been weighted toward the less good options but all (good or bad) leading to a grand reward of … what? I can’t see what the end goal is and how the hell am I supposed to plan for that, so why is it a some sort of surprise that I can’t figure out a next step to fix my problems so I can go on?

Honestly, why the fuck am I still playing this goddamn infuriating game?
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 12:05 PM on December 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

Assumed the linked one directed to "The Day After" on YouTube. - ryanshepard

"Go and enjoy your summer vacation, because tomorrow may well be your last day." - Blackanvil

I'm honestly surprised there haven't been more mentions of atomic war on this thread.

I was born in 1967. As a kid in the 1970s I assumed a serious likelihood that the world would suddenly incinerate itself. I and other children I knew made all kinds of plans and had fantasies about our deaths in the years to come.

Like Blackanvil's story, many of us saw Reagan's election as making that future so, so much more likely. That is how I spent my teenage years, anticipating bombers and missiles. Across the street from us was a huge tank engine assembly plant, which the CIA said was targeted by one warhead. 30 minutes away was Detroit.

Thinking of a middle aged life - hell, an adult life - smacked of fantasy.

If you want to talk about Generation X "detachment," you absolutely have to figure in this overriding experience.
posted by doctornemo at 12:38 PM on December 5, 2021 [26 favorites]

I'm an older millennial. People my age and younger who were not marginalized by their queerness or by abuse or other forms of individual trauma may still have experienced the successive collective traumas of 9/11 followed by the Great Recession followed by 45 followed by COVID, ribboned through with mounting terror about climate change. Also, IME a huge fraction of Americans under 35 have gone through active shooter drills or false alarms at a school or workplace, so that's probably helping.

There's a meme floating around like:
Millennials: everything is meaningless. we're all going to die :c
Zoomers: Everything is meaningless! We're all going to die! :D

So like I don't... think we're alright, and I don't think the kids are alright.

Perhaps the specific segment of Gen X who were born too late for nuclear attack drills and too early for active shooter lockdowns might be okayish.
posted by All Might Be Well at 12:58 PM on December 5, 2021 [13 favorites]

I'm 57 and I grew up with this whole thing.

I think I was free of it from roughly 1992 to 2001, but then it came roaring back after 9/11 and has been getting progressively worse since 2008.

Weirdly/ironically, probably no 57 year time span in history would be better for me to live in because of a medical condition which would have killed me around my 40th birthday if I'd been born more than 40 years earlier; I can live with a sense of foreshortened future (even though it sucks) much better than I can live without my meds, which weren't really available before the 1960s (and the cold war that did so much to cause SoFF in my generation).
posted by cstross at 1:01 PM on December 5, 2021 [9 favorites]

I planned to live until my birthday, 2001. "2001" was The Future in my mind, so surely everything will be OK then, right? I saw Kubrick's 2001 when it was first released, so I understood the future.

I didn't plan to be this old or this grumpy about folks these days. *waves cane* Oh, crap! I actually walk with a cane now, goddamit!
posted by SPrintF at 1:05 PM on December 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

Has there ever been a time in history where the general attitude of 20-year-olds was not, "the world is terrible, it's so much worse than what our parents had, why even bother planning to get old, it's all coming to an end soon anyway"?
posted by Hatashran at 1:13 PM on December 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

Well, I daresay this is common in the inner city/ghetto circles I grew up in, having felt it myself too....

To quote Kanye West,
"We wasn't supposed to make it by 25,
joke's on you, I'm still alive"

posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 1:24 PM on December 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

Hmm, I have a weird version of this where I *can* picture myself having a future but it's a disastrous one. Like I just know I'm going to get in a car accident or something that leaves me a vegetable sometime within the next few months, or something like that.

So I get pretty obsessive about saving up. And I've always purchased all kinds of insurance coverage up to the max. I have a full detailed PLAN for my kids and for me in anticipation of the worst, and I get a small but definite dose of literally daily stress about the fact that I haven't made a new will after getting divorced so my affairs aren't in order yet. I constantly think, look, you'd better get this done, you can't leave this hanging for someone else to deal with. I'm a perfectly healthy 40 yr old.

I don't have angst over this at all, I don't quite know how to describe it... it doesn't interfere with my ability to enjoy life in the moment. But a large reason for that is because I'm always assuming I only have this moment to enjoy. I used to tell my therapist that maybe I'm just immature? because I have zero fear of dying or mortality, no dread, just a fact and not something terrible hanging over me. I thought it was because death wasn't real to me, or perhaps I hadn't reckoned with it properly. It's only now I'm wondering if that's because I'm so ultra prepared for it.
posted by MiraK at 1:48 PM on December 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Has there ever been a time in history where the general attitude of 20-year-olds was not, "the world is terrible, it's so much worse than what our parents had, why even bother planning to get old, it's all coming to an end soon anyway"?

Absolutely in the US from the immediate post-war period, probably lasting until sometime in the early 1980s - at least for white people w/some semblance of upward mobility (and probably more broadly).

My father (born 1947) once told me, "If you had said to me, when I was 18, that I was living it what would turn out to be the best time for working class people in this country, I'd have said you were crazy. We really did think things were just going to keep getting better."
posted by ryanshepard at 2:00 PM on December 5, 2021 [16 favorites]

I had this long before 9/11, probably from about age 9 or so onward, but it started to improve a little about ten years ago--I think largely because of having attained certain life milestones. Then November 2016 happened, resetting it right back to its worst point, and then January 2021 happened, making the early years of it seem comparatively tame. If anything is better now than then w/r/t this, I guess it's that I'd describe my current foreshortened-future sense as "resigned" rather than my more youthful "despairing."
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:10 PM on December 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I have to say that I'm kind of confused by the description in the article. Like, does this specific condition manifest itself differently from general pre-apocalyptic despair specifically by degree? By perceived source (childhood trauma, rather than *handwaves* the world in general)? Something else?

Because to me, many if not all of the symptoms listed just sound like the byproduct of living on a dying world near the end of civilization to me.
posted by chrominance at 2:15 PM on December 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

On the green….
posted by Ideefixe at 2:20 PM on December 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Hoo boy! Haven't read the article yet but just skimming through the comments.... Oh yeah.

My dad died when I was 13, he was 39 and I always assumed I'd never make it to 40. But then I did!

"Ha ha! Screw you fate, I win! And maybe now," I thought, "I'll be able to think about the future and have plans and things to look forward to!"

That was in January of 2020. It's been...hard not to take the last two years personally. I mean, I don't actually believe in fate or the supernatural or anything like that and I'm not generally in the habit of anthropomorphising the universe. But there are moments where it's hard not to feel like it's out to get me.
posted by Mister_Sleight_of_Hand at 2:35 PM on December 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

Hey you younger doomsayers--a word from Future You: Please continue to plan financially for a long life. I too thought I would be dead by now. Oops.
posted by HotToddy at 2:45 PM on December 5, 2021 [18 favorites]

Has there ever been a time in history where the general attitude of 20-year-olds was not, "the world is terrible, it's so much worse than what our parents had, why even bother planning to get old, it's all coming to an end soon anyway"?

I mean, sure? You're probably right. I don't want to speak for anyone else but for myself, since I'll be turning 42 in just a little over a month, it'd be kind of nice if it stopped?
posted by Mister_Sleight_of_Hand at 2:48 PM on December 5, 2021

OK, I'm going to stand my ground, dammit!

I first learned about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic from a 4chan thread. OK, fine! Ponyville is the hill I chose to die on! Come at me, parasprites!

It has been terrible, these last few years, to maintain hope. To believe that people are basically good, and just need to be shown the light.

But I still believe that Friendship is Magic and that all the terrible faults that you and I have discovered are just history. I have agonized over the history of the United States, so I understand how awful everything is and always has been. I've been reading a lot lately about the history of slavery and I can't imagine being so cruel, so unfeeling towards another person.

I guess what I'm saying is, don't give up hope.
posted by SPrintF at 3:08 PM on December 5, 2021 [6 favorites]

I'm not even sure where to start, but I would like to echo the sentiment that I am glad to realize that I'm not alone in what's likely the strongest concept governing my life, but goddamn, reading what everyone is saying, that warm spark of feeling a sense of relief that I'm in company was very quickly replaced by a feeling of self-loathing at feeling said relief because other people are just as miserable as I am.

My life has been governed by this, by the sense that, since I didn't live up to whatever bullshit "promise" I had, that I would just be playing out the string. The closest thing to a guiding principle has been the path of least resistance, combined with an utter fear of poverty. Moving to a new country after college was easier for me than figuring out how to find a real job and learning how to live and work in America. Even the thing that most people I know were impressed by, starting a restaurant, was due to wanting to quit teaching English, but not knowing any other route forward, and yes, I am back teaching because I don't know how to do anything else, and I never thought I would make it this far, meaning I never really worked on any kind of skills-building that would have helped me jump to a different path.

Somehow, I've shambled my way forward to 45. I'm in lousy health because of "I wasn't supposed to get this far, and it's not like I have a future I've planned for, why bother" day to day, hour to hour moments of surrender to what I wanted in the moment. And, lingering just ahead of me is the knowledge that my paternal grandfather died at 50 of a heart attack, my father died the week he turned 65, and his older brother only made it to 67. I used to view this as a kind of blessed relief, a finish line for a life like a plastic model that I got given but never got around to assembling fully. Now that I'm this much closer to it, near constant thoughts of my onrushing mortality absolutely terrify me in the moments where I can break free of the depression and thoughts of coming relief. I know I could (and yes, should) make changes, that things like this aren't written in stone, but I'm also utterly terrified by what happens if I don't die.

Can I continue doing what I'm doing? Can I somehow manage to stay in my job another five years, when next year will be my fourth year there, making it the longest I've ever worked in one place? If something happens and I'm not dead in five years, is this a career? Would they actually keep me there until I can retire? And dear god, what happens then, since I've never given any real thought to it, and find the non-stop discussion of investment by my coworkers grating, since they clearly believe they'll be around for things. The mass of these things, the weight of all of the things I should have done by now, but haven't, and all of that combined with the things I need to be doing, right now, to keep this whole charade afloat, it's crippling.

All I have is the idea that I somehow have to keep moving forward, but I never got past that to a point where I learned to plan where the next step fits into the step after, and as part of a longer march towards a goal. My forward movement is, and has always really been the thing I do while waiting for the music to stop because it's simply the easiest path ahead.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:16 PM on December 5, 2021 [23 favorites]

Another GenX checking in...

I don't know if I really fit the thread entirely... I mean I never thought I was going to die by a certain age, or that I personally didn't have a right to a future... but man I totally get the feelings that we as a whole really have never had any say in our future and the one we were going to be gifted is likely to be pretty bad.

Like I feel like the future is going to be there but what the hell is the point of planning for it. Nothing I do is going to really have any effect so why really put any effort into it.

I really can't say that the world has given me any proof against it. I do try to fight against it... I want people to be better, I want to make the world better but man is it hard some days.
posted by cirhosis at 3:50 PM on December 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Wait, there's a name for this?

What about that feeling of not being real.

Or not being in my body.

Of not being the right gender.

Of not understanding what invisible social river the people around me are swimming in.

Of not understanding how people go through life, grinding away at unstimulating tasks without the absolute terror of failure, hurting others, and poverty/starvation driving them.

Of wanting to tear my head off in noisy environments.

Of being completely exhausted by day to day social interaction.

And all the other experiences I spent years feeling, occasionally describing to other people and receiving looks of confusion and distaste.

I see you people upthread. I am sorry it all sucks so much.

I've found names for all these in the last few years. I'm not sure it's made anything better. But I guess I'm not alone. Just really fucking tired.
posted by allium cepa at 3:56 PM on December 5, 2021 [12 favorites]

I came of age, as a gay guy, during the AIDS/Reagan era. I’ve been trying to articulate this feeling for so long. I never thought I’d be alive right now and consequently I never planned financially or otherwise to have a future. I just want to howl and break things. This hits so many nerves
posted by treepour at 4:11 PM on December 5, 2021 [12 favorites]

There a some class privilege to all of this

God save the queen
posted by eustatic at 4:26 PM on December 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

My father should have died from a massive heart attack in his early fifties. It was a medical miracle of sorts that he lasted the week; even more so that he outlived his post-surgery prognosis of "0-5 years" to survive into his 21st with his weakened ticker.

I reach the age this week that he was when he had that event.

I am... twitchy.
posted by delfin at 4:29 PM on December 5, 2021 [7 favorites]

My father was dead by the time I was three. I was raised by a single alcoholic journalist with a strong sense of everything that was about to go wrong. I also came of age in the eighties, when the bombs were just about to fall and all my fellow gay men were dying preventable deaths.

Perhaps a big part of the feeling that I don't have much of a future is derived from the readily apparent fact that this society mostly doesn't give a crap about whether I live or die, except for the times that they prefer I would die. If the government of my country wanted me to live a long and healthy life, they'd have things like universal health care and a decent retirement system and a mental health care system and decent financial support for people who can't work, that sort of thing. Plus saving the biosphere from the changes we've made to the planet's atmosphere, that'd be nice.

Believing in the future was easier when we knew what the future was going to look like. Now that everything is up in the air, and we know for absolute certain that continuing business as usual is going to do incalculable damage to our species and the planet, and no-one seems to have a plan to stop it that doesn't strain credulity... well, I hope there's going to be a future.

Planning for it, though? No idea how to do that.
posted by MrVisible at 5:21 PM on December 5, 2021 [10 favorites]

I always assumed that I would be spending my time raising kids. Without that, I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing here.
posted by Melismata at 5:41 PM on December 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

There a some class privilege to all of this

Not with nuclear annihilation. It kinda levels the playing field.
posted by doctornemo at 5:50 PM on December 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

Not with nuclear annihilation. It kinda levels the playing field.

Pun intended?
posted by cynical pinnacle at 5:59 PM on December 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

posted by cynical pinnacle

posted by Melismata at 7:04 PM on December 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

I hope there's going to be a future.

The World of Yesterday (1942) by Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), free PDF/EPUB download:
Translator’s Note

It should be remembered in reading this memoir by Stefan Zweig, first published in the original German in 1942, the year of his death, that the Second World War was still going on while he was completing it. That in itself explains why its place of first publication was Stockholm rather than anywhere in Germany or Austria, because as a Jewish writer he had already been banned in those countries under the National Socialist regime, as he tells his readers in the later chapters of his book. In translating, I was often brought up with a jolt of automatic if momentary surprise by comments reminding me that the war was in progress as he wrote. When, for instance, he says: “Inevitably, the dimensions of the present day have changed our point of view”, he is referring to the Nazi regime from 1933 on, culminating in full-scale hostilities from 1939. He never knew the end of the story; he and his second wife committed suicide together in February 1942.

Their double suicide raises another point: there has been discussion of the reason for it, since at that date, when the United States had just entered the war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in late 1941, there were clear signs that the tide was turning against Hitler. Talk of final victory and a ‘wonder weapon’ may have sounded persuasive in Germany and Austria, where a heavy propaganda system was brought to bear, less so outside those countries. One surmise, with which I concur, is that Zweig’s underlying reason may have been a sense that whether the war was won or lost, the world of civilised culture in which he had lived and worked was gone for ever.
It wasn’t. World War II was a global catastrophe by any measure, but it did end (by using the most terrifying weapons of all). Here we are nearly 80 years later: humanity is still a hot mess, but our little pale blue dot keeps on spinning.

Hang on for dear life’s sake.
posted by cenoxo at 5:04 AM on December 6, 2021 [5 favorites]

I mean, there's literally a sense of growing discomfort at the awareness of continuing to live long past when I emotionally expected life to have ended.

I was supposed to be done by now. I was supposed to be over. I ran the race/held my breath/stuck my fingers in my ears/fixed my eyes on the horizon for all this time and still the end never came?

I've made it this far on the sense of relief brought by the anticipation of the end. But the fading of that brings on steadily increasing panic.

I couldn't imagine a future because I couldn't imagine a me I wanted to be in that future. I could spin out endless lives in my head for people not-me. But none of them were real for me.

Instead there's only the cruelty of existing without hope or belief, any right to dreams or expectations. Only the repeated waking up, confused "why is this still happening?" In perpetual conflict with the emotional certainty that it should have already stopped.
posted by allium cepa at 5:33 AM on December 6, 2021 [4 favorites]

Some research about the phenomenon
On one account, a sense of foreshortened future involves a cluster of interrelated judgments regarding what the future most likely holds, such as “I will die young,” “I will not have a family,” and “I will not have a successful career.” These either comprise or originate in a more general evaluation of future events, the content of which is something like “bad things are going to happen to me and good things are not going to happen to me.” In conjunction with this, negative emotions toward the future predominate: one fears that p and q, rather than hoping that r and s. If this is right, then a sense of foreshortened future is to be distinguished from an experience of time itself or – if you prefer – from an experience of temporal properties. The traumatized person continues to distinguish past, present, and future, to anticipate the arrival of future events, and to experience temporal passage. Regardless of whether she anticipates future event p, where p is evaluated negatively (most notably, her own premature death), or future event q, where q is evaluated positively, both are experienced as “future” in the same way. So a foreshortened future is a matter of what is anticipated, a negative evaluation of what the future offers rather than an altered sense of the future itself.
posted by mecran01 at 8:50 AM on December 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

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