Grieving Lost Youth
It’s not like it happens all at once, the process is usually so slow that it’s basically imperceptible, but the insight many adults experience is often an all at once, jarring ‘aha’ moment. “I’ve become jaded! I’ve grown bored with life, weary with how things are. I’d give anything for even one iota of what used to come so effortlessly to me, for that curiosity and optimism, for being able to care deeply again.”
It would be easy to diagnose what’s going on as depression but from our existential point of view it’s grief, plain and simple. Grief around a lost set of circumstances but just importantly a lost set of perceptions that made caring deeply about everything possible. Part of growing up is leaving childish notions behind, leaving behind the naive, narcissistic orientation that you’re at the center of everything, that you’re immortal, that life will be a never ending upward spiral of bigger and better things, that all your hopes and dreams will be fulfilled, that you’ll be young forever.
While one of the major symptoms of depression is losing interest in activities that used to seem pleasurable, in the context of our discussion hoping to derive deep feelings now out of the same activities that let you derive them in your youth isn’t necessarily desirable since innocence and narcissism were prerequisites. From the growth standpoint these naive perceptions of Self and the world are better left behind.
In whatever season of life you find yourself, that deep caring that you long for is not achieved by trying to recapture what moved you back then but instead by fully involving yourself in your present as it is in order to discover what authentically moves you now. As an adult, if you’ve seen below the surface then why should the superficial things that used to pull out powerful emotions from you continue to do so?
Lost youth can and should be grieved, human existence is nothing if not tragic, and those wonderful experiences with their accompanying unbounded feelings of optimism and curiosity were pure gold, no question about it. But looking longingly backwards and automatically comparing the present unfavorably to that glorious past is not the answer. Down the road you’ll probably look back on this season of your life as your lost youth too. In this sense youth is relative. It’s through saying goodbye to what was that you make room for what is, and if you’re brave enough to do it many new doors of interest will suddenly have the chance to open, doors that if walked through will pull out the yearned for feeling of caring deeply.