High School Reunions

So you have a high school reunion coming up. And, perhaps you are a bit uncomfortable with the idea of attending. I’ve heard quite a few reasons that cause people to hesitate to go to just such events:

  1. No one will remember me.
  2. Everyone will remember me.
  3. I’ve gotten ________(fill in the blank here with such things as: fat, bald, wrinkled, or the physical defect of your choice).
  4. I haven’t accomplished anything or I haven’t accomplished enough.
  5. I’m divorced.
  6. I’m_________(another blank to fill with such things as: living with my parents, an ex-convict, dreadfully boring, etc).
  7. I never liked those people when I was 17, so why would I like them now?

I imagine there are other reasons, but you get the idea.

Let’s see if I can counter some of these excuses:

  1. Lots of people believe that they won’t be remembered. It is unlikely that no one will know your name. But even if you are recalled by few others, a reunion is actually an opportunity to get to know some of the people who you didn’t know well in high school.
  2. Apparently, you believe that you were well known as a social outcast or as an obnoxious teenager. But perhaps you will be surprised to discover that people are pretty forgiving after 10 or 20 years. If you are no longer on the outside looking in, you have nothing to worry about — people will take you as you now are. And, if you were a bad guy, maybe you need to apologize to a few people. They will almost certainly be gracious.
  3. Do you really think you are the only person who changed physically since your graduation? Unless your classmates live in a jar of formaldehyde, its likely that they haven’t escaped the aging process. It’s true that people age differently, and a lucky few are pretty well-preserved (or have been cosmetically altered to give that appearance), but only one or two have made pacts with the devil to remain ageless.
  4. In the midst of the “Great Recession” more than a few people are out of work or under-employed. You will hardly be alone in this either. Indeed, the reunion might be an opportunity to network.
  5. You are divorced? Look at the reunion as a chance to encounter a new love. Many of the divorced people in attendance are looking for just that opportunity. You might be the person they seek.
  6. OK, living with your parents is not something to brag about. Unless, of course, you are taking care of an aging parent, in which case it tells your old friends that you have a heart. And, if you have a criminal record and are reformed, good for you. Unless you made the front page of the Chicago Tribune, its unlikely that anyone will know this. As far as being boring, you have some time to think about what you might say to the people you meet at the reunion. Work on it. Think of some good questions to ask them. And remember what notable or amusing events you’ve lived through since the last time you saw your old friends.
  7. So you didn’t like your classmates. You didn’t get along with the snobs, the jocks, the brains, the preppies, the druggies, the burn-outs or all the above and more. The good news is that some of these people have changed and are now much more approachable. More good news: some of the people who seemed stuck-up were actually just as shy as you were, and you mistook their distancing for disdain.

A few more observations about high school reunions. The closer in time to your graduation, the more people will resemble their high school avatars. The first reunions, certainly including the 10th and 20th, do involve a certain amount of social comparison among people.

But, by the time you reach reunion 40, almost anyone who comes is just glad to see you and likely to be unconcerned with anything to do with your social status, bank account, or beauty. The feeling of good-will is pretty palpable by the time you are reunited in middle-age: you know that not everyone from your class is still alive, and you are likely to appreciate old friends more than ever.

There is something about being with people who lived in the same place as you did, had the same teachers, in the same moment in history, at precisely the same age as you were when you achieved many of the “firsts” of your life: first kiss, first love, learning to drive, taking your college board (SAT/ACT) exams, and so forth.

You (and your old classmates) had all the same anxieties, worries, hesitations, and learning experiences as you tried to figure out who you were and what was the best direction for your life. It’s likely that you’ve made good friends later in life, but these high school friends were the people you walked with in the formative moments of that life, the people who knew your still relatively young parents and your siblings, and the almost brand-new version of you. Nothing can replace that shared background and knowledge.

So, if your not certain about attending your reunion, I hope you will think about what I’ve written. You might be pleasantly surprised by the experience.

On the Fort Hood Tragedy

What happened at Fort Hood? Why would a psychiatrist, a physician trained in the treatment of “mental and nervous” disorders, go on a rampage against his own comrades? I suspect we will be reading about the following in the days ahead:

1. Did Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the accused murderer, have proper supervision of his work and his own fitness for duty? Did he suffer from a psychiatric disorder of his own and was he being treated? News accounts suggest that he was terrified in anticipation of an expected deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.

2. To what extent did he feel marginalized within the Armed Services? He is said to be a man born in the USA, the son of immigrant parents. It is also reported that he had become increasingly devoted to his Muslim faith and might have experienced some harassment from other soldiers because of his religion.

3. Was the Major marginalized in other ways? He is described as a 39-year-old bachelor who had been looking unsuccessfully for a mate.

4. Major Hasan is believed to have treated numerous veterans suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) returning from the Middle East. Is it possible that he suffered a form of vicarious trauma from hearing the disturbing, if not tragic stories of these young people?

5. To what degree have the Armed Services been able to reform an organizational culture that discourages soldiers from showing emotional vulnerability and seeking treatment before they become dysfunctional? It is one thing for the returning wounded veterans to get psychiatric services; it is another for them to believe, early on, that their anxiety, worry, and depression will not be seen as a weakness by their comrades, make it harder to perform their duties in war-time, and cause them to be ridiculed? Did Major Hasan, who apparently had not experienced combat himself, believe that his own inner-turmoil was acceptable and would have received support from his superiors?

6. Did Dr. Hasan have a history of having received treatment prior to his entrance into the military? If Dr. Hasan did seek treatment at any time, what was the result? Is their any routine assessment of the psychological status of both the soldiers and those who are given the task of treating them? Does the military realize that the nature of their work puts virtually all personnel at psychological risk?

7. What security procedures exist in military installations such as Fort Hood?

8. Is the military sensitive to cultural conflicts that are experienced by its uniformed personnel?

Most of us assume that mental health professionals have their own personal lives well under control. Unfortunately, such is not always the case. For more on this subject, please read my recent blog: “When Helping Hurts: Therapists Who Need Therapy.”