For me anxiety is uncertainty – the physical and emotional sensation that something bad might happen, out of my control. Young people feeling at sea is nothing new, but my generation is staring down a peculiar set of unknowns.
The housing market is the mother lode of uncertainty – for most of my contemporaries the idea of buying a house is laughable – but there are more insidious encroachments on our sense of calm. Boundaries between work life and personal life continue to blur as we feel obliged to make ourselves perpetually available, and to self-promote with increasingly hostile social media. When I post an article these days I wince. In public Twitter feeds and forums I’ve been called “unhinged”, “perverted” and “depraved”; I’ve been warned by caring friends not to read the comments; I’ve been asked if I “want a greasy cock ride” (flattered, but spoken for).
I was raised to believe that the NHS was one of the greatest things about our country, and I still believe that, but funding cuts mean I can no longer rely on it. I have a history of anxiety disorders and I’ve developed a stress-induced vocal tic which regularly sees me shouting “whoop” at strangers in the street. I need therapy, but the waiting list at my local London practice is seven to eight months. As my generation grows up, will we be able to get free mental healthcare in times of crisis? If not, will we be able to afford to go private? Many of us don’t know.
Meanwhile, advertisers sell us the millennial dream – an idyll of creative freedom, off-kilter good looks and high-ceilinged apartments. Part of my work is developing commercial content for production companies and advertising agencies. Of the briefs I’ve seen in the last two years I’d say that a good 80% were aimed at millennials. From unfashionably macho brands that want to channel a more inclusive, contemporary masculinity; to car brands that want to move away from traditional life-stage advertising. Some campaigns are progressive and nuanced, many resort to cringeworthy caricature, even fetishisation, of youth: We are “lovers of life”. We “create first, question later”. We “make. inspire. do”. We “crave epic”. Whoop. Our culture is heightening young people’s awareness of millennial ideals – of how we think our lives should be – while simultaneously eroding the resources we need to achieve those ideals.