“Dr. Beck, I’ve reached a new, sad milestone in my life.”
I listen to this statement from a sixteen year old and wonder what they will say next. I ask timidly, suppressing an internal scream, “What milestone is that?”
“Well,” my patient continues, flinging their head to one side revealing tear-filled eyes, “the stuff I can watch on TV is scarier than horror movies.”
As they say this, their bravado comes to a quick stop as they squeeze the rainbow – coloured stress reliever on my desk.
“I visited my aunt in British Columbia at March Break and we were looking through pictures of Lytton, where she used to live. There were pictures of her nice house with trees and a garden and a great deck, a picture taken before the wildfire that burned the town. The house and yard are all burned now – just ashes and even the earth looks burned. I looked at the picture, thinking how climate change caused this and still people don’t believe climate change exists.”
The rainbow squeeze toy moves from one of their hands to the other, faster, awkwardly. When the toy stops, the youth pumps it one time, hard.
“Then, when I got home,” my patient goes on, “I watched the news with my Dad, and there were all those scenes of Ukrainian towns. They showed pictures of pretty houses and buildings and parks before. Then they showed pictures taken after the Russians invaded, and the town looked just like Lytton with burnt buildings and parks and burnt earth, even. It was different from Lytton because there were burnt bodies in the street – burnt bodies, Dr. Beck…like a horror movie, but real.”
This person looked up, right at me, eyes unmoving, boring into my gaze.
“Do you know,” they whisper, “the Russian government says they didn’t do it and people in Russia believe it, like people here don’t believe in climate change even when right in front of their eyes, a town is burned to the ground by a wildfire.”
“So that’s the milestone. I have reached the age when real life is more frightening than what can be imagined. I learned to walk. I learned to talk. I learned to read and write. And I just learned to face real life.”
My patient finished,” Last month, I was feeling well enough that I thought I might stop coming to see you but, if it’s okay, I’ll be coming awhile longer.”
Since the invasion of Ukraine, sessions like this one have filled my days. I have been thinking about how I can possibly address the great sorrow youth are experiencing about the world. I’d love to hear your ideas as I work out my own. Stay tuned.