I suppose what most people would call me is young. In the field in which I am attempting to infiltrate my meagre 26.5 years is but a speck! I find myself almost always surrounded by people over half my age… In training sessions, conversations, job interviews, university courses… I believe the main reasons are 1. That I knew earlier than most that I wanted to go into Psychotherapy. Many of the people I meet were in another profession that then lead them to therapy and then psychodynamic therapy. I on the other hand finished my undergraduate degree and researched various forms of therapy available, psychotherapy interested me most of all so I read more about it and then signed up to a certificate course…. And I have never looked back. 2. Coming from a ‘well off’ foundation has enabled me to pursue this passion earlier, now… rather than having to work and save and then start.
This leaves me with the dilemma of being the youngest person in the room, all the time.
When it first started happening I cant say I was completely aware of it. Personally I have always socialised with people older than me.. When I first started dating the people I was drawn to were older than me… I have always had an appreciation for people older and wiser than me, learning from them, swapping ideas, having conversations.. finding similarities and differences, exploring these. Then, a part of me started to feel proud that I was where I was and, despite my advantages I was able to withstand the traumas and the difficulties, I was able to understand and connect with the theories being discussed, able to contribute to group discussions…
One day we were sitting in a group psychology experiment… I wasn’t consciously thinking of my age in comparison to others but someone in the room made a comment about how they are feeling odd about being here, that they are aware that some people look very young… I cant remember their exact words.. But they were saying something along the lines of feeling shy that they are not established analysts and its odd being in a room at the same place with someone so much younger than them. I had a strange feeling that everyone was looking at me, that the comment was directed and mostly concerning my presence. Before I had even said anything, had an opportunity to prove my presence I felt I was being discriminated against and all sorts of assertions were being made.
A few other situations have happened since…. For instance, when doing an icebreaker we had to talk about truths and lies that related to us, someone in the room spoke about still having some baby teeth in their mouth and people were so utterly convinced that it was my truth!!
When on training days, or on my masters orientation day people, ‘have to ask’ or ‘do you mind if I ask?’… ‘how old are you?’
Today it happened again… After I felt I had a really great day. I was involved in a group discussion about self harm and eating disorders….. having experiences with both issues I was able to provide my experiences to the group, spoke about coping mechanisms and distraction techniques that are used in clinical settings. After initially feeling like I was the least expereinced in the room it was rereshing to be able to contribute this way… And so during the coffee break, when I was minding my own busines… A colleague walked over, I offered her a ‘cuppa’ and she leaned in… ‘hmmmm’ she said softly, ‘could you tell me how old you are’… before answering I asked back, ‘why?’… ‘Oh just curious she responds, no reason.’ ’27 I said… which I realised later was a lie…. but whatever.
Anyway, that just made me feel like I was still being viewed as the young one in the room. The one who is making all the oldies feel uncomfortable around me. All the things I contributed were tainted by my youthfullness… In my experience I feel my age renders me inexperienced, no matter what. If they only knew how much I enjoy being in their prescene. If only I could give back what they provide to me. It seems we can appreciate the mature and experienced people but when it comes to the youthful it is difficult for people to embrace.
I dont mean to sound like I have a victim mentality… But it is frustrating and takes away from my experiences somethimes. When the focus now turns to the different ages in the room. I suppose I will only be able to understand this when it is me, sitting in the older person chair and this young person half my age is receiving the same training as me? I suppose I may feel all sorts.. Feelings of embarrasment… In highlighting the ages would I be overcoming my discomfort and in a way putting the discomfort in the younger person so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the fact that I am old?!?!?
I suppose all I really want to say is that… the young person is struggling.. I now experience a sense of not deserving my place in the room, of not being able to understand things that are discussed, about not being able to connect, about not being mature enough to contribute, if one does contribute will it be tainted by my age… Or when I am speaking are people listening or shutting down? There are now issues about being young already, about being the obvious odd one out, and for you to highlight it and not treat me as an equal is disconcerting. Be mindful that ageism works both ways.