Monday Musings….Dialogue with the Door Part 3….Don’t Worry Be Happy?

Ah... to be 15 years old again! It sounds like the perfect age. Not too many responsibilities. Still time to figure things out before leaving high school. It should be one of the happiest times in a person’s life….only it’s often the exact opposite. In fact, there is a lot of research to show that this is the age when many youth, instead of dreaming of a future filled with promise and possibility, think about the reality of disappointment, uncertainty, failure and rejection. It was the age that I feared the most when I worked in crisis and suicide intervention.

You see, at 15, the world seems so big and yet most of the time you spend it in your head space wondering who you are. You desperately seek approval and acceptance in all sorts of ways to validate your worth and identity. Dating becomes a huge focus. Parents don’t understand. School (i.e. the academic part) is rarely the main focus. It’s the social aspect that means everything and no one can tell you otherwise. And so when you feel all alone, your mind goes to very dark places…

So for the third week of my dialogue with the door, I asked the question: Tell me…if you could go back in time, what would you tell your 15 year old self?

I have no idea who wrote on the door or how old they were, but I got some pretty insightful responses. And…just pausing for a second…I was amazed that people really took the time to think about this one and tell me , and anyone else who stopped to read the door, what they wished they had known.

From practical financial advice, to making choices, to embracing one’s inner super powers, you could tell that my resident portal poets sought to decode the puzzle of puberty. But it’s hard to convince a 15 year old that life can get better, that they are stronger than they think, that those people you want to hang out with will forget you (and you them) in 5 or so years.

15 year olds live in their present reality and have a hard time thinking that their circumstances will ever change. So while they may not have responsibility that’s the very thing that is so frustrating. 15 year olds want to control their lives. They want to make their own decisions, to have the freedom to come and go as they please, but they feel trapped and confined by adult and societal expectations. It’s just not fair!

At a recent community event on mental health that was open for the public, two youths spoke up about their experiences. A young guy spoke bravely about his trials with chronic depression, which he largely attributed to his abandonment as a child. A young girl confided to the group about her struggle with post-partum depression. Both felt lost, misunderstood, and trapped by their emotions and their thoughts of wondering how life could be any different for them. The young male described feeling like he was in a pit that he desperately tried to climb out of, but all he was left with were claw marks on the walls. He was never quite able to climb out. The girl talk about doubting that she could ever be a good mom.

When people are struggling we tend to want to offer hope and optimism that things will get better and that tomorrow will be a better day. When you are 15, and when you are 50, that often doesn’t help. No one knows what tomorrow holds. We have no guarantee that it will get better tomorrow. All we have is today and for so many their present reality never seems to change. That’s how these two young people felt. So what’s the answer?

One of the panellists gave a great response. Having struggled with mental illness herself as a youth and still battling the recurring symptoms of bipolar mental illness, she used a powerful visual illustration. She advised the young man to picture a hand reaching down to him, and to keep climbing with that hand in his focus. It was that power of connecting and seeking the proper help that she reinforced. This was reiterated to the young girl, as building her support system was a critical piece to her feeling confident. So many try and try to do things on their own, thinking they have super hero powers to crush the negative thoughts only to be unmasked and found wanting.

True emancipation from the pit of mental slavery comes then in two ways: from reaching out to a trustworthy person who uses a key to open our personal prison, and, secondly, that we ourselves walk through that door dragging the chains that have bound us but are no longer screwed to that wall.

It’s how we perceive that world around us that is critical to our sense of wellbeing. The awesome authors on the door got that! It’s ok to not know the answers to your future. Challenges are inevitable. But you can free your mind. You can make choices that can liberate you and not add to your worry. And you can change your world by finding the help that you need, where there is no judgement - whether that is Jesus, a good counsellor, or the best friend who takes a shift watching your baby, so you can sleep.

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