There are many things I wish they taught me at school:
- You don’t have to have your career mapped out at age 13.
- Your body is yours and you get to choose who shares it.
- Don’t share water bottles at raves, unless you want glandular fever and 18 months of clinical depression.
But they didn’t.
And when it comes to mental health, I must’ve been sick that day. Cos I don’t remember learning a bloody thing about how to have a strong mind. How to be resilient. How to own my choices.
Here’s what would have come in real handy back in those days:
1. Everyone’s winging it
All the glossy girls look like they’ve got it all figured out. But they don’t. And they won’t. Because no-one does. Even your parents and teachers. Especially your parents and teachers. So don’t be afraid to mess up. To fight. To query, to call their bluff. Speak up! Stand out! Because no-one else will do it for you. Everyone else is stumbling and struggling in their own way. Many are suffering in silence. They simply wake up each day to give it another go. So don’t worry that you don’t have all the answers. Nobody does.
2. You’re not crazy
Hey, kid. I know you feel weird, awkward, jittery in your body. Out of sorts. Like you don’t belong anywhere, even in your own skin. But guess what? In just a few years, one in four people will share your story…maybe one in three, since many will still go undiagnosed. So you are SO not alone. And you’re going to find cheerleaders and your team, and you’ll connect the dots and bring people together, as you all look for ways to tame your mind. So don’t ever call yourself crazy. You’re as normal as they come.
3. Your mental illness can be your superpower
Promise me that you won’t ever try and get rid of your anxiety. It’s what makes you, you. I know the road hasn’t been cruisy. You’ve faced bullying at home and at school, rejection, hurt, unreturned crushes, shame – like that time the school nurse told your entire class you had ADD…and you walked in half-way through her ‘session’ with no idea what was going on – and then spent every lunchtime in the library alone, because the whole class thought you were weird. But believe me, you can make your mental fog your superpower. You can turn this messiness, confusion, wretchedness into something beautiful. You’ll find ways to understand it, appreciate it, heck even LOVE it. It’s all part of your journey. So don’t rush it. You’ll get there.
4. You can train your mind
I know it’s not cool to look after your mind. And everyone applauds you when you lose weight and take care of your body. They admire you when you say “I’m skipping that party cos I need to be up at 4am for rowing training” or “I’m on a diet”. But you wouldn’t dare say, “I’m taking time alone to work on my mental health” or “I’m not going to that party cos it’ll be bad for my mind.”
But one day, it will be easier to talk about what’s going on inside your head. Until then, don’t be afraid to withdraw when you need solitude. Find your voice and strength to speak up for yourself. Be your biggest fan, your top advocate, your caretaker.
And just as you exercise to keep your body in shape, find the things that keep your mind healthy and strong. Funnily enough, exercise will top the list. I know it doesn’t seem like it now, when you fake illness to get out of every PE class. But believe me, it’s going to SAVE you.
Every day, do the things on your list. Don’t do them because you should, do them because they help you navigate the icky, sticky bits of life. Do them because they bring you back into balance, back to the moment, back to your body. Do them because you love looking after yourself. Do them for YOU.
5. Know what you stand for
Set your values. Now. And never waver from them. You’ll avoid a lot of pain and down the track if you do. What principles guide you? Who do you choose to let into your space? What energy do you want to surround yourself with? Who will you allow to touch you? What’s most important to you, outside of what others think is important? Get this scratched in stone. Tattoo it down your arm. Scrawl it on the mirror. Know who you are, trust you have the potential to change, and choose to be that person. Know what she stands for. And teach others how to treat her…no compromises.
6. You can blame your hormones
The emotional rollercoaster you’re on now? The lumps and bumps and spots you loathe? You can blame your hormones for the whole lot. Yep, it’s not YOU. Your hormonal health has a huge impact on your mental and physical health. And when a doctor casually suggests you go on the contraceptive pill at 14 (seven years before you’re sexually active) to cure your skin, try to resist. Do your research. Ask questions. Be skeptical. Because when you come off it in your 30s, your hormones are gonna unleash HELL! But you’ll figure out your their delicate dance. And when you do, your mind and body will be in a better balance.
7. Great things are coming
There may come a time when everything seems hopeless. When you are in so deep, so dark, that when you reach for the walls, they disappear, and the black bleeds into oblivion. In that place, somewhere between space and time where you are both alone and suffocating, you may want to end it all. Life may just seem too hard. People too cruel. The future too uncertain, or unkind. Or bleak.
But you must never give up. Your mind simply needs a break…it’s been working overtime. It’s just glitching, misfiring. Call in a technician – a therapist – and have them teach you how to repair it and weld it stronger than before.
Because you’ll soon see again that rich red sun on the surf, that sparkling sea, that hopeful horizon. The blackness will lift. The future will still seem uncertain, but that will excite you. It will become a promise…not a sentence. And you’ll find there’s a LOT to live for.
So when you’re in that black land, locked between two realities – who you are and who you want to be – get support. Speak up. Seek help. Be patient. Be gentle. Be kind.
And don’t you ever give up.
Warriors never do.