Teenagehood: First jobs, first romantic relationship, first heartbreak, first real academic pressure, first financial responsibility. If we as parents and adults were experiencing all these things for the first time, it would probably overwhelm us.
So it's no surprise that teenagers are often moody and at times, downright hostile. They are feeling confused, angry, sad, insecure and everything in between, sometimes all at the same time. Often that sadness can have deeper roots -- that silence and hostility a sign of anxiety and depression.
Since I published my book Unsinkable three years ago, I have been asked to speak and share my experiences of living with a mom who had a mental illness, to share my own experiences with anxiety and depression. I was hesitant at first. Although I shared so openly in my book, that process did not come easily and brought me back to a painful time and place -- in particular as a teenager.
I wasn't sure how I felt about focussing on this one piece of who I am and what I experienced. I was afraid that admitting I struggled with anxiety and depression would become the primary way I was identified, something that doesn't capture the many dimensions of who I am and the complexity of the messages I have to share.
On the other hand, to avoid speaking about the very real struggles I've experienced (and still experience) with depression and anxiety, seemed disingenuous, particularly in that so much of what I do as a speaker, as a writer, as a Transformation Coach, has to do with sharing my life experiences.
"I have learned that fame, money, age, success -- none of these protect us from mental illness."
I knew the decision to write and speak about it was the right one the first week I was on my book tour. A young woman no more than seventeen told me that she was dealing with depression and had even contemplated suicide.
She was embarrassed at how she felt, and didn't know what she could do to feel differently. She said my book had given her the courage to go to counselling, that she related to my story and it had made a difference to her.
In that moment, all the heartache, all the turmoil about whether to share my story, whether to edit my past, all the struggle with my family and their feelings, all of it was made worth it. Here was a young person, someone who was struggling, someone who was feeling some of the same pain I had felt as a teenager was impacted by my story enough to find the courage to ask for help.
This was monumental for me. Her words solidified my belief that my story was important. Sharing my story had the power to positively transform and lift another human being.
Each one of our stories is important. When we find the courage to have real conversations about our inner worlds, we have the potential of helping another through their struggles. When we reveal our humanity and imperfections, it connects us to one another and create an opening for meaningful, authentic conversations about how we are doing. To have them know and understand they are not alone.
This is the kind of environment that allows someone who is struggling to ask for help. If it were not for the deep relationship I have with a girlfriend, a relationship where she shared her own struggles with depression, I don't know if I would have gotten help when I needed it most. Her openness was like a life ring in the stormy seas of my confusions, rage and depression.
We may not all have a platform to write a book or do speeches where we can share with thousands of people, but we all have a circle of influence. My girlfriend has used hers to help many people in real and meaningful ways--one person at a time. We all have the power to do that.
It takes courage to share our stories. We are all afraid of judgement and rejection. Afraid of being seen as weak. Despite all our progress, our society still has stigma around mental illness, we tend to think of it in terms of defining a person rather than being part of who we are.
I am a mother of four, a wife, an Olympic athlete, a writer, a speaker, a changemaker. I am also someone who has experienced mental illness. I hope that we have the imagination to define one another in our complexity.
What I remember most about my life before counselling, is a feeling of isolation. I felt ashamed of my sadness, that I had no right in such an abundant life, to feel down or listless. I should be happy I would tell myself -- and the fact that I wasn't proved how deeply flawed I was. This shame kept me from reaching out for help for way too long.
I have learned that fame, money, age, success -- none of these protect us from mental illness. The road to healing is similar for everyone; it involves reaching out for help, and going through the hard work of understanding and healing.
Frame Of Mind is a new series inspired by The Maddie Project that focuses on teens and mental health. The series will aim to raise awareness and spark a conversation by speaking directly to teens who are going through a tough time, as well as their families, teachers and community leaders. We want to ensure that teens who are struggling with mental illness get the help, support and compassion they need. If you would like to contribute a blog to this series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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