The Myth of the Carefree Childhood.

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A list of things I’m sure you have heard being said:

  • “He’s just a kid, he doesn’t have any real problems.”
  • “She’s not really depressed, she’s just being a normal teen.”
  • “Kids cry over spilled milk, when we’re the ones who should really be crying.”
  • “Teens have nothing real to worry about like adults do.”

And so on.

I never liked this. I didn’t like this when I was eleven and I spent five hours a night checking doors and locks and burners to make sure everyone was safe and then crying when I lost count of it and had to start over. I didn’t like it when I was twelve and had to go to a new school with no friends and suddenly my noon hours were spent in complete isolation, with periods of dissociation. I didn’t like it when I was thirteen and my dad died from cancer.

I don’t like it now, when I’m studying to be a teacher and have learned of all the atrocities that kids have to go through on a regular basis.

Because the myth of the carefree childhood is a lie. Sure, some might make it out with only minor scratches and bandages to cover it up. But let’s look at these myths, shall we?

  • “He’s just a kid, he doesn’t have any real problems.”  An incomplete list of problems that kid might actually face: poverty, illness, loss, abuse, bullying, etc. Just because you had a lovely childhood that was all daisies and scarlet coloured crayons, that doesn’t mean all of youth is carefree.
  • “She’s not really depressed, she’s just being a normal teen.” I want you to think about this one: oftentimes, teens are misdiagnosed with depression because their hormonal changes cause the exact same symptoms. Translation: teenagers are going through what anyone with depression might be going through except that it has a different source. How does that make it different? People constantly like to act like teens are petty and upset for no reason but I know, at least for myself, regardless of the cause teenage hormones caused some of the worst misery in my life. You don’t get to say it’s not suffering because they’ll grow out of it eventually.
  • “Kids cry over spilled milk, when we’re the ones who should really be crying.” Again, I will point you to the list above. Sure, adults have lots of things to worry about that most kids don’t… taxes. Um… taxes? But just because we have taxes to worry about, that doesn’t mean that we are on a completely different level of suffering as children.
  • “Teens have nothing real to worry about like adults do.” Things I had to worry about as a teen: “What’s this symptom? Does it mean cancer? Will I die? Also, how will I get through this presentation when I have panic attacks in front of the class? Will I get bullied at noon hour? How do I respond if I do?” Okay, so sure, I have three anxiety disorders, I may have worried more than the average teen but EVERYONE has something to worry about and everything can seem like the and of the world when you’refacing it in the moment.

So why am I writing all this? Well, in addition to being passionate about mental health awareness, I’m also passionate about empathy towards youth. Going through eighteen years of your life with your problems dismissed just because you can’t legally vote is a terrible thing. Parents assume they know everything their children are going through because they live with them but, chances are, they’ve only scratched the surface. Age twelve was the worst year of my life, yet I remember after hours and hours of obsessions and compulsions, I would see another comment on the internet saying “teens don’t go through mental illness, it’s just normal hormones” until I convinced myself that I what I was doing was normal and the fact that every day I prayed and prayed that I would die was just the everyday life of the Canadian teenager.

Children, for the most part, cannot go solving their problems on their own. They’re not going to book an appointment with a therapist because they’ve been worrying more than usual and initiate a conversation about coping techniques with their parents. And as long as we ignore children because they couldn’t possibly suffer real pain, we are denying them help and treatment for a treatable problem. We wouldn’t do that for a child’s broken leg, is it any more ethical to do so for a child’s emotional or psychological problems?

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The Year I Turned Angry.

 

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If you were to ask my friends to describe me a year ago, none of them would describe me as “angry”.Sure, my sister might because I still hold a lowkey grudge for that time she ate the last Oreos that I was craving, but as an actual genuine trait, no, I’m not angry. If my friends upset me, which they rarely do, I try to find a solution. I can overlook flaws. I am a peaceful individual and my best friend of fifteen years can confirm that because we’ve only had, like, two fights in all that time.

But everyone has anger and this year I’m experiencing it. And I think that’s healthy. God gave us emotions for a reason and if we suppress them to an unreasonable extent, well, it just results in unhealthy coping mechanisms, something that I’m fairly familiar with.

Today I am angry. Scratch that, for the past two months I have been angry. It just resurfaced today, during an unexpected walk-in with someone who deeply wronged me. No, I’m not just angry at the world. But I’m angry at specific people and I’m allowing myself to feel that until it calms down and God can turn it into forgiveness. All in good time. Allowing a healthy connection with my inner emotions is okay. Good, even,if it doesn’t cause me to harm others or disturb my inner peace.

So here I am, two months away from a time that two ex-friends hurt me permanently and I am just waiting this anger out. Someday it will fade. Until then, I will write angry songs and pray and, simply, feel.

 

On Beauty and Social Anxiety.

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I am not pretty. Or maybe I am. I honestly don’t know. I think everyone struggles with the inability to see oneself objectively. Stare at a mirror long enough and all you see are pores and pimples. Stare at a selfie long enough and all you see is a collection of so-called flaws.

And when you have social anxiety disorder, all of this is amplified.

I am not pretty. My high school years were spent roaming the halls, seeing people laugh, and naturally assuming they were laughing at the way I looked. As I got older, I would hear cat calls from drivers on the street and, once again, assume they were making fun of me. I am all too aware of my poorly defined chin and my big nose and the shadows under my eyes.

With therapy and leaving high school, my social anxiety got better and so did the way I see myself. I thought “Maybe someone could appreciate the way I look, someday” as I started to accept people being nice to me as, not an act of mocking, but as genuine acts of kindness. When boys called me pretty or asked me out, I started to entertain the possibility that they were being honest. And then, because anxiety disorders are lifelong illnesses, I cave. Again and again. Because social anxiety means an amplified voice in your head telling you that you’re ugly over and over again. It says everyone is looking at you and judging your appearance. It says you’re not worthy of love. And when you fight it, sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t.

I am not pretty. Or maybe I am. I don’t think I’ll ever known. If I hear that I’m not, I believe it, if I hear that I am, I question it. But whether I’m pretty or not, I am so much more. I am a fighter who has gone through so much in her life. I am an artist. I am kind. I am funny. I am beloved by God. And even if my social anxiety doesn’t accept that, I will.

Why I’m Sharing My Secrets

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When I was eleven, I would check my doors’ locks, I would check the burners, I would check that the lights were off for up to seven hours a night until I was sleeping only ten hours a week and was so sleep-deprived that I hallucinated. I didn’t tell anybody.

When I was in high school, my social anxiety got so bad that I lost all my friends and spent my noon hours alone, being bullied. I would throw my lunch away because I couldn’t eat in front of people. But I didn’t tell anybody.

When I was seventeen, I was starving myself and dissociating over food. I was cold and exhausted and failing classes because I spent all my time exercising. But I didn’t tell anybody.

Now I’m on the verge of turning twenty-two and I am completely open to anyone who asks that I have suffered with these things. I have four diagnoses. I have gone through so much and managed to brave through it. I have no secrets.

Everyone on Facebook who’s been paying attention to what I post now know all these secrets and more, but why did I choose to share? It wasn’t because I wanted attention. I speak because I can.

I have a lovely family who accepts me as I am, despite my mental illness. As terrified as I was, I knew that I was safe when I told them my secrets first. Some people aren’t that lucky. Some people tell their truth only to have people not believe them, or abandon them, or abuse them. They can’t speak their truth so I will until mental illness becomes accepted as the normal reality that it is. The more people speak, the more accepted it will be. The more accepted it becomes, the more people will be free to speak openly and get help. It takes so many people for this to happen but, in the words of Peyton Sawyer from One Tree Hill, “Sometimes all you need… is one.”

Social Anxiety Disorder & Relationships

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When I was in high school, I had a select few friends that I would spend my noon hours with. I would eat lunch with them and walk the halls with them. But every time I was with them, my mind would tell me things: “They don’t like you”. “They don’t really want you there”. “They’re all judging you”.

Those thoughts grew and grew until they consumed me and I no longer enjoyed the time with my friends. I started making excuses like “I have to go to the library” or “I already ate” to avoid those interactions and, by my junior year in high school, I had no friendships left.

With years of therapy and working on myself, I have created new friendships since then but that doesn’t mean it was easy.

You see, having social anxiety disorder is like having a voice in your head that tells you everyone is judging you and no one actually enjoys your presence. It brings out your worst qualities and convinces you that everyone can see them as well as you can.

So, to loved ones and strangers alike, this is what it’s like to have social anxiety:

  • When you don’t reply to my messages, I assume you’re ignoring me and no longer want to be friends.
  • When your message doesn’t seem enthusiastic enough, I assume you’re secretly mad about something.
  • When I’m the one who has to initiate a hangout, I assume I’m forcing the relationship.
  • When I talk about my feelings I assume I’m being a burden.

These are just a few examples of how difficult it is to maintain relationships when you have social anxiety disorder and to those with this illness who are reading this, I assume you can relate deeply to at least some of these. To those of you who don’t, you might be thinking “People with Social Anxiety Disorder are high maintenance”. And that might be true, but any person with a serious illness is, in some way, high maintenance when you commit to a relationship with said person, you need to be sensitive of their internal struggle.

You don’t need to be devoting your time and positivity to them 24/7, but it is important to take your friend’s fears and insecurities into consideration. Relationships with people with social anxiety may be difficult, but I assure you it is so much more difficult for the sufferers. To be able to build and maintain these relationships takes courage and people with social phobia have much more trouble building relationships, either platonic or romantic, than those without it. Ultimately, it is very important for those who are struggling to be understood and supported and for their friends, family, and partners to understand what their peer is going through. I hope, by writing this, I have shed light  on the Social Anxiety experience and someone, somewhere, will benefit from this and apply this knowledge to their own relationship.

Before You Watch Season 2 of “13 Reasons Why”…

As season 2 of “13 Reasons Why” is released on Netflix today, it is important that everyone makes an informed decision on whether or not to watch it. I have not watched this season yet, but I have read the book many times and have watched the first season.

I first read Jay Asher’s “Thirteen Reasons Why” when I was thirteen. This was when I was just recovering from the worst bout of OCD in my life, when my dad died, and when I was being bullied at school. It wasn’t a good choice. While the message of treating everyone with kindness because you don’t know what they’re going through got to me, so did the concept of “suicide is something to fantasize about because those who were mean will pay”.

I have read the book about six times since (I’m a notorious re-reader). I haven’t dealt with that personal impact since because I haven’t been that unhappy since. Or, at least, I haven’t deliberately gone to this book when I was in a bad place. That’s Rule #1:

1) Do not read the book or watch the series if you are currently in a dark place. There is, I believe, an actual trigger warning against this that the creators placed at the beginning of the series. If you’re depressed or suicidal and you watch or read something that focuses on being depressed and suicidal, you *will* be influenced by that viewpoint, and not in a good way.

I think the author and the creators both had pure intentions when creating this series but, much like a recovering alcoholic shouldn’t watch a movie about someone struggling with alcoholism because it will trigger her/him, the same applies to these situation.

THIS SHOW IS NOT FOR EVERY AUDIENCE.

First of all, this show is not for teens. It’s rated TV-MA so that viewers know that youth is impressionable and not mature enough for this subject material. The show has much worse language and graphic content, as well as substance abuse, than the book.

THIS SHOW IS NOT A GLAMOROUS THRILLER.

This show was not created to entice viewers waiting in suspense to see why Clay was on Hannah’s tapes. It’s not there for viewers to “ship” Hannah and Clay or swoon over Alex. It was created to ensure mental health awareness and increase empathy toward our peers.

Did this show succeed in its purpose? Yes and no. I think, somewhere along the way, the creators lost track of their purpose to a certain degree. Depicting a graphic and disturbing suicide in plain sight, despite warnings that that could be dangerous to viewers? Completely foolish and irresponsible.

However, I believe aside from this, their trigger warnings ensured that they too responsibility for what they were responsible. They gave warnings about content, gave an age restriction, stated that it may not be suitable for those who are suffering and provided resources for those in need.

I feel that critics have been too harsh on this show in the fact that viewers have not done their part in being responsible media consumers. Whenever i lend this book to anyone, I tell them it’s amazing and ha a great impact, but not to read it if you’re in a dark head space. Hormonal and impressionable fourteen year olds should not be watching this show. People need to stop and think before they consume such controversial media.

 

So. Should you watch season 2? It’s up to you, but you should definitely consider your responsibility in choosing to watch this show before blaming a television show for causing a lot of controversy, when it was made with the intention to help and has, I believe, done so in many ways.

I Make my Own Identity.

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A couple weeks ago, I posted my eating disorder story, a very personal narrative discussing my struggle with anorexia nervosa (binge/purge subtype). In this post, I talked a lot about identity: I lived my life identifying as “the skinny girl” and had to find a way to cope with that once I lost that part of me. There have been other identities thrust upon me: the Quiet Girl, the Good Girl, the Awkward Girl, and identities I, myself, have claimed: The Mentally Ill Girl, The Failure.

During my ongoing recovery from my eating disorder, however, I discovered that I needed to be comfortable in a new identity, something that I could happily claim. I decided to do what I love, regardless of what people think: I made a Youtube channel and posted covers and original songs, even though there were always a dozen girls in my music class who were better at singing than me, and claimed my identity as Artist. I made my own blog, which you are now reading, and claimed my identity as Mental Health Advocate. I started openly expressing my kind thoughts to people, even if I didn’t know them well, and claimed my identity as Girl Who Cares.

In short, I did my best to put my fears and my own predisposed ideas of myself aside in order to become the person I want to be and the person I always knew I was.

Identity plays a huge role in how we live our lives. Whether wanted or unwanted, they put labels on us that may restrict us or may open doors. I no longer want to be known for being skinny or being quiet, but instead for being creative and passionate and caring. What do you want to be known as?