To the fifteen-year-old present-self (suffering from Depression), I know you will have heard all the clichés, so I will spare you the usual stock phrases that people say when diagnosis of mental illness is made. Instead, I will tell you the things I wish someone else (mostly adults) had said to me, when I was your age.
I know it feels like you have weights tied to your feet and you are sinking through a large body of water at night. You cannot hear things properly, and you cannot see yourself within all the murk. All you know is that you are slowly drowning and you cannot stand existing like this any longer.
However, it is all in your mind. The truth is that you are not alone (you never were). People that care about you (and would mourn you if you died) do truly exist in reality; you are significant, and you have an impact. I know this sounds cheesy and contradictory, because right now
you are drowning, and when you are drowning, you can wave your hand in front of your face and still not see it. You only think and feel like you are alone, that you are carrying the weight of the world and all those social expectations around on your shoulders.
The thing is: those problems that now appear so enormous and insurmountable are really not. You will find that, if you look hard enough, the vast majority of problems have a solution. It may not be the solution you were hoping for, but it is a solution, and therefore a choice. I can see you now, your arms crossed against a black T-shirt, rolling your eyes and giving me a dismissive snort. I know you have talked to multiple therapists and doctors, with all their knowledge and fancy doctorates, and still they could not help you—but somehow I can? Some doubts and lingering suspicions are justified, however, unlike you or the others, I have the advantage of knowing what is wrong and how you think.
What you struggle with are common problems such as identity, self-esteem and self-worth—the way most young ladies do, in comparison to others your age. You’re completely normal in that regard (sorry to disappoint). Even the emotional trauma and scarring of your parents’ multiple divorces is becoming disturbingly common. See, the source of your depression is not that you are bullied at school, or that you have issues with your parents; it is how you handle those issues, and how those issues have been allowed to shape and condition you.
First piece of advice: there is nothing wrong with you!
There, I said it, the thing you have always suspected. There isn’t anything wrong with you. And it doesn’t matter how many doctors your mother takes you to, how many cat scans, ECG scans or blood tests you’re subjected to, the answer is always going to remain the same. It is society and your parents that are the problem. Yes, you are different from ‘normal’ teenage girls, and while you have been made to feel your whole life that being different equates to less (somehow), it is not true, and others were wrong to make you feel that way. I know it is not the magic cure you were after, but that is the reality. The fact remains that being treated differently will help you: you will be more understanding, compassionate and stronger for it in the end.
Image credit: bykst
Second piece of advice: it is not your responsibility to educate others.
A bunch of idiot teenagers that are so racist and homophobic Hitler would approve currently surround you. So what? It is not your job to correct every ignorant racial stereotype or slur that comes out of their mouths. That is the teacher’s job. Now, I know what you are thinking: the vast majority of teachers at your high school are more concerned with their popularity with the student body than their jobs, and you have to say something in opposition to it. After all, that behaviour is unacceptable, and if you do not say something, nobody else will.
Wrong. While we all like to think of ourselves as the righteous heroes of our own narratives, it just comes off as self-righteous and obnoxious. It does not matter how many times you factually ,prove that Asians and Muslims are not coming to Australia with the intent of taking over. They are narrow-minded bigots, and they are going to believe what they want to believe. Recognise a losing battle when you see one, that the situation is out of your control, and let it go. I know it is difficult when you are forced to deal with them on a daily basis, and you should not have to deal with such a toxic environment, but the only way to deal with such a thing is to remove yourself from the situation, literally and metaphorically.
Third piece of advice: stop trying so hard.
It is okay to screw up, and as long as you learned something from it, failure is acceptable. I know that nobody enjoys failure, but you do not need to be so critical of yourself. It does not need be perfect first go, and it probably never will be. But that is okay, because there is something worse than failure, and that is not doing anything at all. I suspect it is one of the reasons why those other girls give you such a hard time, because you try so hard and want it so much. It is easier to tear down somebody else’s ideas than to make up your own and follow through with them. Nevertheless, those naysayers do not count; it is not as though they know you. So do not pay any attention to them. It does not matter how long it takes or how many tries you need to get it right, just keep going. I know you will get there eventually.
I know you are going through a tough time, tougher than it should be, but whether or not you are ‘cured’ is entirely up to you, and, as I said previously, it really is all in your mind. However, I know that does not make it less real or frightening. It does not lessen your anxiety; it does not silence the voices in your head. The mantra of equal parts self-loathing and self-preservation is lurking in the dark corners of your mind, just waiting for the opportunity to strike. Nevertheless, you cannot stop now, especially when life is only just beginning, you have to keep going. I know it gets better, trust me.
Your twenty-five-year-old future self (still a work-in-progress).
(Previously published in Platform 16, 2014.)
Julia Kyle is a freelance writer. She writes articles and book reviews on her blog Havering, is currently studying for a Bachelor of Creative Arts Industries and plans to have a novella published by the end of the year.