I can’t let Mental Health Month go by without a blog post on the subject, especially this year. So this one’s not about tech, media or the Internet. It’s about – and by – 19-year-old Ruby Walker, author of Advice I Ignored: Stories and Wisdom from a Formerly Depressed Teen. It is true wisdom, maybe especially helpful because it’s a gift to her peers (and herself, she writes) from someone who’s been there.
Ruby Walker was one of the 11.4% of U.S. teens that, according to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) data, were depressed in 2014. Here’s a teeny glimpse of what that was like for her:
When I’m lying in bed procrastinating, and I know I’m procrastinating, but I’m not going to stop, even though I want to—The Goop. When I can’t seem to make myself take a shower—The Goop….
The Goop is my term for the notion that my bad behavior is an act of some divinity outside my control. I mean, rationally it doesn’t make any sense. If I can scratch my nose, I can clean my room. All I need to do is will my limbs to go to the right places. So why, then, is it so easy to fall into the Goop? For me it was two sorts of fear. The first was a fear that I really could do anything…. And the second was a fear that everything was my fault….
That described where she was when, at 15, she stopped going to school, finding it too hard to try, speak, stop crying – or else start crying because of a cold numbness that made her want “something to cry about.” Now, in addition to being a published author, Ruby’s a university student, artist and activist who earned herself full tuition to a private university. She’s studying studio art and creative writing at Trinity University in San Antonio, Tex. Advice I Ignored doesn’t just explain how she got there; it aims to help peers get through it to wherever they want or need to be, which I’m sure she’d say isn’t necessarily being a university student. She doesn’t mince words (there are content warnings at the end of the Introduction), and she is very wise for her years.
Here’s an illustration (for peers and parents) for this challenging time, adapted from her book:
From Ruby Walker:
How to Find Some Quiet, Make Friends with Boredom and Give Yourself a Break
As many high school and college students are now quarantined at home and stuck with #socialdistancing, they may be experiencing feelings of loneliness and isolation. Here are a few introspective tips that will help take the edge off, so students (and parents) don’t go completely crazy during the “corona break”….
Learn how “too much” feels.
I have invented a word for the opposite of lonely. This is something I think we, as a society, have made a mistake in forgetting to name. It’s a bit silly, but my word is “crowdy.” See, just as you can feel lonely in a room full of people, you can feel crowdy when there’s no one else around. Whatever you choose to call it, just recognizing that this feeling exists is a step in the right direction.
Find time for a bit of solitude throughout the day.
- Pick a household task you usually do while listening to music or the radio. Do it quietly.
- Do you take public transit, drive or carpool? Try taking your trips in quiet, just in your own company for a while. Notice the people, plants, and animals outside.
- Take yourself out on a date – go to a nice restaurant by yourself.
- Watch the sun rise or set – just sit outside and see the world slowly turning.
Consider using the internet less.
I don’t mean to complain about technology like a stodgy old person who hates electric light – I like the internet. I just distrust the idea that always together is better. I distrust the way so many of us seem to use the internet not to be together, but to avoid ever being alone. Really consider whether your current use of the internet is enjoyable and useful, or if it’s simply a distraction.
Take a day off. 24 hours.
Don’t work, don’t study. Unplug your phone. Some religions call it the Sabbath. I think that traditions – whether religious or not – can make a day very special. It all depends on what feeling and activities you find relaxing. Here are a few of my favorite things to do when I can get a day off:
- Lighting candles
- Warm baths
- Tending my cactus garden
- Reading a trashy romance novel
- Making hibiscus tea
- Eating fruit all day
- Lying in the sun
- Walking at sunset
- Watching the sun come out
I so agree with you, Ruby, that “it’s important that teenagers have a voice in teenage mental health.” And it’s important for teenagers to have a voice in everything else, too.
- About Spark Change, a book co-authored by 12-year-old Olivia Van Ledtje that’s taking digital citizenship to the next level
- “Parenting during a pandemic”
- 17-year-old Avi Schiffmann’s Covid-19 data-tracking Web site and that of the World Health Organization (a key source of Avi’s site)