Trigger warning: This post discusses suicide and teen mental health.
I struggled with mental health as a teen, though at the time I had no idea what that was. I was 13 years old when I first started thinking about suicide.
I thought about it a lot.
I slid down a steep, dark rabbit hole of fantasizing about different ways I could do it.
It is nearly impossible to describe how desperately, utterly alone I felt.
I didn’t talk about my feelings during my teen years. With anyone.
Instead, I journalled and poured my tears out onto paper as poetry flowed from the shadows of my soul into my fingertips. That was the place I deposited all my grief; words dropped like anchors in the endless ocean.
I wept for myself. I was drowning even though there was ground underneath my flailing feet. I was too terrified to tell my parents. My worst fear, besides the strange, paralyzing fear of staying alive, was that they would force me to go see a pyschiatrist. I couldn’t possibly put into words for a stranger the despair I couldn’t even understand myself.
Nighttime was the worst. I could not shut my brain off or stop the carousel of worries and anxiety spinning me round and round until I was ready to projectile hurl.
The insomnia alone was torturous. Watching the never-ending flipping of numbers on my alarm clock. Flip. Flip. Flip. I wanted time to stop. Just stop changing. Stop ticking away all the minutes of sleep that eluded me.
My mind was at war with itself and kept me chained up as everyone around me lived life as normal. Or what I assumed was normal. I was acutely aware of the soft thuds of feet walking around me but no one seemed to notice the desperation seeping out of the dirt in the shoe prints they left behind.
I wanted to cry out, “Hey, look at me! I am alone! I am broken! I don’t know what’s wrong with me! Something is wrong,” but I was too afraid. I carried my fear like a security blanket. Fear protected me from the unknowns of action.
I don’t know which was worse. The intensity of my feelings, or the way I could make them evaporate like hot breath on a mirror when others were present.
It makes me break down to realize how long it took me to ask for help. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties, after I battled severe depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts for nearly a decade, that I reached out.
Teen Mental Health: It’s Important to Talk about It
But it was the birth of my son that saved me.
After he was born, I knew the kind of mom I needed to be wasn’t one who destroyed herself. It was no longer about just me anymore.
I needed to get well for him, and over time, I realized that I needed to get well for ME.
I never imagined that years later I would be walking through these struggles with my own two teens–that my lifelong battle with mental health prepared me, gave me an insider’s knowledge, and made me acutely aware of the signs.
Signs like isolating and disengaging from friends. Having trouble falling asleep or waking in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep. Loss of appetite. Worsening grades. Disinterest in leaving the house. Morbid jokes. Negative self-talk. High anxiety.
All warning signs.
I am so grateful my teens were able to get help much sooner than I was.
In this house, we talk about it. I tell my teens when my mental health is deteriorating and about how I’m feeling. I don’t hide it from them. I have learned how dangerous and detrimental that is, both to myself and them.
I give them plenty of opportunities to talk about their anxiety, their mood swings, and their negative feelings. No topic is off-limits.
I tell them to let me or someone else–anyone else–know if they are having thoughts of hurting themselves. That it is not them; the depression is causing it. They know their options. Medication. Counseling. Self-care. A support network.
They know that there are people who get it. They know that I get it.
I wish I could go back.
To tell 13-year-old me that there is a world of freedom on the other side of fear. To give her a hug and cry with her and tell her that she is going to be okay; she is not alone. To remind her that it is not her; it is an imbalance in her brain.
To show her ME.
A mom of two teens with mental health struggles. A woman empowered to share her own story. A person who is willing and capable of getting herself and her kids the help they need.
And being brave enough to talk about it.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 any time of day. The Lifeline provides free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.