This post is for the teens who read my blog. Adults are welcome to read it, too, but it isn't for you.
My husband, who somehow ends up having deeply interesting conversations with strangers on a regular basis, was talking with a psychologist and mentioned that he didn't understand Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The psychologist said, "Have you ever had that dream where you are back in college but missing a final or some variation of that?"
"All the time."
"Then you understand PTSD. There is a physical reaction to stress and your brain and body remember it, and in those dreams you're in that physical and psychological memory and your brain cannot understand that it doesn't need to be stressed out about that anymore. PTSD is that sensation compounded."
So, interesting, right? But here's the thing. I've never once had the "I signed up for a college class but haven't been attending and now it's the final and I'm dead meat" dream. Nope. But I very regularly have a dream where for whatever reason I didn't finish high school and I have to go back.
Yup. Pretty much my ultimate nightmare right there: RETURN TO HIGH SCHOOL AND NEVER GET OUT. (It was even more awesome when I'd have the dream pregnant and get asked to prom and think, "First of all I'll never find a maternity formal, second of all, it's kind of inappropriate, right?") (Which might leave you wondering why, if high school was so awful I am still suffering mild psychological trauma ten years later, I choose to write from teen perspectives. But that's not what we're here to talk about today. [Perhaps that should be discussed on a couch. To a therapist.])
Today I am here to tell you that it's going to be okay. Maybe you've screwed up. Maybe you're just worried you're going to. Maybe you feel so much pressure to be building building building for your future you wonder if you even want that future, or you can't sleep because you're convinced the future you want will never happen, or you cry when you are in the shower and no one can hear because you're doing it WRONG and it's going to ruin everything forever.
That's the best thing about being a teenager: you can screw up. I'm not advocating making huge mistakes because you will definitely have to work harder and stress more than you would have had you not messed up, but fact of the matter is, you're probably going to at some point.
And when you hit that point, you might worry that it's over. This nebulous, hazy "future" you have sitting like those horrible little cartoon devils on your shoulder, might whisper in your ear that you've blown it.
I'm going to tell you a story that very few people know. (HELLO INTERNET. HAVE SOME OF MY SECRETS.) When I was a junior in high school I struggled with depression. I'm not sure why; unlike in most books there was no huge trigger, no big THING that made me depressed. I just was. And because I was depressed everything felt huge and overwhelming and too much for me. So I did something really stupid. I maintained every single other aspect of my life (I was a big fat faker and very good at it, too) but I stopped doing anything in my honors pre-calculus class.
Anything. At all.
I went to class. I sat there. I didn't do any of the homework. I don't remember what I did on the tests, but when that second term report card came home with a big F in the middle of my straight A's, I laughed and said that the teacher hadn't put in all of the assignments yet and it wasn't really an F. My parents trusted me because when I wasn't depressed I was an honest kid. But that depression monster made me hide things, shove them away into corners of my brain and my life, pretend like they didn't exist. Like math. If my math class didn't exist, then I could handle everything else.
This continued until almost the end of the year, when I could no longer hide everything, when the dark secret corners had seeped out into the entire room of my life.
It was over.
Everything was over.
I was living every day in fear, fear of being discovered, but even worse the fear of knowing that I had ruined everything. All of my dreams. All of my plans. They were over, and I had blown it, and it was all my fault because I was stupid and couldn't handle a dumb class and couldn't tell the truth and couldn't ask for help and couldn't sleep and couldn't even feel like I was supposed to.
To tell you the truth, I remember almost nothing from those few months. I don't remember how my parents reacted when I came clean that yes, in the middle of all my honors and AP "A" grades, I had failed two terms on math and was well on my way to failing a third. I don't remember what they said. I should, but I don't. The second half of my junior year is a gray blur of fear and failure.
One thing I do remember is this. After everything came out and we met with the teacher who agreed to let me make up all of the course work I had missed (a miracle and a very generous decision--turns out those adults we are terrified of as teenagers actually love us and want us to succeed) I was walking home from taking a makeup test, sure I had failed. Again. Even when I was trying to make everything better I was still just screwing it all up. As I went to cross the road and cars sped by I had a thought.
A brief thought.
A thought that maybe if I stepped out in the street and got hit by a car, this whole math thing wouldn't matter anymore.
Now, to be clear: I did not want to die. I was not suicidal. But I had let things get so bad and so blown out of proportion in my mind that the idea of being hit by a car seemed like a good solution. Looking back, it was such an irrational thought so as to be almost insane. Probably actually insane. But that's the thing when you are living in fear and depression and pressure: you aren't thinking rationally. You can't.
Gosh, this is getting heavy. Sorry about that. Here's where it gets better.
In the end I walked home. I did not let myself get hit by a car. Life wasn't easy, but I kept fixing what I had messed up. I worked on being honest with myself and my parents again. I worked with the very kind teacher who understood that sometimes sixteen-year-olds screw up. She let me redo the coursework from where I stopped, let me redo the tests, let me come into her class every day during her free period and essentially take the class again to make up my failed grades. I swallowed my pride at being "smart" and hired a fellow student to tutor me. I didn't get A's. I think I got three C's. But those C's buried in my other good grades were enough that my dream college didn't even notice them.
So even though I'd messed up, seriously screwed up, and temporarily derailed myself and my future, it was fixable. It wasn't easy. It was long, and it was hard, and it wasn't fun. But I had parents who loved me and wanted to help me succeed. I had teachers who cared and wanted to see me secure a good future. And I wasn't an adult yet.
You're a teenager. That's AWESOME. Maybe you're like I was and feeling like you are drowning in all of the potential futures you could have. Maybe you've already done something hugely wrong, made pretty much the biggest mistake you could. Maybe you think it's over. I am here to tell you it's not. You'll have to keep walking, keep moving forward. Yes, your life would be much easier if you hadn't done that thing you did, but the amazing thing about being you is that those futures spreading out in front of you? They're all still there. You might not have the same path to them that you thought you would, but they're still there and you can still have them.
Take a deep breath. You'll get out of this. And when you get out, things will be so much bigger and so much better than you can understand right now. All you have to do is make it through in the best way you can. Just remember how many people you have that care. It's okay to ask for help. It's okay to need help. Be brave. Make the hard choices. Do your best.
Also, for the love of Pete, have some fun while you're at it. And if you see me in your dreams dazedly wandering the halls of your high school while wearing a formal and seven-months-pregnant, just smile and pat me on the back and remind me that I made it through. Just like you're going to.