Last week, my daughter turned 18 years old.
Some of the things my daughter understands at 18, as opposed to things I understood at the age of 18:
- She is painfully aware of the internet and its permanence. For this reason, she posts cautiously, carefully and thoughtfully. She always considers the consequences tomorrow for the things she posts today. When I was 18, I did what I wanted, said what I wanted, wrote what I wanted, without any thought for the future. I wish I had that discretion, as many photos and diaries remind me (cringe…).
- She knows when a boy is texting her and another girl at the same time. When I was 18, there were no cell phones, no texting. I don’t think we even had call waiting on our landline. I was so clueless that I probably wouldn’t have noticed if someone was talking to me and anyone else at the same time. Ever.
- She understands the importance of regular exercise and working out. I, on the other hand, didn’t even have exercise on my radar.
- She loves music. She loses herself in music, and it brings her solace and peace, yet it also makes her feel energized and inspired. I can definitely relate. When I was in high school, music pretty much saved my life.
- She knows when she’s having an attack of anxiety, and she knows what to do when it happens. She recognizes when she’s been feeling down for a while, and knows that she can talk to me about it. Or someone else. When I was 18, I had those same feelings but didn’t have a name for them. It was impossible for me to get out of the moment and look at the big picture, to realize what was going on. I didn’t talk to anyone when I was going through these times.
When I was 18, I looked at any kind of mental illness as something to be…shunned. I felt sorry for anyone who suffered from it, but deep inside I also considered it a sign of weakness. Something shameful. I never thought that mental illness might be something that existed in my immediate family. Somehow, I was led to believe that if something was bothering me, I should either exercise, get busy, and basically snap out of it.
It took many, many years of education, therapy and eventually, a small dose of Wellbutrin, for me to realize that there is no shame in anything like depression. It’s not a sign of weakness. In my case, it was clear that a good diet, a walk in the woods, and telling myself to be happy wasn’t working. And it turned out, to my surprise, a whole lot of other people I cared about and admired suffered from some type of mental illness, in a wide variety of degrees.
What did happen after I started accepting and treating depression was that I was able to think a little more clearly…
Over time, I was able to get out of my head a little more and see the bigger picture. I was able to look at things not only from my own point of view but through other people’s eyes. And if I couldn’t see it through their eyes, I could at least understand that what others went through was real, and valid, and a struggle in which they were all too aware. My relationships with friends and family improved, I was able to build a strong community of friends through work, church and even hobbies…life just improved all around.
My husband walked with me through all of this. I shared these experiences with my parents and they eventually understood. More importantly, I shared this with my kids. Not only are they aware of the necessity of resources for mental health, but they know those in their own peer groups who need these resources too. I know we as a society still have a long way to go to remove the stigma of mental illness.
Mental illness…even now, those two words still evoke a list of negative images and connotations, but at least we’re talking about it.
We all know that it exists and it’s almost ubiquitous in all of us. We also know that help is out there, and it’s available to us. My daughter knows this, and her college knows it because they offer many resources to their students.
Everyone suffers from time to time. Everyone will suffer again at some point, for any number of reasons. But I am so thankful that some things have changed since I was 18.