Hey, mama with the struggling teen,
I want to show you something. See the young woman over there?
The one with the smile that makes her eyes glow? The one laughing and chatting it up with a stranger she literally just met (they have a dog . . . so instant friendship, right?). Yes, the girl who exudes confidence and walks with her head held high and looks you in the eye. The one who dreams big and loves bigger, see her?
She has dreams and plans like young adults her age should. Plans to have a place of her own. Plans for a career. Dreams of travel, friendships, marriage, and so many adventures. They aren’t distant dreams because she has the motivation, skills, and abilities to bring them to reality.
You think you know her story, but you don’t.
You’d think she won the lottery in life and couldn’t possibly know what your anxious teen is going through, but you’re wrong. You wouldn’t know her story by observing her now.
You couldn’t guess that she was my struggling teen.
You can’t see the anxiety threatening to take it all away—and actually did for a time. You can’t see how years of depression lied to her about her future. You don’t see the scars illustrating painful memories on both her body and soul.
You didn’t see the tears and prayers of anguish. You didn’t see the supporters praying for us or the team of professionals advising us and counseling her. You can’t see the sleepless nights, our fears for her back then, or the stress our family bore.
You didn’t see her on the edge of giving up and how weary she was from battling every day.
Or the days it was hard for her to get out of bed. Or the thoughts that kept her up at strange hours of the night. You don’t know the lies she believed about herself. You don’t see the level of hopelessness and despair she lived with (if you can call that living, as she probably called it surviving).
You don’t know how she believed the young woman she is now was never meant to be.
Those glowing eyes once held dark despair. The laughter you hear now was rare and the hope you see on her face was nonexistent.
Why would I want you to know her deep, dark secret when she could so easily put it behind her now and never speak of it again? You wouldn’t know if I didn’t tell.
But I must tell because she is determined it never should’ve been a terrible secret. She is not ashamed of the fact she struggled and was 1 in 5 because she wants other teens to breathe a sigh of relief and say, “Hey, me too!” without shame. She wants them to know it’s possible to get healthy and have hope. Your teen shouldn’t feel alone in the battle for their life.
If she could struggle with the darkness and battle through to become the young adult God intended, they can too.
Struggling with our mental health should be a conversation we can have over coffee instead of whispered behind closed doors.
Hardships create empathy and although our teens seem to be the generation that struggles more with mental health than previous generations, with time, encouragement, and support they just might be the generation that breaks the stigma around mental health and becomes the most empathetic and supportive generation ever. Maybe this generation could rank among the most resilient one day.
It starts with sharing her story.
So look again—look at the smile and laughter I cherish because it was absent for so many years. Look at her and take hope home with you. Let it inspire you in your prayers. Let her remind you how God isn’t done and His healing comes in His timing.
Let her scars and story inspire you and your teen to keep pushing through the struggle to the other side until one day they see hope in their own eyes looking back at them in the mirror.