June 23, 2017
Last week, a Massachusetts judge found Michelle Carter guilty of manslaughter after she sent a series of text messages to her boyfriend urging him to commit suicide. At the time, she was 17; her boyfriend, Conrad Roy, was 18. Both had a history of emotional problems.
The texts sent by Carter to Roy on the night he killed himself are chilling, and the story is heartbreaking on so many levels. As the mother of a teenager and two young women in their 20’s, I can’t even imagine what Roy’s parents must be going through – or Carter’s, for that matter, as they contemplate the years their daughter will serve in prison.
But Mother Wendy feels compelled to speak to the Young People (not that I have many Facebook Friends under the age of 40), and so I ask that you please indulge me as I address all the teenagers who may read this post.
Dear Young People:
Being a teen isn’t easy. Sometimes, it out-and-out sucks (my mother hates that word, by the way, and I only use it when I really want to make a point).
You have a lot on your mind, hormones coursing through your body, parents and teachers who are annoying and think the Periodic Table of the Elements is like, super important, and you don’t have a lot of power or self-determination. You’re dependent upon others for your basic necessities, which means that those others get to make a lot of decisions you maybe don’t like, and they also get to tell you what to do or, at the very least, severely limit your ability to do what you want.
Or maybe you have no one – no reliable adults, no support, nothing. Maybe the people who are supposed to be there for you aren’t, because of their job or drugs or prison or because they’re narcissists who should never had children. Maybe you have too much responsibility, and not enough resources. Maybe it feels like there’s no one there to help.
If there are supportive adults in your life, maybe they don’t remember what it’s like to be a teenager. They think that because they have jobs and mortgage payments and have to pay for health insurance and new transmissions that whatever you’re dealing with is minor by comparison, and maybe it is, to them, but it isn’t to you.
Sure, someday you’re the one who’s going to have to pay for the new washing machine or deal with a boss who’s an asshole, but for now, you have teenage-sized problems, and compared to middle-school or elementary school problems, they can feel all-consuming. Parents sometimes forget that things like chemistry tests, or not being included in a social event, or being teased for something about yourself that you can’t change, can feel like the world is ending. They may scoff when you complain about school, or friends, or your job, or maybe they one-up you with an “in my day” story in which they spent their entire youth wearing the same pair of underpants and working in a factory where people routinely got their arms cut off (probably not true, by the way).
Please try to remember, when this happens, that sometimes adults really don’t remember what it’s like to be young. Even more importantly, they probably don’t realize just how different a place the world is these days. My oldest was 10 when 9/11 happened, and she’s spent her young-adult life with an awareness of just how quickly a beautiful Tuesday morning can turn into a nightmare that changes everything, forever. She has lived with the uncertainty and fear that the terrorism and school shootings and economic collapse have fomented, and so has every other young person under the age of 30. So it’s not easy, and when adults tell you to shake it off, it’s because they forget that when they were younger, they used to ride their bikes to the store to buy a soda, walk unaccompanied to school, and didn’t have to be taught about “good touch/bad touch.”
So, even when you have supportive adults in your life and a pretty stable situation (a relative privilege these days, it seems), things can still be rough, because neurotypical teenage behavior is fraught with drama and angst and urgency. Your body and your brain aren’t done baking yet, so that you’re subject to wild mood swings and may be easily frustrated when things don’t go your way.
Guess what? That’s normal.
What you don’t know yet is that how things may feel on any given day is very much like the weather in London: Don’t like it? Wait a few minutes. It’ll change. I don’t say this to minimize the importance of the things you may be struggling with, or to be patronizing, or to suggest that the things that teenagers are focused on are frivolous. I was a teenager once, and for all my wailing about my Double A bra size and the fact that no boy would go out with me, you would have thought I was a penniless, homeless orphan with terminal cancer and a bad perm – just ask any of my high school friends. They’re all on Facebook. They remember.
What you also don’t know is that, with the exception of very extreme and dire circumstances (and, frequently, even in the case of very extreme and dire circumstances)…this too shall pass. It gets better. Hang in there.
I know, I know, I KNOW. Not the words you want to hear, not very helpful when it feels like the world is about to end. You don’t understand, Mother Wendy, you may be thinking.
Ah, but I do. I do. There’s a reason that old people like me say things like this: Because we’ve been there. We’ve felt that fear and frustration and sadness, and we’ve cried those tears. Just because we dye our (grey) hair, don’t know how to Snapchat, and are totally lame in just about every way a person can be, if there is NOTHING else that we know, we know this:
You won’t always feel this way.
But when you ARE feeling this way, and if it isn’t going away, and you’re starting to feel like there are no answers, you must hear this: No matter how sad, depressed, desperate, or lonely, you may be, THERE IS HELP. There are people to talk to, medications that can drastically improve your mood and correct organic chemical imbalances, and facilities where care is available.
There are ways to get better, and people who want to help. No one will judge you – they’d rather help you than mourn you. If your parents won’t listen, talk to a friend. If your friends won’t listen, talk to a teacher. If a teacher won’t help, because she’s busy staring at the Periodic Table of the Elements, talk to your friends’ parents, and if none of those people will help, Uber yourself to the emergency room and say, “I NEED HELP.” Yes, that’s hard and dramatic and scary beyond belief, but it’s better than being dead.
Young People, there are answers, and whatever is going on, you can endure this. So, no matter how bad things may seem, DON’T KILL YOURSELF. DON’T. JUST DON’T. And if you’ve got a “friend” who’s suggesting that you should, you need to end that “friendship,” like, yesterday.
I’m an old lady with a bad right knee, I am wildly out of touch with pop culture, I love nothing better than doing crossword puzzles in my jammies, or pruning trees, or watching koala videos. I use words like “notwithstanding,” and things I find interesting include memorizing world capitals and the Periodic Table of the Elements. In other words, I’m completely irrelevant.
Except that I will always be here for you, Young Person, whomever you are, even if you don’t know me, even if you think I’m an idiot (mostly, you’re right). I’m at least one person who cares about you, even if I don’t know you, but I’ll bet I’m not the only one. If things are rough, I will be here in any way I can, and so will a lot of people. Even if you’re getting through life one minute at a time, there are people who care.
Stay tough, get help if you need it, and know that things will get better. It may take a while, but they Will. Get. Better.
Love, Mother Wendy