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You're Never Too Young to Share Your Mental Health Story

It’s easy to take life advice from a 90-year-old. They’ve seen things you haven’t; they’ve experienced events you’ve only read about in history books, and they’re at that point in their life where they’re done beating around the bush — they’re going to be honest. Brutally honest.

But life advice from an 18-year-old? Now, that is nonsense. What does a teenager know about life, when they’ve barely begun their own?

Well, that 18-year-old was me four years ago.

I started telling my story in 2016, when I created a blog called Your Friend Jane about my life, or rather my inability to see the point of life. I had just started my freshman year of community college and, coincidentally, my first prolonged episode of major depression.

On most mornings, I would wake up feeling numb, followed by an immediate thought: “Today is going to be a bad day.” And, as the law of attraction predicts, I usually did have a bad day. Or, at least, I’d be in a depressed mood for the rest of the day.

Soon enough, I lost hope for the future. I became closed off and irritable towards my family, and I couldn’t go a day without crying. (I couldn’t go more than a few hours without crying, really.) Depression was an uphill battle that felt like I was on autopilot.

Except I didn’t “act depressed.” At least to myself, I didn’t act like it.

I could pull myself out of bed for school and was never late to class, nor did my grades ever fall below an A; I had a long-term boyfriend, whom I was in love with, and I was the editor-in-chief for my college’s student newspaper. A person with depression couldn’t do all of that, right?

But what I looked like on the outside didn’t represent how I felt on the inside. I was lonely, scared and, most of all, confused. Was I really depressed, or was I just being overdramatic?

Too afraid to talk to my friends or family, I opened a Google document and started to journal.

An hour later, everything I felt for the last two months laid bare on the computer screen in front of me — how painfully lonely I was, how much I missed my friends from high school, how activities I used to enjoy were now things I did to pass the time.

What started as a private journal entry about my debilitating depression turned into Your Friend Jane’s first blog post. (A memorable first impression, if you ask me.) Would people think I was an attention seeker? Would they think I was “crazy?” Or, even worse, did anyone care enough to listen? It was a shout into the Internet void, so to speak.

To my surprise, people were listening, and people did feel the way I did.

Not long after I hit “publish,” I received texts from my friends, saying they were proud of me for being open about my struggles and related to what I was feeling. Even coworkers, classmates and people whom I went to high school with but had never spoken to message me on Instagram, expressing their appreciation.

The more I wrote, the more people seemed to relate to what I was going through. I was overwhelmingly comforted by the response to Your Friend Jane, as people told me, “Thank you for making me feel less alone.” It inspired me to have more real-life conversations about things I only cried about to my bedroom walls, and as a result, my personal relationships became deeper and healthier.

Then, the unexpected happened — people started to come to me for advice. How do you know when you’re truly happy? How do you stop being anxious? What are the qualities of a good friend? The questions came flooding in like it was the first day of That Time of the Month.

It didn’t make sense to me, a then 19-year-old giving life advice. Or, better yet, a 19-year-old giving life advice to people who were occasionally older than her. I wasn’t a licensed professional; I wasn’t God’s righthand man; I didn’t have all of life’s answers. Heck, I didn’t even know how to do taxes. (Admittedly, I still don’t.)

“Oh crap,” I thought. “What if I tell people the wrong thing? What if I single-handedly ruin someone’s life?”

Still, as fearful as I was to unintentionally give bad advice, I was certain of two things: I enjoyed telling stories, and people seemed to enjoy reading them.

Almost four years later, a lot has changed since that first blog post. I started seeing a therapist once a week, earned an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree, experienced the pain of heartbreak more than once, traveled to cities I’d never been to with my closest friends and fell in love with being alive again.

As the years have passed, I’ve continued to share stories on the Internet about my life. Since 2016, I’ve written more than 50 blog posts for Your Friend Jane, each centered around mental health and personal growth. I’ve discussed self-care, passion, therapy, breakups, overachieving, stepping out of your comfort zone, self-doubt and being in a rut. I’ve even shared deeper parts of myself, such as my past struggles with self-harm and suicidal thoughts and my ongoing eating disorder.

Through it all, Your Friend Jane’s following has grown. (I have readers from across the world. How cool is that?!) I guess you could say my initial shout into the Internet void was heard loud and clear.

This thing is, I didn’t think my life was special enough to write about it. Back then, I was just an 18-year-old with WiFi and undiagnosed mental disorders, who overshared on the Internet. That looks like every young person today, doesn’t it?

But I was wrong. (Thank God I was wrong.)

As it turns out, what I had to say in 2016, and what I’ve been saying for the last four years, was special. You don’t need the wisdom of a 90-year-old to start sharing stories about your life. Heck, you don’t even need much wisdom at all — you just need the courage and persistence to keep telling your story.

The bottom line is, people like to hear stories they can relate to. Don’t get me wrong — reading about a middle-aged man who quit his corporate job to pursue his dream of becoming a sailboat captain is inspiring.

But stories about young people who don’t have it all figured out are inspiring too. Just think: isn’t it more comforting to start your fitness journey with a friend who’s also starting theirs than to go to the gym with a full-blown bodybuilder?

That’s why telling your story now does matter. People want to listen, and they will.

And perhaps someday, we’ll all be 90-year-old bodybuilders, still sharing our stories with the world.

Photo by Eugene Zhyvchik on Unsplash

Originally published: July 15, 2020
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