This is a piece I’ve deeply thought about writing, as I can’t tell myself that I’m a fan of cheesy writings. However, this is about me, about you, and everything in-between, a little longer Thank You note.
I can recall starting this column in November 2019. It was a gloomy, cold day, and I was feeling low. I was trying to find something to do that would actually make sense, something that would help both me and others. So I thought that it would be a good time to actually put my Psychology knowledge and my personal background to good use. This is how Tuesday Conversations started: from the mix of the thought that I’m not able to write consistently, the need of finding meaning in my life, and the wish to tell my story.
This is how the blog column got to cover all kinds of topics, talking about feminism, suicide, eating disorders, anxiety, saying no, or creating boundaries for the interaction with other people. And I’ve been up for a pretty big surprise, have to say. Not only I have found that I actually can write about various topics consistently, but I have also discovered that there were people that needed these topics to be addressed.
It seemed like those were not just parts of my story, but parts of a whole bunch of other stories which have, by now, found their voice. It was like the tribe I didn’t know I was belonging to found me without me asking for it to happen.
And this brought me to one of the most surprising conclusions so far: something can be built from scratch, even if the foundation is a ruin. Ruins are not dead. Even if what you build is a narrative, a story having her focus on aspects that have been rather hidden than put on display your building has meaning and a purpose to serve.
I can’t help but remember a thing a friend told me when we were talking about writing, drawing, and letting our writings and drawings roam free on the internet: I have always wondered how it feels to write about things so intimate and to share them with the world. It was that moment when I understood that I don’t see the things I’ve faced or the things that hurt me in the past as a private area of my life. Not anymore. Once they stopped hurting, they turned into stories to be told about passing through dark places, as I believe that no one should ever pass through dark times alone.
For me, life means stories to be told, as they are the best way to actually put together a group. Because a problem that no one talks about is a problem that doesn’t actually exist. And mental health has been for too long an invisible problem to keep being ashamed of it, especially when that shame affects us all.
Obviously, it was and still is a process that leaves me speechless every now and then. I write, I post, and it happens to look at those materials and tell myself Did I really write that? Whoa. as my 16 years old self would rather have died than admit there’s something wrong with her. This column helped me not just bring some issues to light or help other people recover, but it has also given me a measure of my evolution. I’ve read the writings and seen how far I’ve come, sometimes without even noticing the evolution, the direction of the process.
In the end, this is how we learn, by doing things and looking behind us every now and then. And this is how one gets to understand that healing is, indeed, a process. Something beautiful, something spectacular, something deep, unique, and extremely personal. At the end of the day, there is no actual recipe for fast healing and even the thought of a universal recipe to heal one’s wounds sounds like a fantasy plot.
Just like our traumas and our life history, our ways of healing are unique. There are no two individuals with the same way of healing their wounds or the same way of living through their suffering. Actually, the mere idea of it sounds absurd as one is reading this. But this doesn’t involve that there are no common points, as they certainly do. The beauty of it though is the fact that you can’t find those common points without being brave enough to step in the lights and tell your story. You don’t even have to tell the world all of it, or to use words. You can sing, dance, paint, act, sculpt, run, draw, photograph, even film your story, your way out of the hurting. You have total freedom when it comes to how much you’re feeling to express about your journey, and you have total freedom when it comes to the way you choose to do it.
Tuesday Conversations, my mental health column, will go on. I’m deeply thankful for all the wonderful people I’ve met along the way, for their support and critics that helped me make it better, and I hope that more and more people will become brave enough to start telling their stories. Your stories matter, your feelings are valid, and your healing process is worth it. You, as individuals, are worth love, appreciation, respect, support, and help. Go into the world and allow yourself to get them.
I wish I could say that I’m an activist, but I’m not. I don’t feel like I’d have what this needs. I am only someone with questions. I sit, observe, put things together, and then ask myself questions about this process. The same goes for the outer world. I sit, observe, gather information, and then try and make something coherent out of everything.
Or this is how it used to be, as 2020 came like a hurricane, shattering every single thing I thought it was already figured out. It brought a pandemic and a whole list of questions to be answered. It brought new issues to be addressed, and put some light on older issues, often left for later.
One of those issues to-be-addressed-later is the way we are looking at politics. I used to hear frequently that old line, I am not getting involved with politics, it is none of my business to do so! long before 2020. But then a pandemic came and made us ask ourselves Is this true, or just comfortable?
But let’s look a bit closer to it. When we talk about politics, we talk about agendas. About issues and core values that politicians find worthy of being prioritized. From women’s rights to migration and education, everything is or could be, a point on some political agenda. And I’ve managed to see a lot of issues being publicly addressed by politicians, real and heavy issues of the society. Excepting for one: the mental health state of the population.
Even when the environment is toxic, focused on competition and over-achievement and, constantly fearing that you mightnot be good enough, no politician or political party has made a statement about the mental health crisis. Because it is a crisis, and the pandemic is only putting it under the spotlights. And there are a lot of arguments as answers to any related questions.
It is a crisis because it does not provide any kind of recommendations on how to stay sane during these times. Our lives are nothing like before, we still have restrictions to face, dear ones that we can’t see, and are told to limit any unnecessary kind of interaction, for as long as it will be needed. We are being told to obey the rules, protect ourselves and the others, but no one tells us how to cope with all the anxiety and frustration that this situation has brought.
People have to deal with anxiety, grief, stress, and uncertainty on their own.
There is no real support system for psychological needs. Access to psychotherapy is a privilege and not a realistic possibility. I’ve heard a lot of I will start going to see a psychotherapist as soon as I will afford it from people perfectly aware of what they are facing.
There is no real support system for the children’s psychological needs either. They are also feeling anxiety, depression, pain, neglect. They are also feeling rejection and heartbreak. They are also needing help with learning to manage their feelings. They also need someone else to be there for them with empathy and objectivity. A bigger person, worthy of their trust and openness.
And I will not talk here about the lack of psychological support for the families having a member with disabilities or chronic conditions. I will not even open the subject.
Yet all these have a common root, even if it doesn’t necessarily look like it: the social stigma associated with the topic. Society doesn’t see mental health as actual health, but more as a trifle. It is optional, not vital. Public policies on mental health can wait, we have bigger things to focus on. Even if this might, to some extent, be true, there is just as true the fact that a bunch of individuals facing mental struggles all by themselves won’t form a thriving group.
The public agenda on mental health policies is empty. No words about deconstructing the social stigma surrounding the mental issues, no words about increasing the awareness about anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and nothing to be said about the tendencies of romanticizing mental struggles. Silence and empty pages waiting to be written. People waiting to be seen, heard, and represented.
Nothing can be changed overnight, but this doesn’t mean that things have to stay the same forever. We need help, and we need it on an institutional level. Of course, the help given by the NGOs that advocate for mental healthcare is like a glass of water in the desert. Deeply needed, and definitely something to be grateful for. But it is not enough.
If we scream and brag about how much we care about people’s health, yet we won’t do a thing for their mental health, then our care for the overall health is just a lie. A lie we keep telling ourselves and others, without understanding that we can’t have a healthy individual with a struggling mind. Even this splitting between mental and physical health is artificial, therefore worrisome.
There is a lot to be built, but the good news is that it’s worth it. Because a society where you can afford seeking medical help when you have a broken bone, but not when you have a depressive episode, that is by no means a society that has any interest in her citizens’ health.
Ladies and gentlemen, but especially ladies, welcome to the teenage years! Not yours, as you’re, already, a responsible adult, who’s got everything together (as if!), but worse. Welcome to your daughter’s teenage years!
I know, from my not so far away experience as a teenage girl, that nothing (and I really mean nothing) has prepared me and my mother for that kind of trip. Nothing. So now I’ve decided to write an article with everything I wish my mother knew back then, with everything I’ve needed, but I didn’t know I need or, worse, I didn’t know how to ask for.
Lower your expectations.
You might be in your 30s, or even your 40s when your young one arrives on The Totally Drama Island. Which is fine. What is not that fine, however, is to treat her like she would also be in her 20s at least. She’s not. She is somewhere between 13 and 19 years old, and she thinks, acts, and feels like it. Learn to respect her and adjust yourself according to that. If we’d think in our teenage years the same way we think in our late 20s, or even in our 30s, no one would ever take a bad decision. Ever. Somehow, we don’t, so we have to act like we understand this.
Bond with her.
Yes, I know, she’s your precious little daughter, and you’d like to protect her from any possible harm. I guess all the mothers think the same. But you can’t. Your daughter will make mistakes, will trust the wrong people, and will end up disappointed and heartbroken, more often than not. You can not protect her from all the mess that comes with the passport to ConfusedLand. But you can, and that’s crucial for tour future relationship, bond with her. Remember how you felt when you were her age. All the insecurities, the peer pressure and, oh, all the drama and the secrets. All the oh, my day is ruined, look at this hair, and the make-up is not the best, either! and Those girls are so cool, I’d like so much to get closer to them! What would they say if I’d ask them to get out for a coffee and a chit-chat? problems that rule the teenage universe. Yes, in your 30s or 40s they certainly sound like a foolish game, nothing important, but can you remember how important they used to be when you were her age?
Tell her your story, show her how was that period back then, when you were in her footsteps- how you used to have fun, what having style meant back then, who were the cool kids of your generation. Tell her about your young and insecure self, and about all the drama you used to care about. And allow yourself to see her blooming and telling you the updated version of the story. Build up some personal routines to help you tighten your relationship- maybe you will have a boardgames night, or get out for brunch on Saturdays and talk about how your week went, or you teach her some homemade beauty tricks, it doesn’t matter that much what it is. You can even get her friends involved, as well, if it feels right for both of you! The whole point is to make sense for the two of you, and help you know each other. Be her confident, rather than the never-content general.
This means, once again, to talk to her. To let her know that you’re there, ready to listen, without judging her. Don’t forget that this is the time of her life when she learns the most about herself. She knows for a fact that she’s not a child anymore, but she’s not a woman yet, either. And that is one of the most confusing situations a girl can see herself in. Don’t expect her to know how to handle this by herself, she’s only human, after all.
Of course, when you’ve met her for the very first time, you’ve pictured in your mind the kind of woman you’d want her to be. Don’t hold on to that image. Let her learn, and understand that she will be her very own type of woman, not the one you’ve desired to be, not the one you or your mother are. Be by her side when she discovers the kind of woman she wants to become, encourage her to take action in that direction, and listen when she tells you about her struggles.
Talk to her about the important topics of her time. Let her know about feminism, about sexuality, about the relationship with her body, about social media and bullying. Teach her the rights and obligations she has, and support her if she wants to get socially involved, as a volunteer or however she feels like. Find out about the women which inspire her, and what is she finding inspiring about them. Teach her about solidarity with other women, about the ways she can build other women up, instead of tearing them apart and about mental health and how it changes her life course. Most important, teach her that it’s fine to ask for help when she needs it. Even if she will ask it from you, the school counselor, or whatever reliable source that she feels could be helpful, the point is to ask for it, not to bottle things up inside her.
I know, some of these are uncomfortable topics, but the thought that your daughter will find out about them from questionable sources it’s causing more discomfort, I think, than talking with her.
Be aware of the pressure.
Now, more than ever, the pressure put on young girls is exhausting. They’re expected to be good friends, good students, to know what they are going to do with their lives in the long term, look nice, be popular… All the struggles you’ve had, as a teenager, too, but with some extra peer-pressure from social media. They will constantly be exposed to fake perfection, and they will be told that, if they work hard enough, they will reach it too- they will have the perfect social life, the perfect body, relationship, and prizes at scholar competitions, some volunteering too, perhaps. All at once, without getting tired or sick of it.
It is your duty, as a parent, to let her know that she’s doing her best and that what she’s seeing on social media is rarely the truth. The most important thing my mom told me when I was a teenager was I am proud of you, you’re doing great. I trust you that you will find a way to change the things you think you could do better so that you will be happy with the final result. But I am proud of you for being my girl and I love you either way. That easy. She knew I wasn’t happy about the way my life was, and she was aware that the whole situation made me insecure and anxious, so she thought like it would be a good moment to remind me that I am capable, worthy and loved. And her intuition was right at that time, as it was many times after that one, too.
It might be tempting to fall into the old trap of You’re not doing enough! Your best friend does this, and that, and she’s not complaining that much! I’ve made so many sacrifices for you, and you’re disappointing me with every chance! I can’t believe you are my daughter… but don’t. Please, don’t. Maybe you’re just angry, you have a bad period, you’re under pressure, it’s understandable. But she will not dig that deep into it. Do you want to know what will stick to her? I’m not enough. My best will never be enough, whatever my best will be. I’m a disappointment, and that’s it. I will never be good enough for her…
Don’t kill her self-esteem like that. She is, before everything else, your daughter. The person you love most. Don’t cut her wings with your anger, they will never grow back. And no material gift will make up for the things you told her when you had a bad period. Never.
The not good enough is, as you already know, a hard to bear weight, so why put it on your child’s shoulders? Not always easy is good. Mostly, it isn’t.
Admit when you’re wrong.
You might be her parent, but you’re only human, after all. And that means you’ll make mistakes when it comes to your relationship, as many as her. Be the better person in the story, and show her the right way of doing things, by apologizing when you’re wrong. Maybe it proves that she was right about something, or that she knew better. Tell her. This will only make you grow in her eyes, as not that many parents admit their wrongs in front of their children. If you want her to admit her mistakes, the easiest way is to show that you’re making mistakes too, that you’re an older human, not a god who’s always knowing the best about everything and anything.
Allow her to make mistakes.
When we’re young, we all make mistakes, this is how we learn. But if you’re making at 40 the mistakes typical for a teenager or a young adult, it only proves that you haven’t learned a thing, my mom used to tell me. And she was right. We rarely learn from our close one’s mistakes and this usually happens only after we have our fair share of personal bad decisions. It’s only natural to happen this way. If you see that someone is not fitting into her social circle, or that a boy is not a good fit for her personality, do your job and tell her. But don’t go to forbidding her to see/communicate to that person. Of course, you’ve probably seen that movie countless times before, but keep in mind that it’s her first one, so don’t spoil the ending for her.
Somehow, if you know that she’s slipping on a dangerous slope, be the grown-up of the story and stop her as you still can. But when we talk about the typical teenage misfittings, let her do her thing, and just make sure that she knows she can count on you whenever things go south. Let her know that the family will always be her safe space, even if she was wrong. That will make so much more for your teenage than a long list of interdictions- by the way, do you remember how much you used to hate whenever the grown-ups were busting into your life and not respecting your limits? Great. Don’t do it, until it’s really needed, in this case. Otherwise, she’ll never learn.
Be your most authentical self.
Yeah, the common narrative tells you that you should always be responsible, severe, and the one who knows best. Somehow, the teenagers have some secret sensor for fakeness, especially when it comes to their close ones. So be who you are. Share with her your real opinions about the hot topics- music, fashion, pop culture, hobbies, whatever little things make her tick. Show her what makes you tick, as well- maybe she will like ABBA as well if you showed her their music! Don’t try to be the picture-perfect role model, who always has her life together. Try to remain curious, though: learn about the things that matter for her generation and ask her why.
Keep always in a corner of your mind that you are the teacher of the most important lesson, which is the way she should treat herself. You are teaching her this chapter since forever, by the way you act, talk, walk and dress, but now there came the moment of a new paragraph: the one about setting up the boundaries for other people. Be honest with her and yourself about how you managed to learn this skill, and let her know it is fine to say no. Even if this means she will tell you no sometimes as well.
It’s okay to admit that you don’t understand some of those things, but the key is to show real interest to them. This will build a stronger bridge between the two of you.
Pay attention to the little things.
The teenage years are a tricky period when the way we see ourselves changes as the days go by. This means that you have to pay some extra attention to the details of your teenager’s life. Be careful with the way she talks about herself, her sleep, eating, and social patterns. If any of those are changing in a noticeable way, you two should talk. Make sure that she doesn’t have some unknown emotional struggles that might affect her. Emotional suffering can be translated into modified sleep, eating, and social patterns. If she’s sleeping too much, or maybe she’s got insomnia, if she eats too much, or is always on a diet, if her scholar results are poor and she is giving signs that she can’t focus on her homework the way she used to, if she goes out almost always, or maybe not at all, even though she used to love going out with her friends, you should talk to her. Not to read her diary, not to talk to her teachers or her friends, but with her. Tell her that you’ve noticed the changes and that you worry about her, remind her that she’s worthy, loved, and you will help her manage whatever it is that is stressing her out.
I cannot tell how important this is. Not when so many teenage girls struggle with depression, social anxiety, and eating disorders. Not when so many teenage girls hate their bodies, feel unworthy, and are even harming themselves. In this context, being your girl’s safety space can make a huge difference. Maybe even between life and death.
The teenage years are hard to put into words. I still battle some ghosts from mine, even if mom was a huge support figure of mine. It is understandable that no book, workshop, or coach could prepare you for those years and their challenges. Somehow, being human and remembering that you used to be a teenager too might be a good start, even if it will be still a rough one. These are the most important things I could possibly think about. Of course, I’m not a parent, but I’m not that far from a teenager’s point of view, as I am still young. And their perspectives should matter to you more than any outsider’s word. Just take a look inside yourself and you will see that the knowledge about how to behave properly during this time of your lives has always been there. Just open up and enjoy the ride!