“Oh my God, are you filing your nails?”
The stylish guy behind the counter at BC Surf & Sport looked up from his casual slouch. “First I bit them, now I’m smoothing them down.”
Not missing a beat, my teenage daughter continued. “So, is that, like, your personal nail file or do you all share it?” Two other young male employees, looking just as hip as the first, had sauntered over to join the conversation with this outgoing, plenty-hip-herself potential customer.
“Oh, no, it’s the shop file. We have to fight over who gets to use it.” All three of the guys chuckled.
“I hear ya,” said my daughter. “The struggle is real.”
The struggle is real? What an odd thing to say. Perhaps it was a trendy phrase among the young and cool, something I hadn’t yet heard my daughters use around the house.
The thing is, the struggle is real.
My teenager has had a rough couple of weeks. She’s a senior and will graduate in May. That is, if she can muster the will to get out of bed in the morning; if she can trick herself into believing that it’s worth it to go to class, to finish her assignments, complete the required service learning hours and supplementary reflection paper, to graduate because she has a future that’s worth living; if she can dispel the anxiety that obliterates her days when she’s forced to think about what’s coming next–a summer job, leaving for college, a lifetime of expectations to be capable, competent, optimistic, and excited about life.
For her, the struggle is real.
I try to understand. I try to hide my dismay and disappointment when I find her hunkered down in bed when she should have been up an hour ago for school, when I get yet another automated call from the school reporting her random absences, when she says she’ll take care of timely business later because she just can’t deal with things right now. I try to suppress my natural parenting instinct of taking away privileges or at least letting natural consequences play out – as would be effective with most teenagers – for some of the things she does and doesn’t do.
But what good is it to take away her car, her means of getting to school? Sure, she could ride the bus, and that would be the perfect consequence for most teens who have trouble getting to school on time when driving themselves, but for her, having to ride the bus, as a senior, would be another good reason to stay in bed. And the joy of driving, of being independent, is probably the main thing that’s getting her to leave the house these days. Grounding doesn’t make sense when what I really want to see happening is her going out more and interacting with the world and spending time with friends. And should I cut back on her already minimal weekly spending money when doing so might result in her being more anxious, less hopeful?
The struggle is real.
Luckily, my daughter makes fairly good choices within the confines of her disorder. Her depression has not resulted in any run-ins with the law. She is not failing her classes. Like she says, she’s got healthy ways of coping, her music, drawing, art. She always finds the time and plenty of humor and love for her sister. She is open about her depression and willing to explain what she’s going through for those of us who don’t get it, who can’t possibly imagine not embracing each new day and what the future has to offer. These past few weeks, as she’s mourned her childhood and confronts her future, she’s felt more anxious and out of control than ever.
I’m always fighting myself.
I don’t feel like I’m on my own team.
I have my coping mechanisms in place – playing guitar, drawing, writing, walking – and I have plenty of time to do those things now, but what about when I go to college? I’ll be so much busier. How will I find the time to calm myself down? I’m already freaking out about it.
I know I miss some classes, but you have to understand that, for me, going to most of them is a huge accomplishment being that I can barely get out of bed.
Every time I’m happy, I feel like I’m just faking it. I know who I really am, that the bad feelings are going to come back.
I feel like you deserve a better daughter. You should have a smart daughter, someone who gets really good grades.
I’m so afraid this is hereditary and I’m going to give it to my kids. I don’t want them to suffer. I’m keeping a journal so that when they become teens I can look back on my writing and hopefully remember and be able to help them get through it.
I listen. I see her tears. I feel the bubble wrap in which she’s encased herself, that protective layer that keeps her safe, but simultaneously keeps me from her. I’ve helped her get a diagnosis, medication, counseling. And yet I cannot give her what it is I truly want to – optimism.
She’s going to have to discover that on her own. And find a way to let optimism rule.
And I cannot give myself the one thing that would help me to understand her better, that would allow me to more thoroughly accept and support her. I cannot give myself depression. And for this, I sometimes feel guilty.
The struggle is real.
For both of us, and for so many more out there, it’s real.