I know this may come as a shock to you, but I was once a teenager.
Don’t roll your eyes. I was. And I survived. It was a time of profound and sustained unhappiness for me, although I never truly understood why. As I watch you grow into teens, though, the reason is becoming clearer, because I can actually remember being your age. I can put myself back there. And I finally know the “why.”
I felt alone. Even with a few close friends, there was so much of my life cloaked in shame, I felt entirely isolated. And shame thrives in isolation.
It’s a vicious circle, one I struggled with since I was old enough to understand that my family had some issues. Everyone else’s family seemed so happy; my situation was different, and therefore, I figured, I must be different.
When I got my period unexpectedly at school, I thought I would die; certainly I was the only girl who ever lived through that nightmare. It was the same with armpit stains in sixth grade. When I first noticed them, I went into the girls’ bathroom and splashed water on myself, feigning a catastrophic sink accident.
And these are just the tip of the teen iceberg. What I wish you could know is that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Someone, somewhere—and probably much closer than you think—is going through what you’re going through. Are you going to be embarrassed along the line? Absolutely. But then move on.
For example, someone in your school has a pimple right on the tip of her nose, or smack dab in the middle of her forehead. These are THE WORST. When it happens to you, tell your best friend, “I have this huge zit and I’m so embarrassed by it!” I promise it won’t be so embarrassing. It happens to everyone.
That’s the part that I particularly remember feeling—that no one else was going through what I was going through. It sure didn’t seem like anyone else was. But if I’d been able to talk to my friends and family, I would have found differently. If you have ever felt or experienced any emotion, action or event that has made you feel isolated or ashamed somehow …
• You’ve been excluded from an activity or event
• You’re taller or shorter than your friends
• You’re not as athletic as you’d like to be
• You count compulsively, or clean, or pick at your skin or pluck out your hair
• You’re gay
• You wear glasses
• You have acne
• You’re heavier or thinner than your friends
• You have braces
• You have breasts, or you don’t have breasts
• The boy or girl you like doesn’t like you in “that way”
• You’re not quite sure what’s going on with your body
• You don’t have clothes that the “popular” kids have
• Your parents don’t make as much money as other parents might make
• Your hair isn’t as thick/fine/curly/straight as someone else’s hair
• Your grades aren’t the same as someone else’s
• You get depressed, or have OCD, or are obsessed about your weight
• You have an undeserved reputation
• You’re getting bullied
• You have problems at home
… just know that others feel them too.
I won’t tell you these things don’t matter, because if they’re making you unhappy then they matter. What I WILL tell you is don’t be ashamed of them. You are not the only one who feels these things, or has these issues. Talk about them, and you’ll realize that other kids have these exact same problems but were afraid to bring them up because they thought they were the only ones. Talk to each other, and talk to trusted adults. The more you talk, the less painful—and shameful—these issues become.
The teen years are such a powerful and memorable time of your life. . . don’t just survive them. Get rid of the shame, and live them.
Maggie Lamond Simone is an award-winning writer and mother of two living in Baldwinsville. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.