Thoughts from a teen’s head:
I feel alone. Sometimes I’m actually alone, sometimes in the midst of others. I maybe be with someone but I’m not really present. Living in the real world hurts, so I stay up inside my head. It gets lonely there but at least I feel safe (or at least safer). Living in the world, in my body, has the potential to hurt. I don’t feel comfortable here. What will other people think of me? Will I say the right thing, do the right thing, be the right thing? If I stay up in my head, nothing can hurt me (or at least not as much).
But sometimes I start to slip, to slide back into reality. The feelings bleed through: fear, loneliness, irritation, annoyance, maybe even a touch of hope or desire. This is dangerous territory. I don’t know what will happen if I allow them in, if I sit with them and see what they bring. No, I don’t want to do that. I need to get back where it’s safe.
I know where the closest vending machines are. I know the hours of the local convenience mart. I can always find something to bring the blessed numbness back. It doesn’t really matter if it tastes good or not. All too soon I’ll feel overfull (and my body will be crying for me to stop), but it’s here that I must keep going. I must keep eating until it hurts too much to think about anything else. It’s safe here. And then tomorrow? I can stay safe in the blame and shame: I’m weak, stupid, ugly, broken, fat. I need to go on a diet. Where is my willpower? What is my problem? It’s safe here, too, because the landscape doesn’t change, and anything from the outside can’t possibly hurt more than what is being shouted at me from the inside.
Do you know this space? How might you respond, if you heard and felt this from your teen (or someone else you loved)? A response one teen would have liked to have heard:
I see your pain, I feel your tears. I hear your silent screaming — and it pierces the air. I don’t have a silver bullet or quick-fix anything to offer you; there isn’t one. If you like, here is my hand; I’ll sit with you. I can listen. No, you’ve never been broken. Life is messy, messier than sometimes we talk about. You’re stronger than you think. You’re powerful beyond measure. And you don’t have to do this alone.