Anne’s essay is part of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD, an anthology of essays, art, lists, and more about the big, juicy topic of feminism. Called a “feminist power tome” by New York Magazine/The Strategist, the book “not only presents an inclusive and hopeful vision for the future of feminism, it also boldly and proudly passes the torch to the next generation of leaders” (Teen Vogue).
Whatever the case is, if and when you ever get to a point where you feel like you just can’t handle it anymore, here are some things I want you to know:
1. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Even when it absolutely does not feel like it, you have a whole team of people on your side. While this doesn’t mean that everyone will always act in helpful and loving ways toward you, it can help to remember that there is likely a whole host of people out there who think you are the opposite of worthless. You’re also not alone in the sense that there are so many other people out there living with mental illness. Many of your classmates, teachers, and family struggle with some of the same things you do. There are a lot of us out there; we make up nearly a quarter of the population. Welcome to the club—it might not be the one you wanted to join and it probably won’t help you get into college, but we do have the best snacks.
2. YOU ARE THE EXPERT ON YOURSELF.
Only you know what exactly you’re going through. You get to decide what happens to your body, which means that if there is a treatment plan being put into place, you get to have some say over what it looks like and how it’s implemented.
3. WHATEVER YOU FEEL IS VALID.
This doesn’t mean that your emotions represent objective realities—for example, even if you feel like your friends all hate you, that doesn’t necessarily mean they do. But even if your feelings don’t reflect an accurate representation of what’s happening, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong or bad for you to have them. There are no right or wrong feelings. However you feel is exactly that: how you feel.
4. YOU GET TO DECIDE HOW YOU IDENTIFY.
If you’re dealing with mental health issues but don’t consider yourself to be mentally ill, that’s cool. If, on the other hand, you feel like mental illness makes up part of who you are, that’s cool, too. If you want to self-identify as crazy or mad, that’s totally fine. But just as no one else gets to decide what your identity is, you have to extend the same courtesy to others. While you might not be bothered by some terms, other people will be. Everyone’s experience is different; be gentle with yourself and everyone else you encounter.
5. TALKING MAKES THINGS EASIER.
This is a tough one, because I know that talking about mental health is hard. Trust me, I once spent like five years never talking about mental illness. People have mostly been incredibly lovely and supportive, and I don’t feel like I’m telling lies of omission every day. Plus, if I need to cancel plans because I’m stuck on my couch listening to sad songs and crying, I can just straight up tell people that and they get it. You’ll be surprised at how much people get it.
6. ROLE MODELS ARE IMPORTANT.
I know this sounds like boring, grown-up advice, but I promise it’s not. Finding other people who have felt the way you do is like a magic healing balm. For me, it was Sylvia Plath and her journals. When I’m at my most awful, I dive head-first into them and remember that I’m not the only one who feels this dragging misery. Wherever you are right now, I promise you that someone else has been exactly there.
7. YOU HAVE SURVIVED 100 PERCENT OF YOUR WORST DAYS.
You might roll your eyes at that—like duh, of course you’ve survived them, you’re here reading this, aren’t you? But I want you to remember this the next time you find yourself knee-deep in a day that feels impossible. The fact that you have lived through every single one of your most awful days is legitimate proof that you can do it again. Statistics are on your side. You got this.
8. TO REPEAT: YOU GOT THIS.
But on the days when you don’t feel like you’ve got this, it’s okay to ask for help.
I’m definitely a grown-up now—I have a job, I’m married, and I have a kid of my own. But there are still days when I’m right back where that eleven-year-old was, my limbs tense with fear and my heart shuddering in my chest. Sometimes I can’t get out of bed in the morning. Sometimes I spend the day sobbing into a pillow. But I also have a good life, and I’m mostly okay.
I wish I could write a letter to my younger self and tell her that she’s brave and smart and funny and good. I can’t, though, so I’m writing to you, to tell you exactly those things. Maybe you don’t need to hear this right now, but tuck it away somewhere. Because maybe someday you will.
To celebrate Women’s History Month and the collection, take part in the feminism party on March 15 on Twitter, Instagram, and/or other social media outlets. Share why you’re a feminist, why you need feminism, your favorite feminists, or anything else relating to feminism with the hashtag #HereWeAre and sign up to spread the word about the party here.