Most of us get up every morning wanting to live life to the fullest; we give it all we’ve got and have expectations of how far we can go. The steps between require experience and insight to understand and acquire the skills needed to navigate our path.
But for some of us, just getting out of bed may feel impossible; we may feel worthless or incapable or alone. A young person may not even know what he or she is feeling at all.
The first step to communicating with someone in this situation, especially a young person, is to acknowledge that what they are doing now is the best they can do. It seems counterintuitive, since we often get frustrated with kids who are not living up to their full potential. But the key to depression is understanding that the gap between what we are currently doing and our full potential is filled with guilt, anger and anxiety.
As we have developed more and more advances in technology, our quality of life has improved and we have developed a sense of entitlement that is often a strong barrier to reaching our full potential. Teens in particular are highly susceptible to this, as they usually have little experience with basic survival. They are often able to see a clear picture of what they want and can Google step-by-step directions on how to get it.
In reality, however, we quickly find that many of the basic truths in life cannot be found online. Truisms such as Murphy’s law, for example—what can go wrong, will go wrong—must be experienced firsthand to truly know the frustration and trauma that come from even the most mundane tasks.
Parents, when talking to your children about life, remember their experience so far is the equivalent of going to Ikea: They see the finished products and floor models. They might read the instructions and think how simple it is to put something together, but until they get it home and realize what torture that can be, they don’t know Ikea (I mean life).
As kids grow and become more engaged in trying to put their own piece of furniture (life) together, they learn more and more about the underlying frustrations and can get stuck trying to figure out certain steps along the way. They often push parents away instead of accepting help because, to them, it can mean they are a failure. They may feel they are letting you down, or they may simply not have the capacity to verbally ask for help. Because they are a part of the life you are building, they also have limited insight into the time you spent building that life and may not believe you can understand their issues.
When children need help, they will sometimes exhibit extreme behavior, such as self-harm. This is like a carpenter who gets mad and hits himself with a hammer. It is not a suicidal gesture and parents often take it as a threat or “attention-seeking” tactic and dismiss it.
Ask yourself, if you saw someone hit himself with a hammer, would you ignore him?
If a child is at this point, he isn’t asking for help—he is screaming for it. Treat it that way. It is an emergency, just like the carpenter. Be attentive to their actions and help them along their path or find someone who will. Understand they are doing the best they can and, even though it’s not their full potential, it is what they can do now. It may save their life.
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