Dear Teen Self:
I can see you.
You are trying to be invisible as you slink along the halls of Paris District High School, but it’s not working. I can see you.
You are wandering the halls, trying to look like you have somewhere to go because it is lunch time and you’re too shy to go into the cafeteria. There are fifteen long minutes between the time the lunch bell goes and the library opens. Fifteen minutes when you are stuck out in the public world of the halls with no one to talk to and no place to hide. So you go from floor to floor, you plant yourself in front of the bulletin boards and stare at them as if there was something interesting there. Anything to get through those agonizing fifteen minutes.
Finally, the library opens and you feel safe again for a little while, at least until the bell rings and the mind-numbing boriness of classes start up again.
You spend so much of your time feeling powerless, feeling like others have control over how you spend your time and what goes into your head. That is an awful feeling. There is no fun in that feeling.
Childhood is a state of powerlessness, but I would like to tell you that there are things you could do to break through at least some of that powerless feeling. You are making choices that add to your misery, not to your liberation, and there are easy ways to change that.
One thing you could do is open your eyes and look at the world around you. See the way everyone around you is focused on their own lives? They are paying no attention to you. That’s a good thing. It means you don’t have to worry about them. It means you can do what you want, and likely no one will notice.
Another thing you can do is to not automatically see everyone as an enemy. Sure, there are jerks around you. But not everyone is a jerk. Most people are just trying to figure it out and do the best they can. Thicken your skin, take a chance and talk to some of the kids you see around you. They might have interesting things to tell you about their lives. They might become friends. You might even be able to have fun with them—and yes, you are as entitled to have fun in your life as everyone else.
A third thing you can do which will bring ease to your life and ultimately more freedom and power to you is to be nicer to your family.
Take a deep breath before you walk in the door after school. Remember that everyone in your house had to work at hard, stressful jobs or attend stressful school that day. Home could be a place of rest for all of you, and you have HUGE power to make that happen. (And you are lucky that no one in your family is dealing with addiction—kids who deal with addicts in their families have a really hard time of it, and would benefit from reaching out to Alateen or some other support group.)
Tell your sister a stupid joke or listen to one of hers and laugh. Get supper ready without being asked—your mom taught you how to cook, it’s not hard. Ask your parents about how their day went while you sit together at the supper table. Don’t fight with your sister over whose turn it is to do the dishes. Contribute to your family and the household with your humor, your kindness and your labor. These small acts will cost you nothing, but will have a huge impact on how comfortable everyone feels in your home.
Volunteer somewhere, doing something you enjoy—at a nursing home, or the hospital, or an animal shelter, or somewhere else. This will give you skills, confidence, and a way of interacting with the world that does not involve parents or teachers.
All of these things will work together to help you feel like the sort of person who does not need to try to be invisible during those fifteen minutes before the library opens.
There are plenty of opportunities for misery in this life and in this world. There are also plenty of opportunities for joy. Seek out the joy. It will keep you afloat when the misery finds you.
Feed the world with your compassion and curiosity. In return, the world will feed you with adventure and help you create a life without regrets.
All the best,
Your Adult Self.
Deborah Ellis is the internationally acclaimed author of nearly thirty books for children and young people, most of which explore themes of social justice and courage. A peaceactivist, feminist, and humanitarian, Deborah has won many national and international awards for her books, including the Governor General’s Award, the Ruth Schwartz Award, the Vicky Metcalf Award, the American Library Association’s Notable List and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award. In 2010, she received The Ontario Library Association President’s Award for Exceptional Achievement. Deborah lives in Simcoe, Ontario, Canada.
Find her at her website.