teejay96 asks: Hi, Shirelle. I feel like my life is taking a spiral turn towards its end. I feel so bitter inside, like I am angry inside. I don’t act as cheerful as I used to. I am more concerned about my looks and what people think of me than what I think of me. Despite my admitting this to my self, it still does not seem to go away. I used to have this self-destructive habit that no one knows about (I’d rather not share, and no it is not smoking – I am only 14). The point is that I know I am in my teenage years but I just want to feel as happy as I was in my childhood years – even if it is not constant, as long as it is there. My parents are not the understanding type, so you are the only one that can help me.
Hi teejay96 –
Wow, what a compliment! I have no doubt that there are many others who could help you through this very tough time, but I am so honored that you think I’m the best one! Thanks!
So, at risk of you losing all respect for me, I’m going to say what’s probably the last thing you expect to hear: Congratulations.
You are in a situation that is officially called Existential Despair, and it usually shows up in people a couple of years older than you. You are doing great, ahead of schedule, and this probably means you’ll be out of this difficult period sooner than some of your friends. So, again, congratulations.
What’s going on is that your brain is developing, and you’re beginning to see the world very differently from the way you did as an innocent child. You’re seeing other sides to everything: it’s no longer okay to not care about how you look, or to obsess about it; you’re aware of self-destructive habits you’ve had; I would guess you either are now or soon will be bothered by all sorts of feelings you have – annoyed by beauty, afraid of your own anger, angry at your own desires, etc. (Have you ever heard an old song by the Rolling Stones called “Paint it Black?” It might become your new theme song!) Everything that used to be simple is now complicated.
And it is your wish for simplicity that makes it so hellish.
So what do you do at this time? My advice is to relish it. You have entered a new consciousness, an intellectual adolescence, which has created many of the greatest thoughts, works of art, and even historical acts, ever. So go rent “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Ordinary People” and “The 400 Blows;” read “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Eugene Onegin” and “Hamlet;” listen to the 1960s recordings of Bob Dylan and the 1970s ones of The Clash and the 1990s ones of Nirvana. Learn about the amazing historical movements that have been led by angry youth, from Prague Spring to the American Civil Rights movement, to what’s going on right now in the Middle East.
As you know, I love children. I think kids are the best thing there is. But children are just full of beauty and potential. Children can’t create or accomplish greatness. Greatness is achieved by people like you, Teejay96! People who are dissatisfied, who are frustrated, who are seeing everything wrong – in themselves and the world. Complicated people. We dogs never really experience what you’re living. We kind of jump from puppyhood to adulthood. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it: no dog has ever written a masterpiece or led a political movement! That requires experiencing what you’re going through right now.
You’re right to be upset, Teejay96. Childhood never really comes back. There’s stuff that you will never experience again. But while it’s perfectly fair to grieve what’s lost, it’s also your time to embrace where you are now. Because this time will pass too. A day will come when some things get clearer and simpler. A day will come when others get more complicated. A day will come when you live, not for yourself, but for someone else. A day will come when you live with a new awareness of regret, of loss, and of timeless beauty. That is what we call adulthood. (As research, feel free to listen to all the recordings Bob Dylan has made since the 1960s!)
But you’re not there yet. You’re right where you ought to be. In a glorious, confusing, passionate, loving, hating, uncomfortable place, where your true brilliance and power are beginning to glow.