There's one thing each of us has in common. We were all teenagers at one point in time.
I can remember a visit to my Aunt Fernie's house when I was 13 like it was yesterday. Aunt Fernie was my mom's best friend and my God Mother. Too close to call her Mrs. and in respect of our elders, we were never allowed to call adults by their first name. It wasn't so much the visit that I vividly remember but the drive home. My mother, in her quietest and loving voice, made me aware that I had disagreed with everything she said during the visit. Of course, I disagreed with her assertion. But as she calmly walked me through every part of the conversation, I realized she was correct. If you're wondering, I never admitted my guilt until many years later.
Remembering that day, well into my 20's, I was able to reflect on that period of my life to understand what exactly was going on in my teenage head. I realized the hormones were rushing through my body, the struggle to figure out how I would fit into this new society called 'high school' and manage not to humiliate myself, created anger that was living just under the surface. Like a volcano, the enormous pressure just under the surface showing itself in bursts of gas and spewing lava, a teenager spits disagreement, bursts of irrational anger, and other irrational behaviors, including withdrawal for what appears to be no good reason.
My son is now 14. He has all of these pressures I had, plus an additional reason for anxiety. You see, he has been the biggest kid in his class his entire life — a gentle, sweet giant, but a giant. Like most of us, he wants to fit in and be accepted. He was teased and bullied almost every day. Mostly innocent adolescent peers who do love him sprinkled with a few mean spirited classmates looking to carve their own 'safe zone' out by putting the novel mate down. The result is a kid who's self-worth and self-image are in the dumps. I can now see the effect of anxiety and stress on relationships from the outside looking in. It is painful to watch for any parent but especially when you see that it is no fault of the one you love so dearly. It's just the cards we are all dealt in life and must figure out how to play.
As this is my son, who I love more than my own life, I have made his survival through this period my sole purpose. Professional counseling and a village of teachers, administrators, family, and friends have helped my son and the family get through some challenging times.
The experience has helped me see the similarities between him and me and many other adults in my life. The adults have transitioned out of puberty; however, many are still struggling with the conditions of life — the same result whether 13 or 43. Not dealt with, not acknowledged, and relationships will be hurt, careers derailed, and the sweetness of life soured.
What I also learned from my son, is that it takes great courage to be vulnerable. No teenager wants to acknowledge that he needs help. In our society, and especially the high school society, that would be a sign of weakness. And we are reminded every day in the news and our own life experiences that weakness begs ridicule and isolation.
My son's courage to be vulnerable, to accept the help from his village, has so far resulted in safe passage through the thick, dark jungle of puberty. More important, it's teaching him to identify the signs of anxiety and depression so he has the tools as he transitions through life and can help others in his village. It's taught me that I too need to be vulnerable enough to seek and accept the help from those closest to me when I see the volcanic gases and lava spewing in my own life. Before those things I value most, human connection, are altered and sour the sweet taste of life.
Be well in mind, body, and spirit.