This week, Betty Mujica-Milano, president of our board of directors, and I, stood in front of a gymnasium full of hundreds of high school students, slightly terrified I must admit, and poured our hearts out about the project. We walked into that gym having flashbacks to high school and wondering what the heck we had gotten ourselves into, but let me tell you, we walked out with, well, hope.
You see, a couple of weeks ago, I got an email from an English teacher at Dutchtown High who sponsors a new club the students there put together called "Be the Change" with the goal of creating a more positive school environment and enriching the well-being of the students. This club planned an incredible (and completely voluntary) event called Commitment to Change where students and volunteers, like myself and Betty, could openly talk about mental health and wellness.
And that we did. Ya'll, that fear we had going in immediately dissipated the moment these students started opening up about what they're going through. We talked through some coping mechanisms; we talked at length about the power of having a trusted adult to talk through your problems with; we talked about the importance of having at least one friend you could pour your heart out to and, in turn, be there for. We talked about self-care and vulnerability and support. We talked about real pain. And then we watched a group of teens, from freshmen to seniors, sit in a circle on the floor surrounding one of their fellow classmates, but ultimately a stranger among a sea of 2400 students, to comfort her as she expressed her pain and anger. We saw them cry together, we witnessed them be vulnerable about what they've gone through, and we heard them make an oath to meet up the next morning. And then we watched as they took the first steps in the planning process with one of their teachers to start a peer support group. And ya'll THIS, this is what the project is all about.
When we arrived, we were given a sheet of paper with questions the students had submitted that we could use to guide the discussion. As I left, I realized that we didn't touch on some of these so I'd like to do that now. As I told the students honestly, I am not a mental health professional. I'm just a girl who's been through some shit (ok, I didn't use the word shit) but I made it out the other side and I didn't do it alone. And you don't have to either. So these are strictly my opinions based on my own experience. Please, if you have anything to add, do so in the comments. The goal of this blog is to serve as a discussion board for support and hope. To crowd-source that help and that hope and provide resources to our community.
What's the best way to manage or prevent stress?
I think we can all relate to this and it's no different for high school students. If anything, I think students today have even more pressure on them to be something they may never be able to live up to. (And yes, social media has a lot to do with that.) So, here's my advice, set boundaries for yourself. Don't be afraid to say no to helping plan another school event or going to that party. It's ok to take some time for yourself, actually it's not just ok, its necessary for our survival. And be honest about why you're saying no. "I'm feeling overwhelmed and I would rather take the time to recharge so I can come back stronger than to commit to something I can't give 100% to right now." "I do want to hang out but I'm feeling anxiety and stress and I think I need a day to myself." Preventing stress is impossible. We're wired for it. And sometimes we can strive in stressful situations. We just have to keep our well-being top of mind, be honest about what we need, and reach out for help when we can't do it alone anymore.
Some of my friends have told me that the relationship I'm in isn't healthy. How do I know if I'm in a toxic relationship? What should I do if I am? Where can I go for help or who should I talk to?
This is something I unfortunately can relate to all too well. I don't talk about the details because I've chosen not to hurt the people who hurt me and truthfully, I still care deeply about them. But, I was in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship in high school which led me down a dangerous path of emotionally abusive boyfriends until I was 28 years old.
First, if your friends think your relationship isn't healthy, they are probably right. And you will likely hate them for it, at first.
Secondly, if you have to ask, you are likely in a toxic relationship. You should never feel afraid or less than the person you are dating. You should never let another person make you question your own self-worth. Mental abuse can lead you to think the worst about yourself and, the longer to stay, the more you will believe it. Which will just lead you down a dangerous cycle of more abuse, trust me.
If there is any violence AT ALL, whether thats "just when they're drunk" or because "they had a bad day," that's NOT OK. If you're having to make excuses for them, you're not in a healthy relationship. If you are experiencing any sort of violence, get out immediately and tell someone, right NOW. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL ITS TOO LATE.
That doesn't mean that the person you care about, and probably even love, is a bad person. That doesn't even mean that you don't love them. Like I mentioned, I still care deeply about the people I dated that hurt me. But it does mean that they need the kind of help that you are not capable of giving. Talking to a trusted adult about both your situation and theirs can help you both. It's not an easy thing to admit. And confronting the person you're with is not the answer. They will likely be combative and again, you are not capable of providing them the help they need. YOU HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF BEFORE YOU CAN BE THERE FOR ANYONE ELSE.
There are a host of counselors and therapists in the area that are trained to handle abusive or toxic relationships, especially in teens. So, ask for help and I promise you, you (and they) will be better for it.
Wow, ok. I still have 12 more questions to go but I will end this post here and pick up where I left off another day. I hope this helps. I hope you know you're not alone. And I hope you know that there are people you can turn to for help.
-Chelsea Borruano, Founder | Executive Director