Trigger Warning: This article covers multiple sensitive topics, including eating disorders, self-harm, and suicide. If you feel reading this article will harm your mental health, please put yourself first and refrain from reading it. Due to the sensitive nature of these stories, the full names of current high schoolers have been changed for anonymity.
It was midterms week when I rushed into the school library and sat beside M (‘24), sorting through my mental to-do list as I frantically pulled crumpled physics notes from my backpack. A heavy air of pre-test nerves smothered sleep-deprived students who stared blankly at textbooks and prayed to the academic gods for a passing grade.
As I was de-crinkling my papers, M flashed a sympathetic half-smile at me. She was dressed in proper midterms attire—tie-dye Crocs and pajama pants—and the skin around her eyes was noticeably irritated from a “brief crying session” she’d had earlier that morning.
I asked her if she was okay, and she simply responded, “Well, you know, school.”
Intrigued by this answer, I wondered if this was normal for her. If the pressure to succeed academically frequently induced panic attacks that left her unable to muster sentences or think clearly. She said, “Sure, but I feel like that’s normal for almost all my friends, too.”
With those few words, I was yanked into M’s world and held captive by the idea that this was not a single story, that there were other kids suffering as much as M was. Wanting to understand this further, I asked M if we could schedule another time to meet. She nodded.
Three days later, I was sitting in the same corner of the library when M and her friend, Katie, sat down at the table beside mine. Although she had agreed to speak with me, I could tell by her nervous glances toward my pages of interview notes that she was regretting her decision. I thought to myself that maybe this was a mistake—that questions requiring someone I barely knew to unpack their most painful memories were somehow too invasive for a high school reporter to ask.
But just as I was about to stop our interview before it had even begun, M started to speak. I remember the way her eyes wandered as she told me about her battles with academic perfectionism and how during online school, she couldn’t even open her computer without breaking down. She told me about a Microsoft Teams call she had freshman year, where she told her school counselor that her anxiety had consumed her life and that she was unsure of how to move forward.
Then, for the first time since our conversation began, M stared directly at me, and everything went quiet. That’s when she told me that things only got worse her sophomore year. “I remember one day, after Driver’s Ed, I was having a full-blown panic attack. My chest was hot. I was just standing there, crying, not breathing.” That’s when M told me her anxiety had become so suffocating that that night, she contemplated suicide.
As she unraveled her life story before me, I watched as tears pooled in her eyes and listened as her voice shuttered between words. Katie reached across the table to grab her hand, and I sat there, not knowing what to do with the weight of this information.
M tells me that she’s better now. That she’s taking medication for her anxiety and speaking to a therapist. But she also says that putting her happiness before academic perfection has been a struggle, even though she knows failing to do so might hurt her. M is not alone.
According to the 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), an anonymous survey taken by the ORHS student body and other high school students nationwide, suicidal ideation and attempts have increased among ORHS students, notably among girls. Over one-third of Oyster River students reported that their “mental health was not good most of the time or always,” with 38% of students saying they “felt sad or hopeless every day for two or more weeks,” an 11% increase from 2019.
And it’s not just Oyster River. In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other children’s health groups joined together to declare a National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental Health. In a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that noted national YRBS trends from 2011 to 2021, 22% of high school students said they seriously contemplated suicide, a 7% increase from 2011. Additionally, one in 10 high school students reported they attempted to commit suicide one or more times during 2021.
While it’s tempting to attribute these rising numbers to Covid-19, a period of intense isolation never before experienced by teens of previous generations, national data indicate the pandemic only exacerbated the teenage mental health crisis. According to the CDC, rates of teen depression and anxiety nearly doubled from 2010 to 2019, and the number of suicides in females aged 15-24 increased by 87% in the last 20 years.
Since I last spoke with M almost four months ago, I’ve interviewed 37 current and former high school students, most of whom attend Oyster River High School (ORHS) and identify as female. When I began this story, I knew I was taking a risk interviewing students about some of the most painful moments in their lives. But, when my peers started coming up to me in the hallway asking if they could speak to me about their mental health experiences, I knew these were stories I had to tell.
Despite extensive reporting, I acknowledge that this is not the full story and that this issue is a multifaceted one. However, I also acknowledge that getting the full story would mean interviewing hundreds more students and prying open wounds before they’ve had time to heal, an act that can be both painful and detrimental. My goal was simply to amplify the voices of students ready to share their experiences and use these stories to dig deeper into a crisis I had only skimmed the surface of.
About a week after my conversation with M, I began interviewing students who believed they had stories to tell. Looking back, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
When I first spoke with junior G (‘24) under the nauseating glow of the high school library’s fluorescent lights, it oddly mirrored my first meeting with M. Unlike M, though, G was dressed in bright blue skinny jeans, her pin-straight hair was neatly pulled back, and she hugged a thick textbook tightly to her chest. In my gray sweatpants and stained hoodie, I invited her to take a seat, even though it looked like she probably should’ve been the one interviewing me.
About two minutes into our conversation, it became clear that G’s primary stressor in life is school, which she illustrated by describing nausea she experiences before tests and explaining how crying over school has become “a weekly thing.” “
I’ve always wanted to do well in school, and I’ve always had high expectations for myself,” G told me, fidgeting with the corners of her textbook. “It felt like things were fine in middle school, but then you get to high school, and you have a GPA and a workload, and even higher expectations. I get that GPA is just a number, but I see that number as a measure of my academic abilities and whether I’m smart. When I get less than an A or an A+, it’s almost like I’m being downgraded.”
When G said this, I remember setting aside the pencil I was taking notes with and pausing, trying to think tactfully about what to ask next. As a student at Oyster River, I’ve witnessed exactly what she is talking about: the obsession with grades—and other people’s grades—up to the exact percentage, the immense distinction between a plus and a minus sign, the highly regarded GPA that’s so deeply embedded within students’ identities it could practically be worn as a name tag.
So, while I wasn’t shocked that, after three months of reporting, nearly half of the students I spoke with said academics was the number one driver of their poor mental health (with the rest claiming academic pressures amplified other stressors in their lives), I questioned whether attending an affluent school district, like Oyster River, influences the equivalence placed on academic perfection and self-worth.
According to the Washington Post, a report on advancing health equity recently added kids from “high-achieving schools” to their list of “at-risk” groups, who are experiencing high rates of mental health struggles compared to national rates. While high school is stressful for teens independent of the school they attend, studies show that competitive environments at schools like Oyster River can have disproportionate psychological costs.
“I have a lot of high-performing people around me, so although I tell myself, ‘You don’t need to be like them,’ I want to be getting those grades, too. I want to be towards the top of the class, too, so I can be successful,” G explained to me. As she was saying this, I was immediately brought back to a moment I had with M earlier that week, in which she called Oyster River’s competitive environment “toxic” for her mental health.
M had explained that “Here, there is the desire to sort of be the best. Like, before one of my midterms, I was crying and couldn’t breathe, but I still took it. I cared more about the test than myself.”
Increased competitiveness doesn’t seem like a big enough factor to account for the rising number of teens struggling with their mental health, though. Arguably, kids have always been comparing their academic abilities to their peers. Is it possible that, with new technology, these comparisons are just happening more frequently? Unlike previous generations, high schoolers constantly have access to and are notified of their fluctuating grades through apps like PowerSchool, which one student described as a reminder of “failure in [their] back pocket.”
What happens when we mask our internal struggles, such as the very real feeling of being inadequate when placed next to peers, and assign them the all-encompassing label “school,” which feels external, compulsory, and beyond our control?
That’s why, when I brought up what M mentioned about Oyster River’s competitive environment, G said she would probably feel pressure to be the best no matter where she went to high school, and that the biggest reason school stresses her out is the non-existent divide between her academic and social life.
G, who checks PowerSchool frequently, says she attaches so much of her identity to grades she “doesn’t know who she is any more” when she receives a bad one, and that her excessive PowerSchool checks cause her to “obsess over 1% differences.”
Suddenly, the morning bell signifying the start of first period interrupted our conversation, and G and I were forced to head our separate ways. I remember walking down the hall that day and thinking about how similar our interview was to my conversation with M but, at that moment, I couldn’t quite place my finger on it.
It wasn’t until I re-listened to the interviews and looked back at my notes that I realized the similarity extends beyond content and seeps into language. When students told me that their mental health was poor because they were obsessed over their grades, or sacrificed sleep to complete work, or felt they were in strict academic competition with their peers, these were never the first responses, but the third or fourth. In fact, the first response was typically always the one-word scapegoat “school” or “academics,” with the “why” having to be prodded out with questions.
Part of me wonders how this simple language swap affects the way teens view their agency over their own struggles as students. What happens when we mask our internal struggles, such as the very real feeling of being inadequate when placed next to peers, and assign them the all-encompassing label “school,” which feels external, compulsory, and beyond our control?
In search of a quiet space to talk, I roamed the school’s halls with D (‘23) until we stumbled upon the dead end of a hallway. “That’s perfect,” she said, motioning for me to sit on the cold tiles beside her.
The first thing I noticed about D was her calm disposition, a slight change from the more energetic, anxious bunch I’d spent much of the previous month interviewing. She sat like a little kid, with her arms pulling her knees tightly to her chest, her chin resting on her right kneecap, and her eyes staring up at mine.
D started by telling me how it all began in middle school when she would observe her sister constantly being stressed out about schoolwork, getting A’s in return, and being stuck in this miserable cycle of putting in her all to achieve perfection. So, when D entered high school, she adopted her sister’s way of doing things. Around this time, she was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety, but instead of trying to navigate that, she tried repressing it, pushing herself so hard academically that she didn’t have time to take care of herself.
D told me in March of her sophomore year, she hit rock bottom, and that she seriously contemplated taking her own life.
“I felt I had to be at the same level as my sister, but also earn my mom’s approval through my grades. My mom told me, ‘You have all this time to study and work on your grades,’ and I told her, like, ‘Mom, I want to go out, and have fun, and live a normal life,’” D told me.
For her, this internal desire to fill her sister’s shoes, paired with the external pressures from her parents, led her to seek alternative ways to regain control over her body through self-harm and an eating disorder.
The way D described trying to gain control over herself by disrespecting her body reminded me of something sophomore S (‘25), a student I had interviewed just days before, said to me.
“In a time when you feel like everything in your life or about you is wrong, that’s when you feel like your eating disorder is your friend and is there for you. But the deeper into it you are, the more you start to see that this thing that you use to control other parts of your life is now controlling you, too,” S said.
S told me her eating disorder started as a way for her to control her image. She recalls what it was like growing up as a “chunkier child” in the toxicity of 2000s diet culture, feeling like the “only way you could have friends, have a boyfriend, or be good at sports was to be skinny.”
S also told me she became even more self-conscious of her body as she grew older. She clung to the “unachievable and unnatural standards” of what she thought she should look like and made it her goal to be skinny like the Instagram models on her feed.
I asked D if, like S, social media played a role in fueling her eating disorder. She nodded but said her relationship with social media was more complicated than that. She acknowledged that some people she followed promoted unrealistic beauty standards but also explained that “having someone say, ‘I understand what you’re going through’ when I wasn’t hearing it from the people in my real life was super validating.”
“There seems to be this culture of critics where the judgement of others has no social consequences, and the judgment of yourself is constant.”M. Yatsevitch
Going into this story, I knew social media—the real big distinction between my generation and the ones before it—would possibly play a huge role in my understanding of why teens were increasingly struggling with their mental health, I just didn’t know how. To further investigate the relationship D was describing, I sought the expertise of experienced teachers, school counselors, and adolescent psychologists. I started with ORHS English teacher Marjke Yatsevitch.
Yatsevitch, known to many students by her last initial, has been teaching at Oyster River for over 16 years and takes an individualized approach to the mental health of her students, advertising herself as a trusted adult kids can talk to when they’re struggling. As her advisee Lucas Savage (‘24) told me when I entered her classroom for an interview, “If anyone knows what’s up, it’s Y.”
When I questioned Yatsevitch about the impact the rising popularity of social media platforms, like Instagram and TikTok, has had on her students, she thought about the question for a while before responding. “That’s one major cultural shift: I did not grow up in this sort of amplified, self-evaluative era that social media has created for this generation. Eating disorders are not new, drug abuse is not new, F.O.M.O is not new, but the amplification of it through social media is,” she told me. “There seems to be this culture of critics where the judgment of others has no social consequences, and the judgment of yourself is constant.”
The day following my conversation with Yatsevitch, I was sitting with my friend B (‘23) in math. Unable to get what Yatsevitch said out of my head, I mentioned the idea of teens being stuck in a ‘cycle of themselves’ to her. To my surprise, B began delving into her own experiences in the middle of running a statistical inference test, and I asked her if we could pause the conversation and talk about it during lunch.
When we arrived in the Senior Core, B sat atop the lockers, legs crossed, and told me about her struggles with clinical depression, which she was diagnosed with at age 13. She says social media only made things worse for her, and “made her life a living hell,’ when she would spend hours in isolation comparing her body and life to people online. Now, S says she uses platforms like TikTok to alleviate her loneliness when she feels she’s “the only person that exists.”
“On TikTok, a lot of people are saying the same things which make me feel less alone. But, if you think about it, those aren’t real people you’re interacting with face to face. It’s a screen. It’s scary how easy it is to forget that sometimes,” S told me.
What S said didn’t seem uncommon, though. Among the teens I interviewed, all of them used at least one social media platform, and all but six said they frequently use it unhealthily, including increased time spent scrolling in isolation.
Curious as to how this increased social isolation has amplified teenage mental health struggles, I called Psychologist Micheline Hagan later that week, who has spent years working with young adults on college campuses. Hagan explained that kids today are more inclined to use social media as an outlet when they’re emotionally overwhelmed, instead of interacting socially.
“Some of the biggest factors for improving mental health are engagement, belonging, and connection. You can get some of that online, but when you’re with people in real life, you’re a lot less focused on how you present and more focused on just being. With social media, you’re always surrounded by yourself,” Hagan explained to me, echoing Yatsevtich’s argument that teens are growing up in an extremely self-evaluative era, in which it’s hard to get a break from themselves.
One night, I reached for my phone to dial A’s (‘24) number. Several people I interviewed had told me A uses various social media platforms regularly and that she would be worth reaching out to. After calling twice already that day and receiving no response, I waited for the beep to leave a message but was pleasantly surprised when I heard a soft “hello?” echo through my phone’s speaker.
As I spoke with A for what ended up being a two-hour call, our conversation began with her describing how social media has made her hyper-aware of her flaws. I remember her telling me about her experience on apps like Instagram and TikTok, claiming sometimes the content she sees makes her “hate her body so much” she would “do anything to change that. Even though I know it’s not healthy, I just restrict anyway, because I guess social media’s telling me I want to look skinny more than I want to eat,” she said.
Although A mentioned she sometimes seeks out restrictive eating content, it seeks her out, too. According to a 2022 report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a nonprofit organization, TikTok’s “For You” algorithm is designed to immediately tailor to users’ interests. This means a user who watches one video regarding mental illness while scrolling will receive other content related to other mental illnesses.
Several of my sources reported receiving TikToks on their “For You” page regarding anxiety, depression, “thinspo,” self-harm, and even suicide. They said TikToks with text like “5 signs you have manic depression” and “Things only girls with anxiety do” hooked them in and listed vague symptoms that most people relate to.
In my conversation with Hagan, I brought up what A had described to me, and she said she actually sees a lot of young adults who have self-diagnosed themselves based on the oftentimes inaccurate information they’ve received on social media.
“If you have noticed that you feel anxious sometimes, and then you see a video about an anxiety disorder, you’re going to convince yourself that you have that. As humans, and especially teens trying to figure out who they are, we look for those immediate answers and buzzwords to explain why we feel or experience the things we do, and TikToks like these give that explanation to people,” Hagan told me.
Hagan further explained it can be “extremely harmful” when teenagers online treat mental illness as a quirky trend because these posts frequently glamorize mental illness and “spread misinformation like wildfire” to teens who might misunderstand the severity of certain mental illnesses.
After all of this reporting, though, I found myself back at the same question I faced when students had talked to me about academic pressure. If the kids I’m interviewing are aware that social media drives their eating disorders, social isolation, and the overall amplification of their poor mental health, then why do they continue using it? I was still stumped by the idea that a lot of my sources’ poor mental health was the byproduct of their own doing.
In my conversation with Hagan, however, she also noted there is one noticeable benefit to mental illness trending on social media: “Kids clearly feel more open about identifying that they’re struggling than they did in my generation,” Hagan said. “And that’s important because talking about our struggles is the only way we can ever get past them.”
Like Hagan, Yatsevitch mentioned how the destigmatization of mental illness likely accounts for some of these rising numbers. “I think the fact that we’re talking about this right now is a reason we’re seeing more teens be open and vulnerable about their mental health.” She said more people today feel like they have “permission to speak openly about naming the thing that’s happening to us and are not being wrapped up in a culture of shame surrounding mental health issues.”
Still, Yatsevitch says that “we’re in a weird in-between point”—mental health is destigmatized enough for people to identify their struggles and realize they need help, but there’s still a stigma around receiving that help and speaking with people.
When students informed me they were struggling, I would always ask where they went for support. Almost one-third responded that they didn’t turn to people, but things—social media, substances, and self-harm—to help them cope with overwhelming emotions. Many said they didn’t share their struggles with others because they feared people would treat them differently.
The day I interviewed Yatsevitch, I also spoke with Savage, who told me he thinks efforts to destigmatize mental health conversations are even more crucial after Covid, in which many teens grew accustomed to internalizing their struggles.
“You just get stuck with this idea that no one else can help you or understand what you’re going through, and that the way you’re dealing with it is the best or only way to deal with it. So, you retreat into your little bubble and just allow things to keep getting worse until it gets to be so bad that you can’t convince yourself you’re okay anymore,” said Savage.
As Savage said this, I thought back to my conversation with A, who revealed during our two-hour-long phone call that she was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and clinical depression this year.
Unlike most of the kids I spoke with, A said she’s genuinely never cared about school or her grades. “I fail at school, but that’s just not what I care about right now. For me, my illnesses are mostly genetic, and I also don’t have the best home life, which makes it worse,” she told me.
Instead of opening up to people, A says she avoids the things that make her anxious. She cuts class and sneaks into the girls’ bathroom, vaping to make the time go by faster. She isolates herself for fear of being disliked. She runs from her anxieties before they can catch her.
But, sometimes, the anxiety outruns her. It pins her down and forces her to stare in the face of her own shortcomings, a feeling, A says, is so painful it requires “another pain to cancel out what’s going on inside [her] head.”
“You just get stuck with this idea that no one else can help you or understand what you’re going through […] So, you retreat into your little bubble and just allow things to keep getting worse until it gets so bad that you can’t convince yourself you’re okay anymore.”L. Savage (’24)
“That’s when I turn to cutting,” she told me, explaining how she uses self-harm to convert her mental pain into physical pain. “When I feel that pain that’s going on physically, I just cry about that. And then, after the pain is over, I can just stop crying and move on with my day. Sometimes I feel like, when I don’t do that, the mental hurting will just keep going further if I don’t numb it with something,” A told me.
Three months ago, A said her friend walked in on her attempting to commit suicide after she and her mother, who had been drinking, got into an argument. She told me it wasn’t until that breaking point that she decided to get professional help.
I can still think back to what I was thinking the moment A spoke these words. I was sitting on the front steps of my house, struggling to understand how someone so young, someone my age, could go through all this. When the call ended, I walked into my kitchen where my mom was cooking dinner, and, for the first time since my interview with M, began to cry. I cried over the things A had told me, but I mostly cried because I was realizing the possible repercussions of my gamble. I wondered if it was my place to be writing about these stories, or if telling these stories would actually help anyone.
Later that night, after I had collected myself, my mom told me that Lorie Keenan had called her to say she heard about my story and said she would be willing to speak with me.
For as long as I can remember, we have lived two houses down from the Keenans and spent so much time with them that they are practically my second family. But, for as long as I’ve known their oldest daughter, Karly, she’s always remained an enigma to me. We would hear tales around the neighborhood that Karly got suspended from school because she pierced her nose in the bathroom in seventh grade or got expelled because she beat up her ex-girlfriend in school, but the Karly I knew was shy and sweet.
A few days later, I met with Karly and Lorie for dinner. When I arrived at their house, I was greeted by the smell of chicken, the sound of Jerry Garcia, and the family pug, Geezer, who quickly lost interest in me when he realized I didn’t come bearing food.
Lorie, who was dancing in the kitchen, told me to take a seat next to Karly, who was dressed in black leggings and a dark blue T-shirt. “I’m a little nervous to tell you all this, Abbles, but I trust you,” Lorie said to me with a little smile, staring at my phone which had begun to record our conversation.
Karly, now 22, told me she was in middle school when her mother first discovered something was wrong. She remembers the night Karly sat at the foot of the bed, her eyes red and swollen, and rolled up her sleeves to reveal an array of self-hate: permanently etched onto her skin in the form of baby pink exes and lines. The scars, left by the blade of a disposable razor Karly found in the trash, began at her palms and extended past her shoulders, to her collarbones. She was 11.
“I don’t think I knew what or why I was feeling the hate and the pain that I felt at that age, but I knew that cutting made it feel better, so I did that because I didn’t want to tell someone and have them think something was wrong with me,” Karly told me.
That night, Lorie remembers cradling her crying child in her arms as the emergency room’s automatic doors slid open. She said Karly’s injuries were so severe that the medical assistant could barely look her in the eye and recalls the doctor writing his personal email on a wooden tongue depressor. “When he gave me that, it was like both of us acknowledging that resources for Karly were going to be scarce and that it was going to be a long journey to the end.”
“It felt like I was watching my kid walking on a tightrope 100 feet above me, and I’m just standing beneath her just thinking if she’s going to fall, I’m going to catch her. And I know if she does, it’s going to kill us both, but that’s how it had to be.”L. Keenan
It was 2012. Lorie said there was barely any awareness around mental health, and that no one seemed to know how to manage what somebody as young as Karly was going through. She told me the waiting lists for therapy were long, and that when they finally scheduled appointments with therapists, they often told her ‘Don’t worry, it’s just hormones.’
“I was coming to terms with the fact that my child has a mental illness. That was a hard thing as a parent because you can’t fix it, and nobody seemed to know how to help us. It felt like I was watching my kid walking on a tightrope 100 feet above me, and I’m just standing beneath her just thinking if she’s going to fall, I’m going to catch her. And I know if she does, it’s going to kill us both, but that’s how it had to be,” Lorie told me.
Both Lorie and Karly knew it was more than a phase, and after years of searching for a good therapist, they finally found one. Lorie says that the therapist was the first person to tell them Karly likely had bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, both of which make it difficult for her to regulate her emotions.
With conversations surrounding mental health becoming increasingly destigmatized, Karly said she’s hopeful “kids will feel like talking about their mental health isn’t something that has to be shameful.” She hopes kids will begin to seek help from trusted adults and professionals, rather than rely on destructive coping mechanisms, like she did.
“For a really long time, I didn’t want help, and I didn’t want to take my meds because I didn’t want to believe that I was bipolar,” Karly told me. “But it gets better, and it only gets better when the resources are there, you have access to those resources, and you continue to use those resources because you can tell the people who are helping you genuinely care about your progress.”
At this moment, I tried to figure out what felt different about my conversation with Karly from the high schoolers I had been interviewing. And then, I realized it was that Karly, after years of fighting for them, had gotten the resources she needed to guide her out of the darkness many of my sources were still fumbling through. After years of trying new meds, refusing to take them, getting healthy, and reverting back to her old self-destructive ways, Karly, at 22, had confronted her mental illness and refused to keep bending to its will. She could see a sliver of light creeping through the darkness, and now she was chasing it. Chasing it for her little sisters, who needed the big-sister role model they never had. Chasing it for her mom, who brought her to every appointment, laid in bed with her at night, and never gave up. But, most importantly, Karly was chasing it for herself. She could see the person she wanted to become and understood that, at the end of the day, she was the only one who could truly pull her out of this darkness.
When I returned home after our conversation that night, I couldn’t fall asleep. I knew when I had left Lorie and Karly’s house it would be my last interview, so my mind was racing, thinking about how I would make sense of all the stories I had gathered over these past four months. The frustration that came with my inability to help those who entrusted me with their experiences kept me awake at night. Entering into this story, I knew I wouldn’t emerge on the other side with all the answers, but I at least hoped I would gain some sort of clarity as to why this was all happening. Now, I realize I mostly just revealed the powerlessness a lot of us feel. My sources, who seem to feel powerless over their own emotions and well-being, and I, powerless in the sense that I cannot apply simple solutions to the complexities of this crisis.
If there’s anything I learned from Karly’s experience, though, it is that this feeling of powerlessness can break you. It can prevent you from seeking out the support you need and can convince you that no matter how much work you put in, no matter how much you fight for yourself, none of it will ever be enough. That’s where other people come in. They can help you realize that you are in control.
That’s what Lorie did for Karly. She told her daughter that she could be more than her mental illness. But, as Karly said to her mom that night in the kitchen, “You could only do so much for me.” When it came down to it, Lorie could say these words over and over, but only Karly could believe them.
When I reached over to stop the recording, I remember looking over at Lorie, who was wiping tears from her eyes. Suddenly, she walked over to Karly and wrapped her arms around her, kissing her cheek. “You don’t know how proud I am of you, Karl.”