The Teen Years - Sharing My Struggles
My Shitty Teen Years
I haven’t really thought about my teenage years until my daughter became a teenager. I’ve seen the struggles of other parents raising teenagers and it hasn’t been pretty. My hairdresser was telling me about her teenage daughter and explained it as “it’s like they lose their minds from age 14 to age 20 and there is nothing you can do about it. As a parent, you just have to let it run its course and hope for the best”.
Transitioning to young adulthood means saying “goodbye” to your child-like qualities and saying “hello” to adult-like decisions. It’s a constant struggle between continuing to act like a child, which is all you’ve known for the past 12 years, and being expected to act more and more like an adult. And whose definition of “adult” are you supposed to follow? Are you supposed to watch your parents and mimic how they behave? What if your parents are idiots?
Chapter 1: Beyond Awkward (which seemed to be the longest chapter of my life)
I was very awkward as a teen as most teens are, however I was exceptionally awkward and had gobs of anxiety about it. My dad wouldn’t let me wear makeup or wear super-tight Bonjour jeans which were all the rage at school. I really wanted to wear makeup because I felt ugly with small brown eyes, pale lips and dark circles under my eyes. I think makeup and tight jeans would have made me feel attractive. However, I was a supremely obedient child so I couldn’t even fathom defying my parents. My sister, on the other hand, applied makeup on her way to school and magically changed into tight jeans before she got to school. I never figured out how she did it but she had mad skills because my parents never found out.
I had eczema which is a condition that caused unsightly red rashes on my skin. Not only was I allergic to everything under the sun, the flare-ups were painful after I scratched myself bloody. At its worse, it was visible on my face, hands, arms, and back of my knees. I worried that people thought I had some hideous contagious disease. Not a big confidence builder.
In 6th grade I was voted the President of the Teeny Tiny Titty Committee. Up until that point, I wasn’t even aware of breast size or the possibility that it would be something important in my life. Here’s me living my life as a pre-pubescent pre-teen, when all-of-a-sudden a dreadful boy picks me out of all the flat-chested 6th graders to be crowned leader. In that instant something shifted within me and I let people like this dictate how I would feel about my body and myself for many years to come. And so began my love affair, and angst, with padded bras!
Chapter 2: Agoraphobia (the shortest chapter)
My anxiety got to a point where I didn’t want to leave the house. I suppose it wasn’t a diagnosable affliction because I ended up leaving the house to go to school or work, but I would get incredibly sweaty and nervous with just the thought of going outside. This chapter was fleeting but impactful none-the-less, as it was just another thing I had to overcome.
Chapter 3: Gimme A Gun
As if all the hormones pumping through my body, academic obligations, friend drama, self-esteem issues, and boy crushes weren’t stress enough; the stress at home should have pushed me over the edge. I had three older (teen) siblings, a controlling abusive father, a depressed distant mother, and an ever-so-critical Catholic grandmother. When I look back on my teenage years and all that life was throwing at me during that time; getting through this chapter was no small feat. The cards were stacked against me but I got through it…barely. By barely, I mean yes I thought about eating a bullet on a few occasions. My dad kept a gun in his nightstand so it would’ve been easy. But I didn’t because somewhere deep inside me I knew the torture was temporary.
I recently learned from one of my daughter’s teachers that the teenage brain is only operating at 40% of its capacity…or something crazy like that!?!? So of course I had to do some research on the topic. It turns out the brain’s cortex which is the part that is “responsible for reasoning, planning, judgment and self-regulation”* … is still developing. It isn’t completely developed until somewhere between the ages of 25 and 30. This would have been helpful information for my parents when I was growing up. Maybe they would have had less stress raising four teenagers at the same time, which would have obviously altered my experience. As Oprah once said; “when you know, better you do better”.
Chapter 4: I’m So Ugly
The teenage years are also when we become aware of our own attractiveness and the attractiveness of those around us. I had freckles and auburn hair which doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I was different. I was flat chested and pudgy so I didn’t feel attractive. I don’t know if that’s because no one ever told me I was, or boys didn’t pay attention to me, or I didn’t look like the models in magazines. How do you know if you’re attractive? Should this even be your goal at such a young age? Once I became aware that attractiveness was something desirable, my world shifted. How do I achieve beauty? The ultimate goal was to be naturally beautiful but that wasn’t in the cards. This was going to take work. I watched people I thought were attractive and copied them. Looking through magazines, watching TV and listening to comments from other people about who was beautiful and who wasn’t, also helped me understand attractiveness.
I was a little obsessed…wait, who am I kidding I was A LOT obsessed. All of the data I was receiving pointed towards a certain look that was beautiful which meant desirable and I wanted to be desirable. Nowhere in the data was anyone making an argument on behalf of ugly.
Chapter 5: Swim Class
I remember little else from high school except my insecurities, my friends and their insecurities, all of the boys I had crushes on, and swim class. I don’t remember anything about Math or English or History class. I remember swim class! I can picture all of us standing there soaking wet, huddled close to each other, and shivering. The swimsuits were ugly, ill-fitting navy blue. It was an experience I will obviously never forget since I can remember it as if it was yesterday, and I am approaching 50. It was bittersweet when “Ol’ Aunt FLO” came for a visit because you didn’t have to suit up, but then everyone in the class knew why you were sitting out. As an underdeveloped teenager, swim class taught me just how insecure I could really become. Thank you high school for helping solidify my already deeply ingrained low self-esteem and introducing me to an entirely new variety of anxiety disorders that I would spend the next 30 years trying to overcome. Yay high school!!
Fast-forward 30 years…
The teen years were a struggle. The invisible scars left behind were smoothed over with many years of therapy and self-help books. My biggest regret is that I spent most of my life focused on being someone I thought others wanted me to be. The past 30 years have taught me that when you realize your value, you will realize your beauty. It was a lot of work to get here, but I am finally living my life authentically and even though I’m getting older, I’ve never felt more beautiful. Beauty cannot be found in a bottle, or a compliment, or a reflection in a mirror. When you stop searching for love and validation from other people and learn to love yourself, you will know the truest form of beauty.
See my post “How I Stopped Being A People Pleaser” to learn how I started my journey to happiness.