Carolyn Hax: Help for a teen who feels lost and depressed

Carolyn Hax
Columnist July 8, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I feel defeated in school — as in, I can’t focus on any of my work because of some past events, such as not making a sports team, losing friends, family dying, grades dropping and just plain feeling alone, even though there are people around me whom I would hope to consider friends.

I felt like I put in a lot of time to make a certain team or get the highest grades, but something always seems to happen to bring me back down again. My parents are also pushing me to see if I want to change schools and if “it would please me” to see a therapist, as if I was some kind of madman (which I probably am, might I say).

I know these just sound like regular teen problems that “everyone deals with, so you’re not so different!,” which I’m told a lot. I feel lost.


(Nick Galifianakis)

Outsider

Seeing a therapist does not = madman. You sound depressed, and that is indeed a “regular teen problem,” as well as an adult one — however, it’s one best treated instead of ignored in hopes it will pass. Accept your parents’ offer and welcome the freedom to unburden yourself to a professional, someone you can’t shock or disappoint.

As for the hard work that didn’t (in your opinion) pay off — I think you’re being tough on yourself. You’re being tough on life in general, in fact.

Life and achievement and fulfillment are not linear. You don’t do X amount of work for Y amount of time just to claim Z reward or accolade. Every once in a while, yes, it feels good to collect a blue ribbon for your trouble, but the true value of hard work is inherent. It teaches you about yourself, including your gifts and your weaknesses; it teaches you to develop the former and strengthen or work around the latter. Hard work teaches you the value of investing yourself fully in something vs. just going through the motions. It teaches you to give vs. take.

Hard work in school, specifically, teaches you not just about the subject at hand, but also about the process of learning, of challenging yourself, of applying information on one topic to your understanding of others, and of questioning what you’re told instead of just swallowing everything whole. Hard work in a sport teaches you to push your physical limits, to appreciate what your body can do, to work as part of a team, to blur boundaries between types of learning and leadership.

So there is no such thing as being “back down again” after time spent applying yourself. You retain the most important rewards inside you; the courage and clarity of your letter speak to that. Please ask your parents for a depression screening, at least, as a start to reconnecting your gifts to your sense of purpose.

Re: Lost:

I saw a therapist when I was a teenager. Best thing my parents did for me. I came out of teenage-hood a lot more stable because I had somebody there who didn’t have an agenda for who I should be, to help me figure out who I wanted to be. And how to do it.

Anonymous

“Didn’t have an agenda,” amen, thanks.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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