Can I give you a piece of motherly advise? The type of advise from someone who'd sacrifice everything for your well-being? Please view people you meet online as strangers, because they are — strangers.
Why am I telling you this? My family and I found ourselves in the middle of what felt like a bad movie. Even as I write this, I can't shake the surreal and anxious feelings that came with this particular circumstance.
Due to privacy, I won't share my family member's name, but I will tell you it involved a young teen and a very real need to feel connected after months of isolation. We thought that being holed up at home during the pandemic would ensure our teen's safety, but we were naive. This isolation allowed a stranger to enter our home and invade our sacred space.
Yes, he seemed innocent enough, coming over the technology with sweet talk and compliments, as strangers often will. He joked, played games, and empathized the way a friend would. All of this attention made the teen feel wanted, appreciated, and warm inside. But those feelings didn't mean that the online person was a friend; they only meant that our teen was human. This type of attention, regardless of where it's from, always feels great. Until it puts you in danger.
It wasn't long before this person over-stepped his bounds and showed his true colors, putting our teen at risk. It took us all by surprise. Luckily, our family has a close relationship with one another and we were able to intervene. This time. We're working hard to ensure there isn't a next time.
I'm not going to share all of the details because I want to come back to you, my friends. Believe the movies that show teens being persuaded to do dumb things by strangers online. You never think it's going to happen to you. You think you'll be able to know if someone is scamming you or is intending to do you harm, but it's never that easy — not when strangers know how to make you feel safe and cared for. Not when strangers know how to pretend to be friends.
They may be fun gaming partners. They may be good flatterers. They may even be the cutest entertainers you've ever seen. But they remain strangers through all of it, or at best, acquaintances you know little about.
Since you can't always trust your instincts, make sure you tell family and friends about your acquaintances online. And if your family or friends have a bad instinct about them? Trust the people you know. Hoping you stay safe out there, friends.
I've been sitting for a while in pain, watching the people close to me deal with the devastating affects of adversity. Some are reeling from the loss of their home — others from the death of a friend or relative. One is drowning in the pain of racism, and another is drowning in the pain of cancer (now stealing the sweet toddler from her arms.)
I feel powerless knowing I can't take away their pain. None of us can. That's one of the hard parts about life and love and family and friendship.
Perhaps you've been there, watching people you love hurting and wanting with all of your heart to switch places with them and make it better. What do you do when you can't? When life demands everyone walk through the mess it's handing them?
The only thing I've been able to figure out is to show up. A text. A call. A visit. A meal. A care package. A listening ear. Sometimes it feels like it's not enough, but according to the ones suffering, it's appreciated and makes them feel loved. That's one of people's greatest needs — to be loved. It's comforting to know that something I can do will meet a deep need, even if it can't change the situation.
Seems all I do is wait anymore. Wait for test results that could shake my world. Wait for financial provision. Wait for paperwork. Wait for the day I can live a "normal life" again - whatever that means. Waiting is hard. And through all of this waiting I cry out as many of you do. When will this end? What will happen if...? How will I make it?
When these thoughts get too overwhelming, I go to a quiet place. There, away from the world, I give myself a pep talk. My anxious mind doesn't want to listen, but I tell it the truth I don't always feel in my heart. "It's normal to feel upset and anxious. Times are hard, but these times won't last forever. I've been through trauma before, and I know that after each event there came a time of peace and happiness. I can do this. I am strong."
I'd love to be able to tell you that this little time out makes me feel instantly at peace, but I can't. It's just a step in the right direction. It helps me take my thoughts captive so they don't run amok. That's the first step. I also set boundaries, have a little fun each day, reach out for connection, exercise, and do something kind for others. All of these things help my emotional health.
But the one thing that helps me the most is prayer. It brings me the most peace, and it's something I can't explain to you adequately. If you want to stop reading now, you may. But if you're curious, I pray the same thing I'll pray over you now:
God give them all they need to get through the day — the strength to endure, a wisdom to make sound decisions, the ability to discover joy in the chaos. Give them an overwhelming sense of peace, one that comforts them to the very depths of their being. I pray today that as they read this, they will feel your presence in a tangible way and will discover the incredible love you have for them, a love so deep it can get them through their loneliest hours. Today I pray hope over them, God, as they wait. As we all wait. Together.
"Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery."
Trying to understand what your depressed teen or family member is experiencing? We
polled the teens at our Armed with Hope Conferences this Fall, and here is what they shared:
What does depression feel like?
Feeling sad and not knowing why.
A weight in my chest
Constantly tearful or irritable
Unsteady sleep and eating habits
Dark and overwhelming
Like being in a hole and I have no way out
A heavy weight
What does it mean to have bipolar disorder?
I like mania because I’m on top of the world
The depression piece that comes after the highs means I can’t make myself get out of bed
Your world changes in a minutes and irrational thoughts become your reality
What does anxiety look like?
Racing mind and thoughts
My mind shuts down and I am uncontrollably crying
Rushed, insecure, unbalanced, unprepared
Fluttering in my chest
How do you quiet the negative thoughts or voices? Or If your mind doesn’t shut off, what do you do?
Redirect to preferred activities
Use tools like puzzles, rings spinners to help distract in the moment
Listen closely to lyrics in music
Take a walk
Play some word games
Listen to music
Positive mantras and affirmations
Find a friend to talk to who helps me know what’s accurate
Turn the negative thoughts to positive thoughts like I suck at math to this was only one test. I can learn
Music to help me through the emotions
Listen to podcast
Take a walk
I play my drums
What do you do when you can’t sleep?
Progressive relaxation exercise
Deep breathing or guided meditation
Cuddle my animals
Slow down and try to watch something low key like discovery channel
Try to stop the negative voices
Listen to music
Experts tell us that If we get to know one another we will find we have more in common than we think. So the story I’m telling myself right now is that you struggle with self-esteem as much as I do, and that by putting me down you somehow find the validation you’re lacking. I guess subconsciously you believe that if you can get others to focus on me, they won’t notice the weaknesses in you.However, we both know this isn’t true because people are experts at finding weaknesses in one another,
Since we all have weaknesses and struggle with self-doubt (a very human condition,) I’m deciding to forgive you. Yes, I forgive you for the comments over my appearance; the eye rolls over my opinions; the snickers at my errors, and the half-truths you’ve spread. Obviously, you must be hurting terribly in order to do such hateful things to another.
And don’t worry. You won’t see me repeating these things for revenge. I know what it feels like to receive such treatment, and I don’t think it’s right to treat others this way.
I am not going to lecture you either. Heaven knows I have just as many issues as you do that need to be dealt with. Instead, I am choosing to distance myself from you, but not before I give you a piece of advice: Rise up and know your worth.
You’re worth is not determined by the opinion of others – nor by the position you have on the scale of beauty, talent, popularity and wealth. My worth isn’t determined by these scales either. You see, our worth comes from being human and having a unique take on the world. No one has our same story or insight- same set of talents and perspectives. We are uniquely us. I think we will all be happier when we start to realize the value of ourselves and others.
By Emily Krueger
Are you your own voice or somebody else's?
Is there someone telling you where to go, what to do, and who to be?
Sometimes we can get caught up in the dreams of everyone else or maybe what’s ideal for everyone else that we forget to consider who we are.
Our life's journey can be overwhelming, difficult, and feel entirely impossible. This is how my life has felt for several years. I've spent so much time and energy working towards a career that seemed worth dreaming about. I believed that this was something that would pay well and was what everyone wanted for me.
But I wasn’t all in. I found myself struggling to keep going and going. I lacked motivation. I lacked energy. I lacked interest. I FORCED myself to try to want something that just wasn’t RIGHT for me.
I justified the feelings based on the mental illness I’ve suffered with my entire life. I kept saying to myself “This is normal," “No one likes school," “It's never easy or fun,” and “ Yeah, this is normal.”
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that the right path for us is supposed to be EASY or supposed to SIMPLE without any type of struggles or rough patches. All I'm saying is that the path shouldn’t be forced. That if you are on the correct path for your life, your dreams, and your satisfaction, then you shouldn’t feel pressured or feel like you have a weight on your shoulders. It should seem somewhat simpler than that.
When I finally found the right path for me, the path is actually requiring more work, time, and energy; yet, I feel lighter and more motivated because I know it’s my dream. It’s my choice. It’s my life. I choose my life and not anyone else's.
Do you agree about how hard it is for teenagers to share their issues with adults? What do you think would need to change in order for it to be easier?
I heard a story yesterday that made me proud of you. After hearing a health discussion on the topic of suicide, a boy confessed to his friend that he had tried committing suicide twice in the past. The friend, after arriving home later that day, proceeded to tell his mother. "I know from our health discussion I need to tell a trusted adult," he explained, "so that's what I'm doing."
His mom nodded, and then this young man did something great. He checked to make sure his mother was going to do something. "You're going to do something, right?" he inquired, "I need to make sure; because if you aren't, I'm going to find someone else." His mom assured him she would talk to the school counselor the next day. When she warned him of a possible fallout with his friend, he said, "That's okay, because the option of not doing anything would have a worse ending."
At school the next day, this friend was confronted by the depressed teen who asked if he was the one who had told. The friend shook his head yes. Then the hurting teen said it was okay. "It's for the best," he said, "I think it's going to help me."
It may feel awkward, but finding support for your friend is one of the most heroic, kind things you can do. And accepting that help is one of the bravest. Bravo to these two boys and all the rest of you who are reaching out and supporting one another. You make us proud.
by Emily Krueger
Today marks the day of the end of my challenge. This challenge was to go one month without social media, meaning: no Snapchat, no Instagram, no Facebook, no Twitter, and even no Pinterest. Some of you may be wondering why Pinterest or what’s so wrong with Pinterest? Well, I wanted to challenge myself to deleting all of the ‘time consuming’ apps from my smart- phone. I wanted to test out all of the negative rumors that follow social media. Most likely, many of you have heard the complaints on how social media negatively affects our relationships or how it is time consuming and even the talk of how it is so called addicting. So I put it to the test.
The first day was easy. It was the start of the challenge, so this called for deleting the apps and setting an alarm on the calendar for one month from that day. Luckily, a good friend joined in too. This helped immensely because we often talked about what we did with our time or how our bodies were reacting to it. We even came up with a ‘consequence’ if we gave in before our challenge was up and a reward at the end of the challenge. This made it fun be- cause neither of us wanted to be ‘losers.’
As few days passed and the realization of how social media affected me started to occur. Every time I sat down whether it be at my work desk, couch, dinner table, bed, nearly every ‘relaxing’ moment, my hand reached for the phone automatically and my mind subconsciously went straight to a social media app out of habit. However, because they were no longer on my phone, it hit me how often I ‘automatically’ relied on social media to occupy my time. This was a little alarming especially because after that moment this thought crossed my mind, “Oh, well what shall I do now?”
That’s when ‘plan b’ came into play. When this happened, I need something to do to occupy my time. This came pretty easy given that I am in school full-time and have children, so I have a truckload of things to do. When the to-do list was caught up, all of a sudden there was all this free time whereas before my “no social media” challenge, there was no such things as ‘free-time.’ This is when the hunt for hobbies came next. So I downloaded ‘audible’ and started listening to books and found a some new favorites. Then every other day an hour was spent at the gym. Next, my spiritual life; praying, reading, going to church grew stronger and family activities were happening more often than they used to.
Last but not least, my most favorite part about this challenge is the reward at the end of it. This realization didn’t happen till the very end; every single day for a month, my self-esteem went from being at its lowest point to head- ing in the right direction of being comfortable with myself. There was no more scrolling through watching idols or acquaintances live an exotic life anymore and no more comparing my life to theirs. Since I wasn’t doing that anymore, I was living my own life and enjoying it more. There was no focus on what I don’t have and if I had that I would be happier.
After this challenge it took me a few days before I went on social media again. In all honesty, fear of feeling low again from looking at the glamorous lives of others worried me. I didn’t want to go back. There wasn’t even the slightest desire. But because I felt so strongly about sharing my experience with others, I wanted to be able to write about the experience I had with ‘plugging back in’ after the challenge was over. When I say this, I mean it with every ounce of energy I have, I absolutely hated it. In result, those apps are deleted once again and I wont ever go back.
Social media isn’t a terrible thing if you are able to find a fine and healthy balance with it, but if you do this challenge and you realize that you had some problems with it, that’s when it’s a problem. Today, I challenge you to go one month without it and see what you learn about yourself.
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