Heavy Meddle: Help! I'm Afraid I'm Going To Harm Myself

A teen in crisis writes to ask how to deal with a frightening emotional breakdown. (Lechon Kirb/Unsplash)
A teen in crisis writes to ask how to deal with a frightening emotional breakdown. (Lechon Kirb/Unsplash)

Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions via email. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.


Dear Steve,

I'll be blunt: I'm fearing for my sanity. I can't help but feel like I don't know half of myself sometimes. Why I do some things I do, for example. But I'm worried.

I had a full-fledged emotional breakdown for the first time earlier today. I haven't even told my parents about it, mainly because I'm scared to. My parents never told me that I wasn't exactly proper in the head until I was 12, because they were under the belief that it would become an excuse, that it shouldn't be a problem.

So is nearly stabbing yourself for quite literally no reason not a problem?

In short, I have a few questions:


Who should I talk to? I have grandparents on both sides, a sister, and a few online friends who I've known a long time and know I can trust.

How can I help myself? I can't find this answer. I've been depressed for the entirety of my 14 years. I can never stop resenting myself. No help from my friends diminishes this. And I can't stop myself from... this. Whatever I've gotten myself into.

What help should I seek? This coincides with the first question, but I don't know who to go to, period. I'm lost.


Scared of Myself

Dear Scared,

I’m so sorry to hear that life feels so rough right now. And I’m thankful that you wrote.

You’re asking exactly the right questions and your instincts are also right on target: you need to talk to someone as soon as possible. You’re carrying a heavy burden right now, and you need to allow others to help. It can be scary to disclose how much pain you're in, and how out-of-control your thoughts and behaviors feel. But it's the only way to get better.

It sounds like your relationship with your parents is complicated, and that they have trouble accepting the kind of pain you’re in. So it might make sense to talk to a school counselor first, or even to call a hotline such as Samariteens, where you can talk to another teenager who’s dealt with some of the emotions that are plaguing you. (Sometimes talking with a stranger, at least initially, can be easier.)

But talking to anyone who you feel will listen with sympathy, and without judgment, is a great idea. Because it’s absolutely essential for you to realize, in the midst of this sorrow and confusion, that you are not alone. I mean this in a personal sense — that you are loved and cherished by your friends and family.

it’s absolutely essential for you to realize, in the midst of this sorrow and confusion, that you are not alone.

But also in a broader sense. Millions of teenagers (and adults and even children) struggle with serious mental health issues every day. These are not character defects. They are illnesses that can be treated. But only if they are brought into the light.

Hiding your pain from the world doesn’t make it go away. Just the opposite. It magnifies that pain by turning it into a source of shame rather than a cause for concern and compassion.

The emotions you’re experiencing are urgent. And you have the wisdom to realize that you should take them seriously. But you also have to try to be a little patient with yourself. Depression isn’t something you can shrug off like a bad day. Nor are the impulses you feel to harm yourself.

One thing that will help, in addition to patience, is trust. You have to trust that the people who love you — your sister, your grandparents, and even your parents — will come through in your time of need. But they have to know about that need first.

One thing that might help, trust-wise, is put yourself in their shoes. If you knew they were suffering as you are, wouldn’t you want them to confide in you so that you could help them out?

For now, the important thing is to reach out.

Hang in there. I’ll be thinking about you.


Steve Almond is the author of the book "Against Football." He is the co-host, with Cheryl Strayed, of the WBUR podcast, Dear Sugar.


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