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When You’re Feeling Helpless

What do we say to the teenagers who feel deflated during a defining generational moment?

Diary of a Professional Teen is a weekly column of #deep thoughts by twentysomething teenager and youth expert Taylor Trudon. Every Thursday, she’ll talk about her feelings in relation to what it’s like to be a Young Person in 2016.

It was easier than usual to get out of bed on Tuesday morning. Normally I hit the snooze button at least twice, but that day, like many Americans, I knew I was going to be voting for the first female president of the United States. I was confident that when I woke up on Wednesday, history would have been made. I was wrong.

Yesterday, I cast my vote alongside my best friend since eighth grade. We stood in line, one that wrapped around P.S. 17 Elementary School in Brooklyn, with our coffees.

“I feel like we’re waiting in line for the Spider-Man ride at Six Flags,” she said nervously. In a way, I did too.

Taylor Trudon

We eventually made our way inside the school. We were handed our ballots and carefully filled in the bubbles, marking our choice for Hillary Clinton as president. I stood in my voting booth a little longer than I needed to, trying to freeze the moment in my mind. Outside, we took selfies with our “I Voted” stickers, giddy with excitement. Then we got on the train and went to work.

Taylor Trudon

And then, hours later, like many Americans, I watched as what seemed like the implausible happened. Eating soggy sweet potato fries in a Times Square conference room, I watched Donald Trump win Florida. Suddenly, the numbers on our screens seemed uncomfortably close. The weight in the room changed; there was a shift in tone. At the beginning of the night, we were preparing for the so-called apocalypse, sharing silly GIFs and making playlists. By midnight, with results still pending, we had to ask ourselves how to talk to our young audience about what was sure to be one of the most devastating nights in recent memory. What do we say to the teenagers who feel helpless, deflated, and swallowed whole during a defining generational moment, whose minds are wandering with dark, terrified thoughts? What do we say to them?

We tell them to breathe. We tell them that they are not alone. We tell them to take care of themselves. But what does that even mean?

It starts with leading by example and it starts small. For me, it started by texting a friend last night that I loved her and am here for her (with heart emojis). I let myself sleep in. When I woke up this morning, I ate my bowl of oatmeal, eating it over the kitchen sink while I watched Clinton give her concession speech via live stream, my eyes welling with tears. I listened to Angel Olsen’s “Heart Shaped Face” on repeat while I continued to scroll through Twitter, finding comfort and empowerment from friends, colleagues, and our wonderful community of young contributors who are leaning on each other during this heartbreaking time. I brushed my teeth, put on clothes, and smiled back at the barista when he handed me my coffee.

For me, self-care isn’t “unplugging” or “tuning out.” It’s not flipping a switch on the internet or taking a break from social media. This might not work for you, but it’s about figuring out what does. I’ve always found comfort in online communities, and on days like this — and the days yet to come — I need it more than ever. But regardless of how you choose to seek solace, part of self-care is recognizing that your feelings and the feelings of others are valid. I’m allowed to feel the way that I do and you are too. And if you need to talk about it, there are resources like The Trevor Project, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Teen Line, and MTV’s weekly social justice forecast.

Self-care isn’t booking a flight to Canada or crafting rage-filled Facebook statuses. It’s being kind to yourself and others. It’s offering someone a piece of gum. It’s giving them a hug or sending them an “I’m here for you” text. It’s making the choice to keep moving even if you feel stuck. Because we have to keep moving.

Earlier this week, Lorde turned 20 and commemorated her birthday with a lovely piece of writing she posted on Facebook. It’s about the end of teenagehood, becoming an adult, and the new album that she’s written. She wrote that she had a “colossal” year, where she “maxed out every single emotion I have in the best possible way, the colours still aching behind my eyes like this weird blissful hangover.” She had her heart broken. She moved out of her house and into the city, made new friends, and realized that “no one is just good or bad, [that] everyone is both.” She let herself feel what she needed to feel. Then she created something that is sure to be beautiful.

We also have the power to create something beautiful and better. We can do this by reaching out instead of recoiling. In the midst of sadness, I’m choosing to believe that we can find the good, that we can be there for ourselves and for each other to help us mobilize and move forward. And while it might not be the solution we’re looking for in this exact moment, it’s a start.

Taylor Trudon

If you or someone you know is dealing with mental illness, there are ways to get help. Find resources, tips, and immediate help at Half of Us, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

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