A national survey by the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that 11.4 per cent of 12 to 17-year-olds were depressed in 2014. Ruby Walker was one of them. Her book, Advice I Ignored: Stories and Wisdom from a Formerly Depressed Teen is the only book on teenage mental health written by a teenager. It answers the question everyone's been asking her: What happened?
“I was depressed. That’s the easy answer, the one I give in polite company,” Walker told us. “And maybe it’s the accurate answer too. But the word ‘depression’ means different things to different people, so it’s worth elaborating on exactly what I mean. It’s not a constant feeling of sadness, although I was often sad. And it’s not a constant feeling of numbness, although I was often numb.”
Walker is an 18-year-old college student, activist, artist and writer. She lives in Austin, Texas, and is currently studying art at Trinity University in San Antonio.
“I felt tired sometimes - a bone-deep slowness, like everything in the world was too much effort,” Walker told us. “I’d lie in bed for hours just staring at the ceiling and listening to music to drown out my negative thoughts. I’d wonder if I could really move. I felt terrified that I would never have peace of mind again. Sometimes I’d think about dying; I never planned it out or attempted anything, but I couldn’t imagine living to be an adult. I felt angry too. When people tried to ask me what was wrong, I’d snap. How could they expect answers from me when I was the one who felt the pain of this confusion most acutely? What was wrong with me? Wouldn’t I like to know!”
Walker’s own family couldn’t get through to her. When she was 15, she stopped going to school altogether. She was tired of trying. She didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t imagine a future for herself. She just assumed she’d be dead before adulthood.
“Sometimes I would feel good for a few days. ‘Good’ didn’t mean happy, exactly, but a reprieve from panic and despair. I’d get way too excited about it, filled with some kind of wild corrosive energy, like a live wire, until eventually the ecstatic feeling drained out and I felt even more empty than before,” Walker told us. “Most of all, I hated myself. I hated every stupid useless word that fell out of my mouth. I hated my hair, my body, my voice, my teeth, my face. I was a hollow waste of space, a lost cause, a defect. The people who loved me were fooling themselves - basing their feelings on some false impression of me they made up and idealized in their minds. If they really knew me then they wouldn’t care.”
Walker went from a numb, silent, miserable high school dropout to a joyous loudmouth in one year flat. Full of stories, honest advice, and fierce hope, Walker’s book is a self-help book for people who hate help and themselves. It's the only book about teen depression written by a teen.
“More than a year after dropping out of school, when I was sixteen, I started drafting advice I ignored on notebook paper,” Walker told us. “The people around me had seen a very profound change happen in my attitude, my mannerisms, and my general outlook. I wanted to give people some kind of explanation for how I got from point A to point B. In my recovery I had done a lot of journaling and a lot of drawing, so an illustrated book felt like the most natural way to express my thoughts.”
Walker says when she was depressed, she read a lot of self-help books.
“I appreciated them but I struggled to take their advice because I didn’t feel like their experiences were close enough to mine,” Walker told us. “I wanted to write a book for my 14-year-old self, something personal enough to get past the eye rolls.”
Walker hopes depressed teenagers realize that they’re still in the backstory section of their lives.
“Recovery is a wonderful thing, but please don’t think you have to wait for your life to start. You don’t matter because you ‘have so much potential’,” Walker told us. “You aren’t worthy of love and respect because of the person you might someday become. Even at your worst, your most dysfunctional, your absolute pit of hollow despair, you are still a human being and you deserve every ounce of respect that everyone else does. You don’t need to be successful or productive or pretty or okay to matter. You are a human being. You matter. Period.”
Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog: www.patriciatomasiblog.wordpress.com