You Asked It

Just Wondering

This is definitely maybe exactly what you need to do.

How can I get along better with my mom? She says she doesn’t understand me. She wants me to be this quirky, socially awkward kid, but I’m very involved at school and when I was homecoming queen it felt like she was disappointed in me. I love my mom and she’s a great person, so I don’t understand why I just feel so annoyed with her all the time.

Wow, I’ve never heard of a mom who would be disappointed that her daughter was homecoming queen. (Also, congratulations! That is awesome.)

It sounds like your mom is a little plagued by the B.S. idea that only weird, awkward, tortured people can be smart. Next time your mom makes some kind of remark, mention that. There are a few points you might want to hit. She will be impressed with your maturity and (hopefully) start treating you with more respect:

—You have things that you are passionate about and they’re not her things, but you’re passionate about something, which is more passion than a lot of teenagers would care to admit they have.

—You work hard, and it would be nice if she appreciated that. When you get stressed, it doesn’t help if your mom makes you feel like it’s not worth it.

—Your mom is fitting you into these stereotypes that only exist in, like, Carrie. Doesn’t she want you to be multi-dimensional? You go through tons of phases as a teenager, and it’d be nice to feel like you can do this comfortably, and absorb everything with an honest perspective without other people’s opinions swaying your view.

—Nothing is more annoying than a contrived quirky kid! Remember when Juno came out and everyone (including myself, ugh) started talking like a soft-spoken, self-effacing robot?

—It might not be her intention to make you feel this way, but could she please just be more conscious of how she reacts to your choices? It’s SO important to make it clear that you know she’s not trying to guilt you because if you leave this out, it’ll seem like you’re saying she is trying to make her daughter feel bad about herself, which sounds like an attack on the job she’s done as a mom.

Most important, just say how you really feel, whether you follow this script or not. Cheesy, I know, but my checklist of arguments won’t do anything if you’re not honest. If that doesn’t work, try again a couple more times. Then give up and let her see it for herself. And, honestly, she might not see it for herself and she might continue to act this way. You’ll have done all you could so don’t feel bad. You and I are lucky to have family members who care about us, but they don’t have to approve of or understand everything we do. Also, it’s great that you have a community, like those who voted you homecoming queen, who support you in what you do.

Also, “feeling annoyed with her all the time” will probably not go away, for many of us, until we are adults. Some of your angst towards your parents is kind of unavoidable. If you’re the type who acts on this angst and gets in fights, apologize when you can bring yourself to (I know it’s hard) and explain that it’s just this TEENAGE thing and you don’t really mean it. As a teenager once herself, she will probably understand that.

I really hope this helps. Let us know how it goes, OK? And whether your mom sees what you’re saying or not, I’m glad you’re able to recognize that just because she doesn’t approve of your hobbies doesn’t mean they’re bad. You just keep doing you. —Tavi

I am going to start going to a psychologist, but I thought I’d ask for your advice first. I’ve had panic attacks, lost my vision, and lost part of my memory—all due to stress. I stress out over everything, whether it’s the next day at school or because I lost a stupid calculator. I always think about my body and whether I am as skinny and “hot” as I should be. —Clara

Well, first of all, you’ve accomplished the hardest thing: deciding to go to a psychologist. It took me a long time to come to terms with the idea of going to therapy because I didn’t want to be that kind of person—you know, someone who might need a little help. So well done. That’s brave and smart and sensible of you and makes me believe you are more in control than you perhaps think.

There are all kinds of different specific therapies out there. You might just be talking it out with someone or doing something more structured like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). My advice for entering into either kind is to be patient. It can take a while to warm up to the psychologist, but it will happen eventually. Just think of it from their point of view—you are a completely new person that they know absolutely nothing about. But they will most likely figure you out—that’s their job! So try your hardest to be as open as possible and tell the truth. They will not judge you because they have seen it all! You have nothing to feel ashamed about. Also, if you don’t want to tell a soul that you are going to therapy, that’s fine, too.

I myself am not a psychologist so I can’t give you specific solutions for the issues you talk about, but let me tell you, I have a lot of experience with panic attacks, stress, and worries about school. The thing is, though, the things that help me deal might not help you. Everyone is different and it may take a while to find relevant coping strategies. Sometimes you may wish for some miracle cure, but unfortunately, that doesn’t exist. It can be a long slog and it is a continuing experience. Whatever happens, you will be OK. I have gained a mass of valuable information about myself and about how my mind works and that knowledge can make everything seem less overwhelming to me.

I can explain a technique that has begun to help. It’s called “externalizing” and you imagine all these feelings as separate entities. Emphasis on they are not a part of you. Then, instead of fighting yourself, you’re fighting an external source. I imagine my anxiety as a ball and chain around my feet that weighs me down and makes going anywhere or doing anything much harder than it needs to be. But it also means it isn’t something that will always be part of me. It means that I have the ability to take an axe to that chain. Instead of saying “my anxiety,” I say “the anxiety.” This might sound self-help-y and a little cheesy, but it really does help. This is just one of many techniques that you will hopefully learn about.

Now about the body image: what you have described is what, unfortunately, many teenage girls worry about day-to-day (including me). The thing is, when you are stuck in your own body and head, it somehow becomes acceptable for you to hold yourself up to an impossible standard and this can go on and on forever. You have to remember that it is not a physical problem. It’s your mind picking on itself and, for some reason, it becomes OK because you are doing it to yourself. If you were doing it to someone else, would that be acceptable? No. If you had a friend that treated you the way you treat yourself, would you still want to be their friend? Most likely not. I know it is much, much harder than it ever sounds, but you really have to give yourself a break because I imagine all this thinking about your body is not helping your stress and panic attacks! Again, this is an issue you can talk about at length with a psychologist.

Just know that you are not the first to feel this way and you won’t be the last. You are not alone. In fact, you’re in pretty good company (myself included). With a psychologist’s help, I know that one way or another you’ll be able to deal with all this crap and you’ll come out the other side a stronger person. —Naomi

How can I break the cycle of self-harm? —Katherine

First of all, Katherine, I want to say that you’ve taken the very first step in breaking it: recognizing that you are stuck in a cycle and asking for help. So good job!

Breaking the cycle of self-harm is a hard thing to do, but it is possible. I recognized my own cycle when I was 15 or 16. I think one of the most essential steps to breaking it is talking about it. I know this is a really scary step to most people who self-harm because one of the reasons for the behavior is that you’re trying to keep your feelings bottled up and you don’t want to share what is bothering you. In fact, you may not even know what is causing you to feel the way you do. Finding words and a way to talk about your feelings is a key part of healing, though. Take baby steps if you need to. Start by writing, drawing or collaging in a journal to express yourself. Then find someone you trust to talk to or show those journal pages. A friend or family member is a good place to start and for some people the support of friends and/or family may be all they need, but for many others, myself included, finding a professional therapist to talk is necessary. It’s not something you should be ashamed of. A good therapist will listen to you and you won’t have to worry about them judging you or getting offended or hurt.

Going through your school or your family doctor is a good way to find a therapist, but you can also find resources at www.selfinjury.com or by calling 1-800-DONT-CUT (366-8288). The organization that runs that website and phone number, S.A.F.E. (Self Abuse Finally Ends), also has treatment programs so that if you think your cycle of self-harm has gotten really out of control you can seek inpatient or outpatient care. You should most definitely call that number if you are in a moment of crisis.

In addition to talking both when you are in crisis and when you aren’t, one of the best things you can do to break the cycle of self-harm is to replace harmful behaviors with healthy, feel-good activities. Like to write, paint, make clothing or play guitar? Focus your energy on that. Also: surround yourself with the people in your life that put you in a good frame of mind, and difficult as it may be, distance yourself from the people who either make you feel like hurting yourself or who you do self-destructive things with.

Again, I know some of this can sound really hard or scary, so let’s end on a fun and easy note. When you are at your lowest of lows, you might forget what and who makes you feel happy. Sit down and write a list of the things you love to do and the good people in your life that you can spend time with. If you need inspiration for the list, you might want to check out this one that I compiled for Rookie. A book that I have also found helpful for getting out of the self-harm mindset and building coping techniques is The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook. I know it sounds all technical, but it’s not and the workbook aspect is really kind of fun if you’re one of those people who like magazine quizzes and getting to know themselves. Good luck. You CAN do this! —Stephanie

I keep on hearing my parents having sex. It’s really gross and I have no idea what to do about it. I can’t imagine myself saying, “By the way, Mom, could you keep your orgasms down a little? I’m trying to sleep.” And it’s super-annoying because I live in an old house and the walls are really thin. They know this. They keep their door open. I’m truly at a loss and these weekly night terrors are really messing up my sleep. Any advice? Please! —Mimi

Oh, Mimi, this is a tricky one. The good news is your parents are having great sex! The bad news is they’re your parents!

I realize it’s really difficult to get past the eewwwwwww factor to be pleased that your parents have a terrific sex life, but you should, because a lot of parents don’t. Awkward as it is, this is much better than having parents who are unhappy and fight all the time. And you don’t want to do anything to inhibit their enjoyment of each other and make them feel self-conscious.

At the same time, you shouldn’t have to listen to it. They need to respect your privacy and comfort level just as they would ask you to respect theirs. So excruciating as this prospect might be, you need to talk to them about it. By “them” I mean your mom, who I’m guessing is easier to approach, unless you feel more at ease with your dad. The conversation can be really short, but the key thing is to keep it positive and mean it: “Mom, I’m really glad that you and Dad are happy together, but the reason I know that you are is because I can hear you having sex. I want you to carry on, but I’d really appreciate it if you could keep your bedroom door closed when you do. Plus, there’s this really cool pair of noise-reducing headphones that you can order on Amazon that would make a great gift for me.” —Cindy

I’m homeschooled, and I LOVE IT. But when I tell people that I’m homeschooled, they look at me funny and act like I’m an un-socialized freak. How do I make people understand that most homeschooled children are just like public or private school children?

Ah, the homeschooled question. As a fellow homeschooler, I am always happy to meet another of our tribe! Because it’s true: everything’s all cool until you drop the “went to high school in my living room” bomb. And then, people start looking at you with an expression that pretty much means they think you grew up in a freaky spaceship cult.

Here’s the thing: what you are going through is not uncommon. This is something about your identity that invites tons of stereotypes. And that’s true for lots of people! In fact, being homeschooled is one of the less damaging stereotypes—there aren’t any laws against homeschooled people getting married. But it doesn’t feel minor when people suddenly stop looking at you as YOU and start looking at you as some freaky creature.

As with many stereotypes, the key is for YOU to know that they’re untrue and to just be yourself. You might be different—your experiences are different, certainly. But difference can be good. I will be the first person to joke about how homeschooling made me weird; for example, I get really obsessed with movies and TV shows about high school. It’s a culture that I never experienced, so I find it fascinating. “Tell me, human, what is this thing you call ‘prom’?” But my experience also gave me certain skills. Homeschooling valued independent thought, setting your own priorities for what you wanted to learn, and being responsible for your own success. As far as my mom was concerned, it didn’t matter if I wanted to study woodworking; the only thing that mattered was, by the end of the semester, I had to be a darn good woodworker. A lot of people in my field have had professional training, which I never did. They got internships or they went to journalism school. And I can still keep up. You know why I can keep up? I was homeschooled, yo. I know how to teach myself.

And I’m betting that’s the case for you, too. Being homeschooled has given you all sorts of cool, unique qualities. You might NOT be just like everybody else. But who wants to only hang out with people just like themselves? Boring people, that’s who. The cool people will see you for who you are. And the people who can’t handle someone different? Let me tell you, they are going to do REALLY BADLY when school ends and they have to deal with the world. I hear there are all sorts of people with differences there! Some people are even from entirely different countries! You, on the other hand, are going to know how to deal with difference and treat people like people. And that is going to earn you a whole lot of friends. —Sady

I’m a freshman in high school, and lots of senior boys have taken an interest in me. But one in particular has caught my eye. I really like him, but I’m worried people might judge my character because I have been speaking to older fellows. So should I go for it? —Julian

Hi Julian! Wait, doesn’t every freshman want to date a senior, at least secretly? If not, things have certainly changed since I graduated in 2008. Definitely go for it, I think, as long as you genuinely like the guy. I feel like that should really be the deciding factor here, not whether people are going to be gossips, because of course they are. It’s high school—people are always going to find something to say about you, so you might as well be the awesome person who focuses on making herself happy in her own decisions while the whisperers are busy running their uninformed mouths about the situations of other people.

Also, I have always dated older people. Always, always, always, and it’s for the cliched but very real reason that, as everyone will tell you, they tend to be more mature. If you think that your maturity level might match that of your potential suitor enough for you to date him without feeling weird about your differences, you should also be self-possessed enough to overlook people’s petty comments about you. Good luck! —Amy Rose

35 Comments

  • moonchild January 31st, 2012 7:13 PM

    I’m so very sorry, mimi. So very sorry.

  • Kate January 31st, 2012 7:14 PM

    I totally symapthise with Mimi. I can hear my parents having sex ALL THE TIME. Sometimes in the MIDDLE OF THE DAY! I’m glad that they’re happy – some of my friends have never even seen their parents kiss or hug, which I think is kind of unhealthy. But seriously, parents, keep the moaning to a minimum!

  • Gina Nicoletta January 31st, 2012 7:18 PM

    Julian– You may want to check your statutory rape/romeo and juliet laws first. If things got physical (by your choice), he could still be forced to become a registered sex offender.

  • hearts and darts January 31st, 2012 7:20 PM

    Tavi, I think you left some things out on your advice to LW1.

    It seems like what she’s dealing with is that she came out the complete opposite of her mom. The usual cliche is about the beauty queen mom who has a geeky daughter – in this case it’s flip-flopped!

    The way her mom is dealing with it isn’t cool, of course. But parents make the same mistakes as all of us – one of the ones they make in particular is having an preconceived idea about how their child should turn out, personality and all. It’s an easy thing to judge, but it’s also probably one of those irrational feelings her mom is struggling with. She may not realize what she is saying offhand.

    As someone who is also very different from my mom, I know how it feels to clash and how much it sucks if you feel like you’re disappointing her in some way for just being you.

    Your advice on starting that conversation was very good.

    Oh, and “towards” is not a word in writing. Always “toward”. :)

    • zoeah January 31st, 2012 8:28 PM

      I think that tavi’s advice was very well considered, and, if I’m honest, i read your comment as somewhat patronizing.

      Also, although more commonly used in the UK than the US, TOWARDS is very much a word, and can be used interchangeably with TOWARD. I’m from the UK, and here nobody ever uses TOWARD…

    • Three Plays by Margot Tenenbaum January 31st, 2012 11:59 PM

      Descriptivism roolz, prescriptivism drools.

  • amyflorence14 January 31st, 2012 7:22 PM

    It’s refreshing to hear Self-Harm being spoken about, it’s such a taboo subject. I was stuck in a cycle of my own a few years back and while I’m still a self-harmer now, it doesn’t control my life anymore. Stay strong Katherine.

  • callie January 31st, 2012 7:33 PM

    towards is so a word! tavi is just channeling her inner english person. blimey.

  • MissKnowItAll January 31st, 2012 8:01 PM

    Mimi, I feel you girl.
    Julian, personally I think you should get to know him better. I’m a freshman too and I have crushes on sophomores and some juniors but I sort of distance from the Seniors because they’ll be graduating next year and they’ve all known each other for so long. I think it might be weird if you don’t know him that well but If you’re friends there’s no reason you shouldn’t

  • I.ila January 31st, 2012 8:13 PM

    Okay, one question; I have a really really horrible gaydar for boys. And I don’t know to many of them, going to an all girls school. And there’s this guy who i think I like (he is a year older than me) but he seems like he might be gay, which would be a problem.

  • I.ila January 31st, 2012 8:14 PM

    Also, something completely unrelated but i really want to tell this to someone: There is this amazingly hot senior in a play i’m in and i play a little girl and he’s richard III (the play is richard III) and at one point he puts his hand on my shoulder!! he’s supposed to be creepy but i sort of inwardly freak out every time. aoirjg

    • MissKnowItAll January 31st, 2012 9:08 PM

      Lucky! my can’t even get my crush to give me a hug.

  • Leira Zetroc January 31st, 2012 8:17 PM

    This is such an awesome collection of Q&A covering such a wide variety of topics! I really like how you cover so many major issues teens go through in just one post. I can relate to a lot of these! Especially the homeschooling part. I was taught at home and that always made me feel super different and awkward from other people. I feel better knowing that there are those who understand what I went through!

    http://thequietspaces.blogspot.com/

  • Abby January 31st, 2012 8:26 PM

    Mimi, I am so very sorry… I hear my parents all the time. And I stumbled upon their (not very well-hidden) stash of… erm… toys. Yeah. And it doesn’t help that they often play grab-ass in the kitchen. But I’ve realized that a few well-placed phrases such as, “Mom, I’d really like to think that I was brought by a stork. Let’s try to keep up that illusion” can really get the message across.

  • SweetThangVintage January 31st, 2012 8:26 PM

    I’m home schooled too! And I love it! My friends are always asking how home schooling works, and I’m always asking how public school works!

    Wait…so what’s home room again?

  • Giulia Lain January 31st, 2012 8:30 PM

    Oh, Mimi, sometimes I have the same problem! And I feel super unconfortable… but well, I try don’t get worried about it. At least, if they’re having sex, they’re getting along well (because my parents fight a lot).

  • Devon Wolf Sings January 31st, 2012 8:41 PM

    Dude, homeschoolers are the best. I homeschooled for two years but I graduated from public school. My boyfriend has been homeschooled almost all of his life and he’s incredibly well-adjusted, and not just for a homeschool kid. Don’t let anybody give you guff about it. He’s got better social skills than most of the people I graduated with.

  • marit January 31st, 2012 9:00 PM

    Clara’s question really almost described how I felt at one point, though luckily my anxiety was never that extreme. Naomi’s answer is spot-on – the externalizing part is what has helped me the most. Just be open to therapy and know that the strongest people are actually the ones who can recognize when they need help!

  • rainymouse January 31st, 2012 9:21 PM

    I loved the homeschooling article! I can’t stand it when people ask why you can’t just go to a school with ‘regular kids’ because they’ve just set you up to sound like an incredible snob no matter what you say.

  • missblack January 31st, 2012 9:49 PM

    Ah, poor Mimi. (I laughed on the inside, though.)

    Also, it’s super nice to see all these other homeschoolers who read Rookie! I proudly join the ranks – I’ve been homeschooled my entire life and I love it, wouldn’t change it if I could. However, my little sister just started going to public high school and when all her new friends found out she was homeschooled (after she’d been there for a while) they were all like, WHAT? I THOUGHT HOMESCHOOLERS WERE FREAKS!!

    Little&Trivial

  • stephanoosk January 31st, 2012 9:51 PM

    ugh, mimi, please take solace in the fact that you are by no means alone, and last year (when i encountered the same situation), i made the mistake of telling a few of my close friends in hope that they would offer advice (example: “steph! come live with me!”)
    anyways, my great idea backfired and since then, all “that’s what she said” (and related) jokes have turned into “steph’s mom” jokes and i hate it and it is a generally sucky situation. so anyways.

  • saranev January 31st, 2012 10:07 PM

    ROOKIE I LOVE YOU SO VERY MUCHLY.

  • lynellmarie January 31st, 2012 10:48 PM

    My problem is when my ‘rent’s have sex in the same hotel room as me, with the noise all the way up and with the sheets on the floor. Plus, I always have trouble sleeping at night. Ugh.

  • January 31st, 2012 11:04 PM

    “…contrived quirky kid!” I never really thought of Juno as being quirky – I just thought she had a bit of a dead-pan attitude? So yes, if Juno was meant to be quirky, then I completely agree that it came off as fake. I guess I associate quirky with a kind of unconscious intensity and creativity. Not ‘unconscious’ in like, having passed out, because then people wouldn’t be able to see what kind of personality you had, but the other ‘unconscious’ :-)

    • Tavi January 31st, 2012 11:11 PM

      i like juno. i don’t think she was meant to be quirky necessarily, though it does irk me how people got all VOICE OF A GENERATION after it came out, though of course that’s not the fault of the makers.

  • she_never_was February 1st, 2012 1:24 AM

    I loved reading about the homeschooled girl in this q&a. Being homeschooled was one of the greatest things I got from my childhood. I learned so much about everything, and it was FUN!

    And it didn’t effect me negatively. :] I’m just as smart, if not smarter, than my college classmates. Also, now that I’m in college, my being homeschooled really doesn’t matter. No one cares! :]

  • Susann February 1st, 2012 1:56 AM

    I’m always impressed by how good the advice on here it! :)

    http://fashioninpepperland.blogspot.com

  • rrruthie February 1st, 2012 11:49 AM

    Rookie. Y’all are actually the funniest.

  • pangirl February 1st, 2012 12:17 PM

    Goodness, I wish I had Rookie when I was a teenager. I was homeschooled too and even though I absolutely loved it, people treated me like I was an alien. Adults always tried to tell me how wonderful and smart homeschooled kids turned out to be, but it would have meant so much more if I heard it from girls my age. So, I’m kinda gifting this homeschool article to my twelve year old self! Thanks Rookie!

  • KinuKinu February 1st, 2012 1:27 PM

    Im homeschooled and I love it!! I think the only downside is I dont have anybody to talk to.I have one pen-pal but I want a person I can physically talk to.Homeschooling has made me even more socially awkward than I was before.I cant rack up the strength to say Hi. Other than that,I love homeschooling!

  • theatreandcostumes February 1st, 2012 7:53 PM

    Ok, so I read this site obsessively but I have never felt so compelled to comment until I read this post. The question and answer that really struck me was the question about breaking the cycle of self harm. To avoid boring anyone, I’ll keep it short: I was addicted to a few forms of self harm for a really long time. I was seeing a therapist for at least half the time I was dealing with these things, and we both knew about what I was doing, but what she knew and I later realized is that until you have DECIDED that you want to stop harming yourself, it’s nearly impossible to stop. No amount of therapy or pressure or whatever will convince you that self-harm isn’t still something you feel compelled to do until YOU realize that you want to be better. It took me at least 11 years to get to that point, and I’m only 19. But let me tell you, now that I’m getting there and I’ve made the decision that I want to be healthy for myself, I am so much happier most of the time. I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t struggle anyone with the temptation to self harm. I do. For a while it was every hour, every day. But every time I had the strength to say no, I got stronger. And there were times when I gave in and harmed myself, and I felt like I had failed. But relapse is part of recovery. That is probably the most important sentence I have ever learned. Now I can go weeks without a thought of wanting to harm myself crossing my mind. It has been an enormously difficult journey. I couldn’t have done it without my therapist. But it’s so worth it.
    You can do this.

  • theatreandcostumes February 1st, 2012 7:56 PM

    Okay and I know my other post was ridiculously long, but one more thing: The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Workbook is THE BOMB. I found it a year ago and I am so glad that I did.

  • missmadness February 2nd, 2012 12:21 PM

    @Julian: my ONLY comment about dating a senior when you’re a freshman would be this: I did the same thing, and when college time rolled around for him, it really sucked for me. We were at completely different points in our lives (he was in college…I was studying sophomore english…) and it just couldn’t work anymore. We dated on and off until I was in college, and it really just put a damper on my high school years, because I had this guy that lived two hours away and we really liked each other (which was nice) but we both felt awkward about the distance/difference (which was not nice).

    HOWEVER, the darling I’m dating now is still 4ish years older, but 20 and 23/24 seems to work better than 14/15 and 18. in the end, though, take my man Sir George Etherege’s Advice: “Were it not madness to deny/To live because we’re sure to die?” and go for it if you want to.

  • Ellie February 10th, 2012 11:49 PM

    A member of the Homeschool Tribe! *whooping war cry* Come! Come join us! Come!
    I love being homeschooled too. I’m going to a small private high school next year though, which I’m very excited about. :D

  • Pashupati February 15th, 2012 11:44 PM

    Clara, I’ve also panic attacks though less these days and I know it’s unoriginal but I want to tell you you’re not alone :) A thing I noticed is I am way more stressed and am more likely to have panic attacks when I’m tired (but obviously I have more trouble sleeping when I’m stressed, except when I was so stressed my body is really tired.) Congrats on your decision of seeing a psy! What I did when I was really bad but couldn’t go to one (long story) and can be used in addition, was using a website called MoodGym which is based on cognitive therapy methods and make “Beck’s files” (fiches de Beck) once feeling calm enough, which are complicated to explain but it’s basically an help to think about feelings and triggers. The panic attacks can be triggered by one thing but come from multiple things added upon each others. I know it’s late to comment, but I hope you keep going and wish you well.