“You’re not depressed, you’re just selfish,” her father’s words sank into her bones. In an instant, the world became tinier than it already felt in her restless body. As a 16-year-old already feeling lost in her skin and seeking a way out through peers, self-harm, sex, and substances, she unleashed what she’d been hiding. “I think I need help,” the bravest words a human can muster, became another windowless room, rather than a way out of this burning home crumbling in on itself. Now she knew that she was alone; this was not a safe place to be brave. So she ventured deeper into the fire and prayed that her lungs would someday know the taste of fresh air.
Judgments by trusted adults come in many different forms. When people that girls look up to say, “it’s your fault,” “life is just hard,” “you’ll get over it,” even the well-intentioned, “you’re resilient,” she’s told that she’s alone in this journey. And that’s just not true. There are many spaces for young people to be seen and heard—and it is up to each of us to create more of them.
Each individual has something wonderful to offer youth; perhaps your words have been said before, but not in the way you can speak them. As mentors, parents, peers, teachers, neighbors, and leaders we all have a vital role to help young people through the vast challenges of our time. Being authentic, honoring silence, listening deeply, and asking for help may be a few keys to support our youth—and help heal the young person still within each of us.
Although taking on important social roles like mentorship can be of immense value, being who you are is simply enough. You don’t need to do more, be more, or even be healed from your past to provide valuable support for others. Your trials become treasure when you serve others through the lens you now have—and if you’re not ready to share your journey yet, your honesty has the potential to speak volumes more than advice-giving can. You may be the first person to give someone else permission to be true, simply by being yourself.
Let silence speak.
Mentors don’t have to give advice. Mentors don’t have to have the perfect words. In especially trying times, mentors can let silence be a guiding force. When in conversation, many people feel a need to fill the silence. A “pregnant pause” allows for personal reflection, space to think, and as Jungian tradition suggests—this is especially important for introverts. In the extroverted, “just stay positive” culture in the U.S., holding silence to contemplate, imagine, and reflect from the inside out has lost its value.
Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David challenges this culture that prizes relentless positivity over emotional truth. When we avoid uncomfortable silence at all costs, what we are saying is, “my comfort is more important than your reality.” However, helping youth feel that they’re not alone is more valuable than fixing or filling the silence, especially when they are telling us something that is not easy to hear.
Support the person, not just the problem.
It’s easy to get tunnel-visioned by a problem—stress, anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, disordered eating habits, and general risky behaviors—and get into the mindset of fixing, solving, and seeking solutions. The addiction counseling strategy called Motivational Interviewing describes this often automatic response as the “righting reflex.” It’s natural as empathetic beings to want to help solve a problem, however, young people aren’t a problem to be solved. Young people are humans needing to be seen and heard.
When we support youth as people—rather than a problem that needs to be fixed—the higher likelihood of them coming to their own conclusions. People will change when they are ready to change, and we can help get them get ready by listening, being curious about their experience, validating their emotions, and affirming their strengths for getting this far. Building an authentic relationship is one of the best ways we can provide sensitive, individualized, and consistent support to show young people they are not alone—and you’re not alone in this work either.
It’s ok to ask for help.
In your pursuit of non-judgmentally supporting young people, how are you doing the same for the young person within you? There is still a child within who remembers those words her teacher told her, a teen who remembers the words their father spoke. Especially if you’ve had a challenging childhood or adolescence—which many have—this is often the most challenging part of mentorship. This work can bring up a lot that you didn’t expect, and it’s ok for you to ask for help too.
How you take care of yourself, how you heal, how you speak your truth—whatever that may look like on any given day—this is mentorship. When you give yourself permission to be human, you give those around you permission as well.
For all people who feel like these days are too much to handle alone, please remember that there are free resources to help with whatever you are going through. You are not selfish, wrong, or weak for asking for help—you are strong, you have a story that only you can share, and there are so many others out there waiting to hear.
Resources: local and national hotline
24/7 National Crisis Text Line 24-Hour Crisis Line: Text 741-741
24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 800-273-TALK OR 800-273-8255
24/7 Bozeman Help Center Crisis Line: Call 406-586-3333
Montana Crisis Recovery Program (COVID-19 specific crisis call center): Call 877-503-0833 (Everyday of the week, 10:00 am – 10:00 pm)
Montana Warm Line / Non-Crisis Support Line: Call 877-688-3377 (Mon – Fri 4:00 pm – 10:00 pm & Sat – Sun 10:00 am – 10:00 pm)
The aspen shivers. There are thousands of others just like her, but she overlooks the sanctuary that surrounds her. She only feels her frozen bones as her costume falls to decompose. She is naked and alone in the forest as the land cycles into winter.
In whatever ways grief has prepared you for this year’s wintertide, you’re not alone if you feel completely exposed to the elements.
As all of us learn at some point in our lives, wellness is continuous action—not a destination. Seasons of winter, loss, and uncertainty either awake or shake us.
Along this journey, we may arrive on a mountain peak of well-being for a moment and enjoy the beautiful view, remembering all that our bodies and minds are capable of feeling—one glimpse of the calm. And then we return, and not always to a safe place. We return to our conditioning, our obligations, our “shoulds,” and the misty valley below, obscuring our genuine vision. We stay on the run.
I take flight from the uncertainty in the valley. I fight the systems of oppression with these same oppressive rules driving my change. I freeze at death’s sting. It’s harder than ever to return to safety and calm with unlimited access to all that’s wrong in the world.
As Emily and Amelia Nagoski share in their book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, “To be “well” is not to live in a state of perpetual safety and calm, but to move fluidly from a state of adversity, risk, adventure, or excitement, back to safety and calm, and out again. Stress is not bad for you; being stuck is bad for you.” There’s a time for everything under the sun.
The sympathetic (fight, flight, freeze) and parasympathetic (rest) systems are survival mechanisms. We need relaxation to restore and recover—but excitement and risk show us what we’re capable of; adventure and adversity strengthen us. The stress in our bodies is on purpose, but staying there can cause chronic dis-ease. Rumination keeps us stuck, and so does suppression. Ideally, we have a balance.
The individual members of a forest find this fluid balance by communicating below the surface, providing information through mycorrhizal networks: a symbiotic relationship when fungus attaches to hair-like tree roots to connect trees with others. Without the community I once required for my balance, I have so much that I haven’t said. I feel alone. My roots long for connection.
We are blessed in many ways that our roots aren’t physical. Whether it feels like a blessing or not, we’ve learned to connect without touch, and our roots are deeper for it. Like the forest that surrounds one lone aspen, we are profoundly united.
Like the earth, my body knows what she is doing. In every season, she knows. If I allow the stress and rest to move, my body will flow through another season—inside and outside. I give and receive under the surface of this frozen land.
When we speak our body’s language, she responds. Whether through worship’s windy chills, the fire of a run, the grounding of a walk, a wave of tears moving through me, I am clothed in peace.
One way the soft animal of our body may respond to hardship on the horizon, like plants in winter, is to dive into our roots—protecting, conserving, waiting for safety in the depths (Mary Oliver). We may fear that we are alone here and will be here forever, even though we know that this is the sabbath we need. A sanctuary now surrounds you.
Exercising the Balance:
When was the last time you felt a deeply rooted positive emotion such as connection, joy, laughter, wonder, enthusiasm, or curiosity? Write, draw, meditate on, or speak to a trusted person about—what you felt, how you know it was good, and where inside your body you felt it.
Consider what environments help you experience this sensation? (Perhaps it’s setting boundaries around news or social media, persistence in reaching out to a friend you long to connect with, or walking at the park even if you don’t feel like it.)
Make a plan to take one step to amplify the still, small voice of peace inside you.
How have your roots been feeling recently? Your roots are the foundation of all your work on the surface.
Draw your current root system: What’s your soil made of?What do your roots look and feel like? What are you rooting into? If this current root system inside you is not helping you grow, what would you change?
Draw your new ideal, most wonderful root system. What is one step you can take today to nurture and nourish your depths?
You know your way: Your body is the map, your heart the container to bring along all you need for the journey ahead.
We rise to mountain tops and we fall into valleys. The shadows leave what is true, if we stay a while. But we don’t, we seek the temporary light in the valley. Cover up the dark. Run away. We leave and we return, again and again. Wishing to be on the ascent.
To feel deeply is to know life. To hurt is to taste life. To grieve is to touch life only for a moment, and then let her go.
The sun shines in the day, the moon and stars guide you by night. You are safe. You are protected. But this will hurt.
We must be here, to be there. The valley has much to teach us, blessings of skin and sand and sage. Stay here a while, but leave the weight. Receive your rest. And when it is time, take up your things and go softly.
3 Journaling Prompts:
If you could time-travel to 2019, what advice would you give to yourself or others? How can you still share or receive this advice now?
When was a time that you sat with your discomfort instead of distracting yourself? What was it like?
Who is a person that is going through a challenging season that you can have more compassion for? What does your compassion for them look like?
These dry, cracked, and scarred hands seem to stare back with weary eyes. They are overworked from following my restless lead. I have kept them busy storing up for my future. They’ve been gathering and keeping, and it all keeps slipping through my fingers.
In their life of toil, these hands have hurt and they have healed—and they remember it all. They show a mother’s courage, a father’s resolve, and humanity’s ferocity. They are slowly, and yet too fast, growing into the skin which will forever contain them. I need to let them do what they’re created for before it’s too late. I need to let go.
All of your stories—past and future—are written in the body. Your hands are no exception. Your hands know the way of the work you must do—the way to bring your within out into the world. Do you not know that here, in these wise, weathered, and empty hands, is your gift?
If you stop trying to gather, all the words spoken infinite times before will take on new life in your hands. Are you open to receiving the guidance and direction and answers for all of your questions? If you are open, who are you listening to?
Are you turning your ear toward the clamor? Or your own knowing?
In this surreal time where we cannot consume as we’ve been so used to, we have an essential choice—to seek out more noise to try and fill the void, or put our ear to our depths and listen.
If change really does start from the inside out, this external shifting will not change us. Circumstances have changed, stress and anxiety and health has changed, but we are still the same going through them.
We will always be stirring if we don’t allow these times to stir us up. We may as well stay hidden inside, even when we can finally come out of our homes.
If I stay quiet even when I have something to say—even when I don’t know how to say it—what purpose does my voice have?
What kind of life will my heart live inside me if I never allow it to fill up to overflow, so that others may taste my purpose?
What good is purpose if it stays in winter’s sleep even when spring comes?
Our life is nothing without the heart, so why do we keep her beat from being heard? Maybe it’s because this clock beneath the ribs frightens us, reminding us that we are not forever. But this beating heart inside you will heal you, whether or not you let her. She will guide your true work through your hands if you just listen to her. Sense her, touch her, know her. Don’t be afraid. Feel her love and pain together as one flesh. One body—your body, who already knows with every cell how to be fully alive. You are a safe place for a beating heart.
I have great confidence in you. In your purpose. In your God-given ability. In your strength and resiliency. You can do what you’re setting out to do. You will do that which is written in your body.
Some days it will look different, morphing along the way—but this is normal and good because your dream is alive. It grows with you, eager to create more in you, especially during changing times.
Don’t fear these changes. Embrace them, because this right here is what you’ve been seeking in all your wandering, in all your restlessness. You are exactly where you need to be to move on the dream that has been moving in you. You have always been and will forever be the perfect human to make this into your Truth. What are your heart and hands craving today? Do just one action—one step, big or small, toward this.
Start here, where you are. Where you are today. No matter what was there yesterday or will be here tomorrow. What you are and have now is all you need for this journey.
To be there, you must be here. Those who cut corners will create a circle and end up right back here, where they were. This moment has something great to teach you. So do the next good thing, the next hard thing. Lean in to the outside change and let it change you as if you were really living for eternity. Create one good thing today as if it could make all the difference. A love note, a song, a dance, a warm drink, a kind word, banana bread—create something good today.
Your words have been sung before, but not in the way you can sing them. Your lips know how to speak this love and sound into life. Your heart knows how to keep a beat, and your hands know how to dance along.
Yesterday—during the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere—I was still by the fireplace, overflowing with gratitude for the warmth and shelter in this sustained “winter,” for solitude, for health. I listened to the wind cut through the windows causing eerie whistling and deep-bellied growls. I watched the pines dance to the wind’s heavy-metal song. Then I went outside for a short run only to come back to the warmth of the fire after 30 minutes.
Creation does not know of our calendar year, our comfort-zones, our illnesses, or our fears. She continues to dance through her seasons of fertility, harvest, and stillness, taking only what she needs and giving all she can. She is a gift from God. We can see her teachings if we slow down.
When the surface of our land looks so still and fragile, nature keeps everything alive in her depths. And since you and I are part of it all, we contain this wisdom too. We just have to look a little more closely—under the surface.
Nature uses the season of winter to rest from the productivity of spring, summer, and autumn. We all know this but rarely practice it. In my lifetime we haven’t ever had to cease producing and consuming. We haven’t had to rest. There’s new growth and ideas and goods always sprouting up. We’ve been encouraged to keep up, keep going, do more. Our soil is overwhelmed and our roots have become entangled. Now, we are discouraged from even going out to non-essential spaces: a brutal halt from the over-activity we’re so accustomed to.
There’s so much to learn from this unprecedented stillness. Perhaps, we need this mandatory winter to restore our health, our energy, and our purpose. When our lives reunite again, what will you remember from this season: Death’s cold sting, or the fire you still chose to ignite? I hope you recall the warmth of our flames.
Whether you choose to go outside for fresh air or stay cozy indoors, allow the stillness to soak in. Question what is essential. Listen, observe, and act according to what you notice beneath the surface of all that is happening right now. What we choose to prepare in this inner-winter can set our lives, our communities, and our world up for a fruitful spring to come.
In the depth of winter, it’s been difficult to imagine the lush growth of spring. I’m not sure if you’ve been experiencing this as well where you are, but in Montana, the weight of the snow and the deep dark is pressing in on us.
Through each outside season over the last year and a half, I’ve been working with teenagers in their last seasons as “kids.” Winter, is especially hard for them. It has been one of the greatest blessings to teach and to learn from these young people who are going through it. Life is so hard at that age—or really, any age. The past springs up when we’re least expecting it, hormonal imbalances reveal our fragility, “I should” seeps into the way we interact with the world and others, hindering us from actually becoming what we’re made for.
In this season in my work, I’ve been talking to the “kids” about self-care and their vision for the future. I’ve realized through these conversations, it is so hard to nurture yourself when doubt speaks louder than anything else. Instead of creating more “shoulds” throughout our day, I want to take a step back to the lessons I’ve taught and learned throughout this work.
Breath. Surrender. Forgiveness. Honesty. Opening my eyes and looking at my pain even when I want to keep them closed. This leads to the healing I seek. I need to practice what I preach. I need to share this story with you.
This past year has been one of the most challenging years I’ve made it through—even more challenging than high school. Within 12 months, I’ve had two lengthy spells of postpartum depression—without a child on the other side. I feel it in my throat, making it harder to speak my truth. I feel this past year in my chest, some days taking over my breath and sending me into a spiral of anxiety. I struggle to trust my body most days, even though I know in my mind that it contains all the wisdom I need to heal.
This life is the most beautiful and rare gift. That I am writing this—and you are reading it is a miracle. There is much more, especially including genetics, fighting against us than for us being here. But yet, despite all odds, we’re here. Please keep this in mind if you chose to practice this meditation. You are on purpose. And so am I. If for nothing else then to share our stories with one-another.