Message for Teens Struggling with Mental Health from a Teen Who’s Been There: Don’t Lose Hope
“Believe in Yourself. Don’t Lose Hope.”
Strong 365 founder Chantel Garrett in conversation with Youth Leadership Board member Christine Frey. Christine shares what it was like to experience psychosis, how she copes, and her thriving project and book focused on teen empowerment, Brain XP:
CG: How old were you when you noticed that something was changing with your mental health? What was that experience like?
CF: I was about 11 years old when I noticed something was changing with my mental health. My anxiety would take over my whole body, and it would leave my mind in panic mode.
CG: Can you talk about a defining moment in your recovery? How did you first get help?
CF: My difficulties arose when I was at school. My 7th grade teacher was the first person to notice that I was struggling, and he let my mom know that something seemed off. It was at that point when I first got help.
A defining moment in my recovery took place on May 13, 2014. I ran away from home on that day, and although the experience was terrifying, it was an eye-opener for myself and for all the people around me. That experience was necessary for me to be able to recover.
CG: When you tell people about your experience, how do you want them to react?
CF: I want people to see me for who I am. I do not want people to listen to a label or a diagnosis because it doesn’t really define me. I don’t want anyone to fear me, pity me, or start to make assumptions especially when those assumptions are taken out of context.
“I needed support from my own age group.”
CG: You published a book and started Brain XP, a teen mental health online community. Tell us what drew you to this work and what you hope to accomplish.
CF: I was drawn to mental health advocacy when I was 13 years old. For years, I tried to find mental health materials that came from actual teenagers. I wanted a book or a series of articles that I could relate to on a deeper level. I needed support from my own age group.
When I could not find those materials, I started writing my book and creating the Brain XP Community. My purpose was becoming the relatable, supportive teenager that I didn’t have as I worked through my challenges. I hope that through my advocacy and through the Brain XP Community that we can change the language of mental health to be much more positive. I want teens who are struggling to know that they are not alone. They are special, and their brains are EXPANDED, thus they are Brain XP!
CG: What advice would you offer a teen struggling with common experiences such as hearing or seeing things, or delusions, for the first time?
CF: I personally feel the best advice I can give has to do with power. You have power. The hallucinations and/or delusions do not have power. I was able to remember this because I refused to name the demons that I used to see and hear. Naming those demons would give them a “spot in the family” or a “sense of purpose.” Instead of naming the demons in my life, I numbered them. It made it easier to speak about the demons to my therapist, but it didn’t give them power. This helped me control my life better.
“I want teens who are struggling to know that they are not alone.”
CG: How do you think your experience has transformed your interests and/or identity, if at all?
CF: My experience has made a huge impact on my interests and my identity. As I battled through my challenges, I learned that music-related coping skills work best for me. Playing music and songwriting are passions of mine that I might not have found if I didn’t face the struggles that I experienced.
CG: What is something that has been crucial for your healing and growth? How do you stay grounded, and keep stress in check, especially as you balance school and a social life with Brain XP and mental health advocacy?
CF: Open sharing has been crucial for my healing and growth. I just graduated from high school earlier this year, and I found that sharing my struggles with other people was a great release for me during stressful times.
I talk about my struggles because I want to set an example for the Brain XP Community. If I do not talk openly, the Brain XP Community would have no reason to openly share, and the therapeutic aspect of open sharing would be lost. I found that talking about my experiences was helpful. It became a “win-win” situation.
“It takes so much effort and vulnerability to be optimistic.”
CG: What does it mean to you, in this moment, to be courageous?
CF: To have courage means that your glass is never half empty. It is always half full. Courage is finding the positives in situations that hold so much negativity. It takes so much effort and vulnerability to be optimistic. When people judge you, put you down, label you, or try to bring you to a place where you don’t even recognize the word ‘hope’, remember all of the incredible qualities that you possess. You deserve to be treated kindly, and being courageous is facing those bullies who don’t treat you with respect. Believe in yourself and don’t lose hope.
Christine Frey is the International Award-Winning Author of Brain XP: Living with Mental Illness, A Young Teenager’s Perspective, the first mental health book written by a teenager. Christine started showing signs of anxiety, depression, and psychosis at age 12. Her isolation led her to create the Brain XP Project. Brain XP provides hope to youth battling mental challenges, letting them know that they are not alone, they are not crazy, but rather their minds are special, with greater creativity, empathy, and insight – their brains are expanded: BRAIN XP! Christine is an engaging public speaker, musical recording artist and mental health activist.