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Auntie SparkNotes: I'm Stressed and Depressed

Auntie SparkNotes: I'm Stressed and Depressed

By kat_rosenfield

Dear Auntie,

I have stress. Stress is normal for a teenager to an extent, but it's so awful that it's driven me into mild depression. I have at least some amount of stress in all areas of my life: academic, social and family.

First, the family side of stress. My parents were divorced when I was three, and my biological dad can't show affection. He is never there for me, never comes to any of my games/events and then makes plans with me only to cancel. I'm still in contact with him, and it hurts to see him because I love him (he's my dad) and he doesn't show that he loves me.

Meanwhile, the man my mom married after she got divorced is so awesome and amazing and has been more of a dad to me than my legitimate dad. He's great and everything, only problem is, he is a binge drinker. Whenever he sits down to have a beer he ends up having five! That is stressful because after he binges, he tries to carry on with everyday activities like picking me up from school. So, I'm having parent issues.

Second, the school side. I was fortunate enough to test into all Honors classes at my private high school. And, then I was forced to take all of them. Now that I've officially experienced a full semester of high school, I'm not sure if i can handle these classes on top of everything else I'm dealing with.

Thirdly, the social side. All this stress (for lack of a better word) has driven me into a depression. And no one know about it, save my mother. When I go to school each day, it's like I put on a mask and no one can see what's actually happening to me. Plus, my dear friend is involved with a boy whom I don't particularly like. Why don't I like him, you ask? He's a druggie and she is drawn to his "bad boy" side, which is totally bogus.

So yeah, my life pretty much bites right now. My dad/s are being weird, school makes me feel stupid and my friend might be becoming a druggie. I don't know what to do.

And that, right there, would be Exhibit A in the case for Why Being a Teenager Just Sucks Sometimes.

Because what you're dealing with right now isn't anything more or less than life, in all its draining, distressing banality. A parent having problems; a friend dating someone you detest; responsibilities that don't stop being responsibilities just because you're stressed out and unhappy—these aren't fun things, but they're everyday things, and you've just been handed your first bitter taste of them. People have flaws, foibles, and vices. They drink too much, care too little, or fall in love with people who aren't good for them. They make decisions you don't agree with, or even understand. They live their lives according to values, passions, or impulses you don't share.

And worst of all, they get to do this stuff, no matter how much it upsets, exhausts, and disappoints you.

Which is why the first year or so of high school is, for the most part, just what you've found it to be: A year in which your life sometimes bites, and you don't know what to do. As a child, you were the passive center of your own little universe; as a teenager, you're beginning to chart your own path in the world at large. You have more responsibility, more autonomy, and more freedom to shape your life, but you also have so much more to worry about, and no frame of reference for choosing your worries wisely in a world that's suddenly gotten bigger. It's no wonder that you feel very small, and very depressed. Because realizing the limits of your knowledge, your influence, and your control—realizing that you're just one little human lump among the lumpy billions on the planet—is depressing.

That is, until it isn't.

Because there's so much freedom, really, in your limited sphere of influence. Not just to invest your energy wisely, carefully, in the small number of things you can change, but to recognize the things you can't change, and to let them be what they are.

For instance: You can't stop the people you love from disappointing you. Your father is who he is, and wishing that he were a better, more present, more caring man is as useless as wishing that the sky were red instead of blue. But you still have the power to stop setting expectations for him that he's incapable of meeting. You can accept that he's not the dad you deserve. You can find a better place to pin your hopes than a person you know will dash them.

You can't stop your stepfather from imbibing to blow off steam, but you can say, "It makes me uncomfortable to see you drive after you've been drinking." You can be an advocate for your own safety, without trying to meddle in his life. (Also, do keep in mind that there's a difference between "binge drinking" and "having a few beers"—particularly for adult men of a certain size. So while it's certainly a problem if your stepdad is driving while buzzed or intoxicated, the fact that he can sometimes drink five beers over some unspecified length of time isn't necessarily cause for concern.)

You can't stop your friend from wanting who she wants, but you can question your own rush to dismiss what she wants as "bogus," just because it's not what you would choose. You can ask her if she's happy. You can use your obvious intelligence to avoid drawing ridiculous false equivalencies between being attracted to a rule-breaker and becoming an addict oneself. You can remind yourself that she won't like everyone you date, either, and that the understanding you extend her now is what you can hope to get back in the future. You can vow to be there for her if things go sour, but in the meantime, you can choose not to fret over romantic entanglements that have nothing to do with you.

This is your job, now: To begin picking out the boundaries between your life and others', and to avoid emotionally investing yourself on the wrong side of that line. You will be so glad you did, Sparkler. You'll be amazed at how much smarter you feel when you're not devoting all your brainspace to things you can't control; you'll be amazed at how much less stressful your own life is, when you're not stressing about other people's. And most importantly, you'll have gotten an early start on a skill that some people spend their lives trying to master: the ability to take care of yourself, and let the rest go, when things start getting hairy.

Does the world stress you out? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at advice@sparknotes.com.

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Topics: Life, Advice
Tags: auntie sparknotes, friendships, family, depression, stress

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About the Author
kat_rosenfield

Kat Rosenfield is a writer, illustrator, advice columnist, YA author, and enthusiastic licker of that plastic liner that comes inside a box of Cheez-Its. She loves zombies and cats. She hates zombie cats. Follow her on Twitter or Tumblr @katrosenfield.

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