I left the hospital with my first born child fairly confident that I could keep this tiny human alive. As the oldest of a large family I had a lot of babysitting experience and that gave me the confidence I needed to get through those early days when everything was new and we were both so fragile.
None of my prior experience – as a big sister, as a busy babysitter, as a school teacher – could have prepared me for the teen years. For the first time I started to have worries that perhaps I wasn’t qualified to keep this human alive.
Not to catastrophize or anything, but the world is a minefield for teenagers. Sadly, they are often their biggest opponents. My older kids are pretty good at eating their vegetables and getting sleep. They are in great physical health. But what is the broccoli equivalent for mental health?
I came across Beneath the Surface by Kristi Hugstad in the midst of a larger discussion regarding the importance of shining light on suicide and other mental health issues. (Kiley has been a passionate advocate of this for years and if you haven’t read her posts go do so now, you can find some of them here. I’ll still be here when you return.)
Clocking in at under 150 pages, the book was easy to read, even for someone who reads things no longer than Dr. Seuss. The short chapters make my bite-sized reading time possible.
The author provides several first hand accounts of true crisis, including her own husband’s suicide. She discusses the impacts of lifestyle, diet, sleep, genetics, and personal choice in either aggravating or mitigating what is a medical issue and not a failure of personality. She also provides solutions, alternatives, and resources while she validates the complex stressors of adolescence.
I wanted a perfect panacea. When I finished the book I remembered that no such thing exists. Humans are complicated and unique. There is no such thing as a one size fits all solution. Mental illness is tricky. But if we lovingly reach out with the techniques and resources available, we can make a connection. Maybe we can even save a life.