Trigger warning: sexual abuse, and suicide.
My nineteenth year was my toughest year yet. In addition to a lifetime of recovering from the emotional, mental, neurological and social ramifications of brain surgery: I was also trying to navigate life as, well, a normal, functioning young woman.
Unfortunately, the term normal seems to insinuate growing up in a nuclear family, attending high school with a solid group of friends, graduating and moving on to college, and living happily ever after.
The reality? Only 18% of US households are considered nuclear [married couple with children]. Only 86% of teenagers in America actually graduate. 20% of youth between 12 and 18years are bullied on school grounds, 15% of teenagers are cyberbullied on a regular basis, and a staggering 37% of teens develop anxiety as a result of cyber bullying [stats obtained from stopbullying.gov and findlaw.com].
The National Institute for Mental Health reported that in 2021: "an estimated 4.1 million [17%] adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode".
In my thinking: using the phrase "normal" when it comes to the upbringing of our next generation isn't good enough if it means not being proactive enough when it comes to the mental, emotional and social health of every struggling young person. We shouldn't normalize the potential dangers of bullying, depression, reduced communication, lack of trust, abuse, and an almost disregard for the healthy development of adolescent generations.
Do we want to be proactive about their mental, emotional, and social health? Or do we want to continue addressing issues once they've already been knocking for months - sometimes even years?
Which brings me back to my experiences as a teenager. I grew up in New Zealand - a country where one in five people experience depression. A country with one of the highest rates of suicide in the world. A country where - after our young people - the next highest rate of suicides happen among middle-aged European [Pakeha] men. [I could go into that topic in more detail, but that's for another blog - watch this space.]
Anyway, with these stats: of course it would happen that - when I was nineteen - I lost three people near and dear to me. One to a medical complication [aged 20] as a result of stress, one to alcohol abuse [age 47], and one to suicide [age 22]. A family friend [mid 40's] also unalived himself that year.
These deaths left me reeling in many ways - trying to make sense of why this could happen, but it also made me ponder a few points.
How is it that we live in a world that seems so focused on reactive responses, rather than proactive solutions?
How did I want to respond to the trauma and devastation that occurred as a result of losing so many people in such a short span of time?
Was there a way that I could try to use my platform, especially my music, in a way that could contribute to helping others with their emotional and mental health?
I distinctly remember driving to my ex-boyfriend's funeral after he ended his life wondering what role I could have played in helping to prevent the tragedy. Of course, everyone's mental health journey is different, and realistically speaking: there is nothing I could have done to "fix" him. It's unhealthy to feel guilt for someone else's journey. Mental illness is a complex issue, and is often a result of many factors including, but not limited to:
severe or long term stressful life situations
childhood abuse, trauma, or neglect.
social isolation or loneliness.
experiencing discrimination and stigma, including racism.
social disadvantage, poverty or debt.
bereavement (losing someone close to you)
having a long-term physical health condition
unemployment or losing your job
being a long-term carer for someone
domestic violence, bullying or other abuse as an adult
Despite all of these complexities, however, there are some key things that I believe we can do to behave - as a society - in a more proactive way, rather than reactive.
Please note: this is not a one-blog cure all for mental illness. Any blog that states as much would be dangerously wrong. Mental health is a complex issue that is ever evolving, as different societies learn to grapple with how to navigate the struggles of their communities every day. Also: mental illness and trauma look different on everyone.
However, there are some really beautiful, creative and effective ways to help to at least minimize mental health concerns - especially for our young people who didn't grow up with the "normal" experiences of their peers.
Some of these methods could be:
Ensuring we get enough sleep
Paying attention - really close attention - to our feelings. Please note: this does not mean paying attention to our thoughts, but the feelings behind each thought.
Spending time in nature
Spending less time on electronics [ironic, I know, since you're probably reading this on your phone right now]
Spending time alone - and learning to truly enjoy your own company
Embracing the word "NO"
Practicing mindful meditation and breathwork
Trusting your gut
And - my favorite - embracing one's creativity
By practicing these methods: we are able to ensure a more defensive mental health system rather than waiting for depression, anxiety and overwhelm to knock, causing us to jump to the offensive.
This isn't just a "teenager" issue. We live in a world that is built to profit from reactive behavior [read: after the breakdown, you can invest in x, y, or z], rather than establishing a strong foundation of mental health for our young people. This means that - whether you're 17 or 47, we all realistically need the same thing: a roadmap to emotional, mental, and social wellness.
And we all have that road map inside of us. We simply need a methodology, and to give ourselves permission to access that roadmap.
That's one of the reasons why I found from a very young age that songwriting is so beneficial for my emotional, spiritual, neurological, mental and social health. Songwriting not only taps into that roadmap of self awareness and self knowledge, but it also allows us - as fully grown adults to recognize the sense of empowerment that exists inside all of us that - sometimes - we have just forgotten about. It's so easy to get bogged down with busyness... it's so easy to fall victim to the labels that are given to us, that we forget to trust our good and look inside of us.
But it's not too late - to start our own practice of either proactive mental health care, or reactive mental health alchemy that comes with empowerment through songwriting coaching.
Let me explain
In February of 2022, I delivered my very first TEDx Talk on how songwriting and music saved me after ten brain surgeries. In my presentation, I discussed how songwriting facilitated my own journey through overcoming brain damage, social isolation and bullying, and my own battles with depression. Even to this day, I can look back at songs that I wrote with my band in New Zealand like Fire Away, Nobody's Toy, or Nobody's Toy, and feel a sincere sense of pride, strength and self worth.
Now, as a solo performer, I'm not just passionate about continuing to turn my less-than-perfect current experiences into songwriting, but the safety blanket of music gives me permission to tap back into that roadmap that I started creating for myself as a child, and start healing parts of my past that I had either buried and tried to forget about... which in turn gives me the ability to be proactive about any future less-than-ideal traumas or negative experiences.
For example, when I was 15 years old, I was sexually abused by a family member. This led to a lengthy period of self doubt, distrust, unhealthy relationships, and a slew of other behaviors and ideas on the world that did not serve me in the slightest. At the time, I felt I had to do what I could do survive, but - ultimately - I buried a lot of my pain.
It wasn't until I set myself a write-a-song-a-day challenge back in February of 2021 that I started tapping into these experiences, and start healing that wounded inner child. Specifically with my song: Behind Her Eyes.
Through writing this song, not only was I able to finally process the trauma [reactive, yes, but - again - I had buried a lot, and wasn't ready to truly show up for myself], but, best of all, I was able to proactively heal that inner child so that I have been able to ultimately set myself up for success as I develop a much healthier relationship with myself, with loved ones, and with my partner.
Empowerment through Songwriting is not just for youth.
Yes, it's imperative to give your teenager a toolkit to process their adolescent experiences. It's important to help guide your teen toas they begin to recognize the power of their voice, and show them how to turn their struggles into an empowering song of healing, hope and overcoming. That's why I started Youth Empowerment through Songwriting in the first place.
But songwriting and music are tools that are just as effective for parents. For adults. For communities.
How do I know? Because several of the songs I wrote during my write a song a day challenge were based on the stories of my community, fans and friends. Songs like:
... all written with the purpose to - first and foremost - empower others.
Even songs like Together We Rise and Living Proof - all written for and about the experiences of others in my hemisphere that were looking for another way to express themselves, remind themselves of their power, and - ultimately - overcome various traumas, struggles, triggers or events. And while these songs were written by me: I've had the beautiful opportunity to run multiple workshops directly with teams, organizations, and individuals where the lyrics they've been able to create for themselves have been... powerful.
Learning how to turn negative into positive.
Developing a relationship with their own power.
Creating a theme song for their lives that focused on feeling empowered, or being part of a team, or even recognizing their leadership qualities and what it means to be a success - whatever success means to you.
Now, for obvious reasons, I can't share the specific lyrics that have been created by these individuals, as they're obviously the private processes, reflections and creations of people other than myself, but there have definitely been some tears of release [and relief!] for several of the wonderful participants as they wrote songs to address their pain points, whilst learning new ways to communicate, work on their mindset, and - ultimately - developing their own personal road map to healing, self discovery, and feeling empowered!
Because - as I learned in a yoga practice a few years ago: "we are loved, we are love, and everything we need lives within us".
In other words: we have all of the answers in us... we simply need to be brave enough to get out of our own way, and step into our power [ie. create] unapologetically, authentically, and by recognizing that vulnerability is a superpower.
After all: if we stop the search for answers; the answers will soon find us.
In a world that is so caught up in fixing the problem after the fact: songwriting can be an incredibly effective solution to helping you to navigate overwhelm, stress and anxiety. But, more importantly: once you know how to implement your vulnerability, authenticity and healing through the lens of songwriting and music... you're now more able to build resiliency, and your own roadmap to mental, emotional, and social resiliency and wellness.
If you want to find out more about how songwriting might help you as you learn to empower others as well as yourself, I'd love to hop on a call to discuss how Empowerment through Songwriting might be both the proactive and reactive solution you've been looking for.
It's never too late to get to know yourself again.
It's never too late to learn to love - and create - the person you're becoming.
It's never too late to develop the resources and skills to write the theme-song, and direction, of your life.
After all: educator and author Peter Drucker famously said: The best way to predict the future is to create it." What better time to start creating than now?
Click here to book a call with me - I can't wait to meet you!