“If any of my story can help, then I am completely ready to tell all of it”
Andrea Talley, an old acquaintance of mine, sat down with me to share her story in the hopes of helping just one other woman. I remember Andrea from a very confusing part of my life, adolescence. We both danced at the same studio – obsessively. I can remember showing up to classes daily and Andrea being the only other girl that was there as often I was. Little did I know, she was doing the same exact thing I was - dancing to escape reality.
As a mom now, I wish I could rewind time. I wish I could recognize that she had the same pain in her eyes that I had. I wish that I could hug her, be a friend to her, and let her know how much her kindness meant to me – especially in that season of life. 12-year-old me thought I was alone in my struggles, that no one would understand. Now I know, she felt the same way. LOTS of girls felt the same way. Our voices were just silenced because we were ‘only kids’. What I CAN do, is share her story and hopefully help the moms and educators of adolescent girls everywhere understand the realness of mental health disease and the true effects that bullying can have at this tender age. How can you identify it? What can you do to help?
For Andrea, the first true signs of depression began around the age of 12. She was losing interest in being around people – even her closest friends and struggling with her self worth because of comments her peers were making. The moment she told me that, my heart sank. My oldest daughter just turned 12 in January and the thought of her having to face such heavy issues brought tears to my eyes. She still plays with horse figurines and plays Minecraft, she loves dogs and taking pictures – is she really at the age that such adult things start to impact her? The answer is yes. As parents, I think the first thing we can do is stop looking at our babies with the notion that the world will always treat them the way we do. We cannot shelter them from bad things, but we can know what signs to look for and what resources are available.
It all began being bullied at school. She recalls vividly a single statement that has continued to impact her self-image throughout her life. “I had gained weight between switching from gymnastics to dance, and people at school noticed.” She recalls having a crush on a boy at school and one of his friends stating “Why would he like you? You’re fat.” For the first time in her life, she was now hyper focused on her appearance and acceptance from her peers. She began to believe she was fat even though she had never had the thought before.
She started to get intense migraines which were later traced back to her depression. The migraines, excruciating menstrual cycles and other health issues caused her to miss school frequently. Rumors circulated. “I came home crying almost every day and begged my parents to do something, even if it meant homeschooling me.” She poured herself into dance – her outlet, to escape the bullying at school and to let her emotions out.
A pivotal situation also occurred during this time,
“I didn’t realize for years; I was being groomed. I was raised in a sheltered home and didn’t even realize stuff like this existed” Andrea recalls as she paints the picture of the traumatic events that occurred to her. At only 13 she was sexually assaulted. Then at 16, “I was raped”.
A family friend showered her with compliments and gifts before eventually assaulting her. She held this in for years and then finally, as most teenage girls do, she confided in her best friend about the situation. It was her senior year. Even after begging her not to say anything, her friend did what she thought was right – she notified the school principal. “When I was sent to the nurse to discuss what happened I was told “I can’t talk to you anymore, you consented.”
An 18-year-old girl was accused of CONSENTING to sexual relations with a “28-year-old man” (who was later discovered to be in his 40’s) when she was only 16 years old. Naturally, she blamed herself and internalized the emotions she had. She was left to deal with her trauma alone.
“Even if you don’t say no… If you are manipulated. If your family is threatened. If you DON’T say yes. Then yes – its rape.”
Shortly after speaking up about her assault, her best friend and boyfriend “broke up with her” leaving her feeling alone and misunderstood. She felt like a burden to everyone around her, she felt guilt for the things she had no control over because of the way authority figures in her life approached the situations. That same year, her medical issues escalated, her father lost his job, and she was forced to quit dance.
‘I felt like I had nothing. My lifeline had been cut. I went and got a knife and stabbed myself.”
Fortunately, her parents found her in the nick of time and were able to rush her to the emergency room where surgeons were able to just barely save her. She still struggles with long term effects from her suicide attempt – difficulty with physical activity, trouble wearing certain types of clothing but most importantly not knowing if she will ever be able to carry a child to full term.
After healing from the attempt at taking her own life, Andrea had to go to back to school to face the very people who had pushed her to that point in the first place. She recalls walking into class not knowing if her classmates had been told why she was out of school, to a standing ovation. “I told them to sit down, because they were part of the problem”
Today, Andrea has found ways of coping with her mental illness, but she also knows that its always there – in the back of her mind. Over the course of her life, it has drastically impacted her relationships and her self-image. Its something she actively works at daily, and she says the biggest help has been finding a support system. Through Facebook, Andrea has found groups and pages that have coached her on how to find purpose in life, how to see the silver linings, and have introduced her to like minded people that understand her struggles and empower her daily. Several years ago, she started doing boudoir photoshoots to regain confidence and to help motivate her to lose weight. Through that process she learned self-love. She laughs, “I actually didn’t lose weight. I realized that I need to be OK with myself in the here and now or else I won’t be OK with myself even when I lose the weight. I want to feel good. Not just physically, but emotionally and mentally as well.”
She encourages anyone who is feeling alone to simply focus on two things every single day – 1. Something you love and 2. Something you want to accomplish.
We spent 2 hours talking. 2 hours I wish I had of spent with her 15 years ago when we both so desperately needed it. In just that short amount of time, I can’t begin to tell you the impact she has had on me. She owns her story. She is the victor of her story. She speaks confidently and transparently in hopes of saving another girls life. I have so much respect and admiration for her as she continues to show her strength and tenacity.
Parents, I hope you will read this and talk to your teens. Be a safe space for them. Depression comes in many forms and it’s not always so easy to recognize. Sure, it can be crying and isolation but sometimes it can also present itself as overachieving and needing to be busy all the time. These are the years when words start to “stick” and when situations impact and shape lives – if you’re kid is vocalizing issues, don’t be so quick to dismiss it as just “teen drama”. It may seem small to you, but it can be completely consuming them. Have conversations. Tough ones. Talk to them about sexual assault and the red flags to look for. Teach them the repercussions of bullying and the importance of including and showing love to others. Assure them that counseling or therapy doesn’t mean they are broken. Help problem solve. Pay attention.
Our world continues to get crazier, and our children are vulnerable and looking for guidance, lets stand up and be the teachers, coaches, and parents that we needed when we were young.
Changes MUST be made to save our babies as the suicide attempt rates in adolescents continue to soar. Those changes start with us. They start at home. They start in administration offices. It starts with acknowledging mental illness for what it is, a disease. A disease that requires treatment and patience. We must let our teens know that they aren’t broken, that speaking up about their mental health and being aware of their emotions is courageous and noble.
For Andrea, this is a story of strength and overcoming brutal obstacles.
For the next girl, it may not be.
We must end the stigma.
A HUGE thank you to Katie Larrington Boudoir for donating her time and talents to give Andrea a day of glam and these beautiful pictures. Book with her at:
If you are struggling, please ask for help. Here are some great resources if you don’t know where to turn:
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
Veterans Crisis Line: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website: https://afsp.org
Have you lost someone to suicide?
Tragedy assistance program for survivors FB page:https://www.facebook.com/TAPSorg/
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
National Sexual violence resource center: https://www.nsvrc.org
Mother’s resources for teen girls: https://ywrc.org/resources-mothers/