One of the 80 million ways young people are my s/heroes
On top of doing what I do here at Scarleteen (and everything else I do), I also do some outreach sexuality and sexual rights education for a youth homeless shelter here in Seattle. My partner also now works full-time at that shelter, and when he came home last night and filled me in on some things that had gone on that day, I got struck very hard in the gut with some feelings I hadn't fully realized for myself until then, both about that work and the young people there, but also about some of my experiences with some of the users at Scarleteen.
So, I wrote the residents there a letter this morning that I'd also like to share with you, because the way I feel about them is also the way I feel about plenty of you. Because most of Scarleteen happens online, very few of our users are currently homeless or transient, but some have been or will be. In addition, plenty over the years have shared similar struggles, either being in the foster care system or in unsafe homes, surviving loss, assault or abuse, having with disability or mental illness, dealing with racism, sexism, sizeism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia or any other number of really tough challenges, especially when you're young. So, what I'm saying to them, and what they have done for me, very much applies to many of you.
Some of you know me, others of you don't, but I'm an outreach worker who has provided sex education at the shelter for the last couple of years. Some of you who do know me may also know that when I was younger, I went through some really rough stuff, including abuse, really devastating loss, depression, sexual assault and also not having a safe place or home to go to sometimes. In other words, some of you know I have been where you're at, and I know how hard it can be and how very much it hurts.
Because I make part of my living both writing about my own life, and also providing education for young people, I'm pretty in touch with my own teen years. I don't have the opportunity to forget them because of that work and the way I do it and process it. But you probably know for yourself that it's common for any of us to put the toughest of our memories or experiences out-of-mind sometimes, or to try and forget them so that they're less painful.
I was thinking about all of you a lot last night, and was feeling something about you I realize I've never had the chance to share. When I'm working with you, while I always leave wishing for much better things for all of you, I also leave always feeling very inspired by you, and reminded of good things about myself when I was your age I often do forget and really shouldn't, and which I also really didn't know back then.
The biggest thing I get reminded of in talking with and watching you is how incredibly strong all of us are or were who have been in the spot you're in. I forget that teenage-me was able to handle and survive some things, things many of you have, that a lot of people who are older and who are much better supported couldn't handle. I forget that the fact that I came through all of that and made a good life for myself and became the kind of person I wanted to be is a major achievement. I forget that the fact that I was able then to still be kind to other people despite how hurt, scared and angry I was and could be made me an incredible person. I forget that being able to be without some of the most basic things I needed, including care from some of the people who were supposed to care for me most, and to try and do things, mess up, but keep trying again and again to get it right until I did was a really big deal. I forget how hard it was to shake off how bitter I often felt seeing other kids who took what they had and I didn't for granted.
I also forget how little credit I usually gave myself, how hard I was on myself for the times I really couldn't handle everything, even though what I was being asked to handle was more than anyone should ever be asked to.
One of the amazing things that all of you do for me when I come in to see you and work with you is to remind me of all of that. Because I can see how strong you are, I'm reminded of how strong I am and have been. Because I can see the way you can care about each other even when it feels like so many people aren't caring for you, I'm reminded of how I was able to do that. Because I see you struggling but still surviving and trying so hard, I'm reminded of my own struggle and survival, but also of how, however awful and unfair it all was, it's such a huge part of the person I grew to be. Yes, the work I do for and with you is about you, not about me, but that doesn't mean I don't benefit from it, too.
I want to make sure you know that for me -- and I know I'm not alone in this -- you're my heroes and sheroes. I think all of you are absolutely amazing, and if you don't know it now, I want to assure you that you are until you can feel and know that for yourselves. I don't know about you, but the people I tend to look up to most in my life, who I'm most inspired by, are not the people who had it easy. They're people who had to work harder than other people, who had more challenges to surpass, and yet, who did more than most people do, despite having less to start with or having to work twice as hard to get there. That's you: that's who you are and will be. You have the capacity to grow into being everyone's heroes. I have no doubt that you will do exactly that.
Of course, because I see how hard you can be on yourselves, I'm reminded of that, too. Because I see how often some of you don't forgive yourselves for your own mistakes, I'm reminded of how many times I didn't do that for myself. Those are tough mirrors to look into: I should have been a lot nicer to me and a lot less hard on myself. So, I also want to remind you that it's so important you cut yourselves a lot of slack and respect yourself for the awesome person you are. You are not an error, a mistake or a failure; you are not the people screwing up your world or anyone else's. You're the people who are unjustly hit hard with other people's mistakes, screw-ups and failings, the people who are doing the very best you can to deal with that injustice. None of that is your fault or your doing: your doing, what you're responsible for, is what you choose to make of yourself with what you've got and how you take care of yourself or don't.
So, please take care of you and be kind to you. If and when you make your own mistakes, don't beat up on yourselves; be forgiving of you. Everyone makes mistakes: it's one of the most basic ways we learn everything and anything. If it takes you a little longer to figure some things out that it might others with less challenges, know that not only is that okay, but that it will probably mean you'll also wind up understanding things more deeply and clearly than others will.
Thank you for being who you are and for -- whether you meant to or not -- reminding me so often of who I am. Even if you don't think you're inspiring to anyone, know that you probably are. You most certainly are to me.