Of course the summer that Boston reached 97 degrees was the same summer that my AC broke. I sighed and pressed the button on my fan until I heard the right number of beeps and knew that it was at the right speed. With the temperature controlled, I grabbed my laptop from my desk, headed to my bed, and pulled open YouTube.
After my cousins introduced me to the world of storytime animations (videos where people tell stories about their experiences and create a short cartoon to go along) on a trip I’d had with them a few weeks prior, I became obsessed with the genre. I was particularly enamored by Jaiden Animations, a channel run by a young woman who made animations about her childhood and life experiences. I loved her sense of humor and art style, so it only made sense that I went to her channel page as soon as the website loaded.
Scrolling through the page, I came across a video about a face reveal. I clicked on it, h interested to see what my new favorite creator looked like outside of an unrealistic drawing, and also running low on new videos, due to previous binge-sessions.
The video started out less fun and light-hearted than I was used to and it rapidly grew in intensity. Jaiden spoke about her struggles with body image and having an eating disorder. She was so raw and honest that I felt her pain. I gripped my sky blue cover sheet tightly as I absorbed every pure voice crack and deep breath that came from the audio that played over the hum of my fan.
And then the intensity was over. The video got lighter again, mentioning recovery and reaching out to people. Eventually, Jaiden gave meaningful advice and her sense of humor was still present. I was, honestly, kind of dumbfounded. A few seconds ago I had been experiencing some of the most extreme second-hand emotional pain of my life. How could I be laughing? How could she be laughing?
Fascinated to see someone be so open about their struggles, and still manage to be entertaining, I clicked on the video up next. This one was about self-improvement and high standards, and, while it didn’t start out as darkly as the previous animation, I was still shocked at the honesty and vulnerability.
But there was something else about this video; this one felt real. As I watched, laughing at the jokes and sympathetically nodding with the hardships, my mind raced with all of my own standards and insecurities: the way I couldn’t stand being wrong, the way I fixated on my inabilities while discrediting my skills. This video, this creator with millions of subscribers, they saw me. They knew me better than I knew myself.
As soon as the video finished, I rushed to Jaiden’s channel page and scrolled down the videos tab looking for anything that seemed remotely vulnerable and relatable, my fingers with their chipped pink nail polish barely touching the trackpad. The more videos I watched, the more I felt understood. Concepts that I’d never thought of before, yet instantly related to, flashed through my mind:
Now faced with these issues, I forced myself to consider my own experience. I knew that I constantly worried that people were judging me, I knew that I hadn’t been able to sleep the past few nights because I was panicked that no one would like me at my new school and that I would never see my best friend again. I knew that I was obsessively scared of failure. I knew that I constantly worked myself to be better than the best, and I knew none of this was healthy.
But what was I supposed to do about it? I didn’t want to tell my deepest and darkest secrets to some stranger that knew about psychology. I didn’t think I needed help. I didn’t know if I deserved help. After all, my problems weren’t that big. For all I knew, I could have just been dealing with typical middle-schooler issues. I had convinced myself that I could handle everything on my own, that I didn’t need anyone else.
And yet, here was this creator that I looked up to, joking about her problems, sharing that she went to therapy and that she felt like it was beneficial. She deserved help. Maybe I did too. She knew how to make her struggles into something light and fun to watch. She could be vulnerable without hurting anybody. Maybe I could too.
I thought about this for a few more days, growing more and more comfortable with the idea of getting help. After all, I didn’t want to be anxious and insecure forever. Ignoring it wasn’t doing anything. And if mental health issues were really as normal and human as Jaiden had convinced me they were, then maybe therapy wouldn’t be too hard.
“Mom,” I hesitantly asked after a few days of deliberation. “Can I go to therapy?”
I stared at the leather strap of my sandals while I waited for her to reply. I wasn’t expecting a specific response, but her nonchalant, “okay,” still caught me by surprise. I had braced myself for endless questions, for rejection, for some big dramatic scene that exposed every problem I ever had.
But that never happened. My mom said yes, and I started going. Still am. I was wrong with some of my assumptions; facing and talking about myself and my problems is definitely hard. But I was right about how mental health struggles, trauma, or any other problems that people work through, don’t have to be big dramatic crises. They can just be parts of a human being. They can be jokes, journal entries, deep conversations, personality traits. Or they can be none of those things at all, because it’s all up to the individual. The thing that matters is that someone’s problems can just be; whether someone turns them into a YouTube video or essay, or keeps them to themselves and the people they really trust.
That’s not to say that I’m some expert on healthy coping strategies or vulnerability. I still have a lot of work to do in that area. But I’m getting better, with both sharing my problems and being a happy, fulfilled person. I know that I can get help, that I can use humor to cope, that I am deserving. Everyone is.
And even when I struggle, even on those days when I forget every coping mechanism I’ve ever learned, I’m still grateful that someone out there introduced herself as a woman, making jokes in her room, who just happened to go to therapy. That set me on this long and difficult journey to become a girl, making jokes in my room, who happens to go to therapy.