A book for people who hate self help… and themselves.
Ruby Walker is an 18-year-old creative writing and art student at Trinity University in San Antonio. When Walker was 15, she went from a numb, silent, miserable high school dropout to a joyous loudmouth in one year flat.
Now, she’s published a book, Advice I Ignored: Stories and Wisdom from a Formerly Depressed Teen, to help other teens (and adults) find their way out from under the weight of self-hatred, gain a sense of free will, use exercise to beg the brain for endorphins and much more.
When did you realize you were depressed? Did you go to a doctor?
I wish I had seen a doctor. Things might’ve been easier, or at least less confusing if I had. It sounds silly, but I think I realized something was seriously wrong when I stopped caring about birds. I used to run a blog about birds, I thought about them all the time, drew them, watched them… it was kind of my thing. And then, when I was 15, in the middle of a lot of other symptoms that were somehow easier to ignore… I realized I didn’t care about birds anymore. It was like that with everything – all the stuff that used to make me happy just… didn’t.
Why did you decide to start writing a book when you were only 16 years old?
When I was 15, I was so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed most mornings, and I dropped out of high school. My mother bought me this stack of self-help books, books on psychology, books for teenagers with depression… I read them all, and some of the advice they gave ended up helping me later. But they were all written by adults who were looking in on my problems from this clinical perspective. After I began my process of recovery, I wanted to write a book that would represent my perspective, as a young teenager who had experience with depression, but also a lot of hope.
Is the depression you felt similar to how it’s portrayed in popular media?
Depression really isn’t about being sad all the time. At least for me, it was like a whole world I lived in. I felt fragile. Small things would ruin my day. Everything worried me, everything made me hate myself, and the more I hated myself, the worse I felt. In turn, I blamed myself for how awful I felt, and the cycle spiraled downward.
If you could give your 14-year-old self some advice, what would you say?
It’s bad enough now. I know you keep waiting for a big sign, a rock-bottom that will force you to get better. Well, it’s bad enough now. You can’t keep waiting for it to get worse. When you give up on the idea that there will be some kind of overnight solution and say, “I’m going to heal. Even if it’s hard, even if it’s pointless, even if I feel like giving up,” that is when you’ll start to see progress. It’s going to be the little things that save you.
Why did you decide to illustrate your book?
I learned to draw before I learned to write, so from the very first draft, there were illustrations scribbled into the margins. I wanted to break up the text with drawings so that it would be easier for someone with very little energy to read.
What can parents do if they believe their teen might be experiencing depression?
Love them. Depression can make people act in unpredictable or unsettling ways. When your kid is acting out, spacing out, staying up, skipping class, snapping, hiding things, and generally being “bad” – that is when they need love and compassion the most. Don’t get them in trouble, offer them help. Let them know that your love is unconditional.
You mention in the book that exercise was helpful in your recovery. What kind of exercise did you do? What if a teen is not “sporty” enough for exercise?
I was never an athletic kid – I had asthma attacks; I walked the mile in PE class. When I heard that exercise could be good for mood disorders, I started walking around the neighborhood at sunset every couple of days. Not only did those walks help my brain make more endorphins, they also became my quiet time for reflection. I’d listen to music, feel the grass, watch the clouds, smell the flowers. Spending some time in nature helped me feel more real somehow.
If you could guide someone with depression into setting a couple of goals for 2020, what would you suggest?
I love small goals, because we all need a win sometimes. Very specific things like, “go on a 30-minute walk around the neighborhood three times a week,” are easier to follow than “get more exercise.” Starting a journal and writing a page every once in a while is also a nice resolution, I think. Getting thoughts onto paper helps me untangle my head when I’m feeling bad.
Follow Ruby on Twitter @rubyirl
Cover illustration courtesy Ruby Walker