World Teen Mental Health Day (by Sue Wiertzema)

Today is World Teen Mental Health Day!

Mental health is not an easy journey but it is so important. 

Sue Wiertzema,
MCT Education Committee Member

Hi, my name is Sue Wiertzema and I am here to share my mental health journey. A little about me… I graduated from Strafford High School in 2020 — a COVID senior! — and I am now attending Missouri State University to earn my BFA in Musical Theatre. I officially became active in theatre my junior year of high school and fell in love with the arts. 

Mental health had not been brought to my attention until I started getting more involved in theatre. I had heard the term before, however, I never truly understood what it meant. To me, mental health means to realize one’s own mental state and to be able to use personalized coping mechanisms to manage life. Basically, learn to know yourself and your needs in life, then figure out how you can best serve yourself. 

One of the biggest things I have struggled with throughout my life has been body image. Most teens can relate to worrying about body image. In high school, I always thought I was too big for my size. People would tell me I was beautiful and “perfect the way I am,” but that would not stop my mind from thinking I was just too big. It didn’t feel good to be in my own skin. 

Another important detail about myself is that I am an empath that eats my feelings! This was such a detriment to mental health, because my heart was telling me to eat everything and my head was telling me to eat nothing. At one point during my senior year, I even stopped eating for a while and started working out twice a day so that I could feel skinnier. This not only took a toll on my body but also my mind. I was not myself during this period. I was sad, never had any energy, and just made myself miserable. 

Even after I lost weight that I didn’t need to lose, I still did not look how I wanted to. One day a switch flipped in me and I realized what I was doing was so incredibly dumb. To keep myself healthy, I dance, go on walks with friends, choose healthier foods when I can and, most importantly, just know that I am beautiful. As long as I feel healthy, I am happy. 

Another key component to having good mental health is to be confident in yourself! This goes along with a healthy body image. In high school, I eventually became sure of who I was as a person, but I was not always confident in myself. Even though I am in college having the best time, I also have to work on staying confident in my relationships and in my classes. 

One thing I have learned is there is always going to be someone that does something better than me. For dance, one person might be a pro at pirouettes, but my strength lies in jumping. Instead of getting jealous and getting down on it, I celebrate their victory and work even harder on my own abilities. Everyone is different and has different strengths. 

A tactic I use to be confident is to not take to heart what others think of me. Letting go of other’s opinions of me makes me feel so much happier and lighter. Why would you go to a pro bowler to seek advice about how to do a jazz square? You simply wouldn’t! I seek advice from my trusted advisors and certain friends and family. I also use positive self talk to be confident. 

For example, instead of getting down on myself for struggling to memorize a monologue, I tell myself, “You’ve got this! You have been working so hard and are very talented!” This may sound cheesy – and it definitely is. But, how you talk to yourself is so important. When I subconsciously speak to myself in a negative way, I say the things I am thinking out loud and it sounds even sillier. Another thing to keep in mind is that every thought you have is not the truth. My mind could be saying that I am a failure and no good at acting, but I know that is not true.

Other tactics that help me are being active in my hobbies. Singing is such a huge stress reliever for me and I would not trade it for the world. I also love to be with my friends and family, play my ukulele, listen to music, and be active. 

When I feel my mental health start to decrease, I check on all of the aspects in my life. Am I eating right? Am I exercising? Am I doing the hobbies I love? If not, I focus on those areas of my life I am lacking. We are all allowed mistakes but they are minor obstacles. At the end of the day, I have to trust that I am doing my best. Mental health is not an easy journey and I have to work on mine every day!

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