A psychology teacher of mine once describe anxiety as having a really bad improv team in your head: different agendas vying for attention, constantly talking over each other, and no one’s funny.
There is definitely a bad improv group that lives inside my head:
“Environmental injustice? Climate change, the sixth mass extinction that we’re in right now? Humans are ruining the world and what are you doing about it?”
“You think that’s bad? Look at all the social injustice also created by humans. Race, gender, sexuality, ability, age? What are you doing to change it?”
“Are you even considering economic injustice? Hello, money? Socioeconomic status anyone?”
“That’s not even the worst, what about people’s well being? Mental health and loneliness? No one is taking care of themselves.”
On and on, they go. Listing everything that is wrong with the world, challenging me on what I am doing about it.
I do my best to take action on as many front as I can.
I’m a strict vegetarian and flexible vegan. I don’t own a car and travel on public transport 90% of the time. I think about the ethical and environmental consequences of everything I buy. I check my privilege in every way and follow all the activists I can. I educate myself with all of the resources available to me and donate to as many causes as I can afford. I try to be a good person and take care of everyone around me.
A guilt lingers, still. A guilt that I am not doing enough. Sometimes, it still feels like nothing is changing.
But there is one thing that consistently gives me hope, a light that shines in the darkest of times: teenage girls.
Teenage girls have historically been the subjects of ridicule. We have never been taken seriously – either because we’re ‘girls’ or because we’re ‘too young’. The choices we make are never ‘right’ and the things we like are considered trivial. But teenage girls are the realest. We get the worst of it all but still manage to kick arse. We know what’s good for us. We know what’s bad. And we’re not afraid to fight. Hard.
Teenage girls today seem to be thriving, striking a closer-to-perfect balance of doing everything they can for the world and doing what they can for themselves. They fight for every injustice, and as themselves, not bound by what the system tells them to do to be taken seriously. Today’s young people are fighting with a difference – with love. And as Audre Lorde said, “if they cannot love and resist at the same time, they probably will not survive.”
Exhibit A: Greta Thunberg.
If you don’t know who she is, let me introduce you to an absolute light of life. Greta is a Swedish teenager fighting climate change. She started the international youth movement, ‘School Strike for Climate’, a demonstration targeting governments across the world to act against climate change. She just crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a 15-day journey in a zero-emissions sailboat, to attend the UN Climate Action Summit in New York on the 23rd of September. She also has recently talked about her Asperger’s syndrome diagnosis and how she uses it as her superpower.
But Greta has been attacked and criticised in every possible way, by people all over the world. From being berated for her activism and acts of protest, to being tormented for being herself, Greta has not been spared on any front of bullying.
What is happening to Greta, happens to change makers all the time, especially to teenage girls. From Joan of Arc to Malala Yousafzai – when teenage girls are out doing their thing, people at the top get scared and feel threatened. Teenage girls who won’t follow their rules, refuse to be controlled and gather together to disrupt their systems of power is terrifying to them.
It’s much easier to stay ignorant and dismiss these girls than to confront the truth of any injustice. So they start attacking them. They might first attack their cause, or how they are going about it. But most of all, they love attacking the person. The people who do this are the ones who feel powerful by making other people feel powerless – this isn’t real power.
You have the power, real power. As Greta said, the things that make you different are probably your superpowers. Some people might try to take away your inherent power. But you have energy, fresh perspective and a whole lot of love. Don’t let them hold you back. Following your heart, listening to your body and trusting your gut is what allows the magic to happen. You know exactly what you need. You carry with yourself the wisdom and spirit of all the girls who came before you.
We can’t, however, forget to also take care of ourselves. “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence,” Audre Lorde insisted, “it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
We get this constant influx of news and can feel like we need to be ‘doing’ all the time. It can be relentless and overwhelming. But this pursuit to be the ‘perfect’ and tireless activist can be a sure way to tire us out, to drain us and wear us down. Naturally, some of us can do more than others. And some days you might not feel like doing anything, that’s okay.
We don’t all have the resources to be doing it at all, all the time. It’s about taking care of yourself no matter what because you are doing the best that you can and self-love is revolutionary. Do the things that make you happy, too. Those things that are just for you. Make that cake, take that walk, listen to that song. Do what you need to do so that they don’t get to you down – reclaim your power.
I know being a teenager is a lot. On top of that, I know the world seems like a lot right now. But if anyone has any real power in this game – it’s you. You know how to think critically, to act and to act with love. Don’t lose hope.
I often think about a from line from a film, Before Sunrise. One of the main characters is getting her fortune read, and as the fortune teller leaves, she says:
“You are both stars, don’t forget. When the stars exploded billions of years ago, they formed everything that is this world. The moon, the trees, everything we know is stardust. So don’t forget. You are stardust.”
You are magic. And as long as you believe in it, it is as real as ever.
Sanduni Hewa Katupothage
Sanduni is a body and a soul: a human. She is interested in arts, science, social justice and spirituality. She also loves lemonade and cupcakes.