Nicola Morgan Helps Understand.
Questions of identity are at the heart of my book More of Me. Teva, my main character, really struggles with growing up and, though her circumstances are unique, she’s absolutely not alone in the way she feels. Growing up is hard. Since the book came out, I’ve been touched by the number of people who’ve said how much they identified with Teva – in particular with Fifteen and Teva – whose relationship is like two parts of a whole fighting for dominance and understanding.
It was this question of identity that prompted an amazing young woman to get in touch with me. She has Dissociative Identity Disorder and she suggested I ask Nicola Morgan, author of Blame my Brain, The Amazing Teenage Brain Revealed, why she thinks some teenagers, even those from relatively stable backgrounds, find the transition from child to adult so difficult?
The key is your word “transition” – moving from child to adult is a massive change. Obviously life involves change, but there’s a big difference for teenagers: to get from being a protected, dependent child to an unprotected, independent adult, you have to break away and that can be tough. You have to stop automatically believing a) what the adults around you say and b) that they can protect you. This can lead to big anxieties. But growing your own views is part of becoming independent. How can you have your own views if you always believe everything your adults say?
I call adolescence a perfect storm of change.
Everything is changing: inside you (brains, hormones, feelings, understanding of the world, self-knowledge, empathy) and outside you (school, expectations, responsibilities, fears, friends, exams). Change is exciting but it can also be scary. And even if it’s not scary it is very preoccupying! That means you can make mistakes because part of your mind is occupied by all the changes and how they are making you feel. How we feel affects how we behave so sometimes it’s harder for teenagers to be in control of words and actions because their thoughts can feel so overwhelming. Everyone, of any age, makes more mistakes when under pressure or preoccupied by worries.
Having what you call a “stable” background isn’t always enough to make this easy. In fact, teenagers from “stable” backgrounds can still have a tough time and many from difficult backgrounds can be really resilient. It’s more complicated than simply who and how your parents are. Teenagers are also affected by the people surrounding them at school – in fact, I’m currently writing The Teenage Guide to Friends, because friendship and peer pressure are such a big deal for teenagers.
I also think there are things about modern life, with the internet so dominant, that increase the pressure on teenagers compared with when I was a teenager. Pressure to conform to unreachable ideas of perfection, the risks of social media, digital distraction: all these and more can make life tougher.
Teva, in More Of Me, I think demonstrates perfectly the changes that happen during adolescence, and how hard it is to leave each change behind. I won’t spoil the ending for others by saying whether or not it’s a book about mental illness, but it’s obvious that it is about a girl who is struggling with the changes in herself. She’s incredibly self-conscious, really watching herself change each year. I think you capture that brilliantly!
I think it’s incredibly important to realise that good mental health doesn’t mean always feeling happy but it does mean not always feeling sad.
Anxiety, fear and sadness are normal, healthy emotions but feeling them so much that your life is being spoiled isn’t OK. If that’s you, talk to a trusted adult: there are so many ways we can help!
I’m so grateful to Nicola, who believe me is so busy it makes my head explode just thinking about it, in taking the time to write this. If you’re struggling and don’t feel there is a trusted adult you can turn to, you can contact Childline ( if you’re under 16) or The Site, (if you’re over 16). I promise you, there’s help out there, you are not alone x