Advice I Ignored

Advice I Ignored: Stories and Wisdom from a Formerly Depressed Teen When Ruby Walker was 15 going on 16, she went from a numb, silent, miserable high school dropout to a joyous loudmouth in one year flat. Advice I Ignored answers the question everyone's been asking her since: What happened? Full of stories, honest advice, fierce hope, and over 100 hand-inked illustrations, Advice I Ignored is an important resource for teens suffering from depression (which has reached epidemic proportions), parents who have one, and educators who want to help. Applicable for adults suffering too!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Ruby Walker is an 18-year-old college student, artist and writer. Ruby grew up in Austin, moved down to Buda (TX), dropped out of high school, earned herself full tuition to a private university, and is currently studying art at Trinity University in San Antonio. Advice I Ignored: Stories and Wisdom from a Formerly Depressed Teen is the only book on teenage mental health actually written by a teenager.

Q&A with Ruby Walker

When did you realize you were depressed? Did you go to a doctor or were you feeling sad all the time?

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 fifteen, 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 fifteen, 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 spiralled downward.

Do you think our schools are adequately equipped to help teens or kids with depression? What can teachers do or say to a teen who seems to be going through depression?

I don’t think schools are designed with mentally ill kids’ needs in mind at all. I had a very negative experience with public Texas high school myself, which is why I dropped out. I really wish that my teachers had considered why I might be struggling to get work done, rather than just assuming I was lazy because I couldn’t stop doodling in class. I wasn’t lazy, I was in pain.

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. That’s the best thing I think all parents should do.

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 P.E. 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.

Do you think New Year’s Resolutions are helpful to someone who is battling depression? Why or why not?

It depends on the person, really. I think there’s this big pressure to make some kind of breakthrough around New Years, and that can be upsetting. Go at your own pace. Go slowly. Healing doesn’t happen according to a calendar.

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.

Could you talk a bit about why hope is such an important aspect of your story?

When I was sixteen, after a very long and emotionally eventful year in recovery, I was happy with a vengeance. And honestly I could be a little annoying about it - I wore a lot of yellow because I only wanted to wear black before, and I laughed all the time - because it was easy to laugh again and I almost couldn’t believe it. It was the kind of joy you can only feel after a lot of misery. But I think...When it comes to books and movies and TV that deals with depressed teenagers, especially gay teenagers like me, I was only seeing the misery. In things like Thirteen Reasons Why and Dear Evan Hansen, the characters I related most to were always the ones that ended up dying. You never see them getting better. Of course those stories are real, the bad ones. They’re important to tell. But my story exists too. And I want to say: there’s always hope. I lived, here’s what happened, here’s my story.

You can follow Ruby on Twitter at @rubyirl


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