What to Do When Your Problems Are Bigger Than a Bad Grade
Advice from 18-year-old Buddy Project founder Gabby Frost.
Sometimes the whole “when life gives you lemons” thing is totally B.S. Sure, occasionally you’ll get lucky and turn a crappy day (these so-called “lemons”) into the proverbial lemonade, but the biggest kinds of issues require some extra support. Sugar, if you will. You need a friend who will listen to your rants, support you, and when life gets really tough, encourage you to keep going. Gabby Frost knows all about this firsthand, because the 18-year-old Pennsylvanian was the sounding board when her best friends were going through some especially hard times.
“I was 15 and in ninth grade when I found out that some of my friends were having mental health issues,” she said. “I’d constantly tell them that I was here for them, and that I would help them get through this. They were really appreciative of me just being able to listen and support them.” Later, Gabby, a self-proclaimed Justin Bieber fangirl, was browsing Twitter and noticed that other Beliebers were discussing their own suicidal thoughts online.
An alarm went off in Gabby’s mind. “They were tweeting that they didn’t have a friend or family member to confide in, and this reminded me of how much my own support had meant to my friends.” The experience inspired Gabby to start Buddy Project, an online community that pairs up two internet pen pals via Twitter to provide mutual support and an open ear. Only a year after its inception, the Twitter feed has over 97,000 followers and more than 127,000 buddies registered. (She got 3,000 signups the first day, nbd.)
It’s important to understand that having an online friend to confide in isn’t the same as a psychologist or even a parent; buddies shouldn’t replace an expert opinion. But knowing that someone is there for you will make you feel better, whether you’re suffering from depression, heartbreak, or just feeling down in the dumps. “Pretty much everyone who joins Buddy Project gets why mental health is important, and why we shouldn’t stigmatize mental illness,” Gabby said. “They’re not going to be like, ‘It’s all in your head’ or ‘Get over it.’ They’re going to listen and give support. They understand why someone might feel a certain way.”
Buddy Project’s pairing system is reciprocal, so each online friend can offer encouragement. “I feel like it shouldn’t be focused on one person, because what if both people are going through something?” The most important thing is knowing that someone else is there for you—whether it’s over Skype, Twitter, or IRL. As the first generation of kids who grew up on the internet, we’re so used to being told never to talk to strangers. But as long as you’re cautious (duh), having an online buddy is just as beneficial as a best friend who lives down the block.
The next time you or someone you know is going through a hardship or struggling with mental illness, remember that you’re not alone…even though it might feel that way. As Gabby put it, “The first step to feeling better is validating your own feelings. Once you feel like you might have a mental illness, you can decide to not let it define you as a person.” After all, there’s an entire online community of potential BFFs only a click away.
Find out more about Buddy Project here.