20. (Age of Aquarius)

cw: discussion of depression

Another piece of writing about my latest existential crisis. Video transcript after the cut.

When I was a little kid, my favourite things were Polly Pockets and Lizzie McGuire. My entire childhood revolved around fantasizing about my inevitable adolescence— what would I wear? What would my hair look like? Who would I date? What would my first job be? There were no limits, only potential and possibility. I could not wait to be a real live adolescent. Today, I turn 20, and my adolescence comes to an end.

There are two things that are triggering this latest episode of my never-ending series of existential crises. Firstly, that my past is over. Secondly, that my future now begins.

Adolescence seems like a time designated for Growing Up™️, and, in theory, once you’ve completed it you are Grown Up™️ and ready to take on the world. I definitely did a fuckton of Growing Up™️ throughout my adolescence, but I did a lot of the Growing Up that I shouldn’t really have had to do as a teenager, and I missed out on the more typical teenager-y Growing Up I should’ve done.

When I was 13 and my friends were getting into makeup, I was making feminist rant videos and being on Anderson Cooper’s talk show. When I was 15 and my friends were having on-again-off-again drama-filled friendships and relationships, and worrying about how best to fit in, I was dealing with severe mental illnesses.

My goal in making these comparisons isn’t to win the Pain Olympics, or to invalidate the experiences of my peers. I too got into makeup, and had some incredibly dramatic romantic relationships. Those seemingly frivolous experiences and the complicated emotions that arise from them are 100% valid and necessary. The point of adolescence, the process of Growing Up™️, is building up context for your existence.

You SHOULD be worried about fitting in in high school! It seems like a stupid thing to care about now, because you have more important things to worry about. But you build up to that, y’know? You SHOULD start off worrying about trivial things, so that you can gradually develope a tolerance for life, before it fucking slaps you in the face, which it will, because it’s life. You SHOULDN’T be making a suicide plan in high school! I mean, you ideally shouldn’t ever do that, but if you’re going to, it would be a lot easier to handle a slap in the face like suicidality once you have more context. More understanding. More tolerance.

Being a teenager is, at so many times, intolerable. You feel everything so strongly, because you’re a hormonal mess, and because you’re experiencing so many things for the first time. It’s a lot. I’ve been saying for a while now that last year was the year of my life filled with the highest number of shitty things (hitting my lowest weight, heartbreak, friend’s suicide attempt, self-harm, my suicide attempt, dad dying), but it’s still not the hardest year of my life. Nothing can top the sheer agony of being 15, even though it was arguably easier than last year was (heartbreak, severe depression), because I was 15. I had no frame of reference for anything happening to me. Maybe that just speaks to how dead inside I’ve become now that I’m a Yung Adult®️, but the point is, I am far more capable of handling trauma now than I was then. I seriously appreciate that part of my growth.

But, to quote this Tumblr post I saw that explains this really well, there’s a “weird trauma dichotomy where you’ve always been considered more grown up and mature than your peers but now that you’re an adult you feel like you’re still a child emotionally.” I’m barely an adult, I’m a young adult, but I’m really feeling that right now. You need someone to talk to about your deepest, darkest secrets? Hit me up. You need dating advice? Well, despite my being in relationships for the majority of the last 5 years, I still have no clue what I’m doing, because I failed miserably at that—y’know, more ‘normal’ for a teen—part of my Growing Up™️. I’m not repeating the same mistakes over and over again anymore, but believe me, I’m finding new ones.

Anyway, I haven’t even bee n describing myself as a teenager for a while now. I can legally drink, smoke, and vote. I really feel that I lost any even vague connection to my childhood when my dad died last March. Whenever I make jokes about being a TEEN they’re… me being ironic. Or defiant against my cruel, cruel fate. It just seems terrifying to let go of such a heavily romanticized part of my life, but—unlike the vast majority of things—the more I think about it, the less it scares me. So, okay, yeah, I’m officially no longer a teenager. But birthdays are illusory—I didn’t wake up today feeling profoundly older than I felt yesterday, because that isn’t how growth works. It comes in waves, usually when we don’t even want it, and we just don’t acknowledge our progress until we’ve made it one full trip around the sun. Do I collect $200 as I pass by? This day has been creeping up on me, slowly but surely, for 7 years.

And I realize I’m being a bit silly and melodramatic, because I’m only turning 20, which I know is still so fucking young. I just honestly didn’t think I would live this long. I’ve tried to kill myself twice. Despite my best efforts, I am still here. And beginning a new decade draws attention to the fact that, like, I have another fucking decade to be alive. If I’m lucky, 5 more decades on top of that. Like, what the fuck? That’s overwhelming to think about.

Um, in January, I went back to school—in fact, my reading week begins today—and it has been immensely strange to be in college working towards a degree, towards a future that is at least 4 years away. I’ve always hated being asked where I see myself in five years, because my answer is usually just, “I dunno lol, ded?” Now, like, assuming I don’t perish via some terrible accident, I actually… Have to think about… A legitimate answer to that… Because I will be alive… And I have a future…

It isn’t really turning 20 in and of itself that scares me. It isn’t even really aging that scares me. It’s just… living. Living is scary. I’m scared of all the big girl problems I’m gonna have to go through in the next few years, like buying an apartment, finding a real job, and doing my taxes myself instead of making my mom do them. But in coming to the end of my adolescence, I think I’ve now already lived through the scariest part of my life, the most intense and incomprehensible part. Through it, I’ve built up some context, some understanding, some tolerance.

I really don’t know what my 20s will prove to be ‘about.’ I’m sure I’m in for a whole world of pain and joy and love and heartbreak and laughter and sobbing and completely losing my damn mind and then, y’know, relocating it. My past is over. My future now begins. I’m feeling the weight of that today. But time blends together like Pollock brushstrokes—perhaps unwillingly, with each splatter felt viscerally, but eventually submitting to being part of a dissonant yet satisfying whole. I could just as easily feel this weight at any other time. I already have. And I will.