On being 25 and terrified

I’ve reached it. The age that people get to eventually when they actually feel like an adult. I think that people’s ideas about aging are pretty stupid; this idea that you only have a whole host of early stages in your life — infant, toddler, young child, pre-teen, teenager, young adult — and then you just become an adult and then a senior and then you are dead. That’s pretty fucked up to me.

I have a sense that others feel this way too. And that my least favorite term/concept in the world (“millennial”) is actually a multi-perspectival expression of that stage of life between the ages of 21 and 50 that everyone goes through. The word “millennial” just attempts to describe the extremely varied and complex experiences of this age group in the 2010s (which is why I think this concept is bullshit).

Being 25 is pretty awful. Yes, I know that this isn’t true for everyone and that I am probably just going through some shit that I want to generalize so that I feel like I am not alone in feeling this way. But I think that all in all, being someone in this stage of life is really hard. And while we might grow up “preparing” to become adults, what we are actually supposed to be doing is preparing to enter this limbo stage of your life when you doubt everything about who you are, what you are supposed to be doing with your life, and what it means to take up space in this world. Of course, many people don’t have the privilege to contemplate these questions because they are busy having children or taking care of their parents or siblings or what have you. But I refuse to believe that those folks don’t also ask themselves these questions when they have a spare moment before they go to sleep or after they wake up. I am not going to assume that those people are not also looking inward and asking themselves: what the fuck am I doing with my life?

It is terrifying. And no amount of mantras or meditation or books on the theory of attraction can change the fact that you are faced with the great unknown of possibility and chance. And that everything you thought you knew as a child about who you are, how you feel, what you want to do with your life is going to be challenged. Those of us who grew up in relatively stable households (and I am defining “stable” very loosely as someone whose household was totally fucked but also mostly happy) have parents who were dedicated to giving us a better life than they had. These parents whispered dreams and wishes for us into the darkness as they tucked us in at night, not necessarily realizing that their own darkness was waiting patiently on the other side of the door, still cradling the dreams and wishes their own parents whispered for them.

This year has turned out to be a year of many firsts for me: my first hemorrhoid, my first Valium, my first experience with opioids, my first experience with general anesthesia, my first therapy session, my first purchase of high quality sex toys, my first real descent into depression. These are things that I am not comfortable talking to my family about because they were not ever discussed openly in my house. These are the kinds of things that fall by the wayside as you imagine your adulthood — things you don’t even consider when you are imagining your life as an adult. These are things that I wish I knew might be completely normal for someone my age to be experiencing. I say this because I know so many other people in my age group, women of color in particular, who have been and are experiencing these things.

It doesn’t really help that my job is something people roll their eyes at — people both my age and older who have “real” jobs. I am a graduate student, getting my PhD in what basically can be described as “What the fuck is going on in the world and what are people doing to make it a more just and free place?” Yup. I study feminism, racism, and popular culture. I think it’s pretty cool and goddamn important. But other people on the outside looking in just kind of look at me as a peculiar specimen of “millennial” who thinks she can make a difference in the world by reading books, writing (and, oh, I don’t know, teaching young impressionable people only a couple years younger than me) and shouldn’t complain about shit because of the path she chose. Let’s just say, some people get it. Most people (including some of the people closest to me) don’t.

But the specifics of my own experience don’t really matter to this larger conversation about being 25. Whether you are a marketing assistant, an engineer, a food worker, a day laborer, a scholar-in-training, unemployed and living at home, or a part-time-odd-jobs-kind-of-person, being 25 is like hitting a wall that you cannot climb over. Some strange force of gravity presses your whole body against the wall and forces you through it while every part of your anatomy screams in agony. There is no break. There is only you and your body as you realize that the future seems so much scarier now than it ever did before, and that your body is changing more than it did when you were a teenager, and that there really is no going back. There is only going forward into a world where most people a little older than you are not very nice to you because they themselves are flipping out, and the people younger than you look up to you for advice.

Instead of ending on a positive note, (because who wants one of those?) I will end with what I think might help 25 year olds like me: fucking kindness, honesty, and a helping hand. We are all going to die (either by natural forces or because of Donald Trump) so why can’t people be nicer to each other? Press pause for just a couple hours every week to check in with one another and share the parts of you that are scared and struggling. Invite people to see what it is that you do and actually walk them through it, don’t just ask them to help you with something and then leave it up to them to figure it out. Respect each other’s time and know that 25 year olds will probably say “yes” to an opportunity that you present them with, even if they might pull themselves so thin trying to do their best that they might burn out or explode or just do badly. And let them know that that is ok. Support each other’s truest causes and encourage each other to dance in the darkness, even if we all must dance alone and afraid.

Gif by Abbey Lossing