Chapter Twenty

Turning twenty last month felt largely like nothing at all. I suppose it’s because it’s felt like I’ve been turning twenty all year. I can confidently say that the past year has been one of the most eventful, significant ones of my life. I’ve had the pleasure of living abroad, traveling to several beautiful places, meeting incredible people who are now a much-needed part of my life, and experiencing exciting developments in my studies and work. Nineteen also brought a fair amount of pain— I struggled with distance relationships for the first time, agonized over my future, anguished over regrets, fretted about my loved ones. I felt out of control a lot of the time, and being someone who thrived solely on the concept of having and being in control, it was distressing to feel like I couldn’t change or fix or dictate so many things.

My teenage years were obsessed with the idea of control. I was Henley’s “Invictus,” defiant towards authority and firmly grasping the delusion of my own individuality. Firmly wrapped in the solipsism of youth, I was America in the 1930s— an isolationist powerhouse. After years of this cold front, I realized too late that this had become a brand, and I decided to stick with it. It wasn’t that I didn’t forge relationships, but rather that I viewed relationships as accessories, hopefully useful baubles, instead of clothing items, necessities.

In keeping with the on-brand teenage experience, anxiety manifested itself deeply within me. I was somehow wildly confident and achingly insecure all at once, believing I was simultaneously far superior and not good enough. These three words revolved around my head without end, pushing me to keep trying to prove that I deserved what I had earned and somehow still never believing it. Only years later would I find that imposter syndrome was a common condition.

Spontaneity was the third feature of my teenage years, and a prominent one of nineteen. Many a time I would find myself making decisions that I could not explain afterwards, as if there were someone else inside me who broke out every once in a while to wreak havoc on my existence. She was responsible for several things, some regrettable, some surprisingly not bad, but what began as my fun side in the first half of my teens became a major source of alarm in the second.

None of these three teenage features are completely eradicated from my adult self. I am still the same person, but I like to think that I’ve worked a few things out, straightened and untangled them. My immune system is weaker than it used to be; I need less sleep to be functional; I bruise more easily and for longer. Sometimes I think about babies without even meaning to (terrifying, truly). I no longer think of the people around me as temporary tools or mere sources of stories; I’ve learned how to love, how to include people, to invite them to share my life with me. I no longer fear that those I do love are my weaknesses— after all, I am no superhero, and there are no villains out there who will hold my loved ones hostage at the tops of buildings. I am still anxious much of the time, but I have breathing techniques and validation tools to work through the panic. Mania, the girl who lives within me, still makes choices out of the blue on occasion, but she and I have a deal, so I no longer blame myself for things in the past that I cannot change.

I’m hoping my twenties continue to be as formative as my teens were. Even passing this epoch is cause to be grateful, and the past seven years have been like a fever dream of sights and sounds and firsts and lasts. There’s been monkeys bounding towards me, snowy hikes to glass buildings, laughter at Saint-Saëns. There’s been real, somber history being made, distressing changes in the global sphere, mounting pressures between peoples. There’s been trips of leisure and trips of identity, songs with siblings and rooftops with friends. My twenties feel a bit different, like greater security, deeper connections, stronger faith. This decade, I’m choosing to believe in things instead of wildly trying to disprove it all. I hope it’s full of adventures and plot twists and tears of all sorts. Although I still can’t fathom what proper adult life will be like, I hope it’ll be cramped apartments and makeshift decorations, working overtime but still being excited about things. There’s a lot I expect out of my twenties, and I’ve got a feeling it won’t disappoint.

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