I grew up with Lisa Frank folders, erasers that were believed to erase ink, trophies for mere participation and my parents’ encouragement that I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be. Growing up to be an anxiety-riddled, depressed, often-confused and manic 29-year old with a black legging obsession probably wasn’t their intent, but nonetheless, here I am. You know the joke that tells people to stay hydrated because they’re basically a houseplant with complicated emotions? Well, I can’t even keep that hypothetical/genuine houseplant alive. And to think, my husband thinks I’m capable of having a baby!
I emerged from college during a recession. When I was able to land a temporary gig as a human resources assistant when I was 22 years old. I thought pursuing a full-time role as their data entry clerk to be God’s gift from the heavens. And it was. I was able to pay for my credit cards and car insurance. I was able to buy myself new “adult” clothing that made the Liz Claiborne company VERY happy. When I was promoted to a human resources recruiter, I was among the few of my circle of friends who had a full-time job. I felt like my life was heading in a decent direction. When I fell in love the following year, it looked like my life was going swimmingly. It was one of those serendipitous moments when everything began falling into place.
My then-boyfriend and I decided to move in together after less than a year of dating. I enrolled back in college to pursue my Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English, maintained a 4.0 in school, landed internships, and began getting published on a regular basis. By the time 2016 rolled around, I was so deep in making moves that would define my thirties that it made all the late nights and struggles overwhelmingly worth it. Well, now here I am, on the cusp of turning the big 3-0, and I’m probably more lost than I’ve ever been. For the first time in my life, I’m unsure of my direction. It’s a stark contrast to where I was—and who I was—eight years ago.
I’m not “old” by any stretch, but there’s something to be said about turning 30. It means the decade that you’re destined to “find yourself” has practically come to a close. At least, to me, it is. My parents were parents by the time they were 30. My in-laws were parents by the time they were 30. Granted, they may have been living in starter homes, still flailing in their careers, but at least they were certain—or at least content—with the idea of starting a family. For our parents’ generation, it seems like starting a family was everyone’s center focus. To this day, my father still says that a job is just where you go to make money; it’s who’s waiting for you at home that’s important. I grew up with that same concept that continued to evolve over the years and has definitely shifted now that I’m nearly my third decade on this planet: Why waste 40 hours a week at a company that you’re not happy at? Is doing something just for the sake of doing so really ever worth it? Starting a family, buying a house, figuring out where to move, wondering if you should stay in your career all included (batteries sold separately).
I can very easily argue (and have) that my inability to figure out what I want stems from the tragedies I endured in my mid-to-late twenties: my mother’s death, my father’s cancer diagnosis, taking care of him, putting my grief in charge of my credit card.
All of those factors played a significant hand into where my life is now: semi-able to afford children (but not really), damaged credit scores (thanks, Mom), a car I pay for every month that I have on a semi-permanent loan to my father because his stopped working more than a year ago. My life has been one hurdle after another, and after a while, those hurdles began to unnerve me. Being pummeled by the universe over and over and over again did play a significant role in changing the trajectory of my life—some by my doing, some by mother nature and God himself.
My anxiety has gotten so bad that I’ve started having night tremors. When I’m at work, all I can do is daydream about all the things I want to accomplish back at home, but once I walk through the door, I’m too mentally wound-up and exhausted to accomplish any of them. I continually live in the past — overanalyzing mistakes I’ve made that have hurt other people, feeling insecure about making a move by my standards that would neglect or become “insensitive” to someone else’s. I overanalyze whether or not I want to move, if it’s right or if I can afford it. I overanalyze whether or not to have a baby, feeling terrified by all I’d have to sacrifice to the point that I was so undeniably awkward and weird when I met my best friend’s baby just last week. I wake up every morning with a to-do list that I can never live up to, going to bed with every bad thought imaginable. When I am in the moment, on rare occasions, I’m happy. But sometimes those moments are far and few between because of how much I overthink, over-stress, and over-analyze every move in my waking life.
That’s a lot for one person.
The other morning, my husband asked me if I’ve always been indecisive, and I thought back to being a kid trying to pick out which Beanie Baby I wanted to buy. Out of 20 of them piled on the shelf, my mother would take two by two and ask me which one I liked better until we got to the final selection. I would feel so much pressure, despite being there for almost an hour, that I’d often regret my final choice. Sometimes, my parents would go back and exchange it on our next visit, but most times, I’d suffer in silence, thinking I should have gone with the other option. And it hit me that I’ve always been this kind of person—anxious and incapable of making a decision.
Yesterday afternoon, when I met up with my longest friend for coffee, I looked at her and asked her if I was indecisive. Her genuine look of confusion surprised me. “Not more than the average person,” she said, and I asked her what she meant.
“I don’t think you’re any more indecisive than a regular adult,” she reiterated. And I felt the need to clarify that I didn’t mean the kind of indecisiveness she showed when we were teenagers, deciding what to spend her money on at the Deb shop. “You can’t figure out what kind of jeans to buy,” I told her, “but when it comes to life decisions, you make them pretty easily.”
She burst into laughter, shouting, “No I don’t!” before she slapped her hand against the counter. “I’m confused over everything! Having kids, whether or not to sell my condo, whether or not I should go back to school, my career. I’m stressed about all of it.”
I genuinely felt miffed by her revelation. But I also felt genuinely relieved by it. Maybe how I feel at 29 years old is normal? Maybe I’m normal.
For as often as I say that social media is a breeding ground for mental toxicity, I fall victim to it every time I log on. I see all these girls that I graduated high school with having families or announcing their second pregnancies on Facebook in cute and creative ways. I see them traveling the world, living in cool cities with cool jobs, appearing cooler than the cucumbers I sometimes like to soak in my cup of water. And then I think about what those same people see on my feed: my yearly trips to Walt Disney World, which are insanely expensive, articles published on Thought Catalog and elsewhere, dying my hair crazy colors and sharing videos of my workplace that is SO not regimented or uptight, attending award ceremonies for my husband’s career, sharing clips of the TV show he helps produce, attending concerts and plays on Broadway…
Perhaps to them, I look like I have the perfect amount of freedom and excitement in my life. No one knows about how cluttered my house is or how much I hate what it looks like. No one knows about the severe bouts of depression I face three-quarters out of the month. No one sees how often I break down crying about missing my mom, feeling hurt over comments people have said to me, or the fact that I don’t have a close relationship with practically anyone in my family. No one sees the anger and resentment I hold toward people or situations that despite trying, I can never seem to get over. No one sees the seven empty hangers and dresses slung over my shower rod because I hate the way they adorn my body. No one sees my Google Flights alert for flights I can never afford or Zillow estimates for apartments I can’t afford or am too frightened to move to. No one sees the ovulation kit I keep in the bottom of my bathroom drawer or the tears both me and my husband cried when we decided to put a pause in starting a family because I felt too overwhelmed by my family’s health and dire situation.
Social media is a breeding ground for toxicity and false information and false hope. Maybe there’s more people out there, like me, who are simply trying to figure out what their next move is or what’s going to make them happy. Maybe all of that is normal and widely accepted. Maybe I just have the wrong Facebook friends to remind me of it. All I know is that at 29, almost 30 years old, I thought I’d be a lot further along than I am. But maybe this is exactly where I’m needed to be. Maybe that’s kind of the beauty of growing up.