The fear consumes me, infiltrating my every thought, threatening to stop the perpetual pounding of my heart. With every passing day, it looms lower, imposing upon my reality, stifling my sense of security.
23. I am terrified of being 23.
It’s only an age, only a number, only a phase of life.
Why, then am I so afraid?
The smatterings of casual conversations ring in my ears, echoing through my mind, haunting me.
At 23, you have to have your life together, life together, life together.
A stable job. An advanced degree in progress. An independent living space. A steady, committed relationship.
I self-examine. I criticize. I fall short.
A career in transition. Postponed law school dreams. Living at home. A flirtationship.
I wonder if I’ll ever reach this mystical, ideal 23, this picture-perfect conceptualization of early twentysomething life. I constantly worry that I’ve failed at the simply complex act of living. What is my life if it’s not a meticulously composed symphony? What is my future if its melody is discordant, decrescendoing until the final vestiges of music have been snuffed out?
And then, I remember, and the cadence carries on.
I remember the woman, freshly 22, nervously fidgeting in a cavernous psychiatric nurse’s office, barely able to breathe under the suffocating weight of her anxiety. The woman who sat at the edge of a crystal-clear pool, lost in thought and squirming with discomfort, unable to accept her body, unable to accept her mind, unable to accept herself. The woman who laughed a little too wildly with her friends to convince them she was okay. The woman whose thoughts drove her to a dark place as she frantically fought to save herself from the chaos of her mind. Not today. Not on my birthday. Stay. Stay. Stay.
Suddenly, my ideal image of life at 23 dissipates as I rediscover the remarkability of my tenacity, my will to continue living through the sheer weight of my darkest moments. The high-powered job, the law-degree-in-progress, the impeccably decorated apartment, and the lasting relationship no longer matters. It is enough that I am here, that I am happier and healthier, that I am thriving on my own terms, that I am living new dreams. It is enough that I am simply 23.
I am slowly learning to embrace 23, to celebrate the year as a culmination of the challenges and triumphs that have shaped me into the woman I’ve become. I am dedicating today and every day to reveling in my milestones, marveling over my successes, and eschewing my perceived failures. I am learning to love life exactly as it is, not as an idealistic notion of what it “should” be. I am fully discovering the beauty of my 23 joyful, heart-wrenching, inordinately fulfilling years on Earth.
You may feel fear loom over you as the passage of time haunts you. You may worry that you’re falling behind in life. But, once you resolve to see your age for all it can offer instead of ruminating over where you hoped you would be, you will discover the beauty of your life as it is. Celebrate your milestones with wholehearted joy. Acknowledge the pain that brought you to the present. Bask in every fond moment, every step forward, every breath inhaled. Treasure the most precious, fulfilling gift you have ever received — life itself.