It Feels So Scary Getting Old

I’m newly 22 years old, and I guess most people would consider that an adult. That being said, I’ve found that with adulthood comes privilege — the type of privilege that you don’t have as a kid. For example, you get to choose what you want to eat for dinner. It seems far from monumental, but hear me out on this: I am a 22-year-old “adult,” and I just made the decision to eat a huge bowl of Fruit Loops for dinner. I don’t think I even liked Fruit Loops that much as a kid, and yet, here I am, a kind-of-adult person, eating Fruit Loops for dinner just because I can. There’s some part of me that wishes I could go back to a time before I had to make choices or be responsible for myself, when I could just go downstairs and find dinner on my plate already made for me. When I was younger, I resented the fact that I had minimal say in the trajectory of my own life. I went to school. Did my homework. Did the extracurricular activities I was expected to do. Ate the veggies on my plate. Completed whichever chore was asked of me. You get it. Long story short, I did as I was told because there wasn’t very much wiggle room for me to make other choices on my own. With these restrictions inflicted upon me, I longed for adulthood. At 14, I thought, If I could just be 16, I’d feel free. By 16, all I would dream about was being 18. I was desperate to leave my suburban town and have the independence that college would bring me.

By the end of the summer after senior year, I was getting ready to travel nearly 1,000 miles to my new school, to my new life. I suddenly felt terrified. I began having panic attacks every day. I couldn’t sleep through the night. My heart would race. I ran frantically to my mom and dad’s bedroom in the middle of the night, gasping for breath and exclaiming I was dying. As it turned out, I was not dying, but instead, collapsing under the anxiety that I felt in leaving my safe and comfortable bubble behind, and along with that, my adolescence. I didn’t feel ready to embark onward to my newfound freedom. After saying a tearful goodbye to my mom in the parking lot outside of the dorm I had just finished moving into and nervously returning back to my room, I suddenly ached for the comfort of home. Once I sat down on my squeaky twin size bed, a downgrade from my soft full size mattress at home, it hit me that this was my new life. I tried to reframe my fear. I told myself that attending college was just like going to overnight summer camp, which I had done with ease and minimal homesickness when I was 10 and 11. With my new perspective came a sense of relief. I began to have faith that I could manage living without the supervision of my parents and the comfort of my suburban town.

At age 19, I had just completed my freshman year of college. I would soon face my 20th birthday, and for the first time, I wasn’t eagerly anticipating turning a year older. Instead, I felt a quiet sadness that kept nagging at me in the days leading up to it. At the transition from my 19th year into my 20th, I experienced the ending of something I once held so close to me: my teenagehood. A few years earlier, one summer night, my friend and I drove through suburbia listening to a mix cd I had made especially for the summer. Written on the shiny surface in Sharpie was the title, “Teenage Dreamz.” At the ending of one song, she turned to me and said, “You really love being a teenager, don’t you?” I felt this warmth seep into me. I turned back to her and smiled, “Yeah. Yeah, I do.” My teenagehood was marked by two things: Lorde’s debut album, Pure Heroine, and the feeling of driving through the quiet suburban streets alone with tears in my eyes. Sometimes they were tears of joy, and other times, they were tears from sadness. It was a time of feeling everything so intensely that it seemed like it would never end, and besides, I didn’t want it to anyway. Ribs blasted through the speakers of my parents’ silver Acura that I had graciously been allowed to drive, while the nighttime summer wind whipped my hair across my face.Lorde sang to me, I’ve never felt more alone, it feels so scary getting old, as I drove through the amber glow of the street lights above. I could feel the lyrics in my bones. I couldn’t shake the impending doom of adulthood, that same adulthood that I longed for for so many years. I knew I would inevitably have to say goodbye to my youth, and it scared the hell out of me. I thought of seventh grade and reading The Outsiders and the words, Nothing gold can stay, echoed through my mind.

Years later, at 22, those same thoughts still creep into my head. I think back on how I spent so much precious time wishing I was somewhere else while simultaneously fearing leaving what I had behind. It was, and still is, hard for me to give up my sense of safety and sameness to move ahead blindly into something new. Looking back, I now realize that my mind was constantly worrying about letting go of my past and thinking so far into the future that I couldn’t enjoy the reality of my present. Now, I’m learning to take it one day at a time and embrace the fear that once kept me stuck — too scared to move forward, and even more scared of letting go. Finally, as some sort of version of an adult, I am ready to just be the me that I am in this very moment and accept the flux of time, no matter the fear and uncertainty it brings.