Where does all the time go?
There is always something of a psychological aftermath to birthdays and Christmases and New Year’s Days. While these are meant to be some of the best days in any given person’s year (the entire month of December is like an exercise in forced happiness), I can never help but feel a wave of something sinister almost as soon as the celebrations are over. I say ‘something’ because it’s hard to pin down exactly what the feeling is. Sadness is perhaps too simplistic; anxiety is too general. It’s more of a sort of remorse, which rolls around as reliably as the holidays preceding it, like a bad cold you can’t seem to nurse into memory.
It’s quite apt that the first blog post I write in well over a year is one about feeling like you’re wasting time. Just now, my instinct was to rewrite that, change it to: ‘feeling like time is slipping away from you.’ But I had it right first; it’s more that the time I do have, I fritter. It’s only as a consequence that it seems time itself is escaping me. But the truth is, it’s either that I’m not running very fast to catch it or that the net I’m using is just one large hole with a ring around it.
After a recent birthday, which itself was a happy and well-fed day, nonetheless, I’ve been feeling especially abundant ever since, not in experience or growth, but in regret. I worked quite hard this past year to improve myself and my circumstances, generally feel better about my life and its direction, and for the most part, my efforts have been successful. Still, no matter how hard I try, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve already wasted all of my chances, exhausted all of my options and have nothing left to work with. While I’m well aware that this likely sounds ridiculous, is ridiculous, is even borderline ungrateful, this doesn’t make the feeling any less visceral. If anything, it acts as an aggravation, a means of getting stuck in that relentless emotion-loop, feeling bad about feeling bad about feeling bad about feeling bad, until you realize there’s not been much logic behind these feelings; there’s not been much thinking.
Sure, there are plenty of people out there who would love to be my age, a time when society (reluctantly) allows you an excuse (somewhat) to still be figuring yourself and (almost) all of your shit out. But with every ageing year, society clamps down on its expectations, growing less and less tolerant and more and more tired of your inertia, like a disappointed parent, but one that you can’t simply ignore the calls of. They ring inside your head, and you answer them instinctively. It asks, “What’s the excuse now?” Once the excuse of youth is gone, you have to come up with something new: It’s my bad childhood/It’s my depression/It’s my soul-crushing job. But they all feel and fall flat when held up against your mirror image, reminding you that your life is meant to be growing too, alongside you.
Birthdays, Christmases, New Year’s Days; they’re like mirrors in that sense. They remind you of the passing of time, and everything you’re doing (or not doing) to squeeze the most out of it. I guess that’s it, really. I’m scared of running out of excuses. I’m scared I already have. I’m scared I’ve become that aged person already, looking in the mirror, wondering what they’ve done with their life.
The problem is, it seems like the age to have your personal pile of shit all neatly tied together is only getting younger and younger. By proxy, the reality of not having your shit together, of your life being as unstable as a drunk bachelorette on a mechanical bull, feels increasingly inadequate. The ages of my peer group, very late Generation Zs who nonetheless like to think of themselves as Millennials, we were around the last age bracket fully allowed to be embarrassingly young. It seems like being a kid is something of a dying breed (I could go into this in depth, but I’ll leave that for another day). And it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying looking at someone 7 years younger than you who dresses better, has better hair and better skin and an established morning routine, who smiles with the confidence of a self-made millionaire and walks with the certainty of someone who knows which direction they’re headed. Not that there hasn’t always been very young, very successful people. But it seems like now more than ever, there’s this overwhelming pressure to be “grown”, in every manner of the word. I don’t feel grown. I feel very much like a seed still. A seed waiting to flower.
I can’t help it. I can’t help wishing to be them, those non-kid kids. Even more so, I can’t help wishing to be 16 again as myself, so I could do everything differently. I guess I look at that age as something of a checkpoint in my life, as though I was a character in a video game who failed the round. But I’m not a character. I can’t go back to my checkpoint and have another go; I can’t do it over and over again and again until I win and get the high score. I have to just work from where I am, despite all the mistakes left behind me and the crippling inability to do anything about them. I just have to leave them there like bodies on Everest, things I can’t save, at least, not in the way I want to.
And so, because of this inability, the dementors suck my hope. I feel like because I can’t undo things, I can’t rebuild things. Sometimes, I feel like I could only ever have been successful, could only ever have had the opportunity to become the person I want to be if I started developing -truly developing- much earlier. Like any effort I put in now will amount to nothing, because it’s far, far, far too late. I will never be the bohemian 20-year-old who works as a writer in San Francisco, a girl who moved to escape the tedious, unaesthetic, pedestrian 9-5 existence and chase her dreams. I will always be the 20-year-old who cried every day in her little student room in her little student bed in Lancaster. And even now, despite progress, it would be a lie to say I wasn’t closer in personality and circumstance to the girl in Lancaster, the girl I actually was. And for some reason, I can’t get over that. I can’t get over the feeling that my past has poisoned my future. This feeling of permanence – the face of who I was, a disfigurement, is the face of who I always am.
There are people out there who have been chasing their dreams since they were preteens. I’m now a decade ahead, still not entirely sure what my dreams are. There’s that holey net again.
Ironically, this what-I-know-to-be-stupid-don’t-worry insecurity about having ruined my life at only 23 is a mark of my age, because only somebody in their early 20s would have an insecurity as self-absorbed and exasperating as that. I’m well aware of this, and it’s something of comfort knowing that literally anything I believe or fear right now is unreliable. I know that I know nothing and I like it, because it leaves me so much room to learn, to one day be sure about what I know and rational about what I fear. So there’s the positive in all this: I’m an idiot, but an idiot with self-awareness, and self-awareness is one of the most valuable things a person can have… But what do I know?
In all seriousness, it’s a work in progress to unlearn an insecurity so long-held and permeating. The quiet, logical voice tries to remind me that this way of thinking is remarkably toxic, and (to state the obvious) an excuse in and of itself. It’s a bogus reason not to try – if you convince yourself you’re doomed from here on out, you’ve wrapped yourself in that warm, cozy safety blanket called self-pity. When things go wrong, you can tell yourself that it was bound to happen anyway, even if you’d tried, because that’s just what life is like for you.
Some people lose their entire lives this way, dwelling on “wasted” time. In doing so, they only continue to waste more, until they have none left to waste. Sometimes, in all those years of dwelling, they never put anything to action and they leave nothing behind. Honestly, that’s more terrifying than anything else.
Put it this way, every year I can’t believe how old I am, and yet, every year I can’t believe how young I was a year ago.
It’s not too late; it will matter.