the new black: you and your quarter life crisis

When I decided to run away at the end of last year, throwing in my job to commence a desperate search for contentment and meaning, I had never felt so alone. At the time I was convinced I was the only person to have ever experienced the poignant feelings of failure and inadequacy that were undermining my identity. Yet from the moment I began writing about my journey, I became aware of an entire generation of people in the same position; feeling despondent and confused. Believing, as I did, they were lonely islands. Since the commencement of this year, I’ve received many emails and messages from people who’ve been where I am. Sadly, due to commitments and responsibilities, many find themselves in a state of stuckness, unable to break from the blue. But others answered the call for change and have shared stories of wonderfully positive personal outcomes.

There’s no shortage of research on the subject of the quarter life crisis. In fact, scientists and psychologists agree that the condition is nearing epidemic standards in the western world. Growth in levels of insecurity and depression are now affecting approximately one third of people in their mid twenties to early thirties, with educated professionals deemed most likely to suffer.

Author and expert Damian Barr suggests that in the twenty first century, people in this age bracket are experiencing pressures not previously endured until our forties. “Our 20s are not, as they were for our parents, a decade of tie-dyed fun and quality ‘me’ time,” Barr explains. “Being twenty something now is scary – fighting millions of other graduates for your first job, struggling to raise a mortgage deposit and finding time to juggle all your relationships.”

As well, we’ve been raised by a media obsessed with granting us the empty promise of limitless possibilities. From the youngest of ages we’ve passively received the message that success means achieving everything. All at once we crave celebrity, yearn travel, strive to look excellent, desire to be experts in our field, attempt to develop and maintain quality relationships. This perception of what it means to be successful inevitably leads to a period of radical disillusionment when the superman mentality proves impossible. At this point, we’re either broken by our inability to do it all and are left feeling like failures, or else we’re torn by our seemingly unnatural and ungrateful lack of whim to have everything and seek things we don’t necessarily want for fear of being left behind.

Thankfully, there are some positive trends for quarter life crisis sufferers. Wonderfully, research suggests that these transitional dilemmas, which typically last around two years, often lead to individuals building and concreting for themselves greatly improved lives.

Researcher Doctor Oliver Robinson from the University of Greenwich in London posed four stages for the quarter life crisis. The first is characterised by an illusory feeling of being trapped within a job or a relationship; logically you know you can leave, but emotionally you feel that you can’t. The second begins with the realisation that change is possible, leading to emotional conflict and upheaval; a difficulty which proves a vital catalyst for positive change. The crisis then shifts into its third stage; the structuring of a new, alternate life and seeking broader personal clarity. The fourth and final stage consists of cementing fresh commitments which more closely reflect your inherent interests, aspirations and values.

Experts suggest that the way to emerge from the crux of a quarter life crisis is to plan for success and make clear goals. If you feel you don’t have enough direction to make long term goals, they suggest you start with shorter termed ones and work your way up. Having a creative pursuit has been found to help people through quarter life crises, providing an emotional outlet as well as a medium through which to explore and expose thoughts and feelings. Experts propose using this time of transition to pursue interests and the things you’ve always wanted to do. And of course, if you feel you need professional guidance, don’t hesitate; seek it. In life, we only ever get that for which we ask.

Though I currently feel no less lost than I was four months ago, I’m beginning to feel much more hopeful and certainly less alone. I truly think we’re going to be okay, guys. When I’m feeling particularly confused, I find it helpful to remember some words an old friend once gifted me. She said that nothing that is for you will ever go past you. So que sera, sera; what will be, will be. Just make sure your eyes and palms are ever open, quietly waiting.

 

 

If you’re interested in reading more, here are a couple of the articles I read while perusing the subject.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/may/05/quarterlife-crisis-young-insecure-depressed

http://www.theage.com.au/lifestyle/life/surviving-the-quarterlife-crisis-20100405-rmat.html

 

come and see my well watered eyelids

I am not an attractive crier. Rather, I’m the swollen, snotty nosed variety, whose puffy eyes and blotchy cheeks continue to betray me for days afterward. For me, even the term is lacking, as the unobtrusive shedding of tears envisaged when we hear that someone’s been crying doesn’t come close to depicting the disturbing display I can muster. If I had to characterise it, I’d be inclined to compare it to the desperate outcry of carnal moans, bellowing from a distressed animal, rather than anything I’ve witnessed enacted by an actual person. When I cry my whole self gets involved. It’s a shoulder shuddering, chest heaving, exhausting episode, whose legacy lasts long after the moments it actively occupies. Suffice to say, the first time I saw The Notebook I wore it on my face (and my sleeve), for the remainder of the week. It’s a messy business.

While I’m happy to make this admission, what makes things slightly awkward is that I cry a lot. Naturally, over the years I’ve learnt to use restraint while in company, as what I’ve come to realise is that being in the presence of an inconsolable, slobbering wreck of a human makes people feel slightly uncomfortable. The more that I think about it, witnessing someone lay bare their ragged soul must be more than a little confronting.

For the purpose of full disclosure, I think it’s necessary to declare at this point that I rather enjoy crying. Truly, there are days when no prospect seems more refreshing than indulging in a glorious, gut wrenching weep; though in the past, openly disclosing this to people has been a source of genuine alarm. I suppose this is because crying is largely considered the result of weakness or helplessness or pain; traits which we typically view as undesirable. Therefore, if we see someone tearing up, we have an uncontainable urge to somehow, through comfort or otherwise, make them stop. But actually, crying can be a form of relief; a much needed release for pent up emotions and excess energy. Sometimes, crying can be therapy.

I’ve cried a lot this week. On Tuesday morning I opened the fridge to discover that I’d forgotten to refrigerate the Bonsoy. An inconvenience which could be considered mildly annoying at best, the absence of chilled soy on this occasion left me utterly ruined. I stared at my bowl of dry muesli sitting pathetically on the breakfast bar, smothered by a spill of sliced banana. A surge of sobs instantly broke forth, loud and uncontrollable. Lowering myself onto the tiles, I leant against the kitchen sink and wept inconsolably; an onslaught which refused to dissipate even as I scraped myself off the floor an hour later to fix myself some toast and vegemite.

Since then I’ve spent many hours sitting solely in my apartment; crumpled, like the mess of snot soaked tissues surrounding me. The barrage of emotions which commenced largely without warning has somehow avalanched into a gushing onslaught of grief for which I can’t easily account. My tendency for tears, a characteristic with which I’ve always felt comfortable, is for the first time leading me to question my mental stability. I can only imagine it has something to do with the solitude; a perplexing theory, as until now, I’d thought I was enjoying it.

I’ve never lived alone before; I’ve always been afraid of the silence and the things with which my mind fills it. But over the past two weeks I’ve found a certain peace with this lifestyle. I’ve lain on the floor beneath a ceiling of fairy lights, listening to the sounds of domesticity floating in through the open balcony. I’ve bathed with the bathroom door open. I’ve let my body clock govern my sleeping patterns. I’ve spoken frankly and openly to my plants and revelled in their silent responses. I’ve allowed myself to feel lost in loneliness. For the first time in my life, I’ve not been afraid when I switch off the lights. But curiously, perhaps nonsensically, I’ve done it all with well watered eyelids.

I’m no stranger to sadness. But what’s got me all worried is that in the past when I’m not feeling good, I’ve mainly had a handle on what it is that’s coloured me blue. Having to wander, bewildered, through the cluttered terrains of my mind, searching for the source of my upset has been altogether disturbing.

Then, in the midst of discomfort, I began to wonder if whether, similarly to the way one might procrastinate about vacuuming the lounge room or cleaning out the garage, I’ve previously used obligations and responsibilities as a way of putting off something far more daunting; organising my messy head space and sorting through my baggage. Now, with no commitments monopolising my days, it’s becoming apparent that it might be about time to pour it all out on the floor and have a good hard look, in order to attend to whatever it is that’s been clogging my mind.

I’m sensing it’s going to be quite the job; it’s got me rather anxious. I’ve never much liked cleaning. In the absence of knowing just what’s to be done, I’m finding myself shoving it all to the back, where it’s less of an obstruction. I just don’t feel ready to take it on. I think I’ll settle for a fresh box of tissues and wait out the spring.