I find myself, I think, in the throes of a quarter life crisis. The realisation hits in the back of a car, where the two women in front are talking about the rising price of cocaine in the city, the perils of having sex with bartenders on their breaks and whether the mainstreaming of all night warehouse raves has made the whole thing feel a little less authentic somehow.
Oh god, I think, I’m wasting my twenties.
This thought comes at me with force, ignoring the reality that I’m both too much of a suck up and too much of a control freak to do drugs, that I have a wonderful partner, that every time I’ve been to an all night party, I come home exhausted by the effort that everyone is putting in to prove they’re having the best time. That I don’t want these things does absolutely nothing to quiet the clanging certainty in my head. I’m wasting my twenties.
In my hometown, my classmates have been adults for what feels like centuries. They have cars and mortgages, are confidently negotiating their second kids, their second marriages. I think about the money that I pour into the city, carving out a life in my tiny flat, buying lipsticks and dim sum and tickets to drag shows. That this life is glorious and raucous and everything I want also does nothing to quiet the thought. I’m wasting my twenties.
Which is where my other half finds me, gently putting a cup of tea down beside me and enquiring as to why I’m lying on the living room rug. I sigh and tell him that I think I’m having a quarter life crisis. He takes my hand and muses that at 27, it’s probably closer to a third-of-a-life-crisis. This does not help matters.
For Christmas last year, my sister bought me a box of pencils, the words “Get Your Shit Together” emblazoned across them in gold. My sister is one of those extraordinary people whose empathy gives them an air of clairvoyance – she often knows what people need long before they do and gives it to them in small, quiet ways. Lying on the rug, I spot my box of pencils. And I do the only thing I know how to do when my head gets too noisy to make sense of. I sharpen my pencils, light a candle and I write.
I think about this strange new panic that’s enveloping me, impossible to reason with or make sense of because it’s filled with paradox and contradiction. I want to go to illegal warehouse parties but also to put down a deposit on a house, and if I really think about it, I don’t actually want either of those things. I’m seized with the thought that I’m running out of time somehow, but also with what feels like a kind of agoraphobia. I can make my life into anything that I want, go anywhere, be anything, do everything but everything is too many. As a lifetime overachiever, my brain struggles to comprehend the idea that there’s no right answer, no winning choice. I look helplessly around at the choices other people are making with surety and ease, and I have no idea what I want.
And then the epiphany hits, in the same way that almost all epiphanies happen – with a pencil in one hand and a glass of wine halfway to my lips. Like many storytellers, I am at heart a total narcissist, believing my thoughts and feelings to be unique, original. But it suddenly strikes me that like Imposter Syndrome, social anxiety and not understanding the works of Harold Pinter, it’s likely that everyone feels how I am feeling but no one is talking about it.
So here I am. Talking.
I started the Escapologist’s Daughter almost six years ago, with a blog post confessing that having just graduated from university, I had no idea who I was or what I was supposed to be doing. I was terrified as I hit publish, terrified of my own feelings, terrified that everyone else would look at me and feel some kind of baffled pity. I was immediately buried under messages from my fellow graduates, giddy with relief that someone else was feeling the same as they did. We all felt caught between our dizzying new freedom and the ingrained desire for someone to come and tell us what to do, tell us what the next step was.
Six years later, I still don’t know who I am or what I’m supposed to be doing. I still don’t know what the next step is. I hate not knowing things. So here is a collection of things that I know.
I know that not knowing who I am is okay, because I am a glorious, flawed work in progress, building myself piece by piece, erasing and evolving every day.
I know that if you are living with kindness and with joy, you can’t go too far wrong.
I know that neither of these very sensible thoughts will completely silence the panic that I’m missing out on something somehow, and that this is also okay because brains are strange and berating them for being strange helps no one at all.
I know that I’d rather hunker down with a bottle of wine in a pub with sofas than spend all night doing cocaine in a warehouse.
I know that if I was given the chance to trade my frivolous, glittering years in London for the stability of a house and a career path, I wouldn’t make the trade.
I know that lots of people would choose differently and that none of us are right and that all of us are right.
I know that no one ever feels like a real grown up and that no matter how confidently I build my life, I will always contain shades of that twenty one year old graduate, blinking in the sunlight and asking what the hell do I do now?
I know that the increasing unlikeliness of me landing on a thirty before thirty list doesn’t mean that I’ve failed my twenties.
I know that when I inevitably find myself lying on the living room rug again, I’m lucky enough to have people who will bring me tea, buy me pencils, or just lie down beside me and tell me that they understand what I’m going through.
Hey, you. From my living room rug to yours, I understand what you’re going through. Take my hand. We’ll go together.