Like most mental health crisis, I’d thought I was the only one afflicted.Unique to my situation, I also thought that New York City was playing a heavy hand in it, and only some people people in my circumstances wouldn’t understand the city’s influence.In both ways I was wrong.It started in two ways: one because I was waking up in the morning feeling constricted and two because I began to read a lot of Hemingway and Fitzgerald.I didn’t read Hem and Fitz BECAUSE I felt myself loosening, I realized I was loosening because of the literature. I felt the Green Light of my ambition and career goals-my ultimate fulfillment-in the distance. But like Gatsby on the other side, I wasn’t sure how to achieve it. I was throwing around these temporary solutions like he was throwing grand parties, and ultimately, Daisy wasn’t walking through the door.On one hand, I felt very sure of myself in regards to my chosen profession. I’m lucky that I feel fulfilled by social work, because it’s one of the only things I’m innately good at. If I felt like I might be fulfilled by being a surgeon I’d be screwed: that kind of thing would be lost on me. And raise your hand if you’d want me operating on you in the future (yea, I didn’t think so).On the other hand, I didn’t feel fulfilled by what I was doing. I was tired, more tired than I’d been in a long time. That thrill and challenge I was used to feeling with my clients, and have written about here, was gone. I was going out less during the week, and going out too much on the weekends. I wasn’t producing creatively. It was as if I was stitched up at the sides, and those threads were loosening, allowing everything important inside to spill out.If I was sure about my career path, than what was happening to me?When I read the works aforementioned, I read about people who made choices because they FELT like it, because they WANTED to. Even if they didn’t have enough money, even if they didn’t know what might happen if they made a certain choice. There was a definite allure emerging in the idea of doing things based on urges or desire. How long had it been since I’d done something like that? Made a big decision, or really any decision at all, just because I wanted to? (Buying that box of Oreos at Gristedes and texting my ex not withstanding).Speaking of which, my personal life also left some to be desired. Here in 1920s literature were examples of couples loving fiercely and hard. Neither party contemplating what it might be like to divorce, or worrying about financial stability or whether or not their friends liked either of them. Here I was barely able to digest the anxiety caused by online dating, and marking yet another tally for the side of my scoreboard that read “Relationship Ended In Me Feeling Like Shit,” while the boards labeled “Satisfying/Successful” or “Just Fizzled/Not Successful” were left relatively blank.Alison encouraged me to remember that the grass is always greener. Which, I had been doing my best to remind myself. While none would doubt the romantic ASPECTS of Zelda and Scott, Ernest and Hadley, one might admit they wouldn’t want to be a PERSON in either of those relationships. The Fitzgerald’s spent most of their time as broke alcoholics, and Hemingway had failed marriage after failed marriage until he ended his own life after lifetime bouts with depression. Sure, both couples lived in Paris during the Jazz Age (in shitty, low rent apartments). Sure, both women were married to literary geniuses and are now immortal figures (but who cares if their mortal lives, the ones they experienced, were miserable due to ill treatment by their so-called partners?)So there were definite cons to just acting on a whim. But something had to give. I couldn’t stand at the end of this dock anymore pretending I wasn’t interested on what was on the other side.I tentatively expressed my feelings to friends all around the country. I expected to be reminded of how alone I was in my dissatisfaction. I was surprised to see a pattern emerging, so much so that when I shared it with my aunt she agreed as if she’d known all along.The Twenty-Something Life Crisis has been going on for years. Possibly even centuries.There’s a tug and pull between what your body and your newness can provide, and what your life knowledge allows you. It is a cruel truth, I’m learning, that while us twenty-somethings are at our physical and mental prime, we’re also the least prepared for what we’re engaging in. Hence the reason we so often feel like we’re “playing” adult: because we are.What do I really know about filing taxes, holding a professional job or maintaining an on-going relationship? (So far, call dad, show up on time and choose someone different than before). Everything we’ve learned is like training wheels, especially for those of us in college. College is a mile stone because it is life with training wheels. It gives you some exposure, but you can’t ride a two-wheeler until the training wheels are removed and then, shit, what now? You’d felt so sure on four wheels, and now that you’re on two you realize what you’ve learned isn’t keeping you from riding down the street all wobbly.I often worry that I’ll be in my 30s and 40s and look back at my 20s thinking, “What a waste.” I had the best body, the best and freshest opportunities, I was physically fit, at the height of my life’s education, but because I was still learning life lessons; not able to enjoy a minute of it.I am constantly plagued by insecurities: Mostly related to my physical appearance, failed relationships and career.Constantly I wonder whether or not I look or feel fat, whether anyone on the train can tell I haven’t washed my hair in two days, whether or not that boy/man finds me attractive. Constantly I wonder if I’m destined to die alone, if I shouldn’t just relax and give in to that nice guy, why I let that one guy get me down for as long as he did, forgetting how able and smart I am and let the guy with the “Bad Boy” resume take me out, torturing myself when it doesn’t work out. Constantly I wonder if I’m making enough money, as much money as my friends, enough money to pay my bills in the most expensive city in the world, if this is what I want to do, if I’m any good at it, if maybe someone else would do it better, if I’ll ever feel like an expert in my field.My father and aunt (along with most objective third parties) tell me to JUST RELAX. I know that years from now, I will have wished I’d done that more. But that’s part of the Twenty Something Crisis: you can’t. Without years lived, I have fewer chances to rely on past experiences that have worked out. When everything seems out of my control, how can I just relax and be sure that if it’s going to work out, it will?I was surprised to learn that nearly all of my friends in their twenties felt the same way. Their futures were unsure as well, in nearly all the ways that mine are. It manifested itself in different ways, one friend was questioning her entire field of work, another felt drowned by future insecurity, another unsure of an on-going relationship failing to fall in tandem with her successful career.A unique female trait is that we also tend to doubt ourselves: maybe it’s US. We’re not good enough, we don’t work hard enough, love hard enough, take good enough care of our bodies.I wish that I could end this with a hunky-dory How To about what steps I took to come through my Crisis, but I still feel very much in the midst of it.I’m still reading Fitz and Hem too, and I still feel the same way about gut decisions now as I did last year when I started reading.But there were a few things that I was able to remind myself that have helped, so I’ll share them in hopes that maybe another Twenty Something can add them to their arsenal.1. If You’re Not Happy, Find Out What Makes You HappyThis is certainly easier said than done. Maybe you think you know, but you aren’t sure. I found it helped me to think about my unhappy moments in order to determine when I was happy.For me I knew that I didn’t like filling out government paperwork or direct service provision as much as I liked one-on-one counseling or crisis work (ironic, right?) For me, this allowed me to learn that counseling and crisis work, something I’d once thought wasn’t a career goal, really was. That’s what makes me happy/professional-personally fulfilled.Also, writing makes me happy. Thing Number Two that I’ve been born innately good at. (Don’t get jealous, the list is only two things long). I was writing less. I assumed because I was so emotionally drained in other areas. My ability to create was being stifled.If you’re not sure what makes you happy, don’t stress. Most people take lots of time to determine this, and being happy isn’t something that’s sustained, it’s something you have to work at. Just take note of the moments you feel happy, and keep track. Journaling, I hear, is a good way of giving yourself a personal record of your Happy Journey.2. Once You Know What Makes You Happy, Pursue It.Since the hard part of deciding what makes me happy was over, I knew that I needed to take active steps to be that way.Of course there’s a level of Realism applied to this stage.It would make me happy to live in a loft in SOHO with an all black Range Rover. But I can’t afford those things, nor are they as important as some other immediate goals.My mental health was first, as were reaching my career goals.So I made the decision to actively persue my social work licensure. Being licensed would give me the ability to counsel one-on-one again. I also enrolled in writing courses in the city, giving myself a concentrated time to be creative again.If you’re not sure what to do with your happiness kernel, do some reasearch. If you’ve considered going back to school in a particular area, reach out to friends and family that have done that. Then research programs. How much does it cost? Can you work through a program? What doors does it open? Where do you want to be and ultimately what do you want to do? Research may give you some further insight into your next steps.
3. Eat Healthy and ExerciseThis one is so much easier said than done. For me, it is a daily struggle. I love how I feel after I work out, and eating healthy (thankfully) has been instilled in me my whole life. But I live in New York, where gym memberships are hundreds of dollars a month, the parks are rape grounds after dark, and it’s easier to get something delivered than it is to count to ten.I’ve found however, that when I do these things, I worry less about what I look like. Negative thought processes about my body, and the changes its gone through as I’ve gotten older are a never ending battle. Surrounding myself with positive people has also helped me work through that (Alison reminds me almost every other day that for the hundredth time, it’s not normal to be the same weight you were senior year of high school so shut up). Those people also can commiserate that yes, that model does look pretty and skinny (so you know you’re not crazy) before they go on to the aforementioned snapoutofit.When you know you’re taking care of your body the best you can, the rest of it you can chalk up to genes, God’s graces, and let it go.4. Feed Your Mind/SoulFor me, I’ve always been a creative person. In the most literal sense: I love to write, take photos, paint, etc. Seeing movies, attending concerts and listening to music are also important to me. Unfortunately I don’t do these things everyday, and even less often when I’m feeling down in the dumps or overwhelmed. Which seems strange, considering these things tend to keep me so centered, it’s when I feel LEAST centered that I let them fall away.Being creative and having an outlet is something you have to work for. My aunt has always told me that if you REALLY want something, you’ll have it: you’ll make time, you’ll save money, you’ll learn, etc. If you don’t do those things, then you really don’t want it as bad as you think. Most of the time I think this is true.If you want a creative outlet, you need to work for it. It’s probably something you’re already interested in/good at, so it’s really just a matter of finding time.You can do what I did and create a formal time (attending a class, going to a concert, etc.) or you can just give yourself personal goals (For example: this week I will work on my screenplay for 30 mins). You REALLY don’t have 30 mins? If you’re anything like me, my guess is you definitely would if you turned off the TV/computer, and tuned into yourself. I often write while I watch TV….(is that cheating?)5. Remind Yourself Of What’s GoodTwenty Somethings have to remind themselves that this is an on-going exercise. You’ll probably never stop doing it, which is a good thing. It’s a life lesson we learn from a young age: Be thankful for what you have.But that saying has new meaning when you live as an adult for the first time in your twenties, because the reality is that you really just don’t have much. Especially for my fellow TwentySomethings who live in a city where it’s a million dollars to breathe the air.It’s so easy to count the things that are the Big Suck: the plaster hole in our bathroom ceiling (for two years running), our boyfriend-less existence (make that healthy relationship-less existence), our lack of perfect bodies (less visible if we suck in like this), lack of furry companion (possible impulse pet buy coming up).
In the mean time, I say, much like a Twenty Something Optimus Prime: You are not alone, we’re out there. Meaning: you’re not the only floundering twenty something.