My brain, for the past 12 months, has felt like a broken record, stuck on a loop of concerns that I’m supposed to have already resolved.
Most nights, I lie in bed and calculate how much sleep I’ll get if I close my eyes at that exact moment. But then I tell myself I need to go to the gym, or for a walk; I need to start applying for jobs and contacting people about freelance work; I need to start dating and go out more on weekends. I need to save money, I need to book a car service, I need to research working visas. I want to check Instagram, but I need to avoid screens an hour before bed.
My heart will start beating really fast, and I’ll consider listening to music or a podcast – a boy once told me he listened to the New York Times Book Review to settle down at night – to remind myself I need to get to sleep, and fast, otherwise the nine hours I calculated will become seven and a half, soon to be six. All of these “needs” keeping me up at night, when all I really need is to shut my eyes.
I would call it mind-numbing if it weren’t actually the exact opposite.
I thought the record would’ve finally stopped turning when I graduated in December. Yet just the other night I lay awake entertaining the things I didn’t do or could’ve done better at uni until common sense prevailed and reminded me that I’ve completed my degree, and that these things don’t matter anymore.
This never-ending reel of anxieties could just be the aftershock of 15 years of schooling and not much time to process it, all culminating in the five most exhausting months of my entire life.
Semester two, final year – the homestretch I’d spent the entire two and half years prior telling myself and everyone else how easy it would be: “what a nice way to finish!” – hit me like a fucking train. It drained me of my willpower. It drained me of everything. Nothing could’ve prepared me for it – it was possibly the most hellish time of my life; featuring deadlines and sore throats and what would’ve been many, many breakdowns had I gifted myself the time to fall apart; and musings about which planet was in retrograde. I never used to be a spiritual person. Yet I clung to explanations on the positioning of Mercury and Venus, because the universe just felt so out of whack that I needed a reason for it, and that reason couldn’t be that I didn’t care anymore – that for the first time in my entire 15-year education I didn’t care if I just scraped through, because all I wanted was to get out the other side. I needed a reason greater than myself. And I kept thinking, over and over again: What do I do? Just give up? When have I ever given up?
Turns out, how you cope is just to cope. To put one foot in front of the other, and hope that that’s enough. It’s a wonder anyone makes it out alive.
But even though there were plenty of days that did not feel “good” when I was at uni, or even school, I knew that overall, I had it good. That every night, I would return to my sisters in our apartment, or call my Mum or text my Dad, and eat food that I didn’t always have to cook, and fall asleep with a rough idea of what the next day might bring. And during the day, between classes – or even during classes I just wanted to abandon – I knew I wasn’t actually risking my future. I was going through the motions of constructing one for myself.
Now everything feels like a risk. Every time I think about the future, I get a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. Like when you’re swimming in the ocean and you want to put your feet down on something solid, but the water’s deeper than you think and there’s nothing there. The further I get from university, the further I feel like I’m drifting from my truest self.
I know that I am not defined by my degree, or high school, or studies. The books I read, the assignments I agonised over. But it was my life for 15 years, my one constant more than anything else. There was something soothing about the fact that no matter how out at sea I felt, I could always rely on the routine of school, of university, of moving toward something, to bring me back to dry land.
I am not sure I’m ready to lose that routine, that steady movement onward. I don’t quite know who I am without it. I don’t quite know if I’m ready to find out. Because now that I’m no longer a student, I have to be an adult.
And what I fear most about being an adult is not cooking, or washing clothes, or booking appointments, or paying rent, because these are things I’ve already managed to do. What I fear most is that I won’t amount to anything – unfulfilled potential. I won’t become who I’m meant to be. I’ll end up alone. I’ll make mistakes, because for the first time ever, I have no lines to colour inside, and I don’t know even know where to begin.
All of these fears run so spectacularly counter to the picture I have painted for my future – one with many children and lots of journalistic success and a big kitchen in a house of still undetermined location (but hopefully by the ocean). I’m still so comfortable living inside the picture painted when I began school 15 years ago, one where everything fit very neatly within the boundaries but with enough room for error. I can’t imagine a reality where I am not moving through life with seven assignments due, because in my head and in my heart, I feel like I’ll be 20 forever.
The best I can do is to remind myself that we’re all authors; we all write the stories of our lives and in doing so, either pen them in the ink of love or fear. If we’re writing out of love, we’re building in the direction that our dreams are willing to take us, but if we’re writing in fear, we’re constantly focused on what we don’t want instead of what we do. I need to stop worrying about who I’m meant to be versus who I’m not, and just start figuring it out. I have nothing to lose. I need to mute that broken record, because at the end of the day, when you doubt your power you give power to your doubts.
I need to remember that I steer the ship that is my life. And it’s my fucking rocket.