Is it possible to have a midlife crisis before life has even begun?
I have never doubted so much about so many things and thought about myself and the world in so much depth. I’ve doubted my intelligence, my religion, my relationships, my politics and everything else in between.
To be so disenchanted with childhood yet repulsed by adulthood is a funny place to be in- made worse by being denied legitimate responsibility yet still being inundated with information, with crossroads that will no doubt have more potholes and u-turns along the way and still having childish tendencies- and rightfully so.
If this resonates with you in some way, whether 17 or 27, this post is an ode to you. On some level, this is a superficial existential crisis that admittedly fades within 3–5 working days. For others, the mind-state described above can be the backdrop of a mental health condition, the result of trauma or making a wrong decision- in whatever capacity.
The following tips don’t claim to guarantee a full recovery from what are essentially recurring symptoms of self-doubt and a period of transition- compounded by the effects of pandemic. You might be better of googling the NHS website or maybe a cry is all you need. At the very least, these are suggested checkpoints to the path of an internal comeback.
Know that there is not one aspect of your identity that defines you
It sounds pretty simple to say but when we are young it’s rare to have a rap sheet of accolades- which in itself is perfectly fine. However this time is when that rap sheet begins it’s drafting process of and whatever it is that we assign our purpose to becomes the entirety of our self-worth. This could be grades, a university place, your desire to get signed, scouted or just seen for the effort you put into your responsibility such as being a sibling, carer, worker or even a survivor. Ultimately, no matter how many titles you hold or even how passionate you are about them, know that not one thing should be the totality of your value; all components work together to constitute what it is that makes you, you.
Why this very simple ideal matters is because when you fall short of the standard set, the effects of that fall can be dramatic at best and debilitating at worst. In some cases, tears may need to be shed or frustrations expressed. Luckily for you, being young and fickle means you are likely to and are given the space to try something else, to mourn and move on which is both a luxury and a right.
Engage in an activity that doesn’t require your phone
You may find yourself urging to finish whatever work to get your fix of memes, skits and 30 second tutorials- as if its somehow a necessary relief. And maybe it is. Or maybe the frequency to which we do this is an indication not only of how distracted or low you feel but how much you have been avoiding yourself, avoiding work and overall demands of the real world.
Instead, find an alternative. Journal, meditate, pray, play that instrument that’s been catching dust, read, exercise- anything that constitutes as ‘alone’ time- which categorically does not include your phone as the ability for others to have immediate access to you and your attention suggests you are not truly alone.
If there’s anything this period has made all of us do confront is ourselves- whilst becoming so connected and distanced at once. Adjusting back to schedules and social lives after being forced into confinement is likely to be a process that does not look the same for everyone and thus the pace at which this occurs should be tailored to you. Ultimately, the ‘luxuries’ you afford yourself is incumbent on how you value your time.
Invest in your room
Exercise agency in the spaces that are yours and go where you feel comfort.
Especially as teens who stereotypically spend countless hours in our rooms, when one is in a dark place, your room could become your sanctuary or your cell.
‘Investing’ in your room doesn’t have to break the bank or necessarily cost money at all. You could furnish it gradually, rearrange existing furniture, throw things away or add items and objects suited to your taste. Do and add anything that would make you feel more comfortable in your own space. Even if you share a room or you are between houses- particularly if you have unstable living conditions or difficult dynamics, find something within your space that comforts you, is unique to you or even empowers you. This could be a religious text, quote, decorative ornaments or even a notice board that helps you to organise your affairs. Exercise agency in the spaces that are yours and go where you feel comfort.
Limit social media usage
Whilst social media can help you feel more connected and thus access help it is also very unhelpful in that it blurs the lines of the different lanes we are all in and seeing one picture of success or enjoyment can compound your own melancholy.
Reducing your consumption does not have to be as drastic as deactivation, detoxes or follower clearances (although, these many be necessary depending on your needs) but could simply be choosing not starting your day with Instagram or TikTok until after you’ve brushed your teeth. Listen to an audio book or podcast before bed on some evenings. Perhaps designate times that you visit such platforms in the same you’d designate revision breaks, meal times or checking emails. During a ‘funk’ it’s very easy to want to escape reality but if drugs won’t numb the pain, validation from strangers and vicarious scrolling definitely won’t.
Give yourself grace
As I write this, I’m still experiencing this teenage funk. This is not coming from hindsight but insight. Engaging in activities listed above such as prayer or journaling evidence growth; staying dedicated to something and forming habits allows you to reflect, to self-asses, to see progress and ways to improve- all things that come with time- authorising life to take its course rather then letting life to happen to you.
Give yourself as much room and compassion as possible. If you can’t finish your already extensive to-do list, don’t. If you don’t have the capacity to reply to un-urgent messages, don’t. However, do not indulge too deeply in your disillusion. Giving yourself grace is just as much about courage as it is comfort. And so whilst you feel the need to retreat, reach out to places and people you know will hear you. Whilst, there’s nothing worse than a cry for help falling on deaf ears, if people cannot hear your story, they will feel your absence.
At 17 there’s a lot we can’t control. The liminal space before most milestone ages inevitability conjures feelings of distress, confusion, hopelessness and even fear- who’s to say we won’t be here again in same mind-frame at 24, 29 49 or 99. Notwithstanding the usual advice of healthy eating, exercise, sun and sleep, as well as finding things that you can control, find modes of respite and preventive measures that promote healthier habits, mindsets and attitudes in advance of the ghetto that is adulthood.