Quarter Life Crisis – The Great Canadian Woman

September 15, 2020

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Ellen McGrath

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Quarter Life Crisis

As I approach my 30s, I am reminded of the feeling I would get as a child at the end of every summer, right before the new school year began. Similar also, to the “Sunday night feeling” before the start of a new work week. Like summers and weekends, my 20s went by too fast; there was so much more I had wanted to do. 

I don’t want to imply that I see no value in getting older, and I am genuinely looking forward to what my new decade has in store for me (I mean, it can’t get much worse than 2020, can it?) 

I am however, left with the feeling that I did not accomplish everything in my 20s that popular culture and the media told me I should. I am not married, I don’t have children, I don’t own a house. I am aware that everyone has their own trail to blaze, and it is unproductive to measure our achievements against one another. But still, that “inside voice” niggles…

A few years ago, in my mid 20s, I went through a pretty major life change.  On the first morning of 2017, I woke up in my parent’s spare bedroom, feeling foggy and completely gutted. The day before, New Year’s Eve, I had left my long term partner of 8 years.  It was totally unplanned; I had been visiting with my mom and she happened to mention that I didn’t seem like myself. These words opened the floodgates of hell that were the past 8 years. I knew instantly that I could not return home to our small two bedroom apartment that, if I’m being honest with myself now, always felt like a prison. As a matter of fact, I felt caged the entire time we were together. I learned quickly that no matter how hard I tried, my partner needed more mental health intervention and support than I could provide. It took me a few years to acknowledge the same was true of myself.  

After living a lie since I was 18 years old, I was a 26 year old woman who had absolutely no idea who she was, what she liked, or what she wanted to do with her life. I later learned that some people refer to this as a “quarter life crisis”, and I suppose if I live to be 100 years old, they’d be right. All I had wanted since I was 18, was to leave this emotionally abusive relationship, but now that I had, I felt completely out of my depth. Where the hell would I go from here? 

The answer was to TRY EVERYTHING. I dyed my hair fire engine red, got a bunch of tattoos and shaved the side of my head. I worked with a couple of girls who had also gone through recent breakups and we moved into a beautiful house together, I made some questionable decisions, and in turn I made some of the best memories of my adult life so far. 

Let’s however, go back to the “questionable decisions” part of this scenario. While I was busy having fun and living the kind of life I had wanted for a very long time, my mental health was still spiralling. I could not figure out why this was, when I had recently made the best decision of my life. The truth was, that I had an undiagnosed mental health disorder that was hiding just beneath the surface that was getting harder and harder to hide and control. After months of filling the emptiness I felt with booze, men and shopping, I called my mom and told her she needed to take me to the emergency room because I was having some kind of breakdown. 

Thus began my journey of learning who I was, deep down, stripped bare of all the hair dye and late night mistakes. I began therapy, medication, and being completely, brutally honest with myself. I started to listen to my inner voice and what SHE wanted. I always had a habit of being a bit of a “chameleon” when it came to my interests and hobbies; adopting the likes of others around me. The more I followed my own happiness, the more excited and inspired I became. 

One of the most important things I have learned about mental health over the past few years is this: MAINTENANCE. Maybe you are having a string of good days, weeks, months. This is excellent! You have taken care of yourself and the work is paying off. Do not, however, take this as a sign that you are ready to stop going to therapy, taking your medication or just generally being good to yourself. Because when the good times don’t feel so good anymore, as they so often do, you will have done yourself a disservice. You will feel unprepared. The trick is this; if you have a plan or schedule in place for your self care needs, they will start to become a habit. Does going to therapy once a month make you feel good? Awesome! Keep it up. If you already have these healthy habits and behaviours down to a science, they will be that much more accessible to you when you are having tough days.  Your brain won’t have as much work to do when it already knows what can help you. Trust me, your mental health will thank me!

So, on the eve of my 30th birthday, maybe I haven’t achieved all of the things I thought I would have by now. But maybe, just maybe, my 20s were only meant to teach me who I was. To ensure that I started my third decade with as many tools in my belt as possible. And for that, I am grateful. For that, I am proud.

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