via Kat van Loon  Flickr Creative Commons

via Kat van Loon
Flickr Creative Commons

I’ve been thinking a lot the past few days about maturity and responsibility. I often find people surprised by my age, thinking I am older than I am because I seem to reliably have my shit together. And no one keeps it together 100% of the time, but I really do try.

And then I wonder if it’s because of what I’ve been through. Several weeks ago, I was saying to my therapist that I felt badly about my own success when I saw the birthday of an artist I admire on Facebook and realized we were almost the same age. I had been looking at this person as a potential model for my own success, and being confronted with the fact that they are only months older than me left me tinged with shame at what I perceived to be a stall in my own career goals these past few years.

And she said to me that perhaps they haven’t had to overcome the struggles that I have. Which I hadn’t put – and probably don’t put – into perspective often enough. Not everyone has to deal with being pratically disowned from their family at 19. Not everyone has survived several emotionally abusive relationships and what they could only recognize as PTSD years later. Not everyone has travelled over 1,000 miles from where they grew up and had to develop a support network from scratch. Not everyone has had their deepest assumptions about life, love, and family challenged and had to recreate definitions on their own. Not everyone has to work to manage anxiety and depression on a daily basis, to varying degrees of efficacy.

I have a support network in Austin for which I am infintely grateful, but it is not as if I could go live in my parents’ basement (or attic) if things got bad. Some people could. From the time I was outed to my parents, I had to learn how to solve problems for myself. How to take responsibility for myself, the way my actions affect others, and the consequences of failing to meet expectations (whether realistic or no). How to make sure what is necessary is achieved, even if or when there is no safety net.. I can’t say I was good at it to begin with, but I think I have a handle on it now. Some people start learning that lesson well before the age of 18-19 and some people apparently long after. There are, of course, some problems I cannot solve completely of my own volition, and there have been plenty of times I needed assistance to succeed. Without the help of numerous loved ones and mentors over the years, I wouldn’t be nearly as well-adjusted as I am today, or even alive to be honest.

But I can’t help feeling that being hospitalized for a nervous breakdown at the age of 20 has shaped my life in ways which are foreign to those who have not had a similar experience. I’ve been to the bottom of the well. I know how bad it can get. I know I do not want to return there again.

Everyone will have to overcome adversity at some point in their life. But those who are used to having things handed to them, or who haven’t yet experienced the repercussions of a poor decision or a string of unfortunate events are able to breeze through life in a way I never will. There are mistakes I cannot afford to make. There are holes which, if I fall in them, I might never be able to escape.

Is adulthood just being fully aware of how bad things can get? Of setting a bar which you refuse to fall under? Is having your shit together just having a plan? A direction? A goal? Rather than aimlessly receiving whatever life throws your way and letting things happen to you passively, setting out with purpose to take what you want from it, even if you do not ultimately succeed?

I may not always know what I want, but I will only learn that by understanding what I do not want. Because I have been failed by others in the past, I know the importance of staying true to my word and not letting down those who are relying on me. In a lot of ways, I’m already living my second chance. I know I don’t want to waste it.

Much love to an old and dear friend Celi Oliveto for supporting my writing via Patreon.

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