Life In A Pressure Cooker – What It Means To Be Eighteen

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“These are the best years of your life”, they say. “I wish I was your age again” is the constant refrain, but I have to wonder: is the desire to revert back to youth just a case of the grass being greener, of the spectacles being especially rose-tinted? Eighteen is the year where everything you have been comes to an end, and everything you will become begins, but there is no exact moment when this exchange takes place. Three weeks into adulthood, and all I feel is confused, panicked, anxious, terrified. Who am I, who am I meant to become? This is the most important year of my life so far: I must decide which university I want to go to, which career I aspire to. I must choose the road I will travel for the rest of my life, but the road is blurred by mist, and I am blind. As they said in Thelma and Louise, “You get what you settle for.” The question is: how do I know when I am settling? Being eighteen is like living in a pressure-cooker. I, an inexperienced and somewhat naïve adolescent, am meant to decide what I want to study, what I want my career to be, where I want to live for the next few years…and I feel like I’m being boiled alive.

I started school aged 15, after being homeschooled for pretty much my entire life. In the 2.5 years since there, I have had 3 complete identity changes (one for each school year). These changes were not deliberate; they were not a conscious choice of “I want to change”. However, they were cultivated; cultivated from a feeling of deep existential frustration, a feeling of “it can’t go on like this.” I was different at sixteen from fifteen, and I was different at seventeen from sixteen. And now, at eighteen, I am different from seventeen. I don’t know who I will be at nineteen, and I don’t know where I will be. Tonight, I was checking out the websites of the universities I have offers from. I know what my first choice is; I have known since before I applied, but my insurance choice? Of the five universities I applied to, there is only one that I actually want to go to (due to my random course combination, there weren’t many to apply to…). If I don’t get into Glasgow, I asked myself, can I actually be bothered to go to another uni? So I did what every person of my generation does when in doubt: I Googled. I Googled my choices-that-weren’t-really-choices, and I came to a decision. It was then that Existential Crisis Mode was activated. My choice wasn’t official yet, I hadn’t confirmed anything; all I had done was made a decision in my mind. But all I could think was “this isn’t right”. It wasn’t the choice itself that was wrong, but the situation.

All of a sudden, I was asking myself questions like “Do I even want to go to university?”, and “have I chosen the right course?” Everything that had been certain to me since the end of Year 12 became questionable. I tried to envision the next four years of my life, to create a picture of what my existence would look like…and I failed. I asked myself what I actually wanted, and the only thoughts my stressed-out mind offered me were “I want to travel”, “I want to see the world”, “I want to be on my own”, “I want to hide”. If I get into my top (only?) choice of university, I will be leaving home in six months and thirteen days. Everything that is my life will disappear. I am not my surroundings, I know that…but do I REALLY know that? How much of myself will I lose when I move to a strange city, live without my family for the first time in my life? Who I am I without eighteen years’ worth of safety blankets? I don’t know who I am now, whilst I’m still at home, still in my comfortable life. How do I know that I won’t lose myself even more in this new world? (And, scarier still, how do I know I won’t find myself?).

My opinions, thoughts, emotions seem to change on an hourly (or even momentary) basis: one minute I’m on top of the world, and the next I am at rock bottom. I’m not ready to make these decisions about my life…I’m not ready to grow up. And at the same time, I have never been more ready. All I want to do is leave home and be in the real world, but it is my greatest fear: it’s a fresh start, everything I will rely on will be gone. It will make me or break me.
What will the result be? Who knows…

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