For many young people, it may feel like the sudden onset of a life on lockdown has canceled virtually everything. It may feel like none of us had expected to put our own experiences on pause amidst a global pandemic.
I sometimes find myself wishing that time would pause, for just a moment, so I can catch my breath. It’s not an unfamiliar sentiment, especially with everything that has happened this year, but it’s wishful thinking. Life trudges on, and while stuck at home, anticipating another year of isolation at such a pivotal time, I don’t think that I am the only person fearing that I am wasting my youth.
Being quarantined for about a majority of the year now has made this anxiety much more prevalent. As kids and young adults, we are missing out on experiences that have defined previous generations, experiences that probably would have been played on the highlight reel of our lives when looking back in hindsight.
Graduation. Prom. The last day of your senior year. Saying goodbye to friends in person before they leave for college. Starting university on campus. Whatever lasts you wished to complete your firsts with, you may not have been able to experience them. And while there are certainly many bigger issues we must face and be aware of, it’s okay to grieve losing these little things.
In the end, they are still major life transitions. They often characterize coming of age, tell us that we are still the protagonists in our own stories despite the looming inevitabilities of growing up.
Losing these stenciled memories may be jarring. Combined with staying at home every day, living and rehashing the same daily routine constantly, we may feel as if we are wasting these crucial moments of our youth. I sometimes think that I haven’t done enough, that I am not feeling or experiencing completely – and in doing so, I’ve already wasted my peak. I sometimes can’t help but fear I have wasted and am still wasting my time.
Productivity is highly valued and deeply ingrained into our culture. Many of my own peers, myself included, grow up thinking that time spent outside of work is wasted potential. We must constantly be aiming for and achieving our goals, even in our adolescence, which is a drive that can often lead to burning out young.
The thing is, however, that we do have time. Growing up is not an immediate flip of a switch, but rather a gradual process of losses and gains.
It is, of course, easier said than done, to internalize this. One action I recommend that helps me to cope with all this, is to deliberately give myself time to relax and do things I enjoy – without thinking about external pressures or changes. I plan out chunks in my day where I am free to just do what I want, from reading, to writing, to making and scrolling through art, to watching TV. By indulging in these little hobbies and interests, I have a sense of familiarity I can hold on to.
On the contrary, though, I also give myself time to actually get required work done, be it school-related or otherwise. Having specific lists of what needs to be done per day can make it much more manageable to balance out tasks with time for self-care and escape, so day-to-day existence does not become too overwhelming.
I also indulge in nostalgia. I reread old stories, re-watch old shows, dig back through memories and mementos. For me, that might involve flipping back through old, messy yearbook signatures, or scrolling all the way back in my camera roll, or reading cards and letters from my friends, one after the other.
Because even at a distance, we leave bits of ourselves everywhere. Our interests, our loves, and our relationships can be represented in tangible things I keep around or consume, and I can access those even while stuck at home.
Finally, one other tip is to actively keep in touch with friends as well. As easy as sending a simple text message is, it can be even easier not to at all. I try to regularly talk to my friends or schedule video calls with them. By doing so, it is in part a necessary reminder: things don’t necessarily have to change irreversibly, now that we are growing up. I can still be as close with my friends, in different, distanced ways, until we can be together again.
Ultimately, friends may move away, but they will still remain close. You may be starting school at a new university, be it on campus or remotely, but you are not alone. You may be stepping away from teenagehood into technical adulthood, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t a kid anymore. That is how I find comfort in coping with all these major transitions at the moment, even when I’m not physically leaving my home.
It is okay to step back, take a break, and find comfort in what is familiar and old, especially now. The world (and this year) may not be pausing for us to gather ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we have to do the same thing.
For those who are growing up right now, still trying to find any normalcy, know that it is not too late. Our youth does not end immediately, and we still have time to take advantage of it.
It’s okay to mourn our losses, to grieve for our childhoods that seem to be coming to an end. In a way, they are. We cannot return to the normal, usual times from before, physically or mentally or emotionally. But the future is not a loss either.
Photo: Edward Jenner via Pexels