Today, I logged onto my student info page to check my financial aid, and next to “status” it said “senior.” Senior, as in last year of college. Senior, as in I have two semesters left before I graduate. Senior, as in standing at the edge of the cliff of adulthood. Senior, as in about to be something other than a student for the first time in my life.
I haven’t blogged the past two weeks, which has felt weird. I’ve been so far in future-panic mode that for about two weeks I couldn’t find energy to eat, much less articulate and type out semi-complex sentences. It hit me on April 10th when I scheduled my classes for the last time how quickly the end to this chapter of my life is approaching. So, naturally, I flipped out. And I’m not just talking about the “oh my gosh I’m about to be an adult” kind of freak out– I jumped on an extended-length thought train that took me through every possible apocalyptic scenario that could happen between now and when I turn 30. Because who wants to deal with their own existential crisis when they can ponder the fate of all humanity?
I can go from zero to doom in less than five seconds… it’s a blessing and a curse to have the Ferrari of thoughtful minds. Boyfriend teases me about getting so into my own head that I don’t know how to get out sometimes, and he was eternally patient throughout each morning when I would say “well I’m okay with that scenario because of x, y, and z. But what about this scenario?” I couldn’t even appreciate seeing a shooting star on a romantic moonlight stroll because I was too busy breaking into a sweat asking, “Wait, are you sure that was a shooting star? What if it’s a UFO and aliens attack the Earth? But wait, it probably fell kind of close if it was, and we’d hear screaming, right? So that’s not it. Oh, cool! It’s a shooting star!” My Paranoid Parrot persona extends far past plane rides— it used to be an extensive relationship with WebMD,
but now it’s a what-if-the-world-ends-and-I-don’t-see-middle-age complex.
I guess none of my fears are new or unique to me– many people I know think about the same kinds of things, worry, and see how messed up parts of the world are. My problem was that my paralysis in the face of the future was doing exactly that– paralyzing me. It was keeping me from enjoying many of my favorite relationships– with my family, with my friends, with Boyfriend, with Tigger, and (perhaps most importantly) with food. And really, for someone who is fit with a bleeding-heart, save-the-world mentality, that is not a good place to be in because you can’t do a damn thing.
After about a week and a half of not eating, not sleeping, and talking Boyfriend’s (and anyone else’s who would listen) ear off, I decided it would probably be a good idea to talk with someone who is trained to help people work through those kinds of things. I was apprehensive, but I figured any option that could help me reconnect with myself (and get eating regular meals again) was probably something worth trying. Out of many pieces of useful advice I got in our 50 minutes, one of the best ones was in response to my rifling off each apocalypse scenario running through my brain: “Well, it sounds like you’re taking everything to the worst extreme possible. Sure, any of those things could happen, but look at now. We have the present, and it is what it is. We can’t change it. But, given that it is what it is, who do you want to be, how do you want to show up, and what do you want to do? That’s how the future changes.”
I like control. I like neatly organized day planners and I like being ten minutes early to everything and even to a degree I like to stay sober even when I decide to drink because when you’re drunk you’re kind of at the mercy of the alcohol in your bloodstream. So, being told that something is what it is and I can’t do anything about it was intially frustrating as hell. In the clarity of the full meal I enjoyed after chatting out my feelings in full, though, I realized that while I will probably always have some degree of an apocalypse imagination, my panic had more to do with the fact that I’m going to be thrown into the vast unfamiliar in about a year’s time. My panic had to do with the fact that I’m doing that whole growing-up thing and I’m going to be looking for big-girl jobs and big-girl apartments and making a big-girl impact on the world. My panic was the response of a control-freak mind having now idea how to cope with something that’s largely uncontrollable.
I have been a student for almost all of my 21 years on this planet. This time next year, I will no longer be a student– at least for the time being. I will be treading uncharted territory with a smudged map and hand-me-down directions. I will be exploring the intimidating terrain that is the “real world.” I will have to learn to give up the control of knowing exactly what works for Katlyn-the-student as a I learn what works for Katlyn-the-professional. I will begin to choose who I’m going to be, how I’m going to show up, and what I’m going to do given that the world is what it is. In the face of all my future questions, I have almost no present answers. That’s something that two weeks ago I would have been deeply, deeply not okay with… but discomfort doesn’t make answers appear. It just makes your appetite go away.
I am one person. I cannot fix the world. I cannot shoulder the burden of every problem we face… but I can choose how I respond to those problems. I can choose to pay attention, ask questions, and be present. I can choose to be a force of good in my community, in hopes that maybe my good will meet someone else’s and multiply. I can choose to be the best me I can be, no matter where I am. I can choose to be enough for myself. That’s all any of us can do, and if we all do that, the world can change. Yes, we’ve got a long way to go. Yes, there’s a lot of work to be done. But also yes, each of us is enough to do our part in that journey of hard work.
That’s where my paralysis came from– I focused on every problem and didn’t trust my fellow humans to do anything about it. But what I see every day in the people I am surrounded with is passion to change the things that need to be changed. I see love, I see dedication, I see commitment, and I see good. I am refocused on life, the part of our experience that fills us with warmth and excitement and purpose. The part of our experience that makes us human and gives us the power to balance what’s wrong with what’s right. At the end of the day, all we can do is be the best person we can. I trust most people in my life to be those people, and I am re-learning to trust myself to be that person, too.
If you’re looking for them, there are millions of reasons to be scared and lose hope… but if you’re looking for them, there are just as many to be comfortable and find that hope again. We have so much more power than we give ourselves credit for, simply in our ability to think and have conversations. Change starts the second someone asks “Why?” or “Why not?” and becomes more and more profound with every person who answers or asks something new. We are far from perfect, but we can make a difference. I have one year left of being a student before I get thrown out into that great unknown, but I’ll get there when I get there. I’ll ask questions and seek answers every chance I get, and I’m slowly learning to accept that I can’t control everything. Today, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and I’m sitting on my patio after finishing my junior year of college. Today, it is what it is. All I can do is choose who I will be, how I will show up, and what I will do. Today, I choose to be hopeful. Today, I choose to smile. Today, I choose to live.