Over the course of 2015, I had age-related anxiety dreams a couple of times a week. Sometimes in the dreams I was 17, still at school, with it all in front of me – and then there was a point where my stomach twisted and I realised I was actually 29. Other times, I was turning 50, but my life looked exactly the same; 20 years having passed me by with nothing accomplished. Most recently, in a direct bout of birthday angst, I was queuing patiently to get on a plane I knew would fall out of the sky.
Time was my nemesis in these dreams, passing in unpredictable jags before I’d had chance to get my bearings. It was a crude funhouse mirror distorting any sense of linear narrative. It lurched relentlessly upwards and onwards, without any of the appropriate life baggage there to anchor me.
I don’t know whether these kinds of dreams are common before a milestone birthday – or whether they’re just common in neurotic doom-merchants before a milestone birthday – but they were definitely enough to make me hanker for the days when all my recurring dreams involved explosions.
I turned 30 in February and on one hand I’m glad about it. My 20s did, after all, go on for a bloody long time. If the decade had been a phone battery, it’d have been in the red zone for ages. You know that thing about time speeding up as you get older? Hasn’t happened to me yet. My 20-year-old self feels so far removed, I might as well be pondering the life and times of a Victorian lady (albeit one with a penchant for drippy indie bands wearing inexplicably thin ties).
On the other hand, taking the big picture view is always scary. At 30, the evil gremlin of Taking Stock pops up and asks for its ten-year report. “So what have you actually been doing for the last decade?” he asks you, score sheet at the ready. “I see you’ve reached this age without any of the classic signifiers of adulthood – house, husband, kids, meaningful career breakthroughs. So what have you got to show for yourself instead?”
The gremlin is being unfair, as gremlins are wont to be. For my generation, lacking the classic signifiers of adulthood is just what we do. It’s circumstantial and it doesn’t have to be depressing – in fact it can free us up to define the milestones on our own, more interesting terms.
So I sweet-talk the gremlin, and point out what I DID do with my 20s. Go easy on me, gremlin, I tell him. I mean, this is a decade in which I turned down the opportunity to interview Gaz Coombes formerly of Supergrass; acquired 40 mosquito bites to the face during a single night camping in the desert; perfectly learnt the words to Andre 3000’s rap bit in Kelis’ Millionaire; and once went an entire month without clicking on the Daily Mail sidebar of shame.
On a more serious note, my 20s were kind of hard and messy in places, but whose aren’t? In your 20s, you approach life much as a small child might approach a mechanical toy. You’re constantly wondering what happens when you flick that switch or pull that lever, or press that big red shiny button saying ABORT. And for sure, you get into trouble from time to time, but the more you experiment, the more you learn which buttons to avoid.
I’m happy to be 30, whatever the gremlin might tell me in my lower ebbs. My many, many fuck-ups have been instructive; I care less about conforming to media-spun ideas about how life ‘should’ look and I feel sure that, circumstances permitting, there are exciting times in store. People to meet, places to see, writing to get written, etc.
What is more, as soon as I actually turned 30, the age anxiety dreams stopped. Turns out it’s not so nerve-wracking on the other side after all.
Categories: Millennial life anxiety
British freelance journalist living in the Netherlands