“28 is freaking me out.”
So said a friend of mine a week after her 28th birthday. She was feeling low, anxious, and lost.
She did everything right; went to the GP to get a mental health plan and spoke to a professional. When she told me what was on her mind, she felt silly. “28 isn’t old, I know… but I suddenly feel anxious.”
As a wise 27-year-old, I told her not to worry, because she was still young, glowing and carefree, like the girls in a tampon ad. Helpful.
Listen: Millennial Jessie Stephens has some ideas as to why millennials are so damn anxious, being one herself. Post continues after audio.
And then another friend turned 28. And the same discussion ensued. Anxiety, mild depression, existential crises. With a good dose of guilt and silliness on the top. And then another friend. And then another.
And then me.
I turned 28, and it passed with joyous but minimal ceremony, as do most birthdays from 21+ for a digit not ending with zero. Within a few weeks though, a thought crept in to my head: by my age, my Mum was married and caring for a baby, with another arriving soon-ish. By 28, some people have become millionaires. Or surgeons. Or retired from tennis careers.
And I still hadn’t figured out how to fold a fitted sheet.
Suddenly, I got it. That your late-twenties can bring all kinds of anxiety to do with your future, your impact on the world, the decisions you’ve already made, and those you’ve yet to make.
Your late 20s can bring a lot of anxiety about your impact on the world.
To someone in their later years, it might sound absolutely ridiculous. And perhaps that's part of the pressure. We've been told that these should be the best years of our lives, and that's a hell of a burden in day-to-day life. An anxiety develops somewhere between the late nights of partying-while-we-still-can, to the long days of trying to establish a career path to follow for the rest of our lives.
From conversations with friends and my own feelings, I've tried to narrow it down. The 28-year-old anxieties (or thereabouts).
1. For the first time, time feels limited.
I know I'm not too old to do these things ("You're never too old!" some annoying positive person would say) but I am old enough that it's not a simple matter of booking flights any more, because of work, and savings, and rent, and weddings etc.
2. Life is more boring than we thought.
You know what's dull? Paying electricity bills. Saving for a house. Putting the bins out. When you're a kid, being an adult looks fun and free and informed. We didn't expect this sh*t.
Chores, yes. Endless mind-numbing forms to fill out about tax, rent, health insurance and savings accounts, no. And it's only just beginning.
3. The decisions we make now are affecting our futures.
Besides the panic that everybody around me seems to be buying houses and getting promoted (thanks a lot, Facebook), my late twenties have brought home the reality that every big decision I make now could affect how much money I have for a house, a family, retirement... Should I be saving more, or having more fun? Should I be creating memories now, or thinking of my future children? WHAT DO I DO?