According to our culture and our legal system, I just became an adult.
That is, I just turned 21. Happy birthday to me.
Although 18 is the age of majority, 21 is the age at which we gain control over our own bodies by getting the legal right to pump them full of alcohol until we vomit everywhere and/or engage in inadvisable sexual relations.
Needless to say, I won’t be doing much of that, not on my birthday and not ever. But 21 is still an important age to me. Now I can bring a bottle of wine to a friend’s house as a gift. Now I can order a glass of champagne at a restaurant to celebrate something important.
I’m an adult today.
I’m an adult today, but I’ve been an adult many other days of my life. I want to reflect on those times now.
I was an adult on all the days I left my family behind, when I pretended that my family didn’t matter to me because that’s what adults do.
I was an adult on the day I fell in love with my best friend, and on the day when I left him two years later because it wasn’t right.
I was an adult on the day I sat clutching the phone for half an hour before finally dialing Counseling and Psychological Services.
I was an adult on the day I sat with my notebook and voice recorder, freaking because I was about to go talk to strangers, but I did it anyway.
I was an adult on the day I had my first panic attack and sat sobbing on a bench in downtown Chicago, punishing myself for all the things I couldn’t do.
I was an adult on the day I told my mom that I needed help.
I was an adult on the day my psychiatrist told my mom that I’d been cutting myself, and she turned to me and asked if it was true.
I was an adult on the day a careless driver totaled my car, with me and my little siblings inside. I jumped out of the car, my face stinging from the airbag, and carried my brother and sister off of the street, glass crunching underneath my flipflops.
I was an adult on the day I took my first dose of antidepressants, the first of many, and I was an adult on the day I decided that I didn’t need them anymore.
I was an adult on the day I turned down a paying job for the chance to volunteer in New York City.
I was an adult on the day I realized that I wanted to die, and I was an adult every single day after that, when I chose to keep living anyway.
I was an adult on the day I chose my major and my future career.
I was an adult on the day I told the world I have depression, and on every day I’ve done it ever since.
I was an adult on the day I had to tell a guy “no” for the first time, and when I realized how much worse things could’ve gone.
I was an adult on the day I had to tell my best friend what to do when I can’t stop crying.
I was an adult on the day I lost a close friend because of who I am.
I was an adult on the day I met my newborn nephew and wondered how there could be a whole person there that hadn’t even existed 48 hours ago.
I was an adult on the day I realized that I have enemies. I have enemies because I like to say what’s on my mind. That’s not a reason anyone should ever have enemies.
I was an adult on the day I realized that my little brother is growing up to be just like me, and the thought of that made me feel awful.
I was an adult on the day I realized that I could never believe in God again, and I was an adult on the day I begged Him for help anyway.
I was an adult on the day I knew that I never wanted to leave New York, and when I decided that I was going to return even if I had to crawl there all the way from Ohio.
I was an adult every day I opened up and gave someone new a chance.
I was an adult every day I sat at the kitchen table, waiting for my dad to drive me back to college, crying.
I was an adult on the day I realized that things were never going to be the same again.
And I was an adult today.
I know that anyone reading this probably thinks this is all really sad. They will probably wonder why I would choose to think about such sad things on my 21st birthday.
It’s because, sad as they are, these things give me strength. I feel prepared for an adult life because I have been an adult so many times already. While reflecting on happy memories feels nice, it doesn’t give me that feeling of inner strength, because everyone can deal with happiness. Not everyone can deal with despair.