25 is a weird, weird age.
You know that frenzied cluster of angst, exploration and energy that rattles your early twenties? It’s not that. It feels like something very different, and it brings with it a whole new host of mental inhabitants. Shall I introduce you?
First, let’s meet the constant, unmovable fear of Death that has settled into the notch between my collarbones. She brings with her the low humming of Anxiety that at any moment, something terrible - and terribly painful - is going to happen to me, something entirely out of mine or anybody else’s control. Train flips, car crashes, house collapses, abductions, accidental murders, purposeful murders, drownings, burnings, hidden diseases - you name it, she’s considered it. Every time I walk down some stairs I’m momentarily confronted by the possibility that this could be my final descent - that I’ll trip and break my neck and not only will it be the end of me, but it will also be a really gross way to die. Not a peaceful passing.
Everything is its own blend of threatening, from simple actions such as opening the door to the Sainsbury’s delivery guy (it’s 8pm, dark, and I’m home alone - is he going to grab me?) to visiting a new restaurant (what if there’s an explosion in the kitchen? what if someone bursts through the doors brandishing a weapon? where are the exits? is there a big drop below the window?).
Frustratingly this SWOT analysis of every environment I find myself in is an automatic process. There’s no conscious click to review - before I’ve even registered Anxiety in my mind, she’s there, barrel-chested and breathing, relaying everything back to her sister Death who is suspicious that this really could be it. Lights out. Finito. So much life gone to waste.
Speaking of waste, Time never lets me forget that she’s passing. She communicates with Death often (and Anxiety - well, she speaks to everyone), and her dominant interest is whether I’m using her wisely. She’ll often have me walking back and forth on a tight rope between two rooms, nerves charging as I try and decide which of the two two tasks in my mind is more important. Which deserves a cup of the finite resource and which deserves it first. Make a mistake and watch Time slide, slide, sliding through your fingers, within reach but too slippery to hold.
She makes me second guess every decision I make. I wake up early and think I should have spent more Time resting. I wake up late and feel I’ve wasted Time asleep. I think about walking to get a coffee and consider the 15 minute journey a vacant, useless space. I think about staying at home and understand that the world continues happening without me. I plan lots of social events and blink - it’s a month later. I plan no social events and feel sick with fear that the ‘prime years’ of my life are dissolving, frittering away in front of me like a sad shower of spoiled confetti.
Time: how do I make the most of her? How do I not waste her? How do I avoid the lament that so many older people express - that they wish they had more of her?
Ah, and there she is: Anxiety, whispering sweet, bitter somethings.
It would be remiss of me at this point to not introduce the show’s headliner, so let me bring her out.
I give you the golden-glossed, smooth-edged body of Youth.
Youth is sexy. She’s fun and loose and her shoulders aren’t heavied by the concerns of Death, Anxiety and Time. She imbues radiance - she is radiance - and all in her immediate orbit feel it. When Anxiety settles over my brow, Youth is there to pluck me free. She throws open her arms and there is freedom and possibility and exploration and joy. There are corridors upon corridors of avenues through which to find myself, lined with wine glasses and memories with friends which tingle my fingertips long after they end.
I see her everywhere. She’s emblazoned across shop windows, papped on the arms of film stars, the darling of novels and the poster girl of the internet. She’s the beating heart of porn and the gem of every music video, the magic gel filler in every injected needle. She’s used to sell everything because everybody wants her; the thing they either lived in once and can now never get back to, or the commodity which will escape them and force them, staggering, into a new ‘group’ of the other. I see myself reflected in her now so it doesn’t scare me (for the moment). In fact, I’m revived. If nothing at all I have Youth, and she’ll carry me on the privilege of her gilded carriage and there I’ll be, at the centre of things - relevant.
But Time has hooked deep into the corner of Youth and keeps stretching her further and thinner. Time wills her to wear out, and Death reminds me that it’s inevitable. With each delicious bite the apple of Youth is browning, and the less there is of her, the harder it becomes to swallow.
I’m terrified of getting older. I’m terrified of my body not “bouncing back” and of seeing wrinkles divide my face like little broken streams. I’m terrified that I’m exiting the period of my life that my children will look back on and say ‘oh my god, you looked amazing!’. I’m terrified that the prime years of my life are trundling past me and that I need to decide now whether this relationship is going to be my forever relationship, because if it isn’t, I need to throw myself open like a birthday buffet before it’s too late.
Isn’t it all downhill from here? Won’t the bags under my eyes expand into hammocks and my belly button pucker further into an impression of a cat’s arsehole? Who will find me attractive? I will never be more attractive than these few, fleeting years. I will lose the allure to be FIT with emphasis, because FIT with emphasis is only applied to young people. I don’t want to be beautiful. I want to be sexy. And I hate that I want that but I want that because it’s slipping, and it should be me who decides what I am or I’m not.
“But you’re not,” Anxiety reminds me. “You can’t control that.”
Time is clipping and clawing and taking Youth away, and Death is waiting - where? "She could be anywhere,” Anxiety whispers. How she manages to slip so seamlessly between every thought is impressive, but that’s just what she’s like - a humming baseline in front of which everything else happens. I’m not sure how long she’s been with me but I know that 25 has amplified her, giving her the platform to bump elbows with Youth.
And that’s why 25 is such a weird age. Entering right is the abundant glow of Youth and the possibility that surrounds her, the springboard of FIT catapulting her into currency. Entering left is something more serious: the insidious trio of Death, Anxiety and Time. All co-exist. All reach out and touch, staining each other with the ink of their existence. All of them are mingling on the stage of my mind and what is created is this bizarre tipping point. This sense of limbo, of being right in the very middle of something which is changing beyond control. The sensation of falling just as you begin to fall.
I’m terrified of dying prematurely, of getting old, of longing for and lamenting my youth. I think about these things every day and it pushes down on my sternum like a commuter leaning against my chest. There is no solution other than to stride into the unknown with dumb hope, but I dig and I dig and I can’t seem to find it.
Maybe at least I will have catharsis. We'll find out I suppose.