The Professional Quarter Life Crisis

I’m not sure about you, but I had thought that by 24, the dust would have settled down and the path would stretch out in front of me.

When I had just begun to show understanding of social customs and norms, the women of my family would flitter around at gatherings and discuss the colour of my saree when I get married at 24. I saw how my sister’s hair, entwined with flowers and coiffed perfectly, fell at her hips as she posed for a photo at her wedding reception at 24. I remember the snarky remarks and “tsk tsks” of gossiping women at my cousin’s wedding; lamenting her face because she wasn’t “as fresh as she would have been at 24”.

The day I turned 24, I started a blog to record this momentous occasion; not because I would be getting married but because the Hump was here. Once I cross this age, I will have made my entrance into adulthood with no chance of parole.

According to all the people that have talked to me in my family, I am “at that age” now. Different coloured sarees with blouses stitched to fit me have slowly been piling up in closets. Somewhat casual remarks have been passed about learning cooking and about refining my choices in clothes to “better accommodate my future in-laws”. Astrologers and their words pipe up every few conversations, talking about how my to-be-husband may be and where my future prospects may lie. Poojas and aartis are done so that the chances of finding “a good husband” who is “fair, possibly rich and from a good family background” are increased, and that fate and destiny can be nudged along to work faster.

No one is really asking me what I want though. The frustration lies in not only being told that only your attractiveness and youth are going to get you a good husband, but also in the assumption made that this is what all women want and SHOULD want.

Discussions about career and profession are limited to conversations with my father, who has on more than one occasion told me that HR is a fine option for a young lady who wants to be financially independent. He asks me what I want, but dismisses most options I come up with to tell me that HR would be great and maybe I should think about doing an MBA (still adding at the end that I should do what makes me happy.)

Today, I find myself in a very peculiar place at 24. My auto-pilot mode in my professional life has been shutting down, followed by vivid and intrusive realisations that I am fucking up. I wanted to be financially stable by now so that I can fight off the advances of jobless, nosy aunties who may possibly giggle to me about the wonders of conjugal relations in an attempt to entice me into marriage (THE DISCOMFORT IS BEYOND DESCRIBABLE) and tell them that I don’t need someone to help me out with money and that I am fine on my own.

Right now however, I am barely managing. I don’t just mean financially, but I am struggling in most domains of my life. I am barely managing living a life, I suppose.

*

I sometimes wonder how my life would have been different if people in my family had celebrated independence and autonomy in women. The only thing I have EVER been told is that my womanhood comes attached with being a wife and motherhood, and with career as a certain backseat. I was shocked when I heard my mother tell my father that it would be better to spend money on my wedding rather than for me to pursue my masters. I don’t like it when my mother tells me to “just sit at home, it’s great” when I tell her I am running into trouble with my work.

I am eternally grateful for my father, who did imbibe this need for independence and autonomy is me, though at times I wonder if he sees how strongly I feel about it.

This week has been a huge struggle, for I have started questioning what I am doing. The last 2 jobs I have had have been the perfect way to distract myself from facing what is coming next; and let me tell you, it is coming to me FAST.

I know that within a month, my life will be taking a drastic turn and I will be put in the middle of a severe shit-storm. Family dynamics that are on the verge of falling apart mixed in with almost certain unemployment and a dwindling support system are all going to take me for what I have. Take the 24th year of my life in the middle of this and I can already hear the fights that I will be having with my parents about marriage and the forgotten pile of sarees in my closet.

*

In all the time people spent in talking to me about my marriage and the blatancy of my gender, most people don’t care about what I do to earn money. My job seems like a hazy thing, hovering in the room somewhere, but conveniently ignored when families gather. I pipe up about wanting to do a PhD now and then, but it is taken as a light comment: something a strong, independent girl is supposed to say, but will wilt to the societal demands soon enough.

I was so busy in making sure I LOOK busy enough to not be approached about getting married that I never thought about what I really want to do.

I applied to my masters program late, and it was a surprise for me when I got in because I assumed I fucked up the interview. I was again surprised when I was hired at Dharma before I graduated: I thought I might have fucked up that interview too. The day I quit Dharma, I asked an old friend if there were any openings at her company: and in the middle of the quitting day alcoholic celebration, I got an interview at my current internship. I thought I fucked that up too, but here I am, working hesitantly everyday.

I jumped, jumped, jumped without really giving it much thought: and at 24, I am looking at my career path and thinking “I fucked up.”

Square One

The waves crash upon the beach and erase everything I have been working on.

The sand once again glittering in the sun, pristinely silent.

Words I had etched into the brown sandy shores taken by the ocean,

Resting among the seaweed, forgotten.

Here I find myself in October, whose sleepy sunshine returns to slumber

Before the clock strikes Six.

And before it is 7, the dusk peeks through the dusty sky

As the cars return to their garages to fold the day into it’s pigeon hole.

I barely knew when the burning sun of Bangalore’s April in 2016

Died down today, but I knew that the evening felt odd.

Cumbersome in its manner, lifeless in a way.

I folded the day by myself before the long summer day closes its eyes

And slips into the past,

Because I felt like my footsteps in the sand were being erased

And before the day did more damage, I put it down slowly,

Into its bed and asked it to rest.

I’ve been walking for a while, and it worried me

To not be able to see how far I’ve come.

The waves kept taking it away from me.

I feel like I’ve seen that shack before,

And that plant, and those rocks, and that tree.

It all seems like I’ve come back to Square One.

The beginning. The starting line. The darkest Hour.

 

I may have a lesson to learn if I think I’m still stuck.

What am I not able to see?

Freakouts

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Since I was 18, I have been having moments of pure insanity in an attempt to control my tsunami sized emotional outbursts. It began with the idiotic decision to sneak out of my house at 1:30am to roam around the town in a car with drunk boys, down to my recent meltdown in the arms of a cute boy; I may have left no stone unturned in my pursuit of clarity in the last six years.

While some meltdowns have been overt and loud, most of them have been insidious and quiet. They seep into me slowly, like thick tar running through my veins. It is a mindless, helpless sort of fall, and I feel nothing until the THUD of my face hitting the floor and the shock of the earth through my body. The overt ones though, are like seams of a cloth coming undone. Words that are half hidden, half lodged in the corners of my mouth come spewing out and before I can get a hold of them, they’re on the floor and withering. The more I try to control it, the worse it gets. By the time I’m done, everything I was supposed to have said gets lost in the long strings of forbidden words in a heap on the floor.

The aftermath is always the same.

There is a bed, there are things to smoke and there is stillness. I figure if I don’t move for a while, my pieces will stick together and heal so that I can feel whole again.

I wonder if I will ever stop being like this; freak out after freak out, attempts to fix it, maybe making it worse and then just lying still. Wishing I wasn’t this person. Hoping that things will change. Trying so hard to just stop thinking.

Acceptance does not always come naturally to parts of yourself that are too volatile, too turbulent, sometimes just too much. I wait for catharses and epiphanies, frantically looking for the lesson I’m supposed to learn with every freak out that will make them stop.

*

I remember what I once told a baby phoenix who was learning lessons along with a grown up girl; both of them working together to fly out into the world and become better. I remember that a little kindness goes a long way. I remember that making a home inside myself for the frightened and hurt person can make healing easier. After all, she is doing what she thinks will protect her from the cruel shrapnels of reality.

The past is the past, but the impact remains. It is an uphill battle, walking against the wind, swimming against the current. On some days, it is the most difficult thing you will face.

But there are other days when you suddenly feel like yourself again and that in itself is such an important thing. Who would have thought that one day I will know what it is like to be me?

Certainly not the 18 year old girl with her breath caught in her throat, holding back tears as she wondered how to close up the gaping black hole inside that took her for everything she had. Certainly not the 19 year old who thought that her troubles could ebb away just like the smoke from her cigarettes, lighting up orange orbs every half an hour. Certainly not the 20 year old as she poured herself her fourth glass of whiskey alone, burying her tears in the amber liquid. Certainly not the 21 year old who thought that to be loved was a privilege, and that one must remain quiet even in the face of blatant suffering. Certainly not the 22 year old who thought that being treated like an afterthought was the only way to be. Most certainly not the 23 year old who broke down at a temple because there was no other place that felt safe anymore.

Here is the 24 year old, telling all the others that she is making a safe place inside for all of them. And every now and then, even she gets frightened. Even she hides under the covers with the others when the storm clouds gather.

In the heavy darkness of the pregnant storm sky, the 24 year old has the lamp of kindness.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to stop my freakouts. I do know however, that within the stillness as I lie down, I can know what it is like to be me in the warm glow of tenderness and the grace of acceptance.

Twenty Four. We have only just begun.

Heavy

In the depths of the water,
Fish disperse away
As the anchor drops down
At the point of dismay.

Sun through the window
On a brand new day.
Blanket still unfurled upon
My body, painted grey.

Looking out at the moon
As it stretches out to play
Hide-and-go-seek;
Leading me astray.

Days of heavy weight,
Come as they may,
Bring home some lessons
Like cookies on a tray.

I may be blanketed,
I may be grey.
I may think of awful things,
On a windy, rainy day.
I may let the days into
My house just to say,
That maybe I need you
To taint my heart today.

I still say thank you,
To the heavy, heavy Day.
Because I know better now
Than what I knew yesterday.
Hope flitters down on the anchor,
Because I still know how to pray.
The light can still shine through
A girl that’s painted grey.

Patterns 

This morning, I woke up remembering something happy. The last time this happened was when my first crush/love left his football at my lunch table and I felt really special at 14. 

What I know more than anything else in the last 10 years is dread. How can I tell my brain that all will be well when all the poor thing has been simmering in acidic dread for years, fearing that good thing always rot away into blackened bad. 

Do I even believe that good is happening? I have proof, but what is a memory when the future still hasn’t coloured it in? What is a sweet text when I can’t see the person’s face as he reassures me? 

Patterns repeat. The deepest patterns are left by the biggest blows. Like an axe whipping itself into the soft wood for the first time; and the tree knowing that it is just the beginning. The dreadful axe in a hopeful tree; the sweet, old tree still trying to cram hope between the spaces left behind by the axe. 

Dread and hope in swirling patterns like glitter and tar. What colour will the happy memory be when I wake up a month from now?