Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Personal essay: Turning 20 and reflecting on the rollercoaster ride of teenage life

MosaicCreative ContentPersonal essay: Turning 20 and reflecting on the rollercoaster ride of teenage life

ALIYAH JACKSON
Staff Writer





I’d be lying if I said that every minute of my teenage years played out exactly how I expected. There was no sneaking out to go to parties, no skipping school, no high school love story (or at least not one that went well) and no big finale at the end like you might find in your standard coming-of-age movie.

For a while, I felt like I wasn’t doing the whole “teenager thing” right. I would sit in my room and ask: Am I doing enough? Should I be rebelling more? Am I wasting the so-called “best years of my life”? 

You only get to be a teenager for a limited time and – despite how much I tried to ignore it – I was fully aware that my clock was ticking and this era would soon be over just as quickly as it started. I was right.

This brings me to where I am now: 19 years old and standing between the last days of my teenage years and the first steps into my 20s, with mixed feelings about my teenage experience.

As a teen, I quickly learned that my mental health is a marathon, not a sprint. Some days I was on top of the world and other days the world was on top of me. I felt crushed. I became well-acquainted with depression and anxiety, but I was finally able to put a name to my emotions and begin the process of healing.

These problems didn’t randomly present themselves when I became a teenager. They had lived within me since I was a child. I just didn’t understand them enough to give them a voice. That was a big lesson for me in these years: learning how to take all of my big emotions, then finding my voice and utilizing it.

I figured out how much power my words could have and made sure to use them – a lot. I became vocal about everything. I stood up for myself when I felt an injustice was done towards me, I professed my undying teenage love to a plethora of uninterested candidates and I set boundaries with those who became too comfortable with disturbing my peace.

Friends, family, teachers; no one was safe from me expressing how I felt. I now look back on those moments and laugh because, boy, was I dramatic. However, while my younger teenage self tended to be the drama, I’ve since gotten slightly better at not spewing my emotions all over the place while still speaking up for myself. Nonetheless, that was a critical time for me. 

As a kid, I was always quiet, too scared to speak up, fearing that I would say the wrong thing or miss the social cues that I had trouble picking up on. I often took the brunt of things I shouldn’t have and allowed myself to be small instead of taking up space. I believe that my outspokenness as a teenager healed a part of my inner child.

Additionally, these years have been full of change. People say your teenage years are your formative years and mine definitely held to that.

Year after year, I’ve watched myself slowly transform into the person I’ve always wanted to be. My sexuality, my gender identity and my personality all evolved as I grew. From 13 years old to now, I’ve become a more authentic and free version of myself and learned how to express myself through my clothes, humor and hobbies, such as writing. 

As I look back on every year, I can see how I was changing and slowly becoming the version of myself I am now. Though my journey involved a lot of experimentation and a few fashion disasters, I take pride in every phase. Each chapter helped shape who I am today, and I believe my younger self would consider me pretty cool.

Like many, I had my fair share of awful and extremely awkward romantic encounters. But, they opened my eyes to how much platonic love surrounded me.

I’ve gotten closer than ever with my two best friends. There is so much love shared between the three of us that I am often overwhelmed by how much I care about them. We are now venturing into our 20s together; our time as teenagers heavily contributed to the strength of our bond today.

Not only did I learn how to love, but I learned the proper way to be loved. I realized that I was often the person giving 100% of myself in my friendships and relationships while only getting a fraction of that in return. 

I still tend to love intensely, but I’ve shifted my focus towards the many people in my life who love me just as deeply. I now prioritize relationships that value and uplift me, rather than investing time in connections that diminish my worth.

Reflecting on these moments has brought me full circle back to now: 19 years old and mourning the impending loss of my teenage status, but thankful this phase of my life is over.

Would I do it all over again? Absolutely not. While that time of my life was filled with laughter, fun and excitement, it also produced a lot of tears and heartbreak. 

But despite the whirlwind of emotions in my teenage years, I’ve found clarity. Now, as I face the mystery of adulthood, I’m filled with gratitude for the lessons learned and anticipation for the adventures ahead.

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