Right now, I’m depressed. Totally. And this, in the season of goodwill to all men. What great timing! Sure, I put a brave face on it. I’ve got pretty good at doing that these past few years… able to be happy when the situation requires it. It certainly does tonight.
First, let me explain. My name is Matt and I’m a 1st year University Student – a Freshman, if you will. I’m 19 years old, which makes me mostly one year older than everyone else in my year. I took a gap year, you see. Thought I’d be clever and save up some cash by working for a year, and it’s mostly paid off. I’m probably one of the few who hasn’t had to go into an overdraft yet, but that’s probably because I’m as near as being teetotal as you can get without being it. Alcohol certainly isn’t your friend when you’re feeling depressed, I can tell you.
Anyway. I started University in September. I live in a student house with five other people, whose names I will protect. They’re an all right bunch, but I have trouble getting on with a couple of them. It’s a grotty place and it’s freezing all the time, which sure as hell doesn’t help my mental state. I’m studying politics; I enjoy it, but I’m not sure where it’s taking me.
Why Chapter II, I hear you ask. Well, the answer is quite simple. Ever since I left home, crying a hell of a lot, I knew this was the end of my first life. Everything right up to that point had been insignificant. It had paved the way for this vital juncture. I had written the final scene for Chapter I, and was beginning the introduction to Chapter II.
But it wasn’t just the physical detachment from my past life. Emotionally, I feel different too. I worry about the future. I can’t help but wonder what I will be like in 10 years time. Hell, I don’t really know what I’ll be like next year. My life is up in the air, and I have no idea of what direction I’m going to take.
I hate the word “adolescence”. The word “pubescence” is even worse. It’s a critical time in everyone’s life, but its effects are over-emphasised. The key aspects of the transition are mostly physical. The adult body forms. But left behind is the brain. It doesn’t know what to make of things. It can’t keep up with the pace, and most people, around about the ages of 14 to 17, end up kids inside an adult body.
But that wasn’t the case for me. Physically I changed. But emotionally, I changed very little. Not in the expected way, however. You see, I didn’t really have a childhood. It’s hard for me to understand, but from around about the age of 11, a sense of maturity just appeared from nowhere. During my adolescent years, it was merely built upon with experience, creating wisdom, in the way everyone does. Or should do.
Consequently, I was always sensible. I never took drugs. I never smoked. I never drunk alcohol. I never went out to pubs to buy underage. Heck, I never even had sex. I don’t regret any of this… even the sex. It just wasn’t in the picture. I was attracted to girls. Sure as hell I was. But I wanted to get my schoolwork done. There’d be plenty of time for that.
But as a result, I had a pretty empty adolescence. I had a great set of friends, and they respected my wishes not to take part in the things they were getting up to. In a way, I learned a lot about all of these things without actually doing it thanks to their input. But they left me to my own devices. And I got through GCSE life.
After that, I decided to leave all my friends and go to a Sixth Form College to do my A-Levels. At the age of 17, still all around me were kids in adult bodies. Only now some of them were starting to catch up with me. They were finally entering the stage I’d been in for years.
It’s not a real word as far as I know, but it says it all. The process of which adults are made out of kids: the real emotional development. Society makes adults out of us, shaped by the “guiding hand” given to us by our families. Some families do it better than others. Mine did a pretty good job and I’m grateful to them for that. Friends also have a major influence, and so do school structures. The process of socialisation – the correct term for this – begins to really take root in brains which are now beginning to realise that you can’t hide in groups forever.
A-Levels went by without a hitch. Two years of my life just disappeared, never to return. Once again, I came out of the process pleased with the results. I guess it made sense to go to University now. I made a choice and I stuck with it. But I took a year out first – working.
Work taught me a lot more in life than what schools had taught me for 13 years.
It was horrendous. All around me… other people working.
Life. Work. The two concepts becoming intermingled. I had no problem with working. In fact, it got me out of the house and socialising with new people; a good thing. But I became increasingly aware of what lied ahead.
Ask a random person on the street about their life, and one of the first things they will tell you is what they do for a living. Is that how our society judges people? Merely on what they’re doing in exchange for cash? What have you actually contributed today apart from the C02 emissions from the car you’re driving?
It’s a question people have difficulty answering.
It’s a question I have difficulty answering. And it scares me.
It scares me because I know I’m going to end up the same way. People tell me I have so much ahead of me… but I fear I may have already thrown away and closed the doors to many options that have presented themselves and I have turned away from. Only now are we realising that most avenues of potential are formed in childhood and adolescence. Major talents with which you can make a difference can be nurtured and prosper with immense ease at this time. And if you miss the chance, you may find it never comes back again.
At work I looked at all these people. Most of them knew their careers had reached the end. It didn’t really matter how young they were… they had already reached their potential. It just didn’t seem to make any difference any more.
Like I said, it scared me.
I knew I had to get out. I knew I was getting nowhere. Fortunately, I had already lined up a University place. It was my get out clause that I’d never really intended to use. I applied to Uni just to placate the parents. I really wanted to go out there and work. I was fed up of education. Hence the gap year. But it didn’t turn out that way.
It was only when this clicked into place in my brain that I realised that I had to start writing the conclusion to Chapter I. The time was right to set the wheels in motion, but I don’t know where the track is leading. All I knew was that I had to get out. At least I must have more of a chance of avoiding a dead-end life if I get a degree, and maybe more beyond.
That was what resonated in my mind as the car left my home for the final time. I knew I’d be back at Christmas… just as I am now. But I knew Chapter I had closed. I cried for what I’d lost.
September 2004 was the new beginning. But even then, it wasn’t all that it cracked up to be.
Slowly my life has descended into a permanent depressive mode. I hide it. I sometimes even forget about it and have fun with my friends. But I can never get rid of the niggling thought at the back of my mind that I’m missing out on something. That I’m here to do something far more important than study Western Europe.
I just don’t know what.
And that’s where we begin…