The night before my 24th birthday, I had a breakdown.

24 isn’t old. But it felt eons away from being 21 and a new grad. When I was 21, adulthood seemed new and shiny – something I was excited for. When I was 21, I had just signed on to my first job with a 401k and perks, was dating someone who made me light up, and could finally pay for my own apartment with my best friend.

I didn’t know then that my job would be completely wrong for me. That I would spend 7 restless months going on dozens of interviews — rain, or shine, or flu — trying to pivot my career. I didn’t know that my relationship would drain my energy and slowly fall apart, or that a month later, I would fall head over heels for someone who would crush me. I didn’t know that, in dealing with everything else, I would neglect my mental health and fall into the worst bout of seasonal depression I’ve encountered in my life.

In adulthood, there is no new semester to hit a reset button. There is no summer vacation to unplug and come back transformed. In adulthood, people expect you to have it all together no matter what kind of shit is going on in your life.

I rebuilt. Slowly, but surely. I got a new job that I’m happy to say I really like. I took a break from dating. I started seeing a therapist. There were days when my life felt like a messy clump held together by nothing more than sheer willpower, but I trudged on.

But here I was, on the eve of turning 24, and the pride I had from rebuilding everything was giving away to fatigue, to a horrible fear that this was what life would be from here on out. An endless flood of problems, with me at the center, tired, barely holding it together, and always one wrong step away from train wreck.

I spent the weekend celebrating with friends, despite wanting to just curl up into a ball. Ironically, I did all the same things that birthday that I had done when turning 21. I spent it with the same friends, went out to the same club, and even reconnected with someone from that time. While going through the same motions, I realized that everything was different now. I became closer to my friends as we’d relied on each other during the tough post-grad years. I felt more confident in my own skin at the club, no longer self-conscious about my outfit or my hair. I was able to voice my worries to my old flame with a kind of self assuredness I didn’t have years ago, and to my surprise, instead of pulling away, he leaned in.

I was still living in the same city, surrounded by the same people, hitting the same old spots. But now, I was different. I felt different — empowered. I felt a new kind of confidence in my veins. The kind I didn’t realize was missing all those years ago at 21. The kind that comes with age.

*Name changed to protect her privacy.

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