Words by Lydia, 18 VIC
Post-high school fear has knocked my friends around and left them floundering. Even through our last school year – a long plague of fear and ever-changing plans – my simple questions were not met with tears as often as they are now. I’m considering bringing tissues to small talk, just to be prepared.
‘How are you going?’ is now met with overwhelmed exhaustion.
‘What are you doing this year?’ incites tears of uncertainty.
‘Would you like to come to this event with me?’prompts blabbering nerves.
‘What have you been reading?’ cues rants uttered through sobs of frustration about a constant lack of concentration.
I feel guilty for dodging this fear. What did I do to get the easy route out? Maybe my efforts to fight off chronic anxiety induced by uncertainty are finally paying off, or maybe I just busied myself through the holidays enough to dodge its clutches.
It’s scary to see all my strong friends reduced to blubbering messes over something so intangible. The number of times I’ve heard them say ‘it’s all too much’ is terrifying. We studied for exams in the middle of a pandemic under teachers who didn’t know how to work Zoom, with our parents yelling into business calls in the next room, but this new beginning is what’s breaking my peers. Where did this come from? What held it off?
Surely school was not the thing keeping them all sane. That delightful cesspit of teenage anxieties, gossip, stress, and clouds of sprayed deodorant cannot be what was holding the pieces together. I refuse to accept that constantly muddling through maths lessons and rushing English assignments was what got us through. That cannot be the answer.
The adults –the proper ones, with responsibility and experience in all this – tell me this happens to everyone when they leave school. While this is slightly comforting – we’re not alone in this, at least – it’s also troubling. If this happens to everyone, why haven’t we made efforts to address it?
Near the end of Year 12, I sat through so many seminars on how to ace exams, manage stress, apply for university, and stay safe at parties I wasn’t invited to. Why did none of those boring, unreliable PowerPoint presentations mention this epidemic of uncertainty and fear for the future in school leavers, especially in these COVID-riddled times?
I know this must be how everyone feels as they adjust to university and work and all the rest, but COVID has exacerbated the situation. It’s one thing to start uni with all the normal nerves, it’s quite another to worry about snap lockdowns, an instable job market, the exhaustion of online (or partially online) education, and the person who won’t stop coughing on your train all at the same time.
I feel like I’ve failed as a friend. While I’ve been off writing my little stories and visiting art galleries, my friends have been suffering. I know I’m not my friends’ minder, but every time someone new tells me how scared they are, how depressed or anxious they feel, my heart sinks.
If the adults don’t have the answers, we need to find them. I’m writing reminders in my diary to text everyone twice a week and see my friends in person as often as possible. I’m urging them to tell me what’s going on with them, pestering them to bother me with all their problems, the way they did when we were in school. I’m not trying to be the budding-psychologist-friend, I’m trying to open up opportunities to talk again.
It’s difficult, especially as we travel further from the holidays and everyone gets busier, but I think it’s slowly working. And maybe this exposure to uncertainty will change everyone for the better. Perhaps it will help build up all our immunity, so when we reach the next hurdle, we’ll clear it with calm ease.
The fear will still be there, but my generation is learning to carry it. It’s a slow process, but we’ll get there.
Illustration by Aileen, You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenetc