04/16/2014 08:00 EDT | Updated 06/16/2014 05:59 EDT

A Quarter-Life Crisis Sent Me to Therapy

Dulcie Wagstaff via Getty Images

I sat in a therapist's office two weeks ago. She had curly blonde hair and wore a lot of stone jewelry. She reminded me of California.

"How old are you?" she asked me.


"Oh!" she exclaimed. "Like clockwork. Everyone starts coming in here at exactly your age. So, why are you here?" she asked.

"I think I'm having a nervous breakdown," I told her.

I'll always remember the time everything fell apart as the summer Kanye West's Yeezus dropped.

On my favorite sample, Ella Fitzgerald sang about strange fruit hanging. Chief Keef, an 18-year-old rapper who became an overnight success while on house arrest, told me he couldn't hold his is liquor. Kanye warned me when a real man holds you down, you're supposed to drown. The brutal, emotionally layered Yeezus felt foreboding. It served as the elevator music while I unraveled.

Summer ended. My relationship fell apart. Then, it just disappeared. Then, I wondered if I'd made it all up. I felt like my friends didn't like me anymore. I had started drinking heavily at parties and on dates again. I had body image issues and trouble breathing. Work pulled me in a bunch of directions. I felt myself spinning like a top.

Until pretty much now, I tricked myself into believing that my anxiety was my secret. I held onto it like it was something noble. White knuckling through my day, hating myself into working really hard, the ticker tape of thoughts that ran through my mind. They were why I got so much stuff done. I loved those thoughts. I needed them. They made me who I was and different from everyone else.

But, the thing is, sometimes you snap and it's sudden. When the panic attacks started and the sleeping stopped, I knew something was different. Pain came. It was festering and ugly. It wouldn't go away no matter what I tried. I had always been told change was gradual. But why, overnight, did I feel like a completely different person?

There's been a lot said about the quarter-life crisis. My favorite show, Girls, is built upon the confusion and loss of this generation. I always thought a quarter life was a glamorous and trivial problem to have. It reminded me of a quote from the movie Beginners, "Our good fortune allowed us to feel the sadness our parents didn't have time for." If my crises were existential, they weren't that bad.

Maybe that was my denial rearing its head. Maybe I don't want to admit that my issues with mental health are serious.

I told my best friend how bad I was feeling. "See a therapist," she said. "Trust me. It helps. A lot of us are doing it."

I thought about it. I talked to my friend Matt Watts, an actor and writer who was very public about his own issues with anxiety. His show, Michael Tuesdays and Thursdays, which aired on the CBC, was a beautiful and offbeat love letter to his journey overcoming his demons.

"Are you so sad you can't leave the house?" he asked.

"No. I just cry a lot."

"Crying's OK. At least you're getting it out."

"Was it scary when you started dealing with all this stuff?"

He paused.

"It's kind of like that parka that you're wearing. It's warm. Even if it's dirty and falling apart, it's comfortable. You're used to it."

The second time I saw my therapist I told her about my panic attacks.

"I haven't slept through the night in six months."

She nodded. "I want you to try something that I've found really works for panic. It falls under Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I want you to tap with your fingers on meridian points throughout your body. While doing so, you'll say out loud, 'Although I can't sleep and I'm having a panic attack, I will be OK.'"

I said it out loud. She showed me where to start tapping. I felt stupid. We moved onto another affirmation. After about 10 taps I started crying and I couldn't stop.

She told me that Jung has a theory that what isn't dealt with in the unconscious comes back to us in life as fate. It will feel like destiny, but it's your darkness personified. I thought of my love life.

I left her office with a new coat of mascara. I went to a meeting. I sat across from a man in his fifties who I'm working with. "I just remember this feeling of randomness in my twenties. Like, all this stuff was happening and I had no idea why. You see the connections later, but you cannot feel a reason for any of it in your twenties. You don't have the insight or the experience," he said.

"You're right."

Is that why a lot of my friends and I needed help? Was it the randomness of events that destabilized us? People came and went. Work stuff happened or didn't and I never really understood why. Things that seemed forever, like family units, fell apart.

I asked my most thoughtful friend why 25 was so hard. "It's when dreams meet reality. Maybe that sounds stupid, but I think it's true."

Yesterday, I sat across from my therapist again. "Why do you think so many people start coming to therapy when they are 25?"

"The old has stopped working. You don't know the new way yet."

Unpacking my mind feels dangerous but illuminating.

"You're very polished," my therapist told me. "You have a great act. I don't mean that as an insult."

"I know," I said. "It's an act."

"You have a very together exterior and an engine that is constantly revving and never stopping. On the inside you're running your guts out, on the outside trying to be perfect."

"Yep," I agreed.

"I have an image of you as a little girl in her mom's high heels, with pearls around her neck and a party dress, trying to show everybody she can walk and not fall."

I nodded. That is how I feel about myself. I didn't realize it was so transparent. It felt ugly that someone else could see it.

I guess mentally a lot of 25-year-olds are at a crossroads. Either, we are figuring ourselves out, or we're slowly being cemented into the people we'll never be able to escape. Right now, I feel the darkness lifting but my reality is still shadowy.

I am slowly accepting that getting better doesn't look how I thought it would. It isn't falling in love again. It's not walking without missing a step into a shiny new life. It's messy. It's a carpeted basement suite in a house 20 subway stops west. It's sitting across from a woman who teaches you to tap on your hand and then your chest, in the hopes that something hidden inside you will answer.

"I keep dreaming of babies," I told my therapist yesterday as I was putting my scarf on, leaving.

Apparently that means new beginnings.


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