Got Peter Pan Syndrome: Here's How to Get Over it and Accept Growing Up
I distinctly remember being little and always wanting to be older. As a kid, I wanted to be a teen; as a teen I wanted to be an adult. Adulthood seemed like a magical land where you got to make your own decisions and live by your own rules. You could have Frosted Flakes for dinner, go to bed at 3am, wake up at noon and wear pyjamas all day. Adulthood was that fantastic place where no one could tell you what to do, send you to your room, or force you to make polite conversation with people you didn’t like. Adulthood was the goal. I don’t know many kids who didn’t think, “I can’t wait to be a grown up.” I certainly did. I longed for independence and the freedom to do as I pleased.
And then one day, it happened to me. I was a grown up. I lived on my own, I ate what I wanted, slept for too many hours or none at all, and came and went as I pleased. And it was glorious, for a time. And then along came bills and rent and taxes and grocery lists and laundry piles and a job I disliked and forced polite conversation with the people who signed my pay cheque and essay due dates and all-nighters and student debt. Along came reality. It seems that as a little kid, we only saw the freedom of adulthood, not the weight of grown-up responsibilities. But I think I’ve finally reached that age where getting older has lost its appeal. The years gone by now seem brighter and happier than the years to come. I’ve grown to fear getting older.
The fear of aging keeps me up at night. I’ve begun to fear arthritis and body parts that don’t quite do what I want. I’ve become afraid of long funny sounding words like osteoporosis and tachycardia and abbreviations like ALS and TIAs. But more than the physical decline that inevitably comes with growing older, I’ve begun to fear that sense of losing things I can’t get back. What will I do when I wake up at 30 and realize that I don’t even have the title of 20-something to excuse my youthful folly; or at 50 to realize that my child-bearing years are over; or at 70 to realize that I forget more things than I remember? How will I bear the loss of my mother?
These seem like crazy things for 23-year-old to worry about, but they haunt my mind. Perhaps I’m approaching my quarter-life crisis. Perhaps it’s my exposure to the elderly and infirm at work—I speak with elderly folks who sound so bitter about their advancing age and declining health. How do I make sure I don’t become that? I realize that my fear is born out of my view and approach to aging. I’ve been looking at it as a dark cloud, bearing down upon me, with only the promise of rain and storms. I fear the loss of things and opportunities that I haven’t even begun to enjoy yet. I worry about flowers wilting and dying before they’ve even begun to bloom.
Tomorrow really is a mystery and none of us knows what it holds. All we can do is live in this very moment without worrying about the days yet to come or dwelling on the ones left behind. Life is happening now, and here I am looking at tomorrow with dread instead of enjoying today. Getting old is inevitable. I’m going to get old and I am going to die. We all are. But not yet. And so, in those moments we still have, we should take nothing for granted. Do all the cliché things like dance in the rain, and eat too much ice cream and marathon our favourite movies. And we should do the not-so-cliché things like zip line through rain forests, jump out of airplanes, swim with dolphins and eat desserts with real gold in them, if that’s what you’re into. Have an extra glass of wine, and compliment that pretty girl on her big brown eyes. Read a thousand books. Go to a rock concert. Take care of yourself, mind, body and soul. Get dirty. Live life, gain experience and make memories. We can’t stop ourselves from getting old, but we can make sure that with each passing year, we have stories to tell and experiences to remember fondly. As Chuck Palahniuk once said, “We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.”