Navigating Tough Times in your 20’s

Well stick a Starburst in my eye and call me sweet, happy Sunday to you! Son of a nut cracker, we’re off to a rocky start this morning, folks. But we’re here. We got up at 6:30 on a gloomy Sunday after eating an edible last night and made it to the café. The green tea is steeping and there’s absolutely nobody here.

Did this guy just order a beer? Damn, this guy just ordered a beer. Sick. Now he’s staring off into the distance looking very depressed. I thought this guy was just a classic sender but no this is actually sad. There’s almost as many babies here as adults. Weird crowd on an early Sunday morning. I feel like the only people up right now in Austin are those who just started their entire lives and the people who created them.

Maybe I should get someone pregnant. Perhaps that’s what’s missing in my life. Could you imagine… if you just casually decided you wanted to get someone pregnant because you were feeling unfulfilled. Instead of having a coffee to get you going you just created a life instead. I think that was the Genghis Khan method. He just started off every morning by impregnating someone and then he was like “alright, now I can start my day!”

Sounds like a lot of work to me. If I had to satisfy a woman in order to start my day I’d never start my day. Mwuahaha self-deprecating jokes. Hilarious. I thought of a great pick-up line the other night. You go up to a woman and you just say “Hey how can I disappoint you tonight?”

I did absolutely nothing yesterday, it was wild. I’m such a sensitive stick of celery it’s honestly ridiculous. Being super sensitive to everything has its benefits. I’m a cheap drunk, it doesn’t take much to get me high, I can feel other people’s energy quite easily, and I’m always hyper aware of what’s going on around me. I observe well and can take in a lot.

The challenge is taking care of myself. I’m starting to talk about this more in my stand-up routine, but I was diagnosed with severe Ulcerative Colitis when I was 17 and it has affected my life everywhere from here to Budapest. It’s one of those things that’s almost impossible to explain to anyone who doesn’t also deal with chronic illness. Especially because everything looks normal on the outside. Nobody can see the ulcers in my intestine, so people assume I’m fine.

I might be fine. But even if I am fine, I’m always a few steps away from the cliff’s edge. That’s just how it is if you have a severe chronic illness. You can do everything right and even feel great, but it’s always there occupying a little cabin in the forest of your mind. The positive is that it forces me to keep myself on track. For me, minor mistakes are major mistakes and major mistakes are catastrophic. Everything is amplified, so I have to stay centered.

Navigating your 20’s is already hard because you’re making the transition from a dependent child to a self-sufficient adult. You have to figure out how to make your way in the world and what your place in it should be. We make a lot of mistakes in our 20’s and I think that’s exactly what we should do. We should be taking a lot of risks, failing a lot, and learning from each failure. We should be like a wandering sponge, trying to soak up everything while we just keep moving around, keeping things around us clean enough to not make us sick.

For most of us, our risk-tolerance is limited by something. It could be illness, it could be financial, it could be familial. I’m lucky enough to have a family that loves me and has done well financially, so I know that even if I did fail catastrophically I could have someone to turn to. A lot of people don’t have that.

We’re all limited by our abilities, too. We have to make decisions and sacrifices based around our capabilities. Some of us are dumb. Some of us are physically weak. Some of us are emotionally bankrupt. That’s just the way it is. These things limit our options and we have to decide what we’re going to do given that ugly truth.

So we trudge through our 20’s with all of this baggage, just trying to get by. We slowly learn what we can and can’t do, what we like and don’t like. Some of us discover who we really are, and others jump right into a bunch of commitments and never truly self-reflect until we’re sitting on the couch alone after our kids have gone to college as we’re hit with the stark realization that we never really gave ourselves the space to simply be who we really are. Cue the music, the mid-life crisis has begun.

But hopefully we allow ourselves to be discovered. It’s not exactly encouraged in our rat race society, where the constant pressure to achieve and produce is compounded by the ever-flowing river of incoming information. Because of the internet, we have the ability to compare ourselves on a scale never seen before. Sadly, if we spend our lives trying to keep up with everyone else, we’re going to outrun ourselves.

Then you’re the person on the couch. You’ve realized you left yourself behind and you can’t go back and grab what’s lost. You can only let it catch up to you, and sometimes it comes at you fast. Maybe all at once. Maybe you stem the tide, but maybe you drown.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my 20’s, but I’ll always be proud of how I jumped into the rapids and learned how to paddle, especially because I didn’t have to. I had the safety blanket. I could have stayed home, taken over the family business, made the money and started the family.

I think my chronic illness has helped me with that. If I didn’t get so sick when I was 17 I don’t know if I would have had the same appreciation for life. I don’t know if I would have taken the risks I have. I was incredibly low-risk before I got sick. I played everything safe. I got good grades, I never got in trouble, I bit my tongue… I went to school to study business because I thought it was safe.

When I got out of the hospital, things changed pretty quickly. My grades went to shit, I sought out any trouble I could find, I flunked out of college… it was a dark period but I started to put the pieces together. I quickly realized I couldn’t live my life the same way as the people around me. I had to make sacrifices, and a lot of them.

I’ve spent the last ten years coming to terms with those sacrifices, and I guess that’s what your 20’s are about and even what life is about. We have to ask ourselves what we’re willing to sacrifice, because everything comes at a cost.

I’ve had to come to grips with what I am and also what I’m not. I’ve had to do it on my own and in the watchful eye of the crowd. Discovering myself on stage has been painstaking to say the least. I’ll record my sets and I have to watch myself go up there and try to be something I’m not. But it’s only in watching myself struggle that I’m able to break through and start to fuse my true self with my performing self, and I can finally feel the pieces of my true personality really beginning to click.

Jason Brendel
Jason Brendel

Jason Brendel is an author, poet, and comedian from Northern California. Navigate the buttons below to follow him on social media, make a donation, or purchase his collection of laugh-out-loud poetry on Amazon.

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