The Panic Years: Entering Your Mid-Late Twenties

Everyone refers to their twenties as the selfish years. The years in which you travel, make mistakes, fall in love, get your heart broken, party, make more mistakes and ‘create yourself.’ And while my early twenties certainly consisted of all of the above (more than I’d like to admit), referring blindly to your twenties as the same decade misses the mark of the complex, confusing and chaotic period which is your twenties.

In my first few years of uni, I would stay up until 5am partying, drinking, talking D+M’ing, going for nudie swims under the cover of dark, go clubbing, dancing and sleep in until 1pm. Now I don’t think that’s physically possible. I’ve somehow transformed into a morning peson who gets up at 5:30 to go to yoga or for a run.

What does this change mean? Is it biological (my body screaming at me to please please please have babies), is it societal (watching my friends get married, buy a house and have gorgeous kids), is it economic (thinking about how much super I will need to retire), or is it a natural progression of getting old and boring?

I recently picked up Nell Frizell’s debut book ‘The Panic Years,’ where she explores this overarching period of a woman’s life that ultimately results in panic. Whether you’re in your twenties, thirties or even fourties, most decisions are made in a state of panic. Frantically looking around and comparing yourself to your peers and friends, driven by the underlying question of ‘do I want children and if so, when do I have them?’

There’s a myriad of reasons why this simple question is so loaded and not so simple. And as someone who feels well and truly in her panic years, in the flux, at any given time I’m likely considering the following;

  • How will I know when I’m ready?
  • How much money do I need to have a baby?
  • Will my employer be flexible and will I have enought support for maternity leave?
  • How many more jobs do I want to have before I’m ready to plateau for a little while?
  • Where do I want to live? Where can I afford to live?
  • Am I ok with renting or do I want to buy something – how the hell does anyone afford to buy something?
  • How much do those cute little baby socks cost?
  • Do I need health insurance? What if something goes wrong?
  • Will my scoliosis worsen during pregnancy leaving me with a Quasimodo hunchback?
  • Am I fertile, can my body physically even have kids?
  • Is my womb even a nice little uterus where a baby could make a home for nine months?
  • Could I deal with the possibility of miscarriage – after all it happens in 1 in 4 pregnancys?
  • Do I really want to bring a child into the world that is arguably burning?

I understand that these are all privileged thoughts, many women don’t have the space, choice or freedom to have children on their own terms.

Lying under all of these questions is the dilema of career progression, personal goals and ambitions (can you raise a baby in Mongolia? I still really want to go there!), personal relationships, family… no wonder it’s called the panic years.

To me it’s insane the comparison and contrast between my early twenties, someone who was quite opposed to having children and was very present-focused. Within the past 12 months I feel I’ve undergone a total transformation of my outlook on life and what’s important to me. I’m so much more future focused and thinking about all of the things (see above), my family (which I’ve always loved and thought was important) have become even more significant in my life and play a much larger part in my life. I’m careful with how I spend my money and time, and following up at the doctors with all these little health concerns to make sure I can live a long and happy life. Maybe a positive take from the pandemic was making us quickly realise what’s important and not to put faith in the future just happening because we all know it can change in the blink of an eye.

This transformation has caught me completely off guard as I grapple with the loss of my early twenties Adelaide but a quiet confidence as I navigate my mid-late twenties. It’s a privilege growing older, I just can’t believe how much you can grow, change and learn in such a short amount of time.

This post isn’t just about when I can have an adorable little red headed baby… but about trying to understand this period of time that I see a lot of my friends move into and navigate. The time where once in a blue moon you can stay out til 5am partying, but where you’re also researching investing in stocks and getting your skin checked regularly. So when I picked up Nell’s book, I knew immediately what it was about – this. The future-focused, somewhat responsible, somewhat decisive, somewhat confused mid-late twenty woman riding the panic and embracing the flux.