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When do people grow?

Whether we want them to or not, things change. You probably see it everyday, in a hundred things. Given today’s Equal Marriage Northern Ireland debate at Stormont, you may think this post is about that, about the (lack of) growth of this small country. It’s not, instead its one of those self-reflective posts I try to avoid. It’s personal, which never comes easy to me to articulate, so it’s rambling and likely incoherent. It’s been a long few years or more for me, and as of yet, I might hesitate to say I’ve really grown, despite the fact that a lot has changed, since I was a teen. Discovering myself back then, coming out, realising my own quirks, finding others, going to university, a first job, volunteering, family stuff, a relationship, a PhD, and now a new job. This simple summary doesn’t do justice to all the complexity of those things. Certainly, they are change, but growth implies a change, usually for the better.

Sitting, today, in a training room for my new job with BT, listening to an instructor talk, I had a sudden and terrifying flash of utter panic. What was I doing here, why am I here, what have I done with my life, my career? Why did I leave physics behind? Why did I do it in the first place? Where is this going? I had a stream of consciousness, going from thinking of all the other things I could do, would love to do, places I could go, going from crazy to mundane, realistic to things I suck at. Art, journalist, USA, lawyer, youth work, Australia, physics, programmer, space. Things I still had to learn, to experience. More and more.
I realised that part of my panic was about form. My potential future was no longer just an ethereal, abstract concept somewhere in the vague distance – it was condensing before my eyes, into a solid pathway. A few years back, I could do so much, the options were huge. With each passing moment, options vanished, the pathway became clearer, more tangible. Here I was, becoming what seems a bit like a small cog in a big machine. An unsettling feeling that I’m not used to – from a young age I’ve felt for various reasons that I had to stand out, up and noticed. It’s part of who I am, that I need to feel like I matter to people, and recently that’s been a tough ask. I don’t want to breeze through life, having made no meaningful impact on the world, even if it sounds like an ego trip.

Perhaps, the last 6 months have been most difficult. With a new job looming but no clear end in sight to my (increasingly shambolic) PhD, my boyfriend James of 5 years (almost since coming out) pursuing his own difficult career prospects which I can’t help with, I was and still am under a lot of stress, stress I have visited on others. For that, I can only apologise. Recently, turning 26, this itself has been a herald of change – I’ve moved on from university, where I was part of a small team, doing research that I could tell myself was important to many people, and would be noted. GLYNI, where I learned a lot, moved through and tried to make a difference; I leave it behind, doubting my absence will be much noticed. I feel like family and friends are drifting further away from me, for no reason other than the change that comes with time. It makes me uncomfortable, I think, and sad to realise that parts of me are gone and will not return. Even small things like putting on some weight, losing my physical fitness, my declining performance in karate, my attitudes to people, and my own passions, has been irritating to say the least. None of them are things I have the willpower right now to change; I feel psychologically drained.

I don’t care about age – you can be the most mature 13 year old or the most childish 30 year old, but nonetheless I’m ever more aware of how I’m not able to be that bit irresponsible, be inconsequentially young anymore; I’ve been forced into growth – into adopting an idea of a ‘grown up’, an adult, a responsible son, a dutiful boyfriend, a productive employee, that I’m not easily able to accept. It feels somehow too normal for my life now, after the heavy drama of teenage years past. Too mundane, to just settle down, work hard for a family and partner, buy a house and grow old. It sounds like I’m saying I do not wish these things, that I have regrets, crave excitement, or resent where I am now. I don’t resent or regret these things.
Yes I do have regrets – and I couldn’t live a boring life, but that isn’t what I’m trying to convey – I may regret not coming out sooner, or maybe not working that bit harder on my undergrad, to get that last percent. I may regret missing the opportunity to do some things when I had the chance. Plenty of other things besides. But, I know that if I were to go back and make decisions again, I probably wouldn’t do anything differently. It doesn’t stop you from thinking over those closed pathways, pondering what might have been. You will always be told to never have regrets. I say ignore these people, it’s impossible – to me, if you have no regrets then you made no decisions, took no chances. I have come to feel that what matters is not the choice you made, but the reasons you made it.  Were they right? Probably, but you will always wonder. I think we as people can’t help but to do so, and so in the end you will always regret things, needlessly so.

So what’s the point? This is a post borne of frustration – frustration at the things I can’t change, choices I never made and never could. An apology of sorts, to you and mostly to myself. For all the times I’ve got annoyed at any of you, or myself, for choices I made and didn’t understand. To continue to learn, to push myself to finish the things I’ve started. And a resolve, to accept without denial who and what I am, and to move forward without fear, anger, shame or embarrassment. To enjoy the experiences I have, taking them when I can.

Change? Yes. Growth. Maybe one day.

– Matt

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