Teenagers of All Ages Are All the Same

Photo by Cristina Pop

Puberty. It doesn’t matter when it hits, it does the same stuff to everyone.

Impatience the hallmark of pubescent people. They want it all, they want it now, and they will throw something at you if you tell them they have to wait. They also don’t know what they want. They just want it now. They don’t know that they will like what they get, but that doesn’t matter either. Humans just seem to be allergic to between spaces.

Adolescence is the ultimate between space. Not a child, not adult, maybe wanting to be one or the other. I wanted to be a child and that never went away, but these days I think of my own tendencies as ‘thinking young’. However we react, we definitely don’t want to be between spaces. Our bodies and minds have conflicting agendas.

Teenagers tend to react to being thrust into between spaces spectacularly, but who wouldn’t? Puberty is miserable. That transition through it is hard and confusing. What right minded person would sign up for that? *cough*

"WE ALL GO THROUGH WITH IT, AND WE ALL WANT IT OVER WITH. BUT WE DON’T KNOW WHAT WE WANT."

We all go through with it, and we all want it over with. But we don’t know what we want. And we don’t know when or how our changing will end. Or what we will have at the end of it, or whether we’ll like it. But we want it now anyway. It doesn’t matter what it is, we just want it done. Yeah, we may hope for this or that, but ultimately we can’t know and it just sort of lands us somewhere. Never soon enough.

It doesn’t matter how old you are; you can have an adolescence whenever. Transitioning people know this best, and it’s no different from what happens to teenagers. My therapist would repeatedly tell me that my impatience was part of my growing up. Yes, this was all very frustrating, but isn’t that how it’s supposed to be? Hurry up and wait! It comes in time. Always in time.

The incessant waiting is the problem. I waited for the clinic to see me, I waited for the hormones to start working. I waited to see if they worked some more. I waited for the clinic to see me again. I discovered new feelings and waited to see how they worked. For such an eventful time, there sure is a lot of waiting.

Thing is, this stuff isn’t a thing we can force. Either the systems around us just go at whatever speed or the chemicals in our bodies just do whatever they do, whenever they do it. We get to be there. That is all.

What’s even weirder is when we feel like we’re done, but then find ourselves changing more. False finishes. We get to look at ourselves and say, “OK, I’m finished,” again and again. I thought at several points that I was finished only to be reminded by a photo from one of those moments of how much I keep changing. Definitely not finished, but I say I am.

No matter how old, teenagers like to say they’re all grown up now. And they are invariably wrong. Maybe adolescence ends with the understanding that we’re never all grown up? But I came to that understanding years ago and I still said it to myself several times in this process. We’re never all grown up, and yet there I was, looking for the signs that I was all grown up. My cognitive understanding doesn’t seem to have any impact on the adolescent state I’m in.

Teenagers throw themselves into everything. Reckless abandon. I’m not sure if all teenagers do this, but I’ve worked with a few hundred in my life most of the ones I knew would. I certainly did. Twice. They don’t just hate, they hate fully. They’re not just unmotivated, they are the mountain. They can be so perfectly indifferent, the kind that takes powerful effort to maintain. And of course they love, like and fall to anger — everything. Nothing is by half.

Transitional spaces at whatever age are charged times of extremes. We have times of intense boredom and other moments where all of it crashes down and must be dealt with right now. Everything is very important. My mum told me that the biggest sign of maturity is the understanding how unimportant things really are. I do understand, and yet here I am letting everything matter.

Maybe this heightened importance is hormonal? My experience certainly supports that. My brain seems to react to major hormonal change in the same way regardless of what I know, and the only reason I know that is because hormone therapy provided me with a reference.

Photo by Timothy Eberly

Adolescence is always characterised as this phase we get over. We tut at teenagers, joke about how we need to kiss them now while they still know everything. I know I don’t know everything, but I find myself getting petulant anyway. I’m even aware that I’m doing it, but I do it anyway.

"THAT THE NEWNESS WEARS OFF AS OUR BRAINS FINISH CHANGING IS PROVEN, BUT HOW THAT PRECIPITATES AS BEHAVIOUR IS LESS CLEAR."

Maybe we get over it, but not by growing so much as settling into our new chemistries? That the newness wears off as our brains finish changing is proven, but how that precipitates as behaviour is less clear. Obviously second puberty isn’t going to do things as drastic to the brain as the first one but the changes are still major. From the accounts of friends that have come off of hormones, they don’t reverse either.

In a philosophical sense, my adolescence never really ended. I never got used to how my brain worked after the first puberty. I never settled. Things stopped being so important, but it was a resignation rather than an acceptance. Once I learned transition wasn’t just a series of surgeries — that you could actually change your brain around — I knew what I wanted again and I wanted it immediately. I never really stopped being a teenager.

Things are settling down for me now and I watch transitional people of all ages with a distance I can appreciate. I see the phase. They want it all, they want it now. They don’t know what it is and they don’t care. They have goals and desires they have no way of guaranteeing for themselves and they hope.

I won’t say I’m all grown up because I’ll eat those words at some point, but I think I get that wry, dismissive attitude people have when discussing teenagers. Things aren’t quite so urgent. For the first time since I was about twelve, I feel myself relaxing into something. I don’t know what, but it will come in time.

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