As I turn 20, I am happier, healthier and safer without my family

June Eric Udorie: How many mistakes can I make as a black immigrant in Trump’s US?

New York based writer June Eric Udorie on a visit to Dublin.

New York based writer June Eric Udorie on a visit to Dublin.

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I turned 20 a few weeks ago. In the days and weeks leading up to my birthday, I found myself panicking. I was scared. Turning 20 marked the end of my teenage years and the beginning of adulthood. The fact that I’d already been acting as an adult since I was much younger was meaningless.

Turning 20 felt monumental. Shouldn’t I celebrate?, I wondered. I knew I should have done something big to celebrate, but with so much fear, the likelihood of doing anything significant was slim.

I felt an immense pressure to start taking dating seriously, to begin planning my career, to have things under control, or at least to appear to have things under control.

I left broke, vulnerable and terrified, and with the hope that my departure might improve the situation at home

The truth is, my life at present is not what I imagined it would be, and turning 20 was a stark reminder of that. Birthdays have a way of making me feel like a failure. And so here I was, dealing poorly with a resurfacing pain that I associate with my estrangement from my immediate and extended family.

In early 2016, aged 17, I left my parents’ home – without money or a place to go – because of what I see as a dysfunctional domestic situation.

I left broke, vulnerable and terrified, and with the hope that my departure might improve the situation at home. I comforted myself that it was okay that I had no money and barely a place to sleep, because it was only temporary.

It has almost been three years, and I have not been back.

Complicated

And so, in the weeks leading up to my 20th birthday, I struggled to understand what it means that I am growing into a young woman without my parents. I cannot believe that I am estranged from my family at such a young age. It feels so complicated that I as turn 20, I am happier, healthier and safer without my family.

I find myself struggling with what all of this means, struggling to understand how birthdays have passed, and with every year I feel better off without my family. In the weeks leading up to my birthday I cannot practice “radical acceptance” (the total acceptance of a situation), even though it is all I want to do.

It is difficult to be proud of how far I have come in the past three years, of how hard I have fought to be where I am today. Turning 20 – getting older – is bringing up so much to think about, but I am trying and failing not to be ashamed.

I am lucky to have survived it all. But do you know how hard it is to accept that you are a better person without the woman who birthed you in your life?

“On the weekend before my birthday, I tweeted that that I was scared about turning 20.”
'On the weekend before my birthday, I tweeted that I was scared about turning 20.'

I have been 20 for a few weeks, and I’m still nervous. The 20s are such a big decade, and I feel a pressure to have and do so much. There are so many expectations: take risks now because you won’t have the space to do so in a few years; travel; be selfish with your money; live life a little on the edge. At the same time, your 20s are all about f***ing up, so embrace the mistakes and the life lessons.

I absorb so many of these expectations, and wonder how many mistakes can I make as a black, disabled, immigrant woman living in Trump’s America? Can I really travel if I’m financially responsible for myself, and have little to fall back on? I want to enjoy the years ahead of me, but the societal expectations feel stifling and depressing.

We do this so often. By we, I mean women, and by this I mean the high expectations we and society put on ourselves. Be married by 30. Have kids by 35. Be financially stable by 40. And on it goes.

While I’ve always been defiant of society’s norms and expectations, I find myself craving normality. I’m scared of missing out if I don’t do all the things you’re meant to do when you’re in your 20s, when you don’t have kids and few responsibilities.

On the weekend before my birthday, I tweeted that that I was scared about turning 20. I later deleted the tweet, but not before some older women had chipped in to tell me that I’m going to be fine. For them, ageing has been a gift. It has led to them having a stronger sense of self, so much more confidence, and they care less about what others think of them.

I realise that this is what I want, and what I want to start working towards now. I don’t want to wait until I’m 50 to be happy in my skin, to own my achievements, to be proud of the woman I’ve become. These women encourage me to let go of all that is in my head and to focus on the most important part of all of this: me.

June Eric-Udorie is a journalist and blogger for the Guardian and the New Statesman. In 2016, the BBC included her in the 100 inspirational and influential women for 2016. Can We All Be Feminists? edited by June Eric-Udorie, will be published by Virago later this year

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