19 to 24: The invisible years
It was, probably, back in 2013, when I stumbled upon a Facebook status of an unknown student of a leading public university. The status was very well-written, with carefully chosen words and expressions. One can tell how well-read and well-organized the person was from that single read. Ironically, those were not the first things I noticed, thanks to the content of the status.
It was a suicide note. That frustrated, freshly graduated student was writing it with all his anguish, his sorrows, his sense of failure and his untold struggles. He was deeply upset that even with a degree from one of the most prestigious institutions of the country; he is unable to manage a "decent" job, whereas many of his friends were already doing something. The thing that broke him the most was the behaviour of his family towards him, during his period of struggle. They have been taunting him, humiliating him and verbally abusing him; pointing out his inability of getting a job and constantly comparing him with others. He mentioned about his struggle with minute details; how he has been managing his own expenses by offering inhumane number of private tuitions throughout his student life, while making sure his grades don't fall down. He, a young adult of twenty something, who was probably proud of his education and direction of life even a few months ago, could not bear the fact that his loved ones are not ready to show some patience with him!
Did he write the suicide note because he could not face the little challenges of life? No, he wrote it because he could not take it anymore. The thing that devastated him the most was not him being unemployed; he knew it takes time, and he will be able to get something after a few tries. The thing that broke him was the extreme lack of support, trust and patience from his family, when he needed it the most! He mentioned that very clearly, and logically, and that would tell you how well-versed this young man was!
Yes, he took away his life later that day. And yes, I think his decision was extreme, unnecessary, and unwise, and under no circumstances one should give up on their lives. Taking your life is never the solution; it never was! Unfortunately enough, even in today's world, we, the family and friends of people struggling to begin their careers, tend to become brutally judgmental with our comments and behaviours. We might not think it through, but our insensitive attitude might make a deep cut inside the people who might already be going through a lot!
While the mainstream focus remains on treating infants and teenagers the right way, most of us ignore the years that come after that, from 19 to 24. Why this range particularly, you may wonder! During these years, in most cases, a person enters the realm of reality for the first time. This is the time when one completes the post-secondary education, sets goal for a career, starts looking for establishing an independent life. For countries like Bangladesh, where children grow up in close affiliation with their parents and relatives, even after they graduate and start earning, that "independent" life actually means becoming the earning source of the family. Just because the person in concern is not a teen or baby anymore, it does not mean that s/he does not need emotional or psychological support anymore! This might seem like enabling someone, but it is our very culture that makes us need so, even in our early twenties!
It is part of our upbringing that makes a person more dependent on their families, for everything! Our 19 to 24 year olds barely leave the nest to build their lives. Even if they do, that would only be a hostel or dorm life. They get back home when it is done, to take the responsibility that they are entitled to! No, there is no harm in that. The thing is, this age group is the most crucial one, indeed! It makes or breaks a person! It is the time when people see their parents aging quickly, their hearts being broken, their pockets going empty, their friends getting married and/or flying abroad for higher studies, their hobbies vanishing and their colourful world turning into a greyish one. This transition is more serious than we assume and it does not happen the same way for everyone!
The next time you meet a person of that age, ask them how they are, instead of what their CGPA is. Ask them how life has been for them, instead of what their career plans are. Yes, the latter ones are important questions too, but those might not be too easy to answer! Be listeners, if you can, instead of interrogators! Ask your questions, only when you know the context. This is the time of life when we need to treat a person with respect, trust and patience, and sometimes a little friendly guidance maybe, whether they ask for it or not! Sometimes a few words of care, a little pat in the back and a smile can help someone from falling off the rails!
Mehnaz Tabassum is a Lecturer in the Department of English, East West University and is a critic and writer