I turn 19 in a week.
It struck me very suddenly that I’m almost a year older. I wasn’t expecting it so soon. It’s hard to believe that so much time has passed since I turned 18. Have I really been a legal adult for a whole year?
I always get a little nervous around my birthday. Am I ready to “feel older?” But this year is different. This year I feel like I never really got to be 18. I am not ready to be 19. Nineteen is not a number associated with big changes and new responsibilities, like 18 or 21. So why do I feel so apprehensive?
For the past six months, the time has passed differently. March dragged out as I adjusted to being stuck at home and watched all my expectations for the year be shattered. Summer passed so quickly that I can hardly remember it.
When I realized that I turn 19 in a week, I was shocked, because I was only actively 18 for a few months before stay at home orders and social distancing changed my perception of time.
A study reported in May found that 48% of people felt like time was slowing down during quarantine, and 25% felt that time was flying by. Events that orient people with regards to time, like weekends or scheduled classes, stopped occurring. These events, called temporal cues, act as anchors in time. The same way that people become disoriented in space when there are no visible landmarks, their sense of time becomes warped if there are no temporal cues.
Time may feel like it’s speeding up because days blend together during the quarantine. If the same things happen every day, there is no variation and no strong memories laden with emotion to separate different days.
When there are many emotional memories close together, such as when we watched everything shut down as a strange new virus panicked the world, time can seem drawn out because there are many equally strong memories that formed close together.
I, along with everyone else forced into their homes by COVID, lost my temporal cues. Prom, graduation, summer fireworks, and even small things like weekends and making plans to meet with friends, never happened and reminded me of how time was supposed to be passing. March felt like it would never end because every day there was another disappointment or fear. Events were canceled, plans were postponed, people got sick. After the distress faded, time raced by. Days became indistinguishable from one another.
March lasted a lifetime, but I was more preoccupied with current events than any of the “adult” things that come with being 18, like making my own doctor’s appointments and buying my own gas.
Time since March has passed as slow, drawn-out periods of anxiety and fear, and quick but dull and monotonous days. This irregular feeling of time passing left me shocked when I realized exactly how soon my birthday is.
Time doesn’t feel like it has passed as it should. As far as our internal chronometers are concerned March was the longest month ever, every month between March and August was incredibly short, and I am 18 and a half- 19 in a week.