Interactive illustrator Katie Johnston writes a very intimate and honest reflection on the stress and anxiety she feels. Although she is in her late twenties, people of all ages will connect with her story. Ageless worries that can affect us all at any point in our lives.

Words by Katie Johnston. 

I stress about age all the time, about things I should be achieving work wise, or about the way I should look. I’ve been told that's a real 20s thing. I'm at that funny age where I am starting to see little changes in myself — a few little lines, my eyesight starting to get worse and a need to go out running to stay fit. I'm also noticing that, in lots of ways, I am so much more aware of my feelings and more able to express my emotions! I hear that all the uncertainty stops at 30. I'm 28 now so hopefully I only have two more years of crippling self doubt before I embrace it all!

People I've just met tend to think I’m younger than I am which is always nice, but sometimes it can be really annoying in a professional environment. People who know me really well will often describe me as a ‘child’. I can never understand why that has negative connotations because whenever I hang out with actual kids they always have the most fun. Obviously there are the organisational problems and clumsiness but I do have a lot of nicer naive characteristics; I really like collecting silly toys, I still sleep with my old teddy bear on the odd occasion, and I also have little patterns from my childhood that just won't budge. If there is a really big slide in the park I will have to go down it still even if its embarrassing. Recently I went to a thermal baths with two water slides and I spent way more time on them than in the sauna with the ‘adults’. I also really love ordering massive ice creams for pudding.

"From a personal point of view it would be nice to think everyone could experience having a close friend who is very different in age because it can make for way more illuminating discussion!"

Katie Johnston

We commissioned Katie to paint her interpertation of the word 'intergeneration'.

My biggest stress is probably a combination of sporadic work and self image. I feel that a low self esteem kind of goes hand in hand with being creative: somehow you can never be doing enough. I get pretty bad anxiety about work and what other people think about me. I know really that none of it matters and I have so much to be thankful for. When I zoom out its all actually ok, but somehow I just get sucked into this black hole of worry. I have had a lot of things in the last few years where I have noticed physical reactions to feeling anxious which has been a weird thing to get used to…I think its a real generational thing. A lot of friends also have similar feelings of anxiety and panic. A similar pattern seems to be to get really worked up and then later feel ridiculous guilt for being so stressed when in the grand scheme of things life is pretty great.

When you asked me to think about what makes me the happiest, my immediate reaction was MY DOG!!! But if I had to dig a little deeper its probably travelling and seeing new places. I have been super lucky to be able to have the freedom to see some amazing things in the past few years. I spent a long time in London trying to love it and so when I finally decided to to move away to Berlin and save my rent money for traveling more it was a really big release. Its been a bit scary and filled with challenges but I feel really strong for it and I have learnt so much about myself.

I love spending time with my parents and all their friends. I come from a small town in the countryside and all my parents friends are like extended family who I grew up with. I get on so well with them all, and consider them to be among my closest friends. To them I will probably always be a kid, but I love spending time with them: they know me as much as most of my friends who are the same age as me, and often more. One of them said something on Christmas day this year that really made me re-evaluate a lot of stuff. It was like she read my mind and articulated things better than I was able to understand. Her age probably gave her a perspective on things I couldn't really grasp. The last few years I choose to spend my birthdays with them and this year for New Year I was supposed to go to London to meet friends but got a huge cold so ended up in the pub watching my mum sing in her covers band with all ‘the oldies’. (They will often refer to themselves as this when me and my sister and friends decide to hang out with them rather than go out!)

I think the challenges we really face across generations are to do with making a better political/environmental/cultural environment for the generations who will come next. I think that should be everyones priority at the moment. I really wish that people my age and those generations above me could see eye to eye about a lot of the politics. Young people can gain from understanding things in the past but also the older generations could learn not to be so fearful of change. Its great that so many young people are campaigning and there has been a huge shift in terms of people engaging in issues but sometimes I worry that protesting can create a barrier instead of a conversation between generations. I don't know though…

I benefit so much from being around people of other generations. I have learnt so much from people older than me in terms of how to think about certain situations. I also spend quite a bit of time with younger people - my sisters friends and teenagers I teach - I always end up laughing with younger people. I love singing to bad pop music with young people because it feels like less of a guilty pleasure.

What can I learn from people who are older? So much about my relationships with other people. I think being in your 20s you start to have all this confusion over friendships. People say that friends start to fade away or move into new phases of life which is always been something I fight against because Im a really nostalgic person. Talking and looking at older friends who have been through all that makes me realise what I want in my relationships with people I keep close, and also what I should be offering to other people from myself.

I'm quite interested in how younger people are managing with technology. I’ve seen a lot of people (me included) really struggling with how to stop being so addicted to the phone. Constantly being glued to it seems to increase my anxiety! I think younger people who were born after the internet was invented often have a better attitude towards it. There seems to be more of an awareness for their identity outside and inside of the web. Maybe my generation has had to battle the before and after effect and its a bit more confusing for us.

If we had a society where age doesn't define us, there would be a lot of political benefits obviously. But from a personal point of view it would be nice to think everyone could experience having a close friend who is very different in age because it can make for way more illuminating discussion!

"People I have just met tend to think I’m younger than I am which is always nice, but sometimes it can be really annoying in a professional environment. People who know me really well will often describe me as a ‘child’. I can never understand why that has negative connotations because whenever I hang out with actual kids they always have the most fun."

Katie Johnston

'Tiny Dancers' by Katie Johnston.

Find out more about Katie and see more of her wonderful illustrations here.


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