Dear Carolyn:

I'm 21, live at home, am in college -- I am in recovery from a two-year period of severe manic depression -- and have recently been diagnosed bipolar. I've had problems with depression since I was a kid and because of that have been slow to develop socially. Therapy and drugs are the difference between making it and not making it right now. My problem is that I feel hopelessly unprepared and lagging behind -- I have never held a job, gone on a date, voluntarily participated in a social activity, etc., and I am terrified. I'm 21! People my age are starting businesses and getting married, and I've just learned how to drive (my finest achievement). My sister says there's no timeline and to go at my own pace. At my pace I'll have wasted half my life before I ever live it. Any wisdom for late bloomers?

Late, Late Bloomer

There are people your age who've never left the mainstream, faced their own frailties or overcome a significant handicap. Talk about hopelessly unprepared.

I know, I know. You'd prefer to have worked, dated, gone out with your friends. I'd prefer these things for you, too.

I think. Not to get too Capra-esque on you, but too often, the very thing you regard as your worst nightmare/most gruesome mistake/biggest setback in life turns out to be the root of your greatest joy.

There will be people you never would have met had you not struggled -- or opportunities you never would have gotten, perspectives you wouldn't have formed, reservoirs of strength you never would have discovered, much less tapped -- that will someday become valuable enough to you to change your view of your illness. (Assuming this isn't in progress already.) It's not a basket of money and a roomful of caroling friends, but it's something.

Whatever it is, will it be enough to make you look back on your depression fondly? Doubtful; I said Capra, not Pollyanna. More likely, it'll become the hell you never want to relive -- but wouldn't trade, either, since that would mean giving up everything you've achieved since.

Embrace this, and you'll start to see there is no such thing as "wast(ing) half your life." You are living your life. You've been living your life. So it's not the life you'd envisioned; look around, you've joined a popular club.

Now stop beating yourself, extend your hand and, at whatever pace you can bear, start introducing yourself to fellow club members. There's no time like the present -- also known as, whenever you're good and ready.

Dear Carolyn:

I am reaching a point where I think it's time either to get married or break it off. I am in my early twenties and have been with my boyfriend over five years. Lately, things seem to be kind of routine for us, and I find myself feeling happier when he's not around. Is this a quarter-life crisis, or cold feet, or should I be having a serious talk with my boyfriend?

Washington

Um. When you're glad to see your boyfriend leave the room, that's not the point where you want to get married. It's not a pat label, but "seeya" does seem to fit.

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