What Does A Quarter-Life Crisis Really Look Like?

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Alison_Segel_5Photographed by Alison Segel.
I’ve always been a freak. At age six, I decided to take a vow of silence and communicate exclusively via Post-It. My first note for the tooth fairy stated simply: “I don’t have to give you nothing.” For Father’s Day, I left a Post-It on the CD player: “Be quiet dad, you don’t know how to sing.” On the refrigerator door one morning: “Dear Fucko!” When you are six years old with half your teeth missing and very large, strawberry blonde hair, these behaviors are cute, though unconventional. Unfortunately, once you take them into adulthood, you’re just bitchy.

Growing up, I always desperately wanted to be cool, and never came close to accomplishing it. In eighth grade when I tried to get the Meg Ryan haircut, the hairdresser ended up shaving half of my head. I spent the rest of the year wearing bandanas to school, hiding in the counselor’s office. My senior year of high school, I dated a boy two years my junior, and was sentenced to a year of PG-13 movies. To make matters worse, I had to suffer the embarrassment of my parents driving me and my Justin Beiber look-alike to prom. It was, to say the least, not a good look.

By 28, most of my friends had the career of their dreams. They were planning destination weddings to their college sweethearts, and some were even popping out their first babies, whom they would probably name something obnoxious, like Opal.
Alison_Segel_2Photographed by Alison Segel.
Not me. When I turned 28, I got laid off from a teaching position I’d held for four years, moved back home to my old room in my parents' house, and had a complete meltdown. Uncool, yet again.

Here I was, almost 30 — single, jobless, and back at home — just like Charlize Theron in that movie. No, not Monster, you jerk, Young Adult. I’d spent so much of my adolescence trying to fit in that I reached adulthood having no clue as to who I truly was. So, I did what any normal woman who felt lost would do: I rebelled. I unleashed my inner Suicide Girl, got tattoos, and dyed my hair every shade of Skittle. I dove head-first into the world of online dating, and set up accounts on both Tinder and OKCupid. Sure, these things are all fine on their own, but combined, it was obvious that I was unraveling, and in the middle of a quarter life crisis.

If you're feeling like you, too, might be in the midst of your own crisis — quarter-life, or otherwise — answering some of these simple questions might help.

Online dating: the place where standards go to take a siesta.

Friends, if I can give you one piece of advice it is this: Don’t talk to strangers. (Unless it is on the Internet, and then literally always talk to them because it’s so much fun.)
Alison_Segel_3Photographed by Alison Segel.
Being unemployed and back in my parents' house gave me a lot of free time and loneliness, so I decided to try my hand at the online dating market. You know, that one app where you swipe until you get carpal tunnel syndrome. Within days of swiping and awkward messaging, I already had a date planned with a bearded, standup comedian with whom I had several mutual friends. When I showed up at his house at 8 p.m., there was a brown, decaying mattress resting in the front yard. At some point, my life had taken the turn where I was dating strangers off the Internet with mattresses in their front yards.

There are several places I expect dates to take me: a nice (ok, mediocre) dinner, the movies, a bar, or maybe even a mutual friend's get together, should the opportunity strike.

But, after 20 minutes of driving, bearded stranger had taken me to Skid Row, — which is arguably the most dangerous street in Los Angeles — for a slam poetry contest. I immediately regretted throwing a fit the time my mom suggested I buy that bedazzled pink pepper spray with a matching taser.

After hours of what turned out to be beautiful and moving poetry (I cried — twice), it was time to get home. While driving, we spotted what looked like a gaggle of blonde sorority girls at a bus stop on the corner, and Internet Stranger suggested we pick them up. We circled the block several times while he screamed out the window things like, "ARE YOU OK? DO YOU LADIES NEED A RIDE?"

I was convinced that Internet Stranger was going to make a human centipede out of me and these blonde tourists, but eventually we drove home in silence. As I walked back to my car, I watched him drag the mattress back into his house.
Alison_Segel_1Photographed by Alison Segel.
Are you an emotional hair-cutter?

Okay, so, maybe I couldn’t date my way out of my depression, but I still felt anxious. While being single isn't a problem, per se, I was jobless and back living in my high school bedroom that was filled with beanie babies.

I had an idea. Remember when Britney shaved her head because the world was just too much? My hair is a living mood ring with which the outside world can gage my sanity. I’ve cut my own bangs with kitchen scissors after bad breakups, box dyed my hair brown after getting fired (brown hair will make me look more professional!), and got extensions because I was certain long hair was the only thing standing between me and the man of my dreams.

It wasn’t. This time, I ventured into new territory: unicorn hair colors. Some friendly advice — don’t try to pull something off just because it looked great on an 18-year-old on Pinterest. Cotton candy pink hair is not for everyone. I, however, fed into this delusion and I headed to the nearest Hot Topic to buy bleach and hair dye. I went home for my appointment with my hairdresser — a constantly buffering YouTube tutorial — and massaged bleach and dye into my scalp while sobbing.

After a month, I tired of my hair as I do most things, and I went back to my “natural” shade of blonde — a $300 salon visit later. To this day, my hair is so severely damaged that it often resembles a mullet, crumbling like a dandelion to the touch.
Alison_Segel_4Photographed by Alison Segel.
Dying my hair surprisingly hadn’t solved any of my emotional turmoil. None of my existential questions had been answered, and I still had no idea how to feel comfortable in my own skin. But, maybe that was the problem — my skin! I was feeling down, so I did what any reasonable, sane woman would do: I let a man from Mexico City who claimed to be a tattoo shop owner give me a discount inking on my right thigh.

You know that scene in Bridesmaids where Rebel Wilson gets a horribly infected, $20 tattoo of a worm drinking tequila from a truck on the street? Within a few days, I was left with a pulsating, open wound where a chain of daisies should have been. Completely useless in times of crisis, I did the first thing a full grown non-adult does: I cried to my mom. In hysterical sobs, I confessed to her everything I had been through — self-imposed, mind you — in the last few months.

Mom, I dyed my hair pink. And then purple! Mom, a blind date took me to Skid Row! And then, the pièce de résistance: Mom, I got a tattoo — and I think it’s infected. Like, bad.
Alison_Segel_6Photographed by Alison Segel.
I Googled “synthetic legs” while my mom drove me to Urgent Care, certain that I had the flesh-eating virus and would be losing a limb within the hour. Somewhat-fortunately, it was a staph infection, and a nurse gave me antibiotics that I had to take four times a day. So much for looking cool. Maybe I was suffering from bleach brain due to the constant hair dying, or maybe the staph infection had given me a new perspective on life, but I came to an important conclusion: It's okay to be me, whoever that is.

Who was I kidding? I will forever be the dork who finds complete excitement in all things unexciting: reruns of The Nanny, eating peanut butter out of the jar, a good book. Now, I have damaged hair and a tattoo as a reminder of how perpetually uncool I am, and how proud of that I should be — single and living in my parents' house or not.

NEXT: How To Pick Yourself Up From A Low Point

Ali Segel is a former elementary school teacher and current freelance writer born and raised in Los Angeles. She enjoys all the foods and all the Netflix. You should probably check out her blog, Earth, Wind, & Unhired, or follow her on Twitter @OnlineAlison. She's still single, but is finally out of her parents' house.