tales from urban dilettantia

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Adulting and Adulthood

I’ve been giving some thought, recently, to why the neologism ‘adulting’ really grates.

I had a look around to see what other people had said on the matter. Most of the dislike for the word seems to centre on criticism of people – particularly Millennials – for whom said ‘adulting’ is optional.

I take this point, although singling out Millennials makes me uncomfortable (they’re the ones who have to live with the planet that we’ve fucked up, after all). I too have the privilege of letting things fall apart a bit without major consequences.

Being highly educated, white, a property owner, in a permanent job (with sick leave, no less), a good credit record, and so forth, I too have a safety net. I’m fortunate to have choices that wouldn’t be open to me if I lived in public housing, if I had rent inspections, if I had already defaulted on paying fines, if family services were watching me and I feared they would take my children. I’m fortunate that to ‘adult’ or not to ‘adult’ is frequently a choice.

However, I don’t think this fully captures the reason I loathe the term. My issue – the one I haven’t seen raised elsewhere – is one of ability and disability.

I’ve been quite open here about my mental health, and most recently, about my battle with hoarding. More generally, when I’m not well, I frequently struggle with some fairly basic functions. Dealing with the mail, paying bills, doing laundry, running errands, cleaning the house, remembering birthdays, replying to messages, eating properly et cetera. Over the years, I’ve wobbled between keeping vaguely on top of such things, and letting them go altogether. When my capacity to cope has been low, what little I have has been wholly funneled into my job.

None of this is particularly unusual for someone with longstanding, treatment-resistant mental health issues. And I have many friends (some with similar mental health issues, some with mobility constraints, and some with other chronic health conditions) who share my experience.

I won’t speak for them, but for me, the territory between disability and adulthood is terribly murky. I am accomplished at berating myself, and it is but a small step from saying ‘I am unwell’ to ‘I am a failure, I might as well be a child’.

And herein is the problem. Herein is the murkiness. When I see these things – dealing with the mail, paying bills, doing laundry, running errands, cleaning the house, remembering birthdays, replying to messages, eating properly et cetera – referred to as ‘adulting’, there is a subtle sting. An implication that the failure to do these things is a failure to grow the fuck up.

Part of this – much of it, in fact – is my problem, not yours. It is my responsibility to learn not to berate myself, and not to define myself by the things I fail to do. And, I’m well aware that it buys into a logical fallacy – namely, denying the antecedent.

However, I think there is a wider issue here that warrants examination – one that plays into the tendency to infantilise people with disability, and one that challenges what adulthood looks like. When I’m curled up in a ball and can’t leave the house, I’m an adult who happens to be curled up in a ball and can’t leave the house. When I have crippling anxiety about getting a task done, I’m an adult with crippling anxiety about getting a task done. When I’ve eaten condiments out of a jar for dinner because I’ve been steam-rolled by antidepressants that just aren’t working, I’m a goddamn condiment-eating adult.

So, should people stop using the word ‘adulting’? That’s their call. For my part, I’ll work on my own issues – the shaky mental processes that cause it to grate and generate a vague yet needling sense of grief. But I do believe – passionately – that we need to think about how we define adulthood, and how that intersects with disability. We are all adults here, doing our best – clean laundry, or not.

Category: mental health, this is your life

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@dilettantiquity is interested in an unreasonable number of things, including the wide and wonderful universe, happiness, well-being, wine, optimal human experience, non-violent communication, complex systems, existential nihilism, rationality, technology, grassroots organising, cacophony, music, creativity, learning and love.