tales from urban dilettantia


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.

Public Service Announcements

The Brain

I’m still in the middle of the great brain experiment.   I’m going to persist with 150mg of Sertraline a day for the next month and reassess at the end of it. Right now, it’s making me dopey as all hell, and isn’t doing much for the pre-menstrual merry-go-round of general anxiety, social anxiety and depression. However, aside from the PMDD phase, it seems to be a step in the right direction. (I actually typed ‘depression’ instead of ‘direction’ there and fixed it on an edit – what are you trying to tell me, brain?)

Right now, I’m feeling exhausted and negative about the whole thing and am at the point where in the past I’ve tended to say ‘I can’t do this anymore’ and give up, but I intend to push through this time and see if it’s possible to find an optimal treatment.

The Christmas

Christmas…there’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years, but have been worried about coming across as terribly self-righteous or critical of other people’s choices, which isn’t my intention at all. It’s this: I am happy to announce that I am not sending physical cards out again this year. And I am not going on the Annual Shopping Ordeal (I hate shopping) to find Arbitrary Stuff to give to people as Meaningful Presents.

I have ordered my parents some prints of my art which I will frame for them. Portable Dave, you can have a voucher to spend on whatever you will most use and enjoy – let me know what that might be. Everyone else: I will bake, give away my art and craft, take cuttings from my garden, maybe put them in little terrarium jars to give away, and distribute the abundance of eggs from my chickens. I will cook for you, draw for you, love you and hug you. (Some of these things may be delivered a little late, as I know quite a lot of people.) I may donate a goat or some ducks to charity in your honour. If you have any special requests, let me know, as I do like to give things that are wanted. But I will not angst about buying you plastic things and wrapping them in shiny paper for you to throw away.

The Tame Chicken

The chicken called Boomer is super-tame now and allows me to pick her up.  All of my chicken-related dreams have come true.

The Seeing of You

There will be another Open House Day at my place in the near future, so long as I don’t go completely crazy or something. Oh wait.

The Amazing Writing Lab Rat

This week has been the week of Interesting Times on Setraline. Given how sick fluoxetine made me, we decided to start with a very tiny dose of setraline to see how my body reacted, ramped up to 50mg – still a low dose – over a two week period.

For me at least, this has been a really interesting medication even at low doses. For about a quarter of the time, my anxiety levels are normal (well, my normal, which is manifestly sub-optimal) and for the other three quarters, it’s like an anxiety switch has just flicked off in my brain.

However, some clinical trials have also indicated a statistically significant increase in suicidality for patients on setraline, especially during the first few months, and from my own observations I can see how this might work – I’ve had a couple of twelve hour windows where my brain has crash landed into a deep depression.

While it’s frustrating as hell and horrible while it’s happening, it’s not an uncommon thing to encounter during the first few weeks, so for now I’m hanging in there to see what’s next.  The short term plan is to see what happens as the dose increases, as my hormone levels fluctuate, and as we combine it with a mood-stabiliser / anti-seizure medication. I feel a bit like a lab rat. A lab rat that’s medicating itself and writing down the results.

The other thing that’s happening (and this is something I personally consider to be the single most useful function of brain-altering substances) is that the medication is giving me the brain space to start processing things again, rather than storing them up in a big bucket of Survive Now, Deal Later. The upside of this is thinking, discovering, untangling, doing CBT stuff again. The downside is that over the past couple of years, the bucket of unprocessed stuff has become…big. It’s more like a large skip of unprocessed stuff, with all kinds of startling surprises in it. I have been reading about abandonment and object constancy, and it’s given me a whole lot more to think about, which is a another post in itself.

So, in short, life, brain, universe…a little overwhelming right now. Interesting science. Trying to spend quiet time under the covers, letting it all work itself out.

Strange Patterns and Rabid Insecurity Raccoons

For the first time in quite a while, I wandered down to Quaker meeting this morning, which was a wise choice as it turned out that the hour of quiet thinking was particularly useful and enlightening.  This post is the outcome of that hour of quiet thinking.

Two of the ideas that have been trending for me recently have been Fear and Shame.  (Why yes, I did have an excellent Catholic education – how did you guess?)  And over the past week, I’ve had a couple of really, really useful conversations about Life, The Universe and Everything which have helped me piece together a pattern I hadn’t noticed.

This is what happens when I do something that scares me:

1. I am scared.
2. I am dismissive of being scared and do the thing anyway.
3. I feel icky, shamey, guilty afterwards, even if the thing was good.

After thirty-one fine years of obliviousness, I noticed this and realised it was rather strange.   I wasn’t getting anywhere figuring it out intellectually, so I tried something else while I was sitting in meeting today and decided to run it past my inner monsters and see what they thought.  (I’d like to note here that my inner monsters care a whole crapload about my well-being; they just tend to have tunnel vision and can be really inept at implementation.)

So, this is what turns out is actually going on in my head:

1. I am scared.  Often I am scared beyond reason because I have had both a personal and a cultural upbringing where women who do scary things are punished and hurt, and regarded as foolish.  And I am scared beyond reason because my brain – for reasons of upbringing, mental health or other – tends to return a lot of false positives.

2. I am dismissive of being scared and do the thing anyway, at which point my inner monsters start shouting ‘hey woman, you have all these shiny fear signals that are supposed to be saving you from being hurt or punished – what the hell are you doing ignoring them? This is horrible, self-harming behaviour – how can we trust you to look after yourself when you dismiss everything we flag as scary!’

3. And then, I feel icky, shamey, guilty afterwards, because I have a vague and hard-to-pin-down sense of having chosen to be self-harming, foolish, unwilling or unable to look after myself.

This is such a strange little pattern, and one I haven’t come across before in anyone else’s writing or discussion.  And I can see there are actually two things here to work on, which is what has been making it a bit more difficult – I need to do something about the false positives and the learned fear at (1), and I also need to work out how to negotiate with the inner monsters at (2) and have them know that I really, truly will listen to them and that they can trust me not to engage in acts of self-destruction.

Now what I really want to know is, is this strange little pattern specific to my brain, or do you recognise it too?


A Node's Place is in the Home Tern, Coffs Harbour Coffs Harbour Coffs Harbour Nudibranch, Arrawarra, NSW Sea Cucumber? Arrawarra, NSW Urchin, Arrawarra, NSW Starfish, Arrawarra, NSW Polychaete Worm, Arrawarra, NSW Shrimp, Arrawarra, NSW Shrimp, Arrawarra, NSW Mollusc, Arrawarra, NSW 

Creative Commons

All content published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License.  Sharing is a beautiful thing.

Creative Commons License


@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.