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too hard vs adulting

I have a sort of love/hate relationship with the concept of ‘adulting”. On the one hand, I appreciate the fact that we know have a word that can be used to bond and commisserate over the difficult transition from being a ‘kid” to being an ‘adult”. It”s one of those things that helps people know that they aren”t alone in experiencing challenges.

The thing I don”t like about it, is that I find it difficult to distinguish between ‘normal” adulting problems and actual limitations/barriers bc of disability. My thoughts about this are motivated by this post about ppl with mental illnesses thinking that our lives are a normal level of difficult. I would say, my inability to properly gauge and contextualize my experiences was the biggest barrier between me and seeking treatment.

In this context, how do you distinguish between a neurotypical person who never learned money management (and thus some amusing annecdote about mismanagement) between someone who impulsively spends their rent money on clothes, despite knowing better, and ending up homeless as a result?1

How do you distinguish between someone who eats a bag of chips for dinner bc they never learned how to cook/shop/whatever for themselves from someone who eats those chips bc its literally all they have energy for (despite possibly having access or ability to make more nutritious meals)?2

How do you distinguish between someone who procrastinates by spending a lot of time in their bed, wearing PJs, and watching netflix between someone too depressed to get out of bed?

Not being able to tell the difference between ‘adulting” and ‘mental illness” was a really big problem for me. Especially since I actually have most of the necessary skills to live independently and responsibly in the ‘expected” ways. I got kicked out of the house in my last year of high school. I transitioned seamlessly from living at home, to living one my own, paying rent, my bills, eating reasonably nutritious meals, etc. I”ve never been forced via my own in/actions to move back home.

And yet… in my second fulltime semester at university I had a stress-induced psychotic break. Even then, I didn”t consider this to be a substantive sign of mental illness. I just thought that I couldn”t manage to do school, work, and socializing all at the same time. So I reduced my work hours, never did a full course load, and basically stopped socializing for the next ten years. And it was still a struggle. And I thought that this was ‘normal”.

Where is the line between adulting and ‘too hard”?

How do we prevent people from being like me (ie, untreated mental illness for years and years – I was 27, I think, the first time I sought treatment)?

I wish I had a clear answer.


  1. This isn"t a hypothetical, btw. This actually happened to someone I know. 
  2. This is me sometimes. I can cook. While I can"t afford fresh veggies, I"m knowledgeable enough about my dietary needs and nutrition in general that I can make decent meals nonetheless. Provided I have the spoons to do so.