15 'Adulting' Truths You May Relate to If You Struggle With Mental Illness
As a therapist, I’m privileged to be invited into the hearts and minds of many people. One thing I’ve come to believe over the years through my work as a therapist is this: we’re all struggling with “adulting” in some way.
But most of us believe that no one else is having as hard of a time as us. And yet that’s just not true — many of us are struggling with the same kinds of issues and feeling just as challenged.
Because life can feel really hard sometimes. And “adulting” is just not that easy.
But too often shame, isolation or lack of outlets to safely and vulnerably bring this up — the fact that being an adult isn’t easy — can leave many of us feeling lonely and defeated.
I want to share 15 hard “adulting” truths that I think most of us wrestle with based on my experience as a therapist (and as a fellow human).
My hope in sharing these is that you might feel less alone in your particular struggles and maybe just a bit more self-compassionate, knowing what you’re dealing with is natural for most of us.
1. “Adulting” is hard for most of us sometimes (or a lot of the time).
Between commutes, work demands, student loan debt and daycare expenses, the pressures of dating or marriage or children, let alone remembering to keep toilet paper and olive oil stocked in your house; the responsibilities of an adult life can often feel overwhelming, stressful, and chaotic. This may make you feel like you’re just barely cobbling it together as you go along.
When you add any anxiety, depression, unresolved childhood trauma or health challenges that you may be dealing with onto this, being an adult can feel especially hard. If you’re feeling like you’re the only one having a hard time with being an adult and making it in the world, you’re not. It’s hard for most of us sometimes (or a lot of the time).
2. There comes a point where you have to grieve the paths you didn’t take.
There may be a day (or days) when you wake up and look around at your life and wonder how you got here, wonder what happened to those dreams you had back in your post-college 20s, wonder how you ended up single or with the partner you have.
As we age and make choices, doors close to us that had previously been open. There may come a time when you see the doors that are no longer available to you and become sad and frustrated about the paths you didn’t take. It’s perfectly natural to feel this way!
Your life is a sum of your choices up to this point and while it doesn’t mean you can’t make different choices moving forward, there may be some paths that aren’t choices anymore and you have every right to grieve those.
3. None of us are experts in romantic relationship — we’re all novices.
Even if you had the most wonderful, healthy, functional relationship models in your parents, it can still feel like a struggle to figure out how to be in a long-term romantic relationship. And if you lacked healthy relationship models, it can often feel harder.
Most of us know how to fall in love, how to be infatuated, how to daydream over new love, but when the fires of passion die down, most of us struggle with what comes next: how to be cohabitant with another human being day after day, year after year, trying to love them, trying to resolve differences while putting up with all their quirks, preferences, triggers, temperament differences, weird noises, etc..
We might all struggle in our relationships from time to time. We are all novices. If you’re struggling right now to find, keep, heal, or cope with your romantic relationship, I guarantee you that you’re not alone.
4. Life is mostly composed of really mundane stuff.
Between the highlight reels of Facebook and Instagram are the never-posted snapshots of real daily life: laundry on the floor, dishes in the sink, fights in the kitchen, mail piles and unwritten thank you cards, end of the day brain-dead exhaustion, painful chore dates with bills and budget, constantly picking up the clutter from the rooms of your house.
I think a lot of us in adulthood are surprised by just how much mundanity life is composed of! It’s not that this stuff can’t be beautiful or even special — it absolutely can be. But if you’re saddened that “real life” doesn’t feel more like a social media highlight reel, this daily mundanity will likely feel doubly hard.
Please don’t beat yourself up over believing that everyone else is having better sex, keeping a cleaner house, better at managing their finances and pantries with plenty of time and money left over for travel and adventures. It’s likely not true. Most of our lives are filled with mundanity. It just doesn’t make it onto social media.
5. Being an adult can feel really lonely sometimes.
It doesn’t matter if you’re partnered or single, loneliness can find you in either of those contexts. And loneliness can feel so hard.
It’s a constant tension we navigate as humans, longing to be in contact, but ultimately being separate and trying to cope with this often painful reality. So whether you’re in conflict with loved ones or colleagues, circumstantially isolated or isolating yourself; loneliness is a far more common adult experience than what you may imagine based on sitcoms, social posts, or even what you imagined life may feel like.
Take heart if you feel lonely. This is one of the feelings we all must face as humans.
6. It’s often harder to make friends as an adult.
Many of us feel sad or confused by how much harder it can feel to find and make friends as an adult. I say this not to diminish the challenges you may personally be having with this, but rather to normalize your experience.
This seems to be a struggle for a lot of us in our late 20s and 30s and onward. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, of course, and, in my experience, it takes a combination of emotional and logistical work to do so (something we didn’t have to do when we were all lumped into dorms together), but it’s totally doable.
7. Double binds, tradeoffs and hard choices get more common.
For many of us, life begins to feel more complex as we become adults. Decisions that seemed easier when we were younger are no longer so black and white. Choices — about who and if to marry, where to plant roots, what job to take, to have or not have kids, how to spend money you may or may not have — take on an added complexity as we likely assume more responsibility and gravity in our lives.
We may have more freedom as adults, but with it comes its attendant responsibility and this —the responsibility and hard choices — can often feel quite challenging for many of us.
8. Every career (even your dream career) comes with drawbacks.
No matter how wonderful your job or career, no matter how carefully you plotted and crafted it, every career comes with drawbacks.
Be it mundanity in the administration of it all, the commute you have to make to get to your dream job, the time away from your family, the vulnerability of putting yourself out there and risking rejection; every job and career on the planet comes with some tradeoffs (see point number seven), and that’s OK. You will have to find the set of tradeoffs you’re most willing to tolerate when crafting and pursuing the job or career you want.
9. You’re not alone if you don’t feel close to or want to have contact with your family.
Contrary to what religious institutions have promulgated for the last 2,000+ years, you don’t have to feel close to or have contact with your family if it’s not healthy, safe, or fulfilling for you to do so. Period.
You get to define what family means to you (and this may or may not include being blood-related or raised with them) and you get to craft your own family of choice as an adult. This isn’t something we talk about too often in society so sometimes many of us can feel alone in the struggle of being part of or removing ourselves from a family system we don’t want to be in. If you’re struggling with this issue, know that you’re not alone.
10. It’s up to us to craft a life of meaning and fulfillment. It’s not just going to appear.
I believe it becomes our responsibility as adults to define what gives our life meaning. No one else can tell us what this will be or look like. This is your responsibility and the enormity of that can sometimes feel hard to figure out for most of us. If you feel lost and are struggling to find your path and define what gives your life meaning, remember that you’re in good (and vast) company.
11. You can love your loved ones and resent them at the same time.
You can love your spouse, partner, kiddos, friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, etc. and still resent them or have hard feelings towards them at the same time. Life is not either/or, it’s both/and. And so are our emotions. Often the people who we love the most will be the ones that trigger us the most, too.
So if you’re struggling with even allowing yourself to feel your feelings of resentment towards the people you love, understand that that’s OK and it’s natural. It may, of course, be a clue or signal about something you need or want to shift or address in that relationship, but it certainly doesn’t make you a “bad” wife/mother/sister/friend/colleague if you’re experiencing a both/and feeling. And please remember, there’s no such thing as a “bad” feeling.
12. “Adulting” involves a lot of unlearning and relearning when it comes to food, money, sex and relationships.
We don’t come into this world pre-programmed like computers. We form in relationship to those around us and we learn what we’re modeled (whether that’s intentional or not).
Because of this, we come to develop certain kinds of patterns and behaviors around food, money, sex and relationships from those early experiences. And, for many of us, those patterns we learned may one day stop working so well (if they ever did at all).
So then adulthood becomes a journey of unlearning those older patterns and relearning newer, possibly more functional habits. If you feel frustrated or overwhelmed with the fact that you’re still learning how to date or manage your money or understand sex, join the club. Most of us in adulthood are in a constant journey to unlearn and relearn patterns around these and so many other subjects.
13. There’s often a quickening of pressure in your late 20s and 30s.
So many of us — particularly women — might feel a quickening of pressure from seemingly all sides in their late 20s and 30s. Whether this is marriage, children, career, buying a home, rocket-fueling your retirements, hitting self- or other-defined goals, for many of us, can become more pressing in this time period than in any other. And that can feel really hard and stressful and confusing!
14. You won’t be Beyoncé.
I mean, obviously, there is only one Beyoncé. But what I mean by this is that, in our younger years, many of us may have had dreams of being famous, saving the world, or being incredibly rich.
But the reality is that few of us will strike it rich, make it big, or become world-renowned. And that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with an ordinary life (and really, the ordinary can be extraordinary), but there may be a day (or days) in your adult life when you feel sad or frustrated or angry about those unrealized life visions.
Like with point number two, you get to grieve this. It’s a process to release the dreams we had for our life and come to grips with the actual reality, with the ordinariness of life. It doesn’t mean that, as an adult, you get to stop working towards dreams. It’s just that they may be tempered with time and more reasonable expectations now. And it’s our job to process this and come to accept this.
15. Adulthood involves layers of loss.
Whether this is loss of our dreams and grief over the roads we did not take, loss of partners, parents, friends, money, direction, loss of some abilities in our bodies; loss becomes a more frequent companion for many of us in adulthood. It can wear us out, hurt our hearts, force us to reinvent and pick up the pieces of our lives. Loss is inevitable and it can feel so hard. If you’re dealing with this, know that you’re not alone.
This post was not meant to be a somber, negative perspective on adulthood despite how the “hard truths” may read. On the contrary, adulthood can be absolutely amazing and joyful and fulfilling and adventurous. And these experiences can co-exist alongside all of these hard truths.
I just didn’t write about the joyful, wonderful parts of adulthood because those likely aren’t the parts we’re shaming, blaming, or isolating ourselves over. When it comes to the hard truths, many of us may think we’re the only ones having such a hard time, wondering what’s wrong with us that we’re struggling so much. But that’s just not the case. Almost all of us probably struggle with these same issues in some way.
So my hope is that, as you read through the list, you felt even a little bit seen, a little less alone in your struggle, a little more relaxed in your heart knowing that your experience, while still painful, is something that others are sharing in.
Take very good care of yourself and remember, you’re doing a great job.
What’s another hard truth about “adulting” that you would add to this list to help our community feel less alone in their struggles?
Read more from Annie here.
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