Nicole Arzt

@nicolearzt1 | contributor
Nicole is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in substance use disorders, eating disorders, identity and existential concerns, relationships and intimacy, and complex and acute trauma. Nicole freelances and contributes to several well-known online directories and health publications. She is a wife, mother, and avid advocate for mental health.
Nicole Arzt

A Professional's Perspective: Dispelling Myths About Bulimia Recovery

Up to two percent of Americans have bulimia, the seemingly “invisible” eating disorder that often lurks in its anorectic sister shadow. Bulimia recovery, like any mental health illness recovery, is hard to quantify. It’s even harder to conceptualize. We still need to do a better job of understanding it. 1. It’s Not About the Vomiting Imagine the quintessential person living with bulimia. Where does your bias lie? Do you picture an underweight female gorging herself with sweets, only to secretly purge in the toilet immediately afterward? A dancer or gymnast, perhaps? Wealthy? We all have biases, and they aren’t inherently right or wrong, good or bad: but it’s essential to keep them in check. That’s because bulimia isn’t always about the vomiting, just like eating disorders aren’t just about eating. In fact, bulimia can be in the form of many different types of compensatory behaviors including: excessive exercise laxative abuse diuretics periods of fasting/restriction Professionals can easily miss the mark when it comes to diagnosing or even engaging a client in bulimia recovery. If they’re only looking for the cliches, they risk overlooking many telling clues. They may miss the health-obsessed male talking about relationship issues. They may miss the mother who gets so stressed with her children that she “forgets to eat.” It’s easy to make assumptions, but eating disorders are cunning, manipulative and insidious. They flourish in being hidden. 2. It’s Always About Body Image I can dispel this one quickly. It’s not. In fact, in all the work I’ve done with eating disorder and bulimia recovery, body image just represents a piece of the proverbial shame puzzle. While it’s true that most people struggle with their bodies, it’s rarely, if ever, the sole reason. What do I hear more often? It’s about control or release or enacting a feeling of numbness. It’s often about rebelling against the body or society — having one last vice or one tantalizing hurrah that still feels taboo. Self-esteem is typically at play, but self-esteem is so much more than skin-deep. The bulimic ritual is as sacred as it is sick, as comforting as it is disturbing.  Even though body image may play a pivotal role in the development of an eating disorder (going on a diet), most strugglers will candidly state: it’s not even about how my body looks anymore. 3. There’s Always Some Form of Restriction I hear this one often when talking about bulimia recovery, and the intentions are good. However, we need to acknowledge that some people do consume square meals and snacks: and they still struggle with compulsive or binge eating. Even if the person holds onto entrenched forbidden food rules or regulations, that doesn’t mean they are currently restricting or “depriving” themselves. It doesn’t mean that everyone struggling with bulimia restricts and then binges. There is an in-between, and we must acknowledge that (or we’re presumptuous). With that said, it’s premature to simply assume that decoding bulimia recovery means decoding ulterior motives of restriction. Yes, it’s true that many people who are struggling with bulimia attempt to control their food and then “lose control” with bingeing. But this is not always the case. Some people engage in “normal-eating,” followed with intense periods of compulsive or binge eating. Nobody should discount that. 4. Trauma Happened Most mental health professionals want to search for the trauma underlying the eating disorder. The intention is typically sound. In fact, research shows high correlative rates between childhood trauma and eating disorders. However, it’s certainly not always the case. When we assume trauma is part of the story, we invalidate those individuals who do not present with traumatic pasts. Inadvertently, we may even shame them: as if to say they needed to have trauma to warrant their disorder. Although eating disorders may have the connotation of being an adolescent or young adult problem, the onset can happen at any age. There is no one consensus as to what defines the precipitating event. Yes, it may occur in childhood. For others, it may result from unnerving societal pressure and getting carried away on a diet. For others, it may correspond to another mental illness, such as depression, anxiety or a substance use disorder. Final Thoughts on Bulimia Recovery Like with all mental illnesses, bulimia recovery is unique and individualized. The more we learn about eating disorders, the more critical it is for all of us to take a compassionate and non-judgmental stance.

Community Voices

What Long-Distance Running Taught Me About Anxiety

In high school, I joined cross-country despite never having run more than a consecutive mile in my life. Looking back, I still don’t really know why I joined. I wasn’t particularly fond of the exercise, and while I have always been naturally athletic, I’ve never particularly been With that said, I spent three years pounding the pavement, logging mile after mile, carbo-loading on pasta every Wednesday night, and spending every race trying to beat myself.

It Can Be Good to Be Bad At Something

I’m in my late twenties now. I don’t run long-distance anymore; I’ve chosen other paths of exercise. I’ll be completely honest here: I never ended up doing very well in cross-country. By all means, I was actually considered fairly slow, oftentimes clocking in dead last at meets. In high school, that’s pretty embarrassing, right?

But this is something that has stayed with me now for over a decade: it’s okay to be last. And fail and fail and fail. It’s okay to be anxious about your performance. At the end of the day, I don’t have to be perfect in everything I do. That kind of freedom releases the grips of #Anxiety and low self-esteem. Giving yourself permission to just be a human is one of the best gifts I believe we can give ourselves.

Meditation Doesn’t Have to Be Done Lying Down

I’m a therapist now, and most of the clients walking through my door struggle with anxiety. We all know the tried-and-true benefits of meditation. With that said, far too many people only believe that meditation can be optimally achieved lying down, breathing, and clearing the head.

It’s not true.

Meditation encompasses mindfulness, which entails allowing yourself to experience immersion at the moment. I remember first experiencing this sensation during high school- during the long and sometimes excruciating runs- when it just felt like the sidewalk and me and the sun beating down my neck, when I could only focus on my heart pounding and my legs pumping.

Today, I stay mindful many times throughout the day, but I don’t conventionally meditate. I find my inner harmony through active forms of movement: through hiking, climbing, walking, yoga- and yes, through simply listening to music on my

Exercise Compulsion is Real

When I become anxious, I tend to immerse myself in some kind of obsessive activity. It’s very easy for me to overdo something, and this has proven itself with exercise.

Even though fitness is physically good for all of us, it’s dangerous to use it as a form of escape from the real world. Exercise #Addiction can create a hyper-focus on weight loss,, or even just desired control. When I competitively ran, it was easy to get caught in the comparison game of how much I was working out (compared to how much someone else was working out).

Just like anything else, we all must be mindful of the balancing act for any of our passions.

Community Voices

We Still Don't Really Understand Happiness

How to Be Happy?
A simple Google search for how to be happy yields me 175,000,000 results in a mere 0.53 seconds.

I’m convinced this is searched online every moment of every day. We are obsessed with being happy, finding inner peace, maximizing the day, embracing YOLO. We want happy, and we want it wrapped in the prettiest, neatest box with a bright, pink bow.

With that, we want magical elixirs. We want to know how to be happy in a one-size-fits-all answer. This isn’t surprising. Life is difficult and painful, full of complex obstacles and hardships. Instant gratification feels enticing.

But, we also need to talk about the nature of happiness for a moment.

Happiness Is an Emotion
That means, by nature, it’s fleeting. It doesn’t last forever because it’s not meant to last forever.

Anyone who is always happy is either lying to themselves or to others or in a complete sense of delusion. Happy is not the same as grateful. Grateful is not the same as happy. We often confuse these terms.

Ever meet those beautiful people who just exude a zen-like aura? They seemingly handle the world’s issues with grace and dignity. Maybe you think they feel happiness at deeper levels than you do. I would argue they experience the same spectrum of emotions all humans feel. They also know how to put life into perspective, practice gratitude, and honor acceptance.

When we can accept a situation for what it is, without preconceived judgments or expectations, we can experience a sense of peace. Is peace the same as happiness? Not necessarily. But, if you are searching for how to be happy, look for ways to feel peace. You will find that the two merge seamlessly.

Focus Small
In a buzzing world laden with lavish social media feeds and larger-than-life definitions of happiness, this may sound counterintuitive. Media and consumerism have perhaps conditioned us to believe that happiness, real happiness, occurs in its highest form in those once-in-a-lifetime milestones.I’ll give you this.

Psychologists believe that we each have This means we move back to a general mood homeostasis once our pendulum swings after extreme events (such as the euphoria experienced at your wedding or the #Grief experienced during death).

This means, despite the huge, life-changing moments, our moods generally stabilize back to a fixed point.What’s the takeaway here? Focus on what’s sustainable, not what’s fleeting. Focus on the joy that can be cultivated continuously, not just reminisced fondly.

Target maximizing your middle-of-the-week Wednesday routine, instead of just enjoying those carefree Saturdays without responsibilities. Devour gratitude like it’s the sweetest and rarest fruit like it’s the most precious, nourishing food for your soul. Find the willingness to relish in this radical thought- the best is always, always yet to come, no matter what, where, or how.

Money is Just a Vehicle
“Having money isn’t everything, not having it is.”-Kanye West

Most of us have to generate income in order to survive. Unfortunately, many of us also obsess over the almighty dollar and what it could represent for our lifestyle. Cliched or not, this chase towards paper wealth is not an optimal method if you want to know how to be happy.

Think about it this way: money represents a vehicle taking you to the places you want to go, the experiences you want to have, and the things you want to own.

Money itself is neutral, and money alone cannot bring happiness. Money can bring you towards greater happiness, but if you don’t know what you need or want, you’ll be constantly running on a hamster wheel of disappointed hedonism, chasing to fill a void that you may not even know is there. I promise this will happen even if you win the

So, be honest with yourself. What matters to you? What’s on your

Stop comparing your needs and wants to others, stop obsessing over what will look best on social media, and think about it this way: what kind of life do you want to live? If you truly know that answer, in the depths of your heart and soul, you can direct your money to do just that.

Find Passion. It Doesn’t Matter What It Is.
Think about the last times you felt happy. What were you doing?

So much of happiness represents action: it’s about doing something (as opposed to just being somewhere or having something).

I’ll tell you some of mine: Laughing over the stupidest inside jokes with my husband. Rock climbing. Reading a really good book. Swimming in the ocean. Climbing an incredibly rigorous mountain.

Passion awakens our totally absorbed in the present moment), and flow helps us to be happy.

Because you feel consumed by the task at hand, your mind feels sharp, awake, and focused. There is no room to ponder yesterday’s mistakes or tomorrow’s fears. You are just with the moment, present and mindful. Passion represents part of the colors the world; without it, life just feels dull.

But, if you don’t think you have time for hobbies or entertainment, then you probably don’t have time to be happy, either.

Take Care of Future Self, Too!
When people focus on maximizing pleasure and living in the present moment, they may quickly neglect the importance of planning and organizing. After all, you can’t control the future, right? Happiness only happens right now, right? True. Sort of.

But, we still owe it to our future selves to be kind, compassionate, and attentive. We should still pay our bills and because, even if it doesn’t bring total joy in the current moment, not doing those tasks has greater odds of bringing unhappiness in the imminent future than happiness.

Balance plays a critical part here. The magic in how to be happy doesn’t just lie in losing ourselves in today’s moment. It lies in experiencing peace and acceptance for where we are and who we are, while also consciously moving into the versions we want to be.

Find What Works For You
How to be happy? These are just my thoughts.

And, while Google may have more answers than we’ll ever have the time to read, it’s always going to be up to you to find what works.

So, make it your life mission. Run your own trials. Assess your own feelings. Edit as needed. After all, what else are you living for?


Community Voices

To The Girl Who Hates How She Looks

By conventional standards, she was beautiful, but I suppose that doesn’t matter. My work in #EatingDisorders, trauma, and #Addiction has taught me that self-loathing knows no bounds; when someone dislikes themselves and feels ashamed, it doesn’t matter what they weigh, how their hair falls, or what their nose looks like.

Self-loathing is self-loathing is self-loathing.

It doesn’t discriminate- no matter where you appearance falls on the proverbial spectrum of beauty.

She hated her eyes- thought they were too small and close together, and she spent nearly an hour every single morning transforming them with makeup. And, yet, she hated makeup. Resented every moment of her early-morning process. Just thought she had to do it in order to feel accepted by society.

She also hated her hands and her feet, thought that she had and unshapely fingers, and going without a manicure or pedicure was equivalent to making her stand naked in front of a group of colleagues.

Her skin tone wasn’t right; her complexion was horrible; her thighs felt too big and she was convinced her stomach made her look perpetually pregnant.

None of these were true, of course, but perspective can tell its own funny stories, and perspective can show us what we want (or don’t want) to see.

She struggled with #Depression and body dysmorphia and, and she struggled with finding a sense of meaning and purpose in a life that felt dull and colorless.

She struggled with finding happiness in a world where she didn’t believe she deserved happiness.

It’s funny, isn’t it? How we see ourselves compared to how others see us? The distortions we take to heart. The mirrors that we feel lie to us. The pictures we avoid and the reflections we turn away from.

Everyone wanted her to see her beauty, but she wasn’t in a place to see it. The more people pressed, the more she resisted. Back into the starvation. The throwing up. The obsessive makeup. The trying-on-every-piece-of-clothing in her entire wardrobe only to discard nearly all of it for the baggy sweatpants and sweater.

As far as I know, she’s still stuck in that abyss- in that place where light only flickers, where hope seems like a false promise. It’s a miserable abyss, one that too many people know, one where I hope she can one day emerge.

Community Voices

Gratitude Doesn't Cure My Problems- It Shifts Them

In my therapy practice, I regularly promote the virtuous benefits associated with gratitude. There’s enough pervasive research showing that gratitude can promote both physical and psychological health- and there’s enough research showing that it rarely hurts to take the glass-half-full approach.

But gratitude does not singlehandedly remove or fix problems. It does not erase the pain- it does not take away the anguish and replace it with sunshine and rainbows (is anything in life ever that easy?).

Gratitude moves a bit slower than that. It’s a steadier process, one that involves unpacking and needling, one that requires discipline and willingness.

Just like we need to we also need to accept that we need to cultivate gratitude as well. It’s like a muscle- we must train it, strengthen it, and take care of it. Nobody runs a marathon overnight (okay, this might not be true) in the same way that it’s also very challenging to take a sunnier disposition right away.

For me, it helps to start small. I had a graduate school professor who assigned us to write down three things that went well that day. They didn’t have to be earth-shattering; they just had to be three things that we could acknowledge as being positive.

This practice opened my eyes. Gratitude happens in small shifts, in tiny waves, in the day-to-day routine. It’s not always rooted in the grandiose and exciting experiences- it’s not always a huge display of adoration and affection.

I can just be grateful for that cup of coffee. For my warm bed. For the stranger who smiled at me in line at the grocery store. And, yes, it can be gratitude even for pain- for the lessons I’ve learned and the hardships I’ve endured and the losses I’ve experienced. They have all strengthened me and made me and defined my journey, and I’m grateful for that!

Remember: the journey from– the journey I walk with so many clients on- is sometimes the only journey that really counts in our growth. And that journey is rooted in gratitude. It’s rooted in shifting perspective, taking a different approach, having the courage to look and act in a different way.

Sometimes, it’s all we have.

Nicole Arzt

To the Girl Who Was Stolen By Anorexia

The first time I met you, you proudly told me your BMI with the same zest someone would brag about her improved credit score or flashy zip code. It represented a source of pride; at that point, it also represented a source of identity. You were your BMI, and your BMI was you. You wanted to protect it like a small child who needed love and affection. First, anorexia stole your spirit — that’s what your family told me, as they tearfully talked about your childhood. Anorexia stole the little girl who had so much love to give. It stole the daughter and sister they thought they knew — the one who loved daffodils and cappuccinos, Disneyland and expensive eyeshadow palettes. Then, anorexia stole your sanity and values. It wasn’t just the starvation at that point; you flirted with drugs and toxic friendship; you found solace in rebellion rather than academics and extracurricular activities. You were suicidal and glamorized it. Someone had once told you that pretty girls don’t like themselves, and you started living as if someone had branded that off-handed comment with a tattoo gun. Anorexia stole your mental health, but maybe your mental health stole anorexia first. Anorexia stole your laughter and innocence. It replaced it with obsession, control, perfectionism and compulsion. Every calorie in, every calorie out. That became the only way you measured success and happiness. Calories weren’t even just nuances; they were sheer enemies; you developed a paranoia around them. You had a fear that they would consume you whole if you weren’t consistently on guard. Remember when anorexia stole your health and, for a moment, your heartbeat? When it landed you in and out of inpatient treatment centers and hospitals? When it spotlighted you in front of different doctors and dietitians and therapists such as myself? Remember the clarity you once experienced when you realized how much anorexia had taken from you? How much it had destroyed every parcel of your life? I remember when you told me you were upset that there wasn’t a magic eraser or cure. I wish there was — for you and for every other person visibly (and invisibly) struggling. I wish anorexia could stop stealing innocent lives without remorse or consequences. Anorexia stole your adolescence and your early adulthood. It stole those exciting, fundamental relationships, the ones where you first start feeling different hormones and stay up all night wondering if he’s going to call you back. It stole the way you happily go shopping for clothes with friends, trying on different shirts and dresses, comparing and laughing and eating soft pretzels in between stores. It stole your athleticism — and I remember how much you loved to run and dance and swim — when those activities represented so much more than how many pounds you could lose by doing this to your body with rote movement? Anorexia stole so much from you, and you’re finally ready to start taking some of those lost items back. I can see it in your vigor and your willingness. I can see it in the tears that you’ve finally allowed yourself to release and the words you’ve let yourself reveal. Let’s take it all back together. Piece by piece, moment by moment — let’s destroy this thing that almost destroyed you. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Nicole Arzt

What to Know If Your Partner Has a Mental Illness

Most of us know the harrowing statistics — 1 in 5 Americans experiences mental illness in a given year. If you’re married, there is a good chance either you or your spouse (or both) can be affected. 1. Embrace the emotions. You may feel an entire spectrum of emotions in a single day or an hour depending on the current mood. You may be dejected or hopeless, terrified or angry. Resentment happens, sometimes little by little, and it can feel insidious. You may regret your marriage, at times, and then you’ll regret having those thoughts, feeding a vicious cycle that may not seem to have a clear-cut answer. You will need to learn to manage these emotions, to ride them out like a wave, just like your spouse has to as well. You will need to trust that these emotions ebb and flow, and that even if they’re scary or frustrating or annoying, they represent your body telling you something. 2. There aren’t always answers. There isn’t a cure. You may logically know this, but acceptance is another story. At times, you may just want out, may just want a sense of normalcy — in however you define normalcy. You may wish you had a relief, a magic pill, a chance for change. And, maybe you’ll read all the self-help books and meet with all the educated therapists. And, maybe your spouse will take all the right medications and engage in all the right coping skills. Even when everything flows the way it should, it doesn’t mean mental illness disappears. It doesn’t mean anything is guaranteed. That’s not a good or bad thing — it’s just the way things unfold. 3. You’ll have to learn your boundaries. Ah, the infamous boundaries. Your spouse may not always act compassionately towards you. Mental illness can make people act in erratic or unfair ways. You’ve probably experienced your share of that. You can learn to accept mental illness, but that doesn’t mean you have to tolerate abuse. You’ll have to learn your own boundaries and guidelines; you’ll have to show your partner that you deserve respect, even if it’s a bad day. You’ll have to set boundaries about many aspects in your marriage. We’re talking healthy communication, spending money , work and parenting. And, at times, the boundaries may seem annoying or redundant, but that won’t make them any less important. 4. There will be good moments — plenty of them. Marriage can be one of the most beautiful expressions of love two people can experience. Mental illness does not have to define the dynamic, though it might impact and reshape it. And, yet, mental illness has a funny way of seeping into daily living, but recovery can make your partner more enlightened, resilient, aware, and courageous. If there aren’t any good moments? It’s time to regroup and think about what your marriage represents. You deserve happiness, and your partner deserves happiness, mental illness or not. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Photo by Shelby Deeter on Unsplash

Nicole Arzt

Myths About Seasonal Affective Disorder That Must Stop

May is Mental Health Month, and, as a licensed marriage and family therapist, I have a confession. I didn’t fully understand the magnitude of the symptoms and consequences associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) until I started working with clients struggling with this condition. SAD, which even medical professionals have labeled off as “no big deal,” represents a major epidemic in our society. Because I believe that advocacy and awareness are key to supporting each other through moments of difficulty, I feel compelled to write about these pervasive myths. 1. It only happens in the winter. When I first learned about SAD, I read so much literature indicating that, because it’s strongly associated with a lack of sunlight, it therefore only happens in the winter. In reality, I’ve learned that this is not the only time. In fact, I’ve noticed an uptick in SAD symptoms when the clocks change each fall just after Halloween. Even just the hour shift can create a sense of disarray and chaos. Because it gets darker earlier, many people don’t see sunlight when they leave work. This can be bothersome for those who value the outdoors or simply being out and about in the evening. Daylight savings time has been a root of controversy — in fact, some compelling organizations are even putting together petitions to challenge this status quo! As someone who loves the sunshine, I’m in favor of having later daylight hours. 2. It’s a lesser form of depression . SAD isn’t just depression “lite.” For many who struggle with it, it is a traumatic and even debilitating mental disorder that can dramatically impact daily functioning. SAD can consist of all the common symptoms associated with depression, such as loss of interest in activities or work, insomnia or hypersomnia , appetite changes, low energy or fatigue, difficulty concentrating or focusing, feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts. SAD can be just as severe as major depression. Furthermore, those with depression can feel exacerbated effects due to SAD tendencies. For these reasons, I’ve learned that it’s just as critical as any depression treatment. 3. Light is the cure. In my work with clients struggling with SAD, I’ve learned about many awesome hacks that can help improve symptoms. The ones that stand out include light boxes, greenery and flowers, vitamins and even a brief vacation to a sunnier location. With that said, even while these self-care methods can certainly help, they should not be considered cures. Mental illness is complex and layered; what works for one person may not help another, and just because one intervention helps one day doesn’t mean it will work the next. It’s ignorant to assume a single strategy can just “take away” the pain one experiences. Furthermore, it’s insulting to expect sudden change and improvement after introducing such strategies. All of us (including mental health professionals) need to practice compassion and sensitivity when it comes to mental illness. We all know that mental illness is plagued with myths. They’re usually unintentional, but education is key to decoding the struggles and opening the path for recovery. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Getty Images photo via Dreamerjl83

Nicole Arzt

What Not to Say to Someone Struggling With Infertility

One in eight couples have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy, and over 11 percent of women have received infertility services during their lifetimes. This means there is a good chance that you, someone you love, or simply someone you know, will struggle with this complicated and emotional journey. While most of us aren’t intentionally insensitive, it’s easy to make ignorant comments when discussing pregnancy or infertility. Learning these common blunders is important for better understanding how you can support those who may be struggling. 1. Relax. It’ll happen when it happens! Most people say this with genuinely good intentions. They want to cheer their friend up and provide a sense of strength and comfort. Even if it seems innocent, it can be devastating and infuriating for infertile couples to hear. Imagine telling someone their cancer recovery will happen when it happens or their depression will disappear if they just relax. You’re essentially assuming the illness will disappear if the individual just “calms down” enough. That’s not only ignorant — it’s incredibly invalidating. 2. Just adopt! Adoption is a beautiful and exciting decision for some parents, but it’s not always possible or feasible. Furthermore, it doesn’t just erase the pain of not having a biological child. Even though it’s a dynamic way to raise a child into the world, some people cannot or will not be able to go through adoption. By throwing out this phrase, you’re invalidating the desire a couple has to have their own biological children 3. What about IVF or surrogacy? Again, both of these options can be incredibly miraculous for some couples. IVF boasts impressive success rates, and surrogacy can allow infertile parents to have a child genetically related to one or both of them. With that said, IVF and surrogacy can represent tedious processes that often require significant upfront costs and intensive medical care.  Chances are if someone you love is struggling with infertility, he or she has already explored the alternative options available to them.  Countless times. Rather than point-blank make suggestions for what’s best, it’s compassionate for you to simply let them tell you their next step. 4. It’s because of…. Insert a know-it-all answer, like your age, your past, your lifestyle, your weight. Whatever it is, you don’t have the right to tell someone why he or she is struggling with infertility issues. For one, it’s assuming. For two, it’s disrespectful and outside of your bounds as a supportive friend. Unless you’re an expert on the causes of your particular friend’s infertility, be mindful of your opinions and practice offering support and compassion instead. 5. Kids are too much work, anyway! Sure, kids may be a “ton of work,” but a couple struggling with conceiving desperately wants that kind of work. It’s a gut-wrenching feeling to want to have your own child without being able to do so. Even if you have your own children, it’s best for you to avoid any comments about your experiences as a parent if your friend is struggling or grieving. Final Thoughts Many people silently struggle with infertility. It’s an invisible epidemic, one that can affect couples of all ages, sizes and demographics. If you know someone struggling, be there for the tissues and venting — not for your alleged words of wisdom or advice.

Nicole Arzt

Why 'Adulting' Is So Hard When You're a Millennial With Mental Illness

I recently read a statistic reporting that millennials indicate higher levels of anxiety and depression than any other generation at the same age reported. Perhaps it’s true, or maybe our generation is just more likely to acknowledge mental illness. But, as a millennial myself and as a psychotherapist who works with this population, I can say this: there is absolutely no shortage of stress, insecurity and fear within young adulthood. We have been branded as “special snowflakes,” brought up on participation trophies, minivans and a cool hundred or so social media platforms. We are called entitled, quirky and stubborn. We are accused of glamorizing mental illness and its surrounding symptoms, and are also shamed for being too triggered, too sensitive and too politically correct. Society encourages us to channel our talents and follow our passions, and then society criticizes us when we venture beyond the college-work-children, cookie-cutter recipe. We spend hours editing and filtering pixels, rewording hashtags and statuses, portraying a “just right” image of beauty and uniqueness. If we participate in this trend, society deems us “shallow.” And, if we do not participate in this social media movement? We become outsiders. We live in a time dictated by YOLO and FOMO, glued to our smartphones , existing in virtual reality — sometimes by choice — but mostly because everyone else our age is living in that world as well. We have never been surer and paradoxically unsure of who we are at a given moment. The simultaneous beauty and tragedy of my job are that I hear, explore and then hold the deepest and darkest secrets on an hourly basis. I see what society doesn’t — what lies underneath the polished exteriors and Instagram feeds, what exists beyond the surface “I’m fine” responses and #blessed captions. I get to see the grimy truth — the authenticity, the fears and the speculation. And with that, I have concluded my own largely unscientific claim: nobody in our generation actually has a clue. In fact, I’ll even argue this: nobody in any generation had or has a clue, either. Everyone is figuring this adulting thing out. Whether we are 18 or 88, we are all still developing and growing. We are all prone to the same feelings of fear and anger and sadness. We all experience the raw feelings of inferiority, incompetence and incapability. Adulthood, unlike childhood, is up to each of us to define. Sounds exciting, and it is. But, on the darker side of things, we must wrestle with the strange acceptance and insidious transition that there aren’t really any specified rules. Nobody is really responsible or obligated to take care of us. We no longer live at the mercy of our parents and their dynamics. We have choice; we have agency, and, for the first time, we may have freedom. I tell my clients that freedom is a double-edged sword because it is. We want it desperately, spend most of our youths chasing and experimenting with it, and once we have it, we have no idea how to handle it! Freedom is just as terrifying as it is tantalizing. Even if we detest rules and structure, it may feel so much easier to follow someone else’s path or ideology. Of course, when channeled appropriately, freedom allows us to grow into the people we strive to be and take the action we desire to take. Yet, when we feel stunted in our ability to manage freedom or “adulting,” life has the perception of running us instead of the other way around. We start feeling incompetent and incapable. We feel overrun by our environments, our unconscious patterns, our established rules, no matter how toxic or childish they seem. As millennials, we may experience freedom in intoxicating qualities. We can look up any fact via Google, watch any tutorial via YouTube, connect with anyone in the world via Facebook — and we can do this all in the comfort of a few screen taps. We can find our next dinner date on Tinder and our next job on LinkedIn. We don’t even have to start a business with a dream and investment — we can start it with a smartphone and willing Instagram followers. Choices are exciting, but they can also be debilitating. Change is constant — the world continues to evolve, and it continues to inundate us with pressure to upgrade everything from our hair color to our phone to our entire existence. It’s no wonder we feel anxious and depressed. It’s no wonder we feel lost and directionless, that we have difficulty with decision-making and commitment. But, here’s the thing about our generation: we’re faking it, we’re making it and we have no idea how much everyone else around is really struggling. We have our childish traits and we have our professional identities and we have our online personas, and if we’re lucky, we have begun to cultivate the identities of our authentic selves. We represent a jumbled mess of sorts, and sometimes the lines look so blurred that we do not know which is which. And, you know what? It’s OK. This embodies our learning challenge. It’s what defines us. We are unique, and we are intelligent, and we have a freedom no other generation has ever had before us. Every day, we can challenge what a  “good life” and “success” and “family” look like. Every day, we can determine where our own values and passions lie. And every day, ideally, we can become more accepting of the idea that nobody has a clue about adulting, anyway. So, embrace that quarter-life crisis . Embrace the “crazy” — you have permission.