I grew up in the nation-state of Boulder, Colorado.
In Boulder, many a college student’s idea of “independence” is spending their parents’ money and doing laundry at their parents’ house and texting with their parents’ mobile data. (Okay, so I do all those things.) And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it does raise some vital questions: When does a young person in that situation learn how to earn enough money to support their own family? Where does the laundry detergent come from? How does one shop for a data plan?
Fucked if we know.
The adult world seems to us to happen by magic, or possibly just by sheer force of will. Generally, Boulder kids think that if they want some material gain hard enough, it spontaneously pops into existence right in front of them with no effort and, too often, no small amount of entitlement on their part.
I may sound jaded, but I’m aware that I’m no exception to this principle. I have no idea how to figure out which data plan will save me the most money, or how to pay for it, or even where that money should come from. And I still don’t know how much Tide to use for a medium-sized load of laundry, or whether reds qualify as light or dark. (Also: why do washers have so many damn buttons now?) Adulting is hard.
Now, on top of that, enter that ever-complicating force of evil: mental illness.
It’s one frustrating thing to be raised in a prosperous environment by unusually capable parents who get everything done in the blink of an eye after you’ve gone to bed, so you have no idea how to fend for yourself out in the wilderness when the time comes to rent your own apartment. But it’s another special hell entirely to be depressed and anxious all the fucking time, so that even if you did know how to write a rent check, the pen feels like it weighs a ton and the bank is a thousand miles away and your landlord probably hates you. (That’s the illness talking — very, very loudly.)
Essentially, accomplishing any adult task is comprised of two essential components: having the literal skills to do it and having the psychological health to use those skills. Or, in other words, there’s know-how, and then there’s the ability to use the know-how. Both are crucial to building an independent, adult life. And depending on which genetic lottery you’re burdened with, both of those pieces can be tormentingly difficult to come by.
My annoyance with many Boulder Millennials is a product of this distinction. I’ve encountered a multitude of high school and college students in Colorado who don’t understand how to adult, but they could if they tried. Their mental state is sound and healthy enough that if they were to put aside their sense of entitlement and apply themselves, they could easily learn how to set up a cable modem or take their Subaru Outback to the dealership to figure out why the dashboard has been making that irritating rattling noise. But they don’t. Their parents do it for them.
The reason I sound so flustered on this issue is that I would give almost anything to shed the depressive raincloud that’s been over my head for ten years, keeping at bay the opportunity for me to become a functioning adult. Oftentimes, all I want out of life is the chance to learn to be a grown-up — a chance that I see flocks of young adults around me carelessly choosing to throw away every damn day. I consider myself a smart cookie when it comes to academic pursuits like writing and research, but at 22, I still can’t do simple, practical tasks like getting ice cubes out of the tray. It was never part of my upbringing. Not because I’m sheltered, not because I’m a Boulderite, not because I’m entitled — but because I have a chronic, debilitating mental disease that has had me curled up in the fetal position for hours at a time since I was a child. (If you like things that are sad and scary —and who doesn’t? — then Google “borderline personality disorder”. Have fun.)
My parents learned quickly that they had to take care of every last microscopic responsibility around our house when I was growing up, because I was too much of a melancholic zombie to do anything other than breathe (and even that has often been difficult). Now, as a consequence of that, I have to cope with (understandably) stupefied looks from Boyfriend when he has to show me how to hold a knife, or remind me to run water into the garbage disposal before turning it on.
Those are just the small moments of naiveté that remind me how sick I’ve been. On a grander scale, there’s the ever-looming demon of unemployment. Unlike other college students who won’t get a job, I can’t. Small tasks make me dissociate, and criticism of any sort makes me suffer the psychological equivalent of having acid thrown in my face. (Unfortunately, small tasks and criticism are wholly unavoidable at any job I might qualify for, which is restricted almost exclusively to the food and retail industries. But that’s a different diatribe, and one where I’ll actually defend Millennials.)
Being able to hold responsibility is a blessing. If you have the chance to grow up, take it. Lately, the tides of my fortune have been turning for the better, and I’m realizing for the first time ever how rewarding it is to not just know, but to learn to know how adulting works. It’s a few years late in its arrival, but my psychological stability is starting to blossom, and the capacity for adulthood along with it. I could not be more grateful for the chance to do something so hard.
I planted a small herb garden on my windowsill this morning, and when the basil and chives grow, I’ll use them to cook a meal for Boyfriend and me with other ingredients I’ll buy with my own money. I might dissociate in the produce isle, but that dinner is going to be damn tasty.
6 thoughts on “Adulting is Hard (With Half-Assed Apologies to Boulder Millennials)”
When the basil and chives are ready, make a meal for your parents. Sounds like they’ve done a whole lot for you. ❤
Hang in there Zoe. I am the parent of a depressed 32 yr old who is adulting pretty well. Raising her own daughter and dealing with married life. Her illness comes back and it is a struggle, but she has developed the coping skills to power through. That’s what it is, powering through. You will too, I’m not sure if as you get older the depression slacks off or your ability to cope improves, but something happens to make it ever so slightly easier.
As a parent to 3 kids with “high-functioning” autism, I recognise this vivid and eloquent description of the oddly similar situation they’re in and endorse your message a 100%. It’s a really hard balance between communicating them as a parent what they ought to do and recognising when they just really can’t and just help them out. I hope they come as far as you seem to have gotten too! Thank you for this!
Well, you certainly know how to write. What types of things have parents usually done for their children in your area?
As the mom of another student like yourself: thank you for writing. I needed to read this.