Growing up, I always thought that age 30 was peak adult.
By this point I would have things sorted – a great job, successful relationship (maybe married), own a house – and everything in my life would be solid and settled. That’s what it’s meant to look like, on paper.
But instead, a couple of months before my 30th birthday, I had to give up my job and my rented London flat and move back to my parents in Kent. The anorexia I’d had since I was 18 was particularly strong, and I was in a bad relapse. I could no longer look after myself – indeed hadn’t been able to for a long time – and so it was time to get some extra help.
This was not how things were meant to be.
Lots of people with long term or chronic illnesses require extra support. For some that might be a care worker, for others supported housing, but for many it is their parents. I’m so lucky that mine are generous and supportive enough to allow me to live with them.
Moving back in with your parents as an adult can be hard. It’s a strange situation. In some ways you are adults on an equal footing. But there’s also the parent and child relationship, homeowner and tenant, carer and cared for. Navigating when each role applies and how you play your part can be tricky. It’s often a case of testing things out, and working out what works for you in the process.
‘I realised I needed to stop running and prioritise my mental health’
Sarah is in her 20s and lives in the US. She lost her ‘amazing’ first post-grad job doing event planning in spring 2015 after the company was involved in a major financial scandal. After struggling to figure out what to do next, she went to Australia on a working holiday visa.
‘I only got about four months into my visa before my body went all out of whack,’ she says. ‘I had temporary paralysis, days without sleeping, falling over and not being able to get up, racing heartbeat while sitting still. And when a guy I was seeing decided he didn’t want to keep dating, I kinda had an out-of-body experience where I watched myself have an irrational reaction and realised that wasn’t normal and I needed to stop “running” and prioritise my mental health. This was six years after my parents had told me I should see someone about depression.’
Moving back in with parents afforded her the space to just ‘be’ for a while, rather than constantly chasing an idea of success.
‘It was helpful moving back in with them and not worrying about expenses or feeling like I needed an immediate plan for work. The challenge was in giving myself grace, being patient with myself and my journey, and realising I didn’t need to snap my fingers and have my career figured out.’
‘My mum still feels a need to mother me’
Adam is a writer from Kent. He is in his 20s and lives with his mum to help him manage his anxiety and depression. Broadly speaking, he says it’s great, but they are still in the process of working out the relationship.
‘My mum still feels a need to mother me. It’s a continual learning practice to work out what I can and can’t do by myself,’ he says.
Adam says that giving each other space is vital. ‘What’s hard is the lack of privacy. My bedroom is not a space to be intruded upon, and I make use of that to work and decompress.’ Having time and space alone to be individuals, rather than parent and child, is really important.
It’s also really important to have a relationship outside of the illness.
‘I’m also making time to share an interest,’ says Adam. ‘Me and my mum walk a lot and that gives us a chance to talk about things without encroaching on each other’s privacy while still allowing that communication.’
In a similar vein, my mum and I like to do the crossword together, or find time to chat while on long drives.
My parents do most of the food shopping, cleaning, tidying and household jobs. This doesn’t mean that I’m left to lounge around, but it frees up time and space for me to do the real work that I came home to do – recovery. There’s only so much energy that I have, so getting some help with the parts of life I can’t manage right now makes it easier to direct that energy into being well.
‘Being home shouldn’t mean being a burden’
Anna has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and had to move back home to live with her parents when she got ill. She wants to be independent and look after herself, but her chronic illness just makes it too hard.
‘Battling between my independent brain and my dependent body is the most challenging thing,’ she says.
She points out that moving back in with parents is not only tough for the ‘child’ in the situation. Parents who have been used to having an ‘empty nest’ suddenly have to deal with adjustments to their lifestyle too. ‘We’ve had to learn to live together again, and they had to adjust to having me back, and me back as an adult, not a kid any more.’
When in this situation it can be easy to feel like a failure, or a drain. Anna has those moments too. But she tries to remember that ‘being home shouldn’t be a burden. It should be a celebration of the support I have around me, in the toughest moments of life. I have the best housemates possible – they just happen to be my parents!’
She’s right. While unfortunately many chronically ill people do not have the support of their parents, if you’re lucky enough to have that, embrace it. Home can then be a place of comfort, love, and warmth. Give your appreciation, show you care, and offer each other space. The situation might not be ideal, but it can work wonderfully, for all involved.