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What is post-grad depression? It’s hard to find a clear definition, but most articles revolve around the feelings of anxiety, confusion, and loss of direction that comes with graduation. One in four recent graduates undergo these turmoils of emotions after leaving school. These feelings arise from the difficult transition into “adulthood,” triggered by unemployment or difficulty finding work, lack of structure, and the realization of the bills you have to pay—which becomes even more daunting if you haven’t found a job within the six month window you have before having to pay back student loans.
It seems like a myth: you hear and read about but until you experience it, does post-grad depression really exist? After all, you have just spent at least three years working towards this one goal: to walk across that stage to obtain the most expensive piece of paper you will ever work for, how can you suddenly be hit with this feeling of loss and suddenly lack motivation to get out of bed? How can this be possible for someone who graduated with a plan?
Maybe that’s why I thought I’d be able to escape to the claws of post graduate depression. I had graduated with a plan (graduate school and a job lined up in the new city I was moving to). While the process and the idea of moving was terrifying, it was something I was greatly looking forward to; I had been eager to move out of my parents’ home for several years, and this was the long-awaited moment towards independence I had longed for. So why was it, after I finally packed up my car to move to the City by the Bay, I suddenly lost all motivation?
I was still in school, but it wasn’t the same. I didn’t have the friends I had in undergrad, the women with whom I bonded and built a strong community; I was starting from scratch. I had sorority sisters on my new campus whom I knew but it wasn’t the same. Suddenly, it felt like overstepping. I was rarely on campus, usually only going for classes and then not setting foot again until the following week. My focus was literally work and school, but work suddenly found itself coming home with me to accompany my schoolwork.
I became isolated, lonely. But you wouldn’t be able to tell. Despite not having motivation to go to work, let alone do my schoolwork, I still managed to force myself to finish the things I needed to get done with a smile. One of my best friends from undergrad would call me everyday, but I couldn’t form the right words to explain my situation. It sounded silly to me: “I miss LMU.” But it went deeper. I missed my friends, I missed the organizations I was involved in, I missed my mentors, and, strongest of all, I missed my family. Coming from a school where community was at the core of my experience, suddenly losing it created an emptiness inside me.
I didn’t have a community or support system—it left me spiraling. After graduation, meeting new people and making friends is not the same as when you were in school (which has been the main I was used to being social for the last sixteen years). I was hoping for a cohort in graduate school to be my gateway into friendships, but my program is made to accomodate full-time working students, meaning that the incoming class is much larger than at other schools and classes were only offered in the evening. Perfect for working adults; troubling for those in need of a social aspect.
Most of us weren’t in the same classes (the majority of my classmates were fiction writers, so aside from the one class we had together, they were in fiction based workshops), and many also commuted from various parts of the Bay Area, only coming onto campus for class. I couldn’t seem to make connections. Even now, as I intentionally force myself to interact and be more extroverted with my peers, I can’t seem to make that “click.”
But then there’s also work—why can’t I just make friends there? I was close to my co-workers. We had our inside jokes, bonded over problems we had to solve, but still I couldn’t seem to give that extra push. It often felt as though there was this hand holding onto my shoulder holding me back.
Even as I write this, I find myself thinking, why didn’t you just push through? You sound as if you’re just whining and complaining about being lonely. But that’s the way we talk about mental health: it’s all made up and in your head, turning a blind eye to the very real efforts being put forth. I was (and still very much am) pushing and forcing myself to be out there, and yet I still couldn’t go beyond what I was putting out there. So I stayed still.
Lonely, still, and with high levels anxiety.
I wasn’t scared about being an adult. I was ready for it; it was what had been building myself towards. There was just no one for me to really confide these feelings in. Like all people, I love being alone and enjoy my personal space, but, as one of my close friends from undergrad would say, “Humans are social beings, even if it’s not all the time, you need at least one person there by your side.” And I couldn’t find that. What made it harder was seeing all of my friends and family members spending time with each other on social media. Part of me felt replaceable; the other acknowledged that life continues.
So why couldn’t I?
I can’t honestly tell you that I’ve worked through my depression. The happiest I have felt all year was when I was home for the summer and spending time with my family and friends. Now that I’m back at school, the shadow has reappeared in my life, making it difficult to go to work or even do school work.
Nevertheless, I persist.
I started seeing a therapist at the school’s psychological services. Therapy is underrated and very necessary to start on the journey towards bettering yourself. Running has also found its way back in my life because, for me, it is not only self-care, but it genuinely makes me happy. I try not to think (or stress) too much about finances because I’ve recognized the spiral it sends me through. I also try to leave my house. Staying in reminds me of my loneliness, and that can result in me going backwards in my progress, which does happen sometimes.
But I just have to remember, tomorrow is a new day.
Have you experienced post-grad depression? What are some ways you’ve worked your way through? Let us know in the comments!