It wasn’t easy admitting to myself, after what should be one of the happiest times in my life, that I was feeling emotionally distressed. It even made me feel ashamed that I wasn’t so happy. My daily schedule and tightknit community were gone overnight and despite having a wonderful best friend to live with, I was lonely. Instead of passing people in the hallway that I knew or studying in the library with friends, I found myself living in solitary and working in an unrelated-to-my-degree job, rather than studying and advancing my career. I saw friends doing well, but I wasn’t there with them and began to feel jealous of their success and left behind. With some friends still in University, some friends already graduated and some friends traveling the world, time and distance became my enemies and quite a few friendships didn’t survive. With nobody to talk to, my feelings of loneliness continued to grow but I had no way to process these feelings.
It took three months to process these feelings.
I spent time at home with my parents, Skyped with my cousin, and, with the egging on from my brother, started to reach out to some college friends despite knowing if distance and time had squashed the relationships. The first few weeks after the three month mark were hard, but I began to see myself change (even if it was at a snails pace). I got lunch with two friends I hadn’t seen in a while, talked with one who lived in England and had a lot of girl date time with my best friend. I spent more time shopping for good groceries and doing at-home exercises to get my blood flowing. I felt like I was forcing it but I knew that I had to if I wanted to smack myself out of this depression.
With time, those friendships may have helped. The food may have helped. The exercise may have helped.
Strangely enough, it was a book I borrowed that pulled me out of my depression.
It came to my realization that I hadn’t read a book that wasn’t related to school in over six months. When I was a kid I loved to read, but as I grew older, the ‘fun books’ were replaced by ‘school books’ and I lost the time and willingness to fill my brain with anything but school material. I don’t think it was just the contents of the book that helped me through this, but the act of finishing the book itself became symbolic. “The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country” made me think about what made me happy and forced me to evaluate myself every day. Am I a 6 out of 10 on the happiness scale? Why? Today I’m an 8 out of 10? That’s great! Why do I feel that way? It wasn’t easy still. I wanted to stop reading halfway through because I was still quite depressed and ‘wasn’t feeling it’ but forcing myself to put time aside and getting through something as simple as a book ended up promoting a complete change in myself.
Looking into it, I’m not the only person to go through this experience. Many people go through what is now being dubbed a ‘quarter-life’ crisis, but post-graduate depression tends to go underreported because of that feeling of being ashamed during a happy time.
The condition, characterized by the American Psychiatric Association, is considered to be “a period of severe sadness, loss of motivation, helplessness and isolation due to constant change and an overabundance of choices.” We live a constant life of school from kindergarten through college and we fill it with structure, purpose, and certainty. Then graduation comes and there are no classes and structure for things we must attend and loss and confusion become the future.
I don’t know how similar my story is to other people because post-graduation depression is a quiet topic, maybe even taboo in our culture, but I hope that this post can spur conversation with me or with others about the support recent graduates need and the importance of human connection.