On Post-Graduation Depression: We’re All Coping

Every person’s post-graduate experience is different. But we all have the same fears: Will I get a job? How will I pay my bills? What in the H can I do with my Philosophy/Romantic Literature/Political Science/Religion degree? Will anything in life ever be as fulfilling and fun and exciting as these last four years? It’s an overwhelming dread of leaving a place where virtually every one of your peers was on the same playing field, and entering a new world where we are all competing. Where you are filled with uncertainty, where there aren’t any more teachers or guidance counselors to guide you. Where you can’t spend 15 hours a week in classrooms discussing things that fill you with passion.

I’ve got bad news for you, world. Graduation depression doesn’t really end. It morphs.

I graduated two years ago with a job offer in hand from a congregation-based community organizing training program. Which is great, except for one tiny detail: I am not religious. It just isn’t a part of my life. Red flag number one, right? But I was assured it wouldn’t be an issue, and I believed them. However, once I got to training and realized I was expected to attend multiple services per week, in addition to bible studies… I felt a little queasy. When we began and ended all of our training sessions with prayer, I knew. Oh shit. I’ve made a horrifying mistake.

Unfortunately, I was already in Toledo, Ohio. I had committed to this thing. I had moved out of my city, Chicago, for this opportunity. I had bought a car for this. I put all of my eggs in one basket, and I was in limbo. I thought, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Answer: my car was broken into in the middle of the day at a church. Answer: I went into thousands of dollars in credit card debt because I was just barely floating on this miniscule salary and I had no help. Answer: I broke down crying every single day because I felt completely lost.

I made it about one month before I was able to leave. After my 10th phone call home in a week, sobbing and completely defeated, my dad answered the phone and said “Come home, we are cleaning out the closet.” And with that, I packed up my PT Cruiser for the second time in under 8 weeks, and headed out to another new city.

Luckily (I do believe that about 80% of what happens to you after graduation is luck) once in Charlotte, NC I had a job lined up within a week of living here. At a Title Insurance company. Don’t worry, I had no idea this was a thing either. But, as they say, sometimes you gotta dance with the one that brung ya. And so, almost two years later, I am still at this small company. I have moved up, I have found a niche in this business that I enjoy on most days, and I am working every day on making the very best of it.

My job has remained stagnant, but so much around my life has changed. I’ve been able to move out of my parents’ house and am slowly (very slowly) working on paying down the credit card debt I assumed in the year of craziness after graduation. I fell in love with a great man I never would have met if these things hadn’t happened to me. I now live close to my family, something that I literally never would have done if I hadn’t been forced into it (sorry, Dad!) but that has proven to be a great source of comfort and fun for me. I have met wonderful people I never would have met had I not been forced to move to Charlotte.

So, as I sat in this airport, my first visit to Chicago since graduation, I reflected on my life in relation to those around me. This weekend I wished one of my best friend’s congratulations on her Master’s degree. Celebrated another great friend signing a job offer for a dream international consulting firm. Watched a friend celebrate her marriage.

I am reflecting. My life doesn’t look like this—my life doesn’t look like what I thought it would. I stumbled upon a path that I never would have laid out for myself. And yes, I still struggle with this. Not because I’m unhappy, but because I feel like I have disappointed a past Me. I went from a naïve, optimistic community organizer to a somewhat cynical loan doc specialist working in private wealth, just trying to pay my bills.

What’s funniest to me about post-grad life, is that the questions never end. All of the questions and fears from two years ago still surround me: What are you going to do from here? What are you going to do with the rest of your life? Are you going to go back to school? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. To be honest, I think few people do know. I still hope to one day have a job in something I am more passionate about. I still hope to one day not live paycheck to paycheck. I still hope to one day be out of student loan debt. But for now—I try to stay positive. I try to appreciate all of the things that have happened to me since graduation, and all of the good things I have in my life right at this moment. What I’ve learned since and through my post-graduation depression, is that, most times, this is all you can do. And that’s okay.

Enjoy not being in school any more. Enjoy a new hobby. Enjoy learning whatever you can from whatever weird, strange job you find yourself in. Revel in finding your passions and exploring what it is you want to do. Revel in happy hours, and Sunday Fundays without papers to write. Make the best of your post grad life with what you’re given, and the depression won’t stick around too long.

[Lead image via Kiselev Andrey Valerevich/Shutterstock]

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