I had post grad depression. I didn’t know that was what I was experiencing. Looking back, I know the symptoms, causes, and what didn’t help. However, I wish I had someone walk me through what would have helped me deal with post-grad depression. Writing down what finally helped me get out of a depression after college will not only be therapeutic for me, but hopefully will prove helpful for you. The more I talk about the difficulties of post college, the more I realize I am not the only one. You aren’t either. Dealing with post-grad depression is not fun, but is very common. The symptoms itself aren’t necessarily the most damaging thing. What can be damaging, is how you deal with the symptoms that can really affect your future.
1. Feel Your Emotions
I can remember the symptoms like it was yesterday –– The anxiety, the dread, the minute by minute. The biggest issue for me was getting up in the morning and falling asleep at night. Stepping outside was exhausting. After I graduated I moved in with some friends from college in the same city as the school I graduated from. I don’t know what I had expected after walking in the graduation ceremony, but it wasn’t this. I had waited for this freedom for 4 – no, 8 years. Ever since highschool I wanted to be done with school and here I was. Free. It was that freedom that trapped me. I had so many options of what to do next, but none at the same time. I was working at the same part-time jobs I had worked in college. This was so hard for me. I had applied to various jobs in my major and had heard nothing back from the employers. I felt incapable, disappointed, angry, stuck, tired, exhausted, overwhelmed, lost, sad, and worse of all –– like a failure. I grabbed all of those feelings and stuffed them deep down inside my heart. Then I buried each one with a shovel, telling myself with each dig, “you have to keep going, if you stop you will never get back up”. All the while I was still carrying each feeling like a backpack. It makes sense to me now that the heaviest symptom of my post-grad depression was the anxiety I had when leaving my room.
2. Identify Anxiety
Anxiety and depression go hand and hand. Well…emotions, anxiety, and depression go together. You cannot separate the three. When you are carrying around and not dealing with negative emotions, your body will start to respond. The first thing I should have done after college was get a journal out, take a deep breath, and really think about how I was feeling. I had a hard time with this and I’m an enneagram four personality. I’m all about the feels! I can’t imagine if you already struggle with understanding your emotions. If you find it hard to breath sometimes or your chest tightens up, you eat more, or less, you are sleeping more, or you are sleeping less, or you find it difficult to get to places on time, you may have an anxiety issue. Anxiety is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong and something needs to change. I learned three things about anxiety: 1) Don’t ignore it. Find out what you need to change. Let it be a motivator for you to change what is causing the anxiety. 2) Being heard and having healthy relationships is important when trying to lessen anxiety. 3) Drink lots of water. This will help with the symptoms, but not necessarily lessen the root problem. Guys deal with feelings, anxiety and emotions too. It may look different, but this is not just a girl thing. My husband had just graduated college when we were married, and trust me, he needed to talk through how he was feeling. His emotions was probably more like self doubt, not being enough, and overwhelming pressure. He is so much better at expressing his true emotions. I, on the other hand really struggled, and consequently I had crippling anxiety.
3. Grasp for Community
My apartment situation fell through two months into being post-grad. Here I was, anxious, depressed, holding onto a part-time job and moving in with my parents. I remember feeling so alone. After going from having a strong Christian community at a Christian college for four years to barely having a church to go to, I was grieving the loss of my community. I think this is something college does not help us with. We make friends with the kids in our class growing up. These forced friendships form the same way in college. You fall into being friends with someone because of a difficult test in your Daniel and Revelations class. Well, in the real world, you may only be friends with people at work and see them from 9am – 5pm on a work day. However, if you want anything more it takes intentionality. Building a community suddenly rests on you –– not your parents, your peers, or the student life director at your college. This was just another heavy thing to carry. I have a hard time trusting people, really letting someone in and opening up. Now, since I am a Christian I started grasping for Christian community through the local church. It took me about four or five years after college to truly see how important it was to get plugged into a church. I would pull myself out of bed, grab some courage and walk out of my car into the service. Finding an amazing church and community was the turning point of my post-grad experience.
4. Ask for Help to Get Help
Since I didn’t have a good support system that year after college –– I didn’t have a good relationship with my family, no church, no friends and my depression was getting worse, I decided I needed counseling. This was about 6 months after graduating. At this point I had no energy to even schedule an appointment with a counselor. I asked my mom to call and make an appointment for me. I tell others who struggle or have someone in their life who is struggling with some sort of anxiety or depression, to just have someone else make the call. My mom could tell something was wrong. She made the call.
I sat face to face with a Christian counselor. She was great! I studied psychology in college, so I believe in christian counseling, but this was the first time I experienced how helpful going to a counselor is. She didn’t say much. I would ask her opinion of something and she would turn the question into a question so I was the one who had to answer back. The biggest reason counseling helped, was I just needed someone to talk to. This sounds sad. Why didn’t I have this with the people around me? I am not sure. It could be I was unable to ask for what I needed from the people around me. I think the biggest causes when it comes to depression and anxiety is that we don’t ask others questions or spend the time to listen. That Christian counselor pulled me out of a deep confusing time by simply listening and asking good questions. She was an answer to some desperate prayers.
5. It’s More Than Anger
Dealing with depression after graduation can look different for everyone. One of my friends told me she cried everyday for a year because she didn’t know what she wanted to do next. Me? I got angry. I was angry at everyone, but no one besides myself at the same time. Anger is defined as having unmet expectations. I expected my life to look differently. Do you know the feeling? For two years my anger was out of control. I will admit this. Going to counseling gave me some awesome tools to learn how to deal with that anger. First, you are experiencing more than anger. You have expectations of how a situation, a job, a relationship, a living situation was supposed to turn out and it didn’t happen. What didn’t happen to make you feel so angry? Secondly, I learned how to say the emotion without the emotion. Saying that you are mad and yelling that you are mad are two different things. Thirdly, taking time to cool off before communicating will allow you to be clear, calm and collected. Fourthly, write down those expectations that went unmet. These expectations could be between you and another person or it could be bigger than the last conflict you had. Your anger could be stemming from an expectation that you had about your life after college that just didn’t happen. When you let go of that expectation, pray about it, and give it up to God, I believe you will think more clearly about His purpose for your life.
6. You Can
I have a mentor and a friend who was very influential for me at this time. She would always encourage me to go for new things. She would say “What God has for you is for you”. That’s what I want to tell you. So many times we get stuck on, “What does God want me to do next?” or “I need to hear from Him,” or “What if I am outside of His will?” When it comes to making life decisions or decisions that don’t have to do with a moral vs. non-moral question, remember that if you are seeking Him, you have His Holy Spirit to guide and direct you. Listen to me: do what you want to do. You can. Give yourself permission. God has created you with a brain. He wants you to use it. I quickly saved enough money to get an apartment for myself, moved out of my parent’s, and started writing a fashion blog –– because I wanted to. One of my part time jobs turned into full time because I knocked on my boss’ door and asked for it. It’s not complicated. God created you so uniquely. He doesn’t want you to live someone else’s life. He doesn’t want you to live defeated either. He wants you to live out His plan for YOUR life. Seek Him and do what you want to do next. You can.
The world is at your fingertips, you have a purpose, you are valuable, and you will look back at this time and see what God was doing. Please don’t waste time before getting a community together. That was really the turning point for me. I know it is frustrating, but I have found when I pray about it, God has always given me the perfect amount and types of people around me. You will get through this season. When dealing with depression, drop that backpack of emotions and feelings on a pad of paper, identify anxiety, ask someone else to make you an appointment with a counselor, grasp for some community, look deeper into your anger to find your expectations, and give yourself permission to do what you want to do next, graduate. You can.