Graduation: One Year On

As you can probably guess from the title of this post it has been a year since I donned a cap and gown, walked across a stage desperately trying not to fall over infront of a sea of strangers to shake some guys hand. Ahh graduation day. Was it worth it? Probably not, but it was an excuse to visit my old ‘home’ town and see my university friends again (lets be real it was two people). Anyway, enough rambling about that, if you want to read more about my graduation you can check out this post.

Today I am writing this post to address something that I hadn’t heard about until about a few months ago, something I wish I’d heard about sooner. That’s right boys and girl, strap yourselves in for a long post all about post-graduate depression. This topic was brought to my attention in the form of this article sent to me by a friend. For those of you who don’t know what that is, I’m about to give you a really bad definition. To me it’s about the struggle of adjusting to life after education. You’ve spent the past 17 or so years living day-to-day in a very structured way and suddenly you’re free. But you’re not. Whilst at university you may have found yourself living independently without parental input. You’ve grown up somewhat. You’ve become your own person. You’re an adult who has adjusted to living alone or with close friends. Now university is over chances are that you’ll be moving back in with your parents, which can feel like you’ve taken a huge step back in life. You’re an adult but also not quite an adult. I feel like a pretend adult most of the time.

The article linked above highlighted a reality that I have been experiencing ever since leaving university back in June last year. It’s something that, as the article says, isn’t talked about meaning that so many people, myself included, feel alone when in reality we aren’t. I’m going to divide this post into sections because there is a lot I want to address and I don’t want to ramble and cut a point short by going off on a tangent elsewhere.

I would also highly recommend reading the linked article before carrying on with the rest of this post, but hey I can’t force you.

In college I felt like we were made to feel that going to university was the only option after completing our A-Levels. There was no talk (that I remember) of apprenticeships or even going straight into a work environment. UCAS was pretty much forced upon us all. As someone who had been wanting to go to university since I started high school this felt very normal, but for those who didn’t want to go to university I can only imagine how they would have felt having something forced upon them. At the end of the day what you choose to do, or not do, after college is entirely up to you. Colleges only force the idea of university on you so they can get good university destination statistics.

I hoped university would be the place where I break out of my shell and became the person I had always wanted to be. I hoped university would be the start of me achieving a career that I wanted. I hoped for so many things for university, because that’s what I had been made to feel university was. A chance to reinvent yourself. A chance to get a high paid job and be more employable. That may be the case for some careers, but you can’t teach creativity. It’s something that comes naturally. You can’t force it. I feel like the concept of university of put on a pedestal and seen as the best thing to do, when in reality who wants to be facing all that debt and struggle to find a job you don’t feel qualified for? Not to mention you haven’t had the minimum experience required because, shock horror, you’ve been in education for the past 17 years straight.

Even entry level jobs seem so unobtainable. Surely entry level implies that they are the lowest level jobs, they’re the jobs for new people to get into an industry. But no, they want at least 3 years experience in a professional environment, they want you to be over 25 so you can rent vehicles for transport, they want you to have a drivers license (which I guess most teens learn when in college but not everyone can afford that luxury and I still can’t afford it). Just when you think you’ve found the perfect job you scroll down and you see the list of requirements and you’re defeated by one of the high expectations and instantly shot down. Or worse, you find the perfect job and you meet all the criteria (finally), and then you realise it’s a billion miles away from you and you can’t afford to relocate. This becomes a daily occurance and you begin losing all faith you had in yourself, which in my case wasn’t that much anyway.

It’s frustrating that in order to get a job you need experience, but to get experience you need to have had a job… that you haven’t had because you haven’t had the experience needed. There comes a point when you begin questioning what you actually want. Do I want to work in the background of a crew for a TV show? Would I be happy doing that? Would I be satisfied working on someone elses creative project? How would I know for sure when nowhere will give me the chance to experience that? Then comes the next stage, looking past your degree and looking at other things that interest you. Great, I’ll look for social media types of jobs. All in London. It’s like the world is against me or testing me or telling me something isn’t right with the universe and that I’m going in the wrong direction in life.

After trying to find a job relating to your degree and failing for so long, you eventually come to terms with the fact that you’re probably going to have to lower your expectations and look for a ‘normal’ 9 to 5 job. Which is fair enough, you need money, you need to work. But after working weekends in retail (more specifically clothes retail) for 10 months I was going crazy. I thought I was a routine person, someone who likes knowing what they’re supposed to be doing all parts of the day but let me tell you, working all day in a clothing store drove me crazy. I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t left when I did I would have gone insane and had a massive breakdown on the shop floor. I came close a few times and even had a couple of small breakdowns where I resorted to silent crying in the corner of the store where nobody could see me. When I left I told people where my favourite unseen crying spots were just in case they needed them. Spoke with a sarcastic tone, but a deadly serious undertone. Speaking in that way has become my life. “Oh I’ll say this super depressing thing but I’ll laugh about it so they don’t know how f**ked up my mind is.”

Anyway, back to the main focus of this post. Currently I am still looking for a full time job and as time goes by the more I’m starting to look for alternate jobs because I am becoming desperate for money. At this point I’d be willing to take pretty much anything, and I know a lot of jobs would probably make me miserable but at least I’d have money. And having money in turn would at least take some pressure off, slightly put my mind at ease and bring me closer to where I want to be in life.

This is one of the biggest readjustments I’ve had to deal with after finishing university. You come home for the holidays, or occassional weekends, but you go back to where you’re living whilst at university. Coming home and staying home is something completely different. Visiting home you feel like a guest. Your parents make your time at home special. They treat you because they know how poor you are as a student. It’s the little things they do that make you relax, because going back home whilst at university is like a mini holiday. Moving back in with your parents feels like a holiday at first but after a while you start to feel like you’ve regressed about 4 years.

Leaving home at 18 to become an independent young woman was scary, but something that I adjusted to fairly quickly. I enjoyed my independence and I loved having my own space. I had freedom. I didn’t have to ask permission to go to places. I could stay at as late as I wanted (not that I ever did). I could travel to other places and not even have to tell them I left the town I was living in. Moving back home at 21, and now being 22 (almost 23), I feel like a little kid again. I don’t ask for permission to leave the house, infact I think they celebrate when I actually do, but it’s the fact that I’m expected to tell them. I’m expected to let them know where I’m going, who I’ll be with, how long I’ll be gone, when will I be back etc. It’s the fact that I’m forced into texting them when I arrive at said place and when I’m on my way home. I understand to some extent, but it was something I didn’t have to do whilst at university. I think if I’d texted my mum like “hey I’m just off somewhere for the day, I’ll let you know when I’m home” she’d have been like “what?” because she didn’t need to know. I had my own life, I did my own thing. What’s different now, other than the fact I’m back living at home?

My parents also love reminding me that with each passing year a new group of graduates join the job search party and the competition for that dream job gets even more difficult. Like “thank you so much for this revelation. I don’t already know that myself, I needed someone else to remind me”.

As if moving back in with your parents and constantly being quizzed on what jobs you’re applying for isn’t bad enough, you now also have to deal with your extended family asking the same questions. Everyone wants to have their say and it seems your entire family became career advisors whilst you were away. Luckily for me I didn’t really have to deal with this because I don’t see much of my extended family. The only real communication I have with them is through my mum and she has mentioned certain relatives suggesting certain places to find work. As if I hadn’t already looked in those places before. Everyone seems to be an expert on how to find a job but me. I swear they think finding a job is easy and that I’m just half-assing it or that I’m being lazy. Everybody loves to compare me to other people. “Oh my blah blah found a great job at this place”. Well good for them, maybe I don’t want that. As much as I love my family, they really don’t understand the struggle I’m facing.

You left all of your friends after college. You all went your seperate ways off to far away places for university. You then all proceeded to move back to your hometown and join forces whilst trying to find a job relating to your degree subject. Well, that isn’t always the case. The reality is: one of your friends dropped out in first year and took on an apprenticeship, one is now doing a masters and the other did a 4 year course including masters and is now doing a PhD. All of your friends are seemingly progressing with their dream careers and lives and you feel like you’re back in 2013.

Reconnecting with old friends isn’t always as easy as people make out. Keeping up with your friends as adults is hard. Everyone has their own life, their own struggles. Everyone’s trying to build a life for themselves and sometimes that means distancing yourself enough for you to grow yourself. You can also sometimes feel disconnected from people because your interests change. You’re no longer a child fighting your way through high school, you’re an adult fighting your way through life. It’s easy to create new connections with people from your university course because you have something in common, a passion in a subject that your friends back home don’t fully understand. But once you move back home you lose that support system that understands you on a level that no one else does. For me, those three years were some of the most difficult, challenging and important years in my life. When I felt like giving up or felt like I couldn’t do something, my housemates were there for me and they understood how I was feeling in ways other people didn’t and still don’t. I want to be able to see my uni friends on a more regular basis but it just isn’t possible due to my(/our) lack of funds and finding the time. Sometimes it feels like I have no friends anymore, like I lost my friends from college at uni and I lost my friends at uni when I came back home. As much as I want to regain these seemingly lost friendships, I have no real motivation. If you think being questioned about your future by your family was bad, there’s something more soul destroying about your peers doing it.

The education system, as flawed as it may be at times, is great for giving your life structure. You know where you’re going to be spending your days and at what times. Now all the days just seem to roll into one and before you know it a week’s passed, then a month and before you know it you’re in a new year with nothing to show for your time. You’ve spent the majority of your life in education. You’re used to the routine of going to somewhere to learn, coming home, doing homework, relaxing, going to bed and waking up the next day to do the same. I feel that with university comes a level of a routine of looking after yourself. You have to cook for yourself, do your own washing, do your own shopping, manage your free time. You have to make room in your day to do all of these things to function, now back home you don’t do half of that stuff for yourself. If I was living alone right now I could probably bet that I would hardly eat because I would have zero motivation to. Being free of the structure can feel like your drifting, and not always in the right direction. You have no tether to anything other than home. You are limited to what you can do and what you can achieve because you are tethered to a place you feel you can’t escape.

School doesn’t prepare you for this feeling of hopelessness. You’re led to believe that a full education is enough to get you places when for the majority of us, that isn’t enough. Only the lucky few get once in a lifetime opportunities, and those are based on where your geological base is. I can’t help but feel I’m at a disadvantage both in terms of my hometown and also my families financial sutuation. The reality is educational institutions just don’t prepare you for the real world in ways that are actually helpful. You’re almost promised a great career if you achieve well, but end up massively let down when you achieve highly and get nothing. I’m in no way saying that education isn’t important because it is, but with a lot of jobs favouring experience over education shouldn’t schools/colleges/universities do more to help students prepare for the real world?

With each passing day I feel more and more fearful that I’m destined to live a boring 9-5 work life and end up living a miserable life. With each day that goes by my confidence gets knocked just that little bit more, not that it was ever that high in the first place. I begin to think that I’m unemployable, that none of my skills are useful in any way. The rejection emails sting slightly more than not hearing back at all. I forget what jobs I apply for so not hearing back doesn’t mean anything but a rejection email is confirmation to me that I’m not good enough. After reading each rejection email I sit and cry and end up tearing myself apart. Afterwards I dry my tears, leave my room, see my parents and pretend nothing’s happened. Not telling them is easier than admitting to them their daughter’s a failure.

This past year has been tough there is no doubt about it. I never expected life after graduation to be a walk in the park, but I never envisaged it being quite this tough and soul destroying. I feel like I’ve lost a part of me this year, a part of me that I hope to get back at some point. My experience of post-graduate depression may be in some way worsened/heightened by other mental health issues that I am still in denial about but I’ll deal with that another time. Obviously everyone will experience different thoughts/feelings/emotions etc post-graduation but if anyone else is feeling as down and defeated as I am, take some comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. I’m still clinging on to some hope that things will get better and I know deep down they will, for us all.

Wow this has been a really long post. If anyone is still reading at this point, thank you. I’d love to hear your experiences with post-graduate depression or just general thoughts on post-graduation life. After we leave university I feel like we’re expected to just magically become proper adults and anyone who thinks/feels differently is shunned. Let’s open up a discussion and help each other through this.

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