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How My College Graduation Led to Depression

Post-graduate depression is something that is not widely discussed. At the time that I wrote this blog, we were just coming out of graduation season. The transition from being a student to going out into the world can be just as difficult for those who do and do not know their next steps. The pandemic gave all of us that wake-up call when more 20-somethings than ever were moving back home. The feelings of isolation that many of my peers felt during that time was the way that I had been feeling for years. It started when I first graduated college myself.

My graduating and completing my bachelor’s degree has a lot to do with it, because of the year I graduated and the age I was. I confess. I was a fifth year student at a four year institution. The previous school year was tough. I had to see people I began with reach the finish line without me. I even took cap and gown portraits of acquaintances knowing that I would not be among them at the ceremony. I was extremely embarrassed; to a point where it took a toll on me emotionally. What hurt the most was my parents telling people, “… he’s supposed to graduate this year, but he’ll be staying another year.”

There’s a stigma that comes with continuing school longer than expected. It happens for a number of reasons. People assume that you’re not trying enough. It is always easier to tell someone what they are doing “wrong” than it is to propose a solution and be supportive. I was the first in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree. Like many of us, I wanted to have a good future and a good life after. Yes, I could have had a better experience with college, but I also accept accountability for my own missteps.

For so long I had been afraid of failing at reaching that finish line. Now it felt as if I had failed in a different way. I had failed at making something of myself.

The other question I always dreaded answering was, “What are you doing now that you’re out?”

At a church celebration, I was asked to talk about it, and the person who asked said, “It’s OK if you don’t know.” In the eyes of the world, it’s not OK. I joked about it as people often do when they are under pressure. Simply a way for me to mask the shame that I felt on the inside.

The summer that followed was not a pleasant one for me. People told me that I had it easy now that I could enjoy my “freedom.” Not being able to work was no vacation. It was the opposite. I was now trapped by the expectations that the world had of me as well as those that I had of myself. A full year passed, and depression had its grip on me. I truly believed that I was a failure. We all want to be that 20-something living in their dream city working their dream job. It’s not any easier seeing someone rewarded with something that you have been hoping for.

Often members of older generations seem to think that members of younger generations have not endured any life-changing events, because they have had shorter lives. That is not true.

As I was desperately trying to get on my feet, and on with my life, there was a great need that those closest to me did not see. I asked for well-wishes and prayers that I could arrive at some sort of path to success.

What everyone saw was, “He needs work. He needs something to occupy his time. He’ll take anything he can get.”

What I wish they had seen was, “He needs something sustaining and fulfilling that he is truly passionate about.”

For a long time, I felt like I was miles behind everyone else. It would take a conversation with a friend to realize that we are all on our own timeline. We are all trying to reach the same destination although the road to it is not the same for everyone.

Photo credit: Rattankun Thongbun/Getty Images