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When Living With a Mental Illness Makes 'Adulting' Difficult

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Transitioning into the “real world” after college is difficult for most students. Once the caps are thrown, new graduates often struggle facing what can seem like a vast, directionless future, shedding the “student identity” they had for years. This transitional period can be even more difficult if you add mental illness into the mix. At least, this was my experience.

The usual challenges of transitioning after college and becoming a “real adult” were compounded by my depression and anxiety. When my student insurance ran out, I no longer had my mental health team at my disposal — in a time when I arguably needed it the most.

I was fortunate enough to have my insurance throughout the summer after graduation and I tried to make the most of this interim period. My therapist gave me suggestions for affordable sliding scale therapy options when my insurance ran out and offered advice and support as I struggled with the anxiety of finding a job and the depressed feelings that I would never find a job.

About a month after graduation, I was given an internship opportunity. Though a month seems like a short time looking back, it was a time of many job applications and even more self-doubt and it felt like forever. Because the internship was part-time, I got myself a nannying job as well to cover my living expenses.

As I worked at my internship, commuted two hours a day and nannied, my emotional reserves were depleted at an increasing rate. I carried on like this for months and just as I was starting to realize I was in over my head, I had my final appointment with the therapist I loved, trusted and had seen for years. This, more than anything, felt like the end of college for me.

“Adulting” became more difficult for me. Because I was burning out quickly, every practical adult necessity felt like an immense burden I couldn’t possibly accomplish because I had no time and no stamina. I had been so relieved to have satisfied my immediate need for a job, I found myself unprepared to be overwhelmed by a familiar struggle I had tried so hard to bury in college: my unresolved family issues.

A fair bit of my college therapy was devoted to coming to terms with my mother’s mental health struggles, my dad leaving and my consequent feelings of abandonment by both parents. Though it had been many years of not being able to depend on them, I still was plagued by the desire to be taken care of by them.

So when it came to my transition out of college, it was only natural that anxiety and depression would capitalize on my weakness and tag-team me in this regard.

Any “adult” task added to my to-do list brought on a wave of anxiety about the impending need to accomplish it — and feelings of depression reminded me I wouldn’t be able because my parents hadn’t taught me how to do it. When it came to getting healthcare, anxiety constantly informed me I was running out of time. Depression told me I wasn’t insured under my parents because they didn’t believe I was worth insuring. I was too ashamed and embarrassed to admit at 22 years old, I was still waiting for my mom and dad to show up and be the parents I needed them to be when I was younger. And I couldn’t shake the guilt and fear that feeling this way made me an entitled “millenial.”

I became so overwhelmed by these thoughts and how much I had to do that I felt immobilized. It was easier for me to pretend like I was managing just fine than admit I needed help.

I only just recently started the process of finding a new therapist. Before my intake appointment, I made bulleted notes about things I knew I needed to talk about, areas I needed work in and a general outline of my life, so I could make the most of the 45 minutes allotted to me for my intake. As usual, I was trying to control the situation to cope with the fact my emotions felt out of control. But as it often does, it didn’t go according to my plan. And I’m grateful it didn’t.

To my embarrassment and surprise, I cried the whole appointment. I’m not sure why I was surprised because I hadn’t talked about how overwhelmed I had been feeling for months. I was so obsessed with being “strong” and “self-sufficient” – what I thought adults were supposed to be – that I neglected my own mental health in the process. My emotional reaction, when prompted by the therapist’s simple questions, reminded me I needed to relearn a lesson I’ve been relearning for years. It’s only now – eight months after graduating – that I’m reminded “being an adult” for me means acknowledging when things are hard. Instead of pretending like I “have it all together,” I’m striving for honesty.

I haven’t mastered “adulting” yet, but I’m learning to be gentle with myself. And this in itself is a step towards the kind of adult I want to be.

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Thinkstock photo via kotoffei.

Originally published: April 7, 2017
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