======= ======= ====== ====== ====== ===== ==== ====== ====== ===== ==== ======= ======= ====== ====== ====== ===== ==== ====== ====== ===== ====
I’ve had the idea for this column on my mind for a few weeks now, but for the life of me could not quite figure out how to sit down and encapsulate my thoughts into words that would do it even a fraction of justice. When I woke up this morning, the rain was pouring down outside my window. With the distant sound of thunder, and the sky in a perfect state of greyness, it came to me.
Many of PGP’s readers come to the site in search of a respite from the unceasing stresses that have come to define the “postgrad experience.” In fact, that was the exact reason I first started reading PGP, 4 years ago. My undergraduate frivolities had come to a screeching halt, and I was right back to living with my parents in my small, suffocating, middle-of-nowhere hometown. At the same time, I was recovering from the unexpected disintegration of a serious relationship, and felt like I was failing at every aspect of life. I wasn’t satisfied at work. I wasn’t happy at home. I simply wasn’t happy.
I felt as if I had been tossed into the middle of the ocean with water surrounding me on all sides. I could swim in any direction, but was so paralyzed by my fear of choosing the wrong one, that I was just treading water in place. Slowly sinking.
When I first stumbled across PGP, I found the columns funny, light-hearted, and most importantly – relatable. It was like someone had taken some of my own passing thoughts and turned them into a slapstick comedy of commentary. Much of the content PGP produces still echoes that initial experience. I have had the distinct pleasure of writing some of those goofy commentaries, myself.
But today is a little different. Instead of cracking jokes about getting sauced and throwing up in an Uber, I want to discuss something important. Something really important. Bear with me, if you are so inclined, because this is going to take a little time.
Each morning, I wake up and spend the first 15 or so minutes of my day checking out various social media apps. With sleepy eyes, I slowly, mindlessly, scroll through Instagram. Then Twitter. Then Facebook. I check my email. I watch some Snapchat stories. Then, I queue up a Spotify playlist.
After I get showered and dressed for the day, I place an order on my Starbucks mobile app and swing by the store to pick up an unnecessary cup of overpriced caffeine. This is my routine. I get to campus and sit through a full day of classes. Throughout the day, I interact with people. I socialize. I spend some more time checking out the ‘gram and the Twitterverse. Then, I go to my job and try my best to be productive and useful. By the time I get home – I’m exhausted.
I’m exhausted from being “on” all day. I’m exhausted from a constant barrage of thoughts. My mind runs like a hamster on a spinning wheel, 24/7. I obsessively write in my daily planner “to-do” lists that are comprised of the even the most minuscule of tasks.
– Take clothes to dry cleaners
– Pick up skirt from tailor
– Make credit card payment
– Email XYZ about XYZ
– Pick up prescription from Walgreens
– Grocery store
– Send birthday card
The list is never-ending. As I complete tasks, I mark them off. And as additional obligations come to mind, I draw another dash. Scribble another task. Another. And another.
Sometimes, these lists help me feel organized. On top of things.
Other times, they hover, each meticulously-scripted letter hanging above my head, acting as a small weight that I must carry until it can finally be marked off, and therefore extinguished from my consciousness.
I’m what would be classified as a “Type-A” personality. I prefer structured environments, with boxes to check, and definitive goals with crystal-clear expectations. I create itineraries for everything. I like to say I enjoy spontaneity – as long as someone’s made a reservation. In short: I’m a control freak.
When I first finished college and entered this amorphous postgrad arena, it was like someone had ripped the reins out of my hands and let the ponies run wild. I didn’t have much of a sense of direction. There were no boxes left to check. The things that had once acted as “goal posts” for my own success were now gone. There were no classes to attend each day at a particular time. No midterms on the calendar. I was in a discombobulating state of mindless, day-to-day existence.
To some degree, I felt helpless. It seemed as if everything – everyone – else, was continuing to grow and evolve right around me. Like I was starring in some sort of Coldplay music video, with hundreds of faceless people and a Subway train, blurred by movement, hustling about their busy days – and me, frozen in place in the center of the scene.
College had given me outlets to manage and numb this icky feeling. They were called Wine Wednesday, SEC football on Saturday, and hungover naps on Sunday. Fraternity mixers, road trips on weekends, delivery pizza and shitty wine on nights of new Breaking Bad episodes. But now, those outlets were gone. In what should have felt like a new and exciting era of life: I didn’t feel excited, I felt scared.
During college, I had chalked this feeling up to homesickness. To stress over school and deadlines. But after all of those things had been put to bed, somehow, I was back in this…rut. In a last-ditch effort to get things back on the right track, really any track at all, I threw myself into applying to law school. If I had something to work toward, just one definitive direction, I was convinced that I could right myself.
This newfound direction did help – for a moment. But at the beginning of my first year of law school, I went through an extremely difficult personal experience that catapulted me right back into the depths. Couple that with the first semester of law school classes in a new city – a new state – and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. I was sleeping all day, and missing important classes. I was hard-pressed to leave my bed unless it was to get raucously drunk with my friends. The crazy train was barreling full-speed ahead, and things were quickly spiraling even further out of my control.
I had reached a breaking point on the day that I attended an annual nonprofit fundraising event with my best friend and current roommate. Desperate to have “some fun,” I drank. And drank. And drank. Multiple cocktails and bottles (yes, I do mean plural) of wine later, I was sobbing into her arms at the hotel bar. I will never forget the way she looked at me with tears in her own eyes, and gently asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
I despise asking others for help. If I never ask anyone for anything, then I won’t feel like I owe them something in return. I have worn my own stubborn pride like a badge of honor. I have actively avoided situations in which someone else may have to inconvenience themselves for my benefit. In fact, I consistently throw myself into solving other people’s problems. It gives me a reason to temporarily ignore my own. I thrive on being another person’s support system.
But in this moment, it was time I asked for help.
I had to come to terms with the fact that my desperate need to regain control stemmed directly from the state of my mental health. I was frantically clawing for some semblance of direction, and was so blinded by my own quest for self-sustainability, that I couldn’t even fathom the idea that I might be depressed. Every feeling of inadequacy, every shortfall, I had attributed to some external factor. I was silently suffering and refusing to communicate – even to the most important and loving people in my life – in an attempt to spare them the task of shouldering my burdens, too.
I’m sharing this with you today because I think that many of us, dare I say most of us, may have felt this way at some point. Maybe you feel this way right now. There are some people in my life whom I love dearly that are currently fighting similar battles of their own. Each of us deserves to hear some reassurance that things are going to turn out alright.
I mentioned earlier in the description of my day-to-day, that I spend quite a bit of time perusing social media. There are certainly some perks to this habit (I’ve got a serious Spongebob meme addiction), but there are also many downsides. It can be really disheartening, even hurtful, to scroll through Instagram or Facebook and see everyone else is doing. These avenues for communication have developed into an unspoken competition amongst followers; they are an endless stream of meticulously curated and edited posts, flaunting flawless snapshots of adventures and accomplishments. It breeds envy. It forces a comparison of your own current state of life – the good and the bad – with someone else’s highlight reel.
It’s hard to feel happy and content with your own achievement of making dinner at home three nights this week when Sarah Sororitygirl is vacationing in Aruba with her new husband and blasting your eyeballs with magazine-worthy photos of 5-star, beach-side dining. Suddenly, your three nights of Chrissy Teigen specials pale in comparison.
Navigating these postgrad years is a tough challenge. We’ve got a lot on our plates. There is no manual or YouTube tutorial on how to make sure you’re doing it right. We are trying to avoid the mistakes our parents’ generations may have made, all while setting our own goals for success as high as possible. It’s absurdly stressful, and that stress can manifest in many ways. It could mean anxiety, alcohol-dependence, weight-gain, depression. And because no one wants to admit that things are not as peachy-keen as we make them seem on Facebook, we all just drudge along through the bullshit, constantly and quietly carrying these stresses day after day. Pretending like we’ve got it all together.
I want you to know that it’s okay to not be okay. Not being okay doesn’t mean that you’re useless. It doesn’t mean that you are a failure. It doesn’t mean that you’re never going to be okay.
Maybe you’ve got something going on in your personal life that has resulted in anxiety surrounding work. Maybe your job isn’t bringing you any satisfaction, and you feel trapped in your current position. Maybe you’re going through a difficult break-up, and the adjustment to your “new normal” is taking longer than you thought. I’m here to tell you that these things are okay.
It might seem like you’re the only person in the universe who is going through some shit right now. But you’re not. Everyone else is fighting their own battles, too. But don’t let dissuade you from reaching out for support. The people who care about you want to support you. They want you to succeed. They want you to be happy. Do not be afraid to share your own worries or insecurities with someone you trust. Maybe that means opening up to your best friend, or a parent, maybe even a therapist. Hell, I think everyone could benefit from a therapist, and you can quote me on that.
You know your health is important, and that is why you spend $8 on that fresh-pressed kale concoction from Whole Foods twice a week. Your mental health is important, too, so take some time to get in touch with what you need. It’s okay if you’re not okay. It’s what you decide to do in pursuit of a resolution that truly defines your tenacity. Keep fighting the good fight, pals. There’s strength in solidarity..