On post-grad mental storm clouds

I didn’t think post-grad depression was going to affect me, or at least not as much as it has.

I started to seriously fret about graduation and the passing of time and loss of childhood around my 21st birthday in September, came to terms with that as much as one can throughout the fall and winter, and by spring, I was excited to get on with my life. I daydreamed about all the hobbies I would take up, books I would write, books I would read, places I would visit, when I had more time, and eventually with a full-time job, more money. None of my friends were moving after school. Life would continue as normal, minus the classes, and label, and promise of returning to the same halls in September.

So on graduation day when I slumped into bed at 5 p.m. feeling like a deflated balloon, I was confused.

I wanted this. I wanted to move. I wanted to hit the ground running, filling my busy schedule with a diverse selection of carefully chosen activities, like embroidery, writing, reading, meeting, hiking, running, dancing, dating. Instead, I wanted to do nothing at all.

I stopped enjoying my work as much as I used to. Social interactions became taxing in a way I hadn’t experienced in years. I wanted to wallow and cry and think and cry. My ambitious dreams of thriving evaporated as I was doing my best to simply stay above water.

Not every day was like this. Some days, I burst with energy. I felt like myself. Some days, I managed to wake up and go to 6 a.m. barre class and work and make a healthy lunch and see friends and read. But this storm cloud in my head wouldn’t dissipate, no matter how hard I tried, and my mind became as unpredictable as a rainy summer. Thunderstorms would begin and I’d retreat. A few times, it felt like I was drowning. I confided in my parents and friends and wrote several dramatic blog posts I didn’t (thankfully) publish. I pinned a few too many Sylvia Plath quotes on Pinterest.

Being the internet-reliant person I am, I Googled all of my problems. Google knows more about me than me, I’m sure, which is probably bad. Surely, there must be personal essays and reported features and digestible studies explaining at great length exactly what I was feeling with a bulleted plan on how to feel better accompanied by charming anecdotes. There always is.

Instead, I began to realize that this is life.

I cried to my mom in a public cafe. I curled up in a ball and cried in my bed. I felt so sorry for myself, then berated myself for being such a spoiled brat.

The cliches don’t begin to prepare you. Passive “Welcome to the real world!s” and “You’ll find out life is hards” don’t make you feel better. For me, I’ve found that trying to picture myself staying above water helps. And if I feel blue, like the water is rushing in, I allow myself to feel it. I do the minimum of what I have to do, let myself think, let myself cry, and pick myself back up again in the morning.

One of the reasons I didn’t think it would affect me so much is that I was coming down from an extremely stressful time. My summer has quite honestly been a breeze. I’m working part-time writing, writing some more, and giving myself time to explore hobbies. Or at least, that has been the plan, better achieved some days than others. I wasn’t entering the real world by diving head first into a ramped-up schedule, I was coming down from one. It took this to make me realize that I thrive on stress and busy schedules.

Taffy Brodesser-Akner, prolific profile writer, author and from what I sense in her stories and interviews and Twitter feed, generally awesome person, wrote about her hectic schedule for Real Simple. The essay is titled, “Stress Tips: How Taffy Brodesser-Akner Thrives On Stress.” How refreshing. She writes about how everywhere she turns, writers and women and life coaches are telling her to be more mindful, more relaxed, do less, stress less. Be calm. But she doesn’t really want to. She accomplishes a lot, manages to be a good mother, daughter, wife, and “okay sister.” Not to be morbid, but busyness distracts us from the void.

Brodesser-Akner begins the story with an anecdote from her yoga class, in which her beautiful teacher tells her to leave her thoughts at the door, in that way all extremely fit yoga teachers attempt to inspire with their inspirational speeches and bizarre breathing techniques.

“In the middle, she’ll comment on the fact that, by now, our thoughts, which were left at the door for us to pick up on the way out, may have crept back into the studio. She says to regard them like clouds passing by in the chyron of my brain, nothing to be addressed or absorbed.

We make eye contact when she says this. I narrow my eyes slightly and purse my lips and nod thoughtfully, and I wonder what she would do if she knew what was going on in my cloudy-sky mind right now. I wonder what she would do if she knew I had no intention of stopping my thoughts. I wonder what she would do if she knew about my thoughts about my thoughts—how I was thinking these thoughts about thoughts when they were supposed to be drifting away like clouds. I think if she knew, the roof would blow off this entire purple studio,” Brodesser-Akner writes.

I know we’re all told that overthinking is a curse. I know that we’re supposed to stomp these thoughts out of our brains by picturing literal stop signs. I know we’re supposed to be cool and chill, and there is absolutely something to be said for that and its capacity to make you a more enjoyable person to be around in general, but I’ve had very few memorable conversations with people while being chill. The thought-provoking conversations, the one that have you hanging on the other speaker’s words and eagerly awaiting your chance to share yours, don’t happen while blocking your thoughts. They happen when you’re honest, and when you’re thinking. Some might even say when you’re thinking a lot, over the normal amount.

Perhaps those two thoughts, post-grad depression and overthinking, seem a little unrelated. But I’d argue that while I was in school, I found a sort of busy recipe that kept me sane. It kept me busy and stressed and unable to answer all of my text messages at a reasonable time, but it also kept me happy and fulfilled.

I’m looking for a full-time job. I’m trying to write those books. I’m trying to read those books. I’m still trying embroidery and hiking and running and thinking. But I’m also trying to give myself a break, ride the (currently very tumultous) waves of life. Despite the storm clouds, this has been my best summer yet. It’s a time of transformation, I suppose, to borrow another cliche. But what isn’t?

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