Content warning: this article talks about mental illness, specifically referring to subjects which may trigger those with anxiety, OCD, depression and dermatillomania.
For years before University begins, parents, teachers, family members and anybody in higher education tries to prepare you for ‘the best three years of your life’. Sharing anecdotes of drunken antics, the horrors of communal living and how they met their best friends for life; it all sounded so exciting and nerve-wracking. But the nerves are soothed with a healthy dose of advice and preparation from everybody you meet that’s been there and got their t-shirt. However, as somebody who has recently finished her degree, one thing that was never mentioned throughout these anecdotes and words of advice was the preparation for the end of university.
As somebody who has persistently struggled with her mental health, being diagnosed with depression, anxiety and OCD when I was around 16, University was of course an incredibly daunting prospect. However, it was immediately after finishing, saying goodbye to the dear friends I had met, and putting three years of my life into bags and moving back home that I had found the most difficult on my mental health – and I am still suffering today. With that, here are some of the things I have experienced since leaving, with the hope of helping you prepare for the post-graduation blues.
- The sudden disappearance of your support network
One of the main things I have struggled the most to come to terms with since leaving University is the sudden inability to simply step from my bedroom and into my best friend’s for a chinwag, or walk down the road to meet friends for coffee and a much-needed impromptu therapy session. Sitting alone in a bedroom overcrowded with university mementos and the daunting prospects of having to face the big bad world felt like the floor beneath me had just vanished; spiralling downwards into an empty void, only to scream and have nobody reply. Of course, you might be thinking: ‘the internet exists, Emmy!’ But, for me, the most productive coping mechanism I adopted during my time at university when managing my mental illnesses was through face-to-face conversation. That comforting ability of being able to share all of your worries, fears and anxieties to a dear friend who didn’t even have to say anything, just offer a tight hug, now seems invaluable when they are a few hours and an over-priced train ticket away.
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- Self-doubt becomes your new best friend
So with my closest friends all miles away, who has taken their place? Well in my case it’s been a huge serving of self-doubt and low self-esteem. For anybody, applying for jobs is an often daunting and, dare I say, tedious process. I mean, answering the question ‘why do you want this job?’, just re-written in a billion different ways, over and over again to be constantly rejected is frustrating for all of us. However adding crippling anxiety into the mix soon becomes a melting pot for self-destructive and non-productive thoughts. The constant rejection from jobs I had high hopes for only reaffirms my never-ending anxiety, that despite the degree and ambition maybe I’m not good enough and maybe I never will be. It’s very easy to get caught up in a spiral of unhelpful thoughts that you are not good enough and I’m trying so hard to be rational and less hard on myself every time another rejection email comes through.
- …And boredom becomes your enemy
For me, and sort of hand-in-hand with my reliance on a physical support network, sitting in my own thoughts is one of the worst things I can do when it comes to my mental health – particularly when these thoughts are negative. Therefore, when the sudden shift from writing a 12,000 word dissertation alongside several other essays, to having absolutely no responsibilities happened, I felt unsteady; like a train hurtling at 100mph and then slamming on the breaks. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Where worries about assignments, film theory and word-counts once stood was now empty space, empty space in which my mental illnesses had the freedom and space to fully express themselves. As such, I’ve found myself worrying about the most trivial of things to uncontrollable levels, over-thinking every single interaction I’ve had that day – even with the postman and constantly picking at my fingers until they bleed (the primary way my OCD manifests itself). I’ve starting learning German, writing a Sitcom (my dream job!) and leaving the house when my anxiety will let me, but the thoughts are often unstoppable. Additionally, I almost feel guilty at my lack of elation towards this newfound ‘freedom’ and earning myself a degree. I continually have to remind myself that they are thoughts I cannot control and, by adopting some hobbies, I am only trying my best.
Despite these challenges, every day I am trying to remind myself that these thoughts and feelings are valid and, although they may be difficult to manage at times, having a mental illness is not shameful. I’m also trying to remind myself to be proud of what I have achieved over the past three years, even if it doesn’t feel so significant at times.
If you too are experiencing similar thoughts and feelings, please chat to your GP or seek local support. And above everything else – congratulations on your huge achievement!