What No One Tells You About Post-Grad Depression:
I graduated with my M.F.A about… eight months ago? Yet, only just now am I starting to feel a release.
The thing no one tells you about post-grad life is that you’re about to be really, really sad. I feel as though there’s this race to the finish line: graduate early if you can, go to grad school right away, don’t waste time, just one more project, one more test, once you’re done you’re done and that’s it. Aren’t you so excited? Shouldn’t I have been more excited?
When I was in undergrad, I thrived. I loved every moment of being in school, and when I graduated from Lycoming, yes, there was a sadness. I didn’t want it to be over, but I think in the back of my head I always knew it wasn’t really over. I had New York. I was moving. I was going to Hofstra. I was still a student. Then I went to graduate school and felt every bit of that joy over again. Sure, it was different, but again the common denominator was I was a student.
I was coming in first in that race. I did everything by the book exactly as I planned. I went to my dream school. I graduated with my degree. I got another degree. I wrote a manuscript. People believed in the manuscript. I had achieved every goal I set for myself. So why was it, that summer after Hofstra, did I feel so sad? Why did I feel so alone?
Once I graduated, that built-over-six-years identity was lost.
I had no idea who I was without being a student. I had shifted every priority of mine to be focused on school. To me, it was formula: get the degree, get published. Then, when I actually started putting my work out there and was receiving rejection after rejection I realized the thing that school had given me that I was now missing: gratification and self-esteem.
Self-esteem is something that every person is after. What is different though is what brings you self-esteem, and for me that was school. I loved going back to my dorm or apartment and writing something smashing; a new poem, a short story draft. I would build up this feeling inside of myself for the upcoming workshop. I loved when people would read my work and give me feedback; I lived for the criticism. I gained a ton of self-esteem from going over my work and having others read it, even if they didn’t like it. At least they were reading it.
Then I was alone.
No professors. No classes. No workshop. I spent a long, long time feeling so sorry for myself and complaining about university and what it does to you and I was even questioning if it was all even worth it. Hey, I wasn’t getting published! Wasn’t that the point?
This past Christmas I really had to self-evaluate what was important to me. I wasn’t about to spend this new year as sad as I was after graduating. When I did that reflection, this is what I found.
1.) You can get self-esteem from other places. You can also find that within yourself. You don’t have to rely on others to bring you that.
2.) Just because the Kenyon Review rejected you doesn’t mean everyone is rejecting you.
3.) Gratification is a tricky thing. Do not go searching for it to fill the void. It is temporary at best.
4.) Do what you love for the sake of loving it. Study things for the sake of studying them. Learn to learn. You do not need a classroom in order to do that.
5.) You ARE a writer. You’re not studying to write. You’re not learning to write. You are a writer and that’s it.
6.) It’s okay to be sad about shit. Take it in, sink down, then grow up.
These are the things no one tells you. So if you are about to graduate, get ready. If you have already, please find solace in my realizations. Don’t spend as much time as I did being sad. I’d hate to throw in a cliche and really dive deep into a corny saying but: it’s not the end, it’s just the beginning. Reinvent yourself if you have to. Find joy in things that don’t need someone else’s stamp of approval. Love yourself and what you do and let that be enough.