Update (June 25, 2018): Grateful to the Globe and Mail for giving me the space to tell my story. Read it here.
I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, most likely because past resolutions have never managed to hold up for longer than a few months. Take 2012 for example, when I vowed to hit the gym thrice a week as not to fall victim to the Freshman 15. Equipped with a membership in hand, trendy new running gear, and a YouTube playlist of “10 min abs workout” videos, I lasted a month before a snowstorm hit Montreal, and lost all motivation to go outdoors. But 2016 has been a milestone year for me, full of the highest highs and unexpected lows, and I’ve committed to a new resolution.
Last Spring, I graduated from college, and eager to make my mark on the world, I shifted immediately from full-time student to career professional. I was giddy to start at my dream job, packed my bags, and jetted off to Geneva. I had been told by my peers and alumni of the newfound freedom, and unlimited opportunities awaiting upon graduating. All the logic, reasoning, and Buzzfeed articles told me I should be happy to be done with undergrad and excited about starting a new adventure with no exams to cram for, no lab reports to write up, and a positive balance in my chequing account (finally).
Unfortunately, logic did not allow me to account for the surprisingly long list of things I would come to miss about college. I missed the structure and routine of school, easily validating my self-worth through percentages and GPAs, and the dynamism of a bustling, communal campus. Most of all, I missed my friends who – once a brisk walk away to take on a multitude of roles including study buddies, confidantes, and occasionally beer pong partners – were now scattered all over the world. It was a shocking, unexpected transition accompanied by sadness, fear, and confusion. I wasn’t prepared. I had been thrown into a new chapter with an unfamiliar narrative, and my coping mechanism of choice was wrapping myself in a thick blanket of denial and throwing myself into work.
To preface, I’ve always been a highly positive person. As a child, the number of times I’ve been described as “happy” by teachers on report cards is in the double-digits; which worried my parents endlessly as happiness wouldn’t help with my college apps. The negativity in my life has always been fleeting. Which made it all the more overwhelming when September rolled around and I still felt a jumble of sadness, confusion, frustration, and loneliness. When coworkers, my family, and my friends began a conversation with the standard “How are you?”, I noticed the script was always the same, an automatic reply of “I’m good!” Those two words became a mantra, a defensive challenge to others and to myself because why would I be anything else but “good”? I had graduated with honours, had supportive friends and family, an exciting job, a stable income, the list went on. Logic dictated that I should be happy. In reality, I was depressed.
I thought I understood mental health. I have witnessed close friends battle through anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. But when I found myself on the other side of the fence, I struggled to acknowledge and make sense of what didn’t make sense. The difficulty in addressing mental health is not only the stigma associated, but also how to put into words what can’t be easily defined – how do I get help for what I can’t explain? What do I do when logic tells me one thing and my mind tells me another? If I ignore these feelings, they’ll go away eventually… right?
I wish I could say that I found a magical solution to my “post-college depression”, because if I had, you can bet that I would be writing an instruction manual on it. For me, recovery started with being honest with myself and others. When I began acknowledging my off-days by responding to the “How are you?”s with “Could be better”s, I found myself surrounded by friends, family, and coworkers who were eager to lend their support, whether by offering an ear to chatter off, their advice and thoughts, or just a great big hug. Honesty has been the catalyst to many therapeutic, existential conversations with friends which have brought to light that I am not alone – other college grads are struggling with the transition from full-time student to full-fledged adult as I am. And there is both comfort and hope in finding commonality amongst others.
My resolution this year is tangible. I toyed around with resolving to be honest, but there is no accountability in the abstract and unmeasurable. Instead, I resolve that when someone starts a conversation with “How are you?”, I will let them know how I am, whether good or bad, irritated or elated, positive or negative. Starting this year, I’m no longer sticking to the script. This is my New
Year’s life resolution, and one that I will be keeping.