As you will have probably seen all over social media by now, yesterday was the City 2 Surf! It was my first year participating in the run and my colleague (Sienna) and I both ran/walked the course in 2 hours! Feeling #proud and #accomplished. Luck was on our side as the weather was all blue skies and I’m so appreciative of all the volunteers for handing out cups of water/ cheering us on/ providing us live entertainment. Overall, City 2 Surf was such a positive experience and I look forward to taking part next year and many more years to come.
Today I want to write about something that I feel isn’t talked about enough, if at all: post-graduate depression.
I understand this is a heavy topic and taking post #24 about eating disorders into account, I may be giving the impression that I’m seriously troubled. The truth is, I don’t think I’m alone. The truth is, I think there are loads of us experiencing the same sentiment, and a huge part of the problem is how severely under-addressed the issue is by universities, the media, career advisors, high schools, corporations and graduates themselves. So I’m going to start creating rumble about it right f*cking now.
Post-graduate depression is exactly what it sounds like it means; it’s the state of being depressed after graduating from university. In my case, I’ve got one more semester to go before I’m finished with my degree, so I’m not yet a “graduate” but I feel as though the onset of post-graduate depression has struck me early and here’s why…
I was born and raised in Sydney, Australia and fell into this mantra that life is a competition. Brains were always valued over brawn or any sort of artistic creativity so unsurprisingly, excelling academically was the single most important thing in my life. I’ve handpicked some of the most memorable moments in my pursuit of academic excellence for your entertainment:
- In preparation for the Selective Test (a high school entrance exam for academically gifted students), I was forced to complete a bunch of maths, english and general ability work books. On many occasions I would cheat by copying down the solution sets to the quizzes in advance so that I wouldn’t get a beating from my mum. #Cheekymonkeytactics
- Scoring well in the Maths/ English and Science University of New South Wales competitions was of utmost importance. If you performed well, it gave you bragging rights. I remember scoring a Participation (the lowest score possible) for the Science competition and upon breaking this devastating news to my mum, she literally collapsed dramatically on the floor while clutching the back of her neck like she was about to die. I was given silent treatment for the whole night and wasn’t fed dinner properly as punishment.
- To familiarise myself thoroughly with the Selective test exam conditions, I was enrolled in “Trial Selective School Tests” at several tutoring centres. I found one particular exam so incredibly hard that I couldn’t answer 13 questions, so I left 13 bubbles unfilled LOL. Evidently I had shitacular exam technique. I left the exam crying my eyes out, feeling stupid and immensely afraid of how my mum was going to react. As expected I got a whopper of a beating and wasn’t fed dinner that night. I was told to reflect on my stupidity.
- By an utter fluke, I was accepted into James Ruse Agricultural High School where my mum was an extremely active member of the Korean mother’s club (KMC) *big f#cking face palm*. The KMC is a congregation of Korean ahjummah’s gossiping and trading tips on how to ensure your child gets the highest marks for assessments. These ahjummah’s were chronic gossipers and they’d be up to date with all the latest goss which was a big f*cking headache. Particularly if you were the butt of the joke.
- Fast forward to the HSC: I thoroughly enjoyed Visual Arts and Design and Technology, and came first in those subjects too. It was clear that I was artistically talented but I ended up dropping those subjects and choosing Chemistry and 4 unit Maths purely for scaling purposes. #Poorlifechoices
- I became a sheep and followed the Medicine/ Law herd at Ruse. I convinced myself that I wanted to become a doctor, and if that didn’t work out I’d settle for law. I chased these career paths for the prestige and nothing but the prestige.
- The day of HSC results being released: My ATAR score was a little shy from the law cut-off and my world was turned upside down. I couldn’t hack the fact that I didn’t get straight into law so I fell into a deep state of depression, and low self esteem. I rooted my self worth and confidence in my degree, so I tried transferring for two years into USYD law (where I finally am now).
- All that effort for nothing. I shortly found out that my finance major was virtually of no use to me, since I had no interest in pursuing finance, and law degree wasn’t any better.
- I felt stuck, demotivated and I had lost my sense of purpose. I didn’t feel like I excelled in anything and I was miserable with the state of my life. I chased USYD Commerce and Law for the longest time thinking it would make me happy, but in fact it sapped the life out of me. I wasn’t too keen on the pompous arses of our cohort and I wanted to avoid the arrogant high-achievers at all costs.
- I constantly experienced huge waves of regret. I was deeply regretful for being backboneless, and failing to take charge of my situation and change degrees the moment I knew it wasn’t for me. I can’t even count the number of times I researched into taking an architecture or engineering degree! I was deeply regretful about forgoing my artistic passions. I was regretful for chasing a degree based on prestige rather than genuine interest.
- I felt hollow, lost, unfulfilled and severely depressed. This wasn’t how my life was supposed to be. I looked around me and everyone seemed to be coping just fine meanwhile I was in my little row boat, paddling against the turbulent currents of Struggle Sea.
- I didn’t feel like I could relate to anyone because I was a loser. I wasn’t that girl who blitzed my degree, scored a few flashy internships, scored that 6-figure salary graduate job. Having these setbacks meant that I’d be a few steps behind my cohort (why does that matter? It’s my competitive streak surfacing again). My dire circumstances extrapolated into everything. It meant that I wouldn’t be able to buy property, or go on as many holidays as my fellow high-achieving friends. I was only ever told that uni life would be rainbows, unicorns and farts of happiness. But WOW. HOW DIFFERENTLY things turned out!
This is where the problem lies.
‘University is the best few years of your life, enjoy it while it lasts and make the most of it – time goes so fast’ – all examples of a plethora of clichés that potential and current students are constantly blasted with.
As Clare Dyckhoff puts it, it’s true. University can be one of the best experiences of a young person’s life, IF you study a beloved degree for three or four years and make the most of the opportunities offered. It seems like a simple equation for the majority; university plus new friends plus new experiences equals happiness.
But the reality is, we don’t all fall into that equation. Not all of us follow a perfectly linear progression and for a lot of us, things just don’t work out the way we want it to. AND THIS IS OKAY. Being different from the crowd is OKAY and your experiences are precisely what make you unique and interesting.
I’m tired being led to think that life after graduating is flowery and guaranteed success. I’m tired of hearing stories from graduates who landed their job the conventional way. I find these graduates offer little to no hope and inspiration. I want to hear stories from people with slightly unconventional stories, who got to where they are through screwing up the first time and realising that wasn’t what they wanted. I want to hear about the despair and panic you felt having no pans, no idea what to do, being quizzed incessantly about what’s next. I want to hear your story about how you fell into a career because you didn’t know any better and how it kinda sucks having to slave away for the benefit of large corporations. I want to hear your story of how you attained a sense of self actualisation through stripping away the layers of bullsh*t like prestige and pursued something that made you genuinely happy.
These stories are the ones that offer hope and encourage us to believe that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. They’re uplifting and instil glimmers of hope in the group of us who haven’t got it all figured out.
Fast forward to today: I’ve set my mind on going into the tech industry and I’ve begun carving a career in this direction through working for innovative tech companies. Yet I still feel like I’m drifting aimlessly and I can’t help but feel lost at times. But I know this is normal and what I found was extremely helpful to manage my anxiety was confiding in people who had colourful experiences. Confiding in others with similar experiences helped a lot with understanding why I was feeling so down and that in turn help lift my mood.
Hope you enjoyed that folks. Until next time, ciao!