Ever since I graduated, I'd been searching for a sense of direction. I wanted to know if the depression and anxiety I'd felt surrounding my insertion into the real world was a shared experience. As I scanned the shelves at the library, I spotted Post Grad by Caroline Kitchener, Five Women and Their First Year Out of College. The reviews on the back cover seemed to confirm my suspicions. I like to think this book found me.
In May, I graduated with my BFA in Acting and Minor in English from Missouri State University. I held on tight to my university connections for the following two months, staying in town for a job contract. After a trip to St. Louis with my boyfriend, and a girls trip to Vancouver to visit my friend's new home, as she worked towards her PhD, I went back home to live with my parents. I'd decided that living at home would be the best way to save money to put towards my student loans and an eventual move.
Working as a literary intern at the Unicorn Theatre during that time gave me a much needed sense of belonging and purpose in an unstable time. Still, I had a hard time coping with the fact that I was getting paid to wait tables, rather than getting paid to put my degree to use. I knew that I'd chosen to pursue an extremely risky career, but I was completely unprepared for how it would actually feel.That's when Caroline Kitchener's book "Post Grad" hit me. Kitchener explores her story, as well as four of her former classmates' during their first years out of college. There was something so completely terrifying and grounding about learning that five Princeton graduates struggled to find their footings after college, too. These women, all extremely gifted, intelligent, and hardworking, dealt with unmet expectations and discarded plans.
Alex struggled with the rigorous demands of an unfamiliar job and learning how to heal from past emotionally abusive relationships.
Michelle struggled with losing herself in the midst of romantic relationships, and finding her place in a new schoolNot only was I combatting disappointment in myself, I was extremely susceptible to outside judgement and pressure tied to my progress. Throughout my school career, I'd maintained excellent grades, and was known for being a hardworking student. While visiting an old friend's house, I noticed a strange shift that I'd never experienced before: all of my friends were asked about their current and future plans, and I was left out of the conversation. It's was like, because of my career choice, I was no longer given a seat at the table. A similar feeling began to sink in at another gathering a couple weeks later, when I had to defend my career choice and the inconsistency that comes with it, to an old family friend whose children were pursuing terribly practical careers.
What was worse, was that out of the friends I'd graduated with, only four of them hadn't left Missouri. The classmates I'd bonded with and created art with for four years, had moved halfway across the country to L.A., where they were chasing their dreams. I knew that they were feeling just as stressed as I was, if not more so, but it felt like they were taking steps towards their goals, while I was taking steps backwards.
Olivia struggled with financial independence, and carefully masked mental health issues.
Caroline struggled with her strained relationship with her mother, and finding a balance between career and love.
During my time back home, my anxiety reached a level I'd never seen before. I found it hard to feel positively about anything. I cursed the world for giving me students loans with nothing to show for them. I tried my best to bottle up the anxiety about my career and being three hours away from my boyfriend, and only got angrier when my co-workers asked me if I was okay. It'd been a long time since anyone had commented on my anxiety disorder, and it made me all the more uncomfortable knowing that I was extremely emotionally unstable, and could break at any moment. This emotional instability caused uneasiness in my relationship with my parents, and they worried that I was changing for the worst.
Denise struggled with perfectionism, and finding a new religious community.
For all of the women in Kitchener's book, finding a new sense of community during their first year out of college was crucial. A lack of one took tolls on their mental and physical health. Along with finding a new clan, these women needed to learn how to accept themselves and the place they were at, rather than beating themselves up, based on expectations they thought others held them to. Reading about their incredible stories was grounding, much like it was accepting that where I was currently was far from where I wanted to be. For college graduates, the journey has just begun. These women found hope through sharing their struggles with one another, and I've found the same through confiding in my friends. Knowing that we're all on this crazy ride together makes it feel a little less lonely.
My hope is that more people open up about their post grad depression, and bring awareness to an issue that very few people seem to be talking about. If you're interested in learning more about Caroline Kitchener and her book "Post Grad", please visit her website with the link below!https://www.carolinekitchener.com/post-grad