Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Now What? Depression at Graduation (Or Any Transition)

diploma.jpgI read somewhere that a large number of Nobel Prize winners become depressed after receiving their honor because their sense of purpose has been taken away. They have to grieve their pre-Nobel Prize life and find a new way of being, something to get excited about that will get you out of bed in the morning.

The same is true, to some extent, when you graduate. With Commencement often comes an emptiness, a sense of loss. Much joy and relief, yes. But also a “what the hell do I do now?” response. For highly sensitive persons like myself, every kind of life transition–be it graduation, a new job, a baby–comes with a few challenges and their offspring. How to gracefully maneuver between point A and point B? Like you would with any other mourning process. Because you are, in essence, grieving a kind of life-style. Even though there is no funeral involved, it’s helpful to process the stages of grief.


Here are the five steps.

1. Denial.

Get in front of the mirror and say: “Dude, the marriage-job-career-relationship-scholarship has just expired. You are not allowed back there, and if you try it, you will end up feeling worse than you do right now. Alas, there is a land full of opportunity waiting for you … a life you didn’t know existed. For real. I swear.”

2. Anger.

In her blog post, “Mad as Hell,” therapist Elvira Aletta writes, “Anger is a good, natural, healthy reaction to anything that can, or has, hurt us. Turned inward, anger can fester into depression or anxiety. Anger denied has a nasty way of finding expression despite our best effort to suppress it, indirectly in passive-aggressive behavior, cynicism, sarcasm or cold, silent hostility.” So I say. Be mad. Just try to get over it after, say, two years.


3. Bargaining.

My daughter is a natural at this one. “What’s for dessert?” “Nothing until you eat your green beans.” “How many do I have to eat to get dessert?” “At least five.” “How about three?” I can see her, as a college graduate, striking a deal with the dean. “Five more months of free housing, no classes?” The thing about bargaining is that it sets you up for reality. It’s like a practice rehearsal for your new life.

4. Depression.

Now here’s a topic I know nothing about. (Kidding.) How to process depression? Gosh. It depends on the type, the severity, the duration. For mild and moderate depression, some mindfulness exercises and aerobic work outs will go a long way. If you’ve fallen into your cereal bowl like I did a few mornings back when I was suicidal, I’d say you’d be prudent to go visit a professional who can hopefully get you on a medication combination that will allow you to do the other important steps to recovery.


5. Acceptance.

Contrary to popular opinion, acceptance doesn’t always feel comfortable. In the beginning it can even hurt or feel awkward. But if you stay with it anyway, it grows on you and starts to fit you perfectly, like a worn sweater.

Illustration by School Discovery Education.

Click here to subscribe to Beyond Blue and click here to follow Therese on Twitter and click here to join Group Beyond Blue, a depression support group. Now stop clicking.

  • Renata

    I wish you all the best in life, you deserve it. I wish you good, positive, happy, hopeful, loving, funny and fun, and sunlit thoughts and good times, hopefulness, mercy, peace, and joy…. We reap as we sow, and you have helped me and countless others as we walk through the valley of the shadow, but we are walking into the light together.
    God bless you, my dear. May your summer be wonderful and sunny and fun and may you keep on keeping on! And, thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything you do!

  • skylark

    Oh that this would only happen when the BIG events occur. For true
    depressives EVERY event that involves change can be agony. It doesn’t
    have to be that major an event. For example, I am going to have to
    change grocery stores because the one I have shopped for over 20 years has closed suddenly. That means driving over 12 miles to find
    another as good…in all kinds of weather, etc. See?! Already I am
    envisioning bad weather…and it is very nice summer day today as I
    make my first trip over. The problems are just beginning,along with
    the dread of how to find where everything is in the new store, get the idea of how this all progresses…we are just different from
    other people..and must recognize and live with that…and figure how
    to survive dragging that 50 lb concrete block tied to your foot
    everywhere you go. Good luck to us!!

  • Tom Stern

    great suggestions.
    Love your folksy approach to this subject.
    I would really like to help you reach a broader audience.
    YOU DESERVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Jeanne

    Great post, Therese, as always. You never fail to give me something that will help me. As I drink my first cup of coffee and turn on the computer to my email, the first thing I look for is “Beyond Blue.”
    Thank you a million times. I hope you are still feeling better and that you and your family will have a good summer.

  • Rasa

    If I was able to I would send this to my daughter and introduce her to you. She has been the shining star working at her college and gong to school full time but has run into problems with blackouts and what happened during those times. Enough to worry about with our rich family history of Depression, Bii Polar and Etoh abuse(generations). She is in denial big time but suppossedly is getting help. She needs to know there are ways so that you can live without re inventing the wheel. But maybe not. I would e-mail this to her but she would just delete it at this point. Maybe some day I will. Thanks. Your work is needed and will be needed more and more as the “second generation” of mental illness sucess come to adulthood!!!!

  • Claire

    Thank you! My daughter is named after St. Therese. I believe god comes to us in strange ways. Your site offers me great peace. Be still and know that I am, always rings in my mind.

  • Graduate’s Mom

    Your article on Graduation is so true. But on the flip side, how about the mom’s of the graduate? 2 years ago my youngest child (my daughter) graduated from high school. I was so depressed and cryed the entire day. I mean sobbing tears, mainly in private. I spent weeks feeling as though someone died. We had spent so much time together for so long and now she was going off to college. I wondered if other mom’s felt as I did. Your article makes so much since. Thank you,

  • Lisa

    I’m going through a sad transition. My mom just had a stroke and though she’s back from the hospital and in her own home she has lost much of her ability to remember and use language. I’m doing my best to be with her day to day but it is becoming hard for me to cope. I am the caregiver and have always been in my family and yet I need help but my mom refuses outside help. A lot of sadness has been welling up in me from past memories and yet I have to keep strong for her. In addition the legal aspects of her estate, etc. haven’t been taken care of so that is on my mind. I have a daily routine that includes exercise and meditation that has been disrupted and though I know the importance of self-care it’s hard to stay balanced when she needs so much of my time. Any prayers are greatly appreciated, thanks and God bless you all.

  • Jim

    Your blog is a blessing in my life now that a good friend put me on the path to find you. Graduation for my daughter from college and my son from 8th grade both dropped me into a depressive cycle (I am a rapid cycler bi-polar sufferer), that took a long time to snap out of. Thank you for providing such powerful information, and I too look forward to seeing Beyond Blue in my email. You’re wonderful, and I hope that you continue to cope with your disorder.

  • Marie

    After two years of graduate school, finishing with a 4.0, you would think I would be celebrating but I feel like I just lost my best friend. This post couldn’t have come at a better time!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment JiLLB

    This is, once again, fabulous Terese! I never thought about it in those terms and it’s a great insight. When I was in college, I was successful – invited and joined 2 honor societies, gradated cum laude, got a “A” in the most difficult class in my major… That was in 1994. The bottom does fall out from under you when you graduate. Well heck, what do I do NOW?? I knew how to do school, but this “real world” thing… well, I’m not sure what this is about and how to ‘do’ it.

    I worked for several years and was pretty successful there, too. But then the depression/bipolar hit and all I can feel is failure. I’m not sure what to do with this. Up until 2001, I had figured things out – married, a homeowner, successful career. Now, all I feel is faiulre.

    What a great article, Terese. It came just at the right time (as usual) and offered me insight I never had before. Thanks!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment I’m Sad Too

    To Graduate’s Mom – I could have written your post. My daughter just finished her first year of college and while I am happy she is happy and successful I am still in deep mourning because although she is living at home for the summer she is so grown up now the closeness we had is only at a subtle level because she is off and running all the time. As well, I cannot take Therese’s suggestions of exercise due to chronic fatigue and I can’t take meds. Anybody, any suggestions?

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