I 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.