By Becca Naylor
First of all, I don’t like change.
See “Don’t Let Them Tell You It’s All Right” to understand just how difficult post-graduation life is. I knew transitioning would be difficult for me, and I realized I would have to face adult-y things like bills and job searching and various responsibilities, but one struggle I didn’t foresee is the intense grappling I’ve had with myself over my own identity.
I’ve never not been a student, and until now, I had defined myself by my education status. “I’m in high school,” or “I go to such and such university.” Now, when people ask me about myself I tell them, “I’m a recent graduate.” They continue to look at me like I should say something else. I laugh a little and respond, “That’s really it.” I sound exceedingly boring…and empty.
After graduation I lost my sense of purpose. I no longer had a reason to get up in the morning. I tried to gather the pieces of who I thought I was, but it seemed impossible to make them work together without some kind of adhesive. I didn’t know what held the parts of me together anymore. I’d dealt with anxiety and major depression most of my life, so these feelings weren’t foreign to me, but they had never been so intense before. Rather than dealing with them, I buried my thoughts and feelings and saved them for “later.” I slipped back into old habits that were dangerous and unhealthy, and I told no one.
All the while my mental health was worsening, I was attempting to redefine myself. I wasn’t a student anymore, so who was I? I applied for several jobs a week, continuously lowering my standards, hoping that starting my career would ease my anxiety and bring back my sense of purpose. The problem was I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I decided to deal with that later, too.
I was afraid that this lost feeling, this sense of limbo, was permanent. I know adults who are unhappy with their life choices and feel stuck. I didn’t want that to happen to me, but I was also afraid of not making any decisions at all.
Amidst these struggles, I had lost my motivation to write. I just didn’t want to. I couldn’t see how writing fit into where I was now. I wasn’t reading or enjoying any of my other hobbies. I recognized what was happening to me, but I did nothing. Another issue I saved for “later.”
One day in late June, “later” came. All my anxieties and fears, all my triggers, every doubt I’ve ever had, —all of it—culminated in one day. It was the worst day of my life since a friend of mine died in high school. I had a mild breakdown. When I went to see my doctor, she referred me to a psychiatrist, who I didn’t see until July. He told me that not only was dealing with generalized anxiety and chronic depression, but that I also had bipolar II. I can’t say I was entirely surprised, because I had suspected something else was going on with me. In fact, it shows up in my poetry I’ve written since high school. We discussed my life and my behaviors, and the doctor confirmed that I should be treated for a mood disorder. He prescribed a new medication in addition to my anti-depressant and set me up with a therapist.
At first I thought I had failed in my mission to redefine myself, and that I had to start over. I felt like everything I knew was a lie. I sat on my bed with my cats and thought that these weren’t my cats, this wasn’t my bed, these weren’t my hands, and that I didn’t really know myself at all. But I did. I had just learned something about myself I never knew before. I learned to look at my new diagnosis as a victory. Because of it, I could know myself better. By responding to my emotional, physical, and mental needs, I could take care of myself better.
Some of my motivation is returning. I want to write again. I have dreams and goals and aspirations. My cats help me fight my loneliness. I have a job that I enjoy and look forward to going to.
Although I have a better idea of where I’m going, I’m still not sure of everything. I probably won’t be for a long time. However, I feel less lost now. I’m becoming more comfortable letting the different pieces of my identity rest together in a pile. I can pick one up whenever I like, and it never has to go back in the same place. The various aspects of my personality, my desires, and my goals can coexist together without fitting together just yet. For now, I will let myself be in touch with how I feel rather than burying it. My mental health is my priority. I write when I feel like it. I take advantage of my highs and use them to be productive and creative without veering into unhealthy habits.
I’ve realized it’s okay to live in a state of discovery and change. Now is the time to explore my interests and capabilities. There is no need to lock down on any one thing. There are certainly times in life in which I will feel lost, but it won’t be permanent. Instead, I will allow myself to be open, to evolve, and to keep moving forward.