My life post graduation has been anything but ordinary. I started drinking. Heavily. I gained and lost weight. Rapidly. I thought about ending my life. Some days. I cried. Every day.
I had just graduated from the school of my dreams. I wasn’t at the top of my class. Probably not even the top 30% of it. But I graduated. My degree was real and valid. I went through four years of hard work. I held seven internships over the course of those four years. I put in countless volunteer hours, both on campus and off. I worked three jobs – for a month, all at the same time. I graduated from one of the nation’s top universities with a degree from one of the best Communication and Journalism schools in the world.
My friends noticed before I did. We’d go out to eat and I’d order a drink. Or two. Or three. Before I knew it I was drunk and crying in my bed about how I had amounted to nothing.
We’d go for a walk and they’d comment on how I had stopped taking care of myself: “You’re gaining tons of weight. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” And I was fine. I was also drunk, half the time. My red canteen wasn’t filled with water or PowerAde; it was filled with vodka. Usually UV brand – the neon colored serum in my bright red canteen bottle made a convincing PowerAde.
In a lot of ways, that red canteen became my best friend. It didn’t leave my side very often. I went everywhere with it. I figured out just the right amount to drink to feel good, but not be drunk by the end of the day when it was time to drive home.
I noticed myself spiraling before anyone else noticed. Somehow, thankfully, I had the will to stop.
I stopped drinking. At the same time, I stopped eating.
My diet was suddenly water, coffee, and the occasional bagel from work. My parents noticed my appetite had disappeared when we suddenly had far more leftover dinner than normal. They thought nothing of it. “He’s eating before he comes home,” they’d reassure themselves.
All the while, I kept losing weight. I went from near 200 pounds to 152 in a month. At 6’3”, 152 pounds is scary looking. My clothes stopped fitting. I was a shell of my former self. I overheard someone on the street say I looked like the grim reaper in one of my black shirts that fell off my shoulders like a shawl.
It was scary. Christmas came around and I felt like I had aged seven years in the seven months since graduating. I wondered every day what I had done wrong. My friends were doing so well. Of course, they had gone through a bit of shock after graduation too, but they all seemed to shake it off after about six weeks. Here I was more than six months later and still reeling from it all.
Then, it was like something popped. I had a major anxiety attack just after the New Year, and by February I felt like the weight on my shoulder had been lifted.
What’d I do?
I let go. I stopped thinking about what everyone else was doing. I stopped trying to fit into societal norms. I stopped telling myself, “I have to work here because I need the money.” I stopped punishing myself for wanting to work on my own terms, rather than sitting at a desk all day. I found my light and started working towards it. I saw the light at the edge of the spiral and darted towards it. I fell out of my spiral.
And it feels good.
I’ll never know if it was simply graduation that triggered my spiral. I still suffer from severe anxiety. Some days I can’t get out of bed without thinking about the numerous things on my plate. I drag myself out of bed anyway, cry in the shower, and pretend to be okay through the day. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s something I deal with.
Other anxiety sufferers know that there is no “cure-all” for this ailment, nor is any one person’s fix guaranteed to work for anyone else. I take long walks and listen to loud music. Other people need to sit in a dark room in a ball. But whatever your fix is, use it. Get out of your spiral. Between anxiety and depression, the world can be a pretty dark place. Find your light and everything else will come.