The Ugly Truth: Depression, Anxiety, and Being a Young Twenty-Something

Hello again, blog buddies! Long time no see.

You may have noticed my sudden leave of absence from the blogosphere over the past few months. In fact, many of you have asked what happened! No, no — I didn’t fall of the face of the Earth, nor did I become a full-time Disney princess (I’m sorry to report). I’ve had a lot going on in my life, and today I’m going to tell you about it in what is perhaps the most vulnerable post I’ve ever written. It’s a little wordy and not exactly the happiest of topics. In fact, it’s probably not for all readers. But like a lot of difficult and scary things, it’s also worthwhile.

Alright, here we go. It all began in May of 2014.

Graduation

Such simpler times!

As many of you know, I graduated from college and started working full-time the summer of 2014. Things seemed pretty good at the time! I had a fun job and a swanky, non-roach-infested apartment. To me, it was the perfect first step into the “adult” world. It seems so silly, but at the time I just knew that nothing would ever change. For a while, nothing did. At first, the transition from student to staff had seemed seamless. But over the next few months, I slowly realized that — much to my surprise — everything about my life had changed.

All of my friends had moved away to pursue new jobs, many in exciting cities across the country. My boyfriend and best friend in the world had moved nearly forty-five minutes away. My relationship with my college roommate struggled under the pressure of new responsibilities. But worst of all, I had lost my sense of self — I was no longer a student. In just one day, I had lost the single largest piece of my identity. I knew how to be a student. I was good at being a student! But for the first time in 22 years, my life wasn’t scripted anymore. I was terrified and pretty much alone.

I tried to use my budding career as a crutch, but even the excitement of my first full-time job couldn’t hold my world together. In time, the best job turns into work because careers are a source of income, not a source of purpose. Of course, six months ago that seemed so backwards to me. In college, your future career is everything — what you study for, work for, train for. It is a picture of all that you were and hope to be, in a way. Unsatisfied at work, lonely, and confused about my purpose, I became depressed and anxious. I resigned from the museum and moved home in December to be closer to my caring family and wonderfully patient boyfriend.

In short, I lost it. Yes, I had a mental breakdown.

If you know me, you know that I’m a strong type-A personality. As Boromir would say, one does not simply lose control. So when my parents suggested counseling, I wasn’t exactly thrilled. “How did I get here?” I asked myself. “I’m not crazy. Why can’t I just be stronger?” The anxiety compounded day after day as I tried to “fix myself”. Defeated and utterly at a loss, I conceded. I saw a counselor. For weeks I told no one but my parents and boyfriend. The stigma of counseling isn’t something you can easily shake off, and I reluctantly opened up to my friends one by one. Much to my surprise, many of them had seen or considered seeing someone as well. It was a huge eye-opener, for sure!

Looking back, I realize that counseling is a good, good thing. It’s not for the insane or the weak. Counseling is actually for the brave. In America, acknowledging a need for help is often considered a sign of weakness. In reality, this is one of the bravest types of courage there is. Even to this day, I still get embarrassed when I talk about counseling. What will people say about me? Will they think I’m a total nut job?

Even though I am still embarrassed, I am trying to be braver.

Counseling was one of the best decisions I ever could have made, but it could not provide me with purpose. Now during these dark months, I used to break down in tears almost daily. I was completely overwhelmed with my life, which was nothing like I expected it to be. I began praying more. Read the Bible more. Opened up to friends more. I have always called myself a Christian, though I would not describe myself as an outspoken evangelical. But today I will proudly tell you that God single-handedly met all of my needs and took care of me from start to finish. Not my counselor, not my parents, and not my boyfriend — God.

He gave me an identity. Soothed my anxiety. Led me to the right job at the right time. Gave me the support I needed during some horrible and somber times. I am not a religious blogger, and you likely will not see more spiritual soliloquies on my blog after today. But to deny God his role in this story is an injustice, my friends. He kept his promises and used every ounce of pain to bring beautiful changes in my life, but it wasn’t easy.

Trying to sort out the pieces of my life consumed all of my time. I stopped working on my sequel, quit writing blog posts, jumped ship on social media. The idea of simply existing was so foreign to me. Until a few months ago, I never realized that just living is a full-time gig — even without all of the senseless clutter we use to fill our time. I had to learn to enjoy (not tolerate) time alone. Actually, I’m still learning! I put everything on hold because I needed that time for myself. I still do.

But things did get better.

Gov

Doing cool things at my cool job — like meeting the governor!

Thank God my life has made a 180! I have a new job that provides plenty of work and exciting opportunities (like meeting the governor!). I have rekindled old friendships and started new ones. Traveled to new cities. Spent time with family. Ultimately proved to myself that life goes on post-degree. Looking back, it is so easy to blame my circumstances. I could tell you that my job wasn’t exciting enough, that my apartment wasn’t big enough. That if I’d only had a master’s degree or more friends or a husband or a higher salary or a puppy things would have been alright.

But that just isn’t true, friends.

Everyone is struggling in some way — yes, everyone. In a world of non-stop Tweets and retouched Instagram pics, struggle isn’t something we’re used to seeing. After moving home I’ve bumped into a lot of old friends, and over the past month, where I’ve heard “You seem like you’re so successful on Facebook!” far too many times. Social media is so deceiving, and that’s one reason why I had to write this post. Everyone can see my accomplishments, yet so few see beyond that. It breaks my heart to think that someone who is battling loneliness or is unhappy at work might be intimidated by the way my life appears online.

This brings up a good question: why am I telling you all of this? It isn’t because I like attention or airing out my dirty laundry. It isn’t for the page views or Facebook likes. It isn’t even for myself, really. Inspired by the honesty of fellow blogger Sara Rowe, I wanted to open up with you today because I wish someone had been honest with me six months ago. By talking with my friends and family, I see now that countless others have struggled with and before me when entering the “real world.” The worst part is, no one talks about it. If we’re truly honest, being a young twenty-something isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be on TV — gobs of friends, a flourishing social life, true love, and a swanky apartment in the city. With social media, our lives are on display. It is so easy to get swept away in the comparison game.

But your life isn’t supposed to match someone else’s highlights reel.

This profile pic was taken just after a lovely cry-fest, but online you'd only see a perfect couple pic.

This profile pic was taken just after a lovely cry-fest, but online you’d only see a happy couple.

Shakespeare once wrote that “The root of all heartache is expectation.” Life is a game of expectations, and I was utterly unprepared for the unpredictability of being a young adult. I decided to be honest about what’s been going on in my life because I think we could all use a little more transparency. Six months ago, I thought I was completely alone — that I was the only one clueless and unsatisfied. This post isn’t a doom-and-gloom rant about the unsolvable human condition. In the end, it’s a story of hope and strength, to tell you that things will get better. I am so much happier today than I could have imagined six months ago, but I don’t ever want to forget the pain that brought me here. Author Joan Didion sums it up well:

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”

Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

If you’re a struggling young twenty-something, have faith. Pray to God. Seek counsel in good friends. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Get rid of social media if you need to, and learn to find happiness outside of others. Build a version of yourself that you are happy with, and never compare yourself to others. This post has been difficult to share, but if it offers even a shred of peace to one person, then it was worth the embarrassment and worry over what others will think. There is a raw vulnerability in every story worth telling. Like a fire-breathing dragon, you cannot be your own hero without conquering darkness.

I will close with one of my favorite quotes.

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Neil Gaiman, Coraline

P.S. This post is dedicated to my unbelievably supportive parents, my patient and ever-loving (plus devilishly handsome) boyfriend, and a whole slew of friends who had and have my back.

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4 thoughts on “The Ugly Truth: Depression, Anxiety, and Being a Young Twenty-Something

  1. No one tells you how unpredictable life can be when you’re in the last couple of years of high school and when you’re at university/college. I don’t think life is meant to go to plan in every minute detail as it won’t be a fun journey if it did! I hope you’re doing much better now 🙂

  2. Hi Laura, as a fellow PW alum and Oxford traveler, I am very proud of you and thankful for your honesty and transparency. To acknowledge the pain, to be vulnerable, is to be strong in the hardest of ways. Jesus said blessed are those who weep, who mourn, who are broken in spirit. There is a wisdom and sympathy that comes from the exceeding pain and despair of depression. You are a wonderful person, and enduring this terrible trial will make you an even better person and, incidentally, add even more depth to your writing.
    Speaking as someone with a Masters of Professional Writing (you mentioned a masters as something you thought you might lack), I can echo your words that the titles and jobs don’t define or satisfy you.
    I struggled with depression in undergrad, but I had a couple breakdowns in graduate school. Some were stress and career related, but most were redshirted to deaths and mental illness of loved ones. I finally started going to counseling last November, feeling weak and ashamed for needing therapy. But it was exactly what I needed.
    And talking about these issues is what we need. Because we are not alone, but many of us are hurting and think we’re alone.

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