It has been two months since I submitted the last work of my grad student life. Frankly, I hadn’t expected this degree to be as difficult as it was to finish, nor for the process of bouncing back from the mental, emotional, and physical strain of grad school to be as long as it is turning out to be. But now that I’ve lounged around my home for two months and still don’t exactly feel ready to get back into the workforce and restart my adult life, my guilt over my current lifestyle is making me really question if I’m truly recharging my strengths through self care or just indulging in sweet, sweet lazy days of childhoods past.
I’ve never been a particularly high energy person. I’m an introvert. Plus I suffer from anxiety. Suffice it to say, big life changes that are the norm in your 20s have been draining rather than exciting for me. I’ve always known that I need a lot of time to myself to recharge, but I never expected to feel ~this~ tired. When I finished grad school I was completely spent. Although school itself was never the difficult part, the stress of living in a new city and away from my family, the uncertainty in my career path, the job of dealing with students as a T.A., etc., etc., etc., threw me into a hole I’d never quite experienced before. I did not finish school feeling ready to take on the world; I finished it wanting to drive to a corner of the world where no one could find me.
Thankfully, when I finished I had the resources and a safety net to allow me to take time off to regroup. I don’t regret the decision to give myself some time to relax and I’m endlessly grateful to my family, especially my poor mother, who has never once questioned my time off and given me everything I need during it. During this time I’ve begun to work out again, I’ve read a few books, I’ve taken long walks and long baths, I’ve gotten to sit and listen to the sound of nature. Without a doubt, self care has helped me to return to my old self.
However, when I finished school, I gave myself a month to do this sort of break from the world. I had planned to start looking for work and return to my adult responsibilities once this month was up. But then the month passed and I knew that I still wasn’t ready. Now two months have passed and, while I submitted my first job application last week, I can’t honestly say that I’d be overjoyed if they called me. In fact, as soon as I pressed ‘send’, I regretted it. I liked the position, but that state that I was in when I just began my break smacked me in the face. I wanted to cry and hide and disappear again. The difference this time was that guilt was weighing on me as well.
I understand that my current lifestyle isn’t sustainable. And as time passes, it is harder and harder to justify it. After all, I’m not exactly suffering from any ailment. Does “tired” count as an ailment? Not unless it’s a symptom of something more serious. Without a clear reason for my prolonged break, I’m beginning to berate myself for my own sloth, even while a part of me understands why I’ve needed it. I’m now internally battling over why I’m failing to launch. The battle makes me anxious, then frustrated, then tired. And therein lies the vicious circle I’ve made for myself.
Regardless of whether or not I feel “ready” for anything, rationally I know that I need to move on and push through the anxiety. I just don’t know when the “push” must happen. If I do it earlier rather than later, am I hurting myself in some way? Is my admonition of myself baseless and I should take advantage of the break that I can afford for myself? Is the idea that we must always toil a logic of an unforgiving capitalist society that cares little for one’s health and happiness, and one that I should be wary of? Or am I just afraid of the next step and hiding behind a wall of excuses? Has my recovery truly crossed into idleness that I just need to snap myself out of?
I’ve no idea how to answer any of these questions. So far, my only solution has been to take minuscule baby steps. As I’d mentioned, I applied for a job I don’t necessarily want. I ordered a pair of “interview” shoes. My portfolio is a mess, but my resume is all right… I don’t love taking these steps and I’d still rather run in the other direction that leads to under my duvet. Every step flares up my anxiety and makes me question my life choices a little more, reminding me that I’ve no idea what I’m doing or why. With every argument in either direction, I can make an equally valid counterargument, leaving me more confused. While I’m fully aware that I’m dealing with maddeningly privileged problems, I’m still searching for some sign, or clue, or answer to help me, in the words of Don Draper, find reassurance that whatever I’m doing is OK, I’m OK.