I do this thing when I’m panicked where I let out bursts of breathy exclamations of horror. A guttural sort of grunt that somehow embodies the whole of my angst. Sometimes I open the front door of my house, proceed to the kitchen, greet my roommate and then we scream together — because we’re arts majors and theres a lot to be angsty about in the world. Other times I just repeat the phrase “I’m panicking” over and over at increasing volume. Recently I’ve been expressing both of these tendencies at a more frequent rate. *Feel free to interject said coping mechanisms wherever fitting whilst reading the following*
Today is Wednesday. It is the second week of my last semester at WSU. Three years has flown by. I know that everyone says that — “watch out, you’ll be surprised how fast it goes” and then you respond with a snarky comment about how you wish it was quicker and you roll your eyes because they don’t know what they’re talking about.
But then you’re here. Senior year. Things are getting real. People are starting to ask about graduate school and post-graduate life and you’re thinking to yourself about all of the risks you would have taken and all the things you should have said in your three years (and maybe some things that you should have kept secret) and all the opportunities you’ve wasted working forty hours a week while masquerading as a student and then the panic settles in. Maybe its in the morning when you’re getting ready for class and you start to think to yourself about how pointless all of this is anyway because by the time you leave with a $50,000 piece of parchment (framed, if you want to fork up another couple hundred) all of the places you want to work will require you to have ten years of experience, fifteen letters of recommendation from a multitude of different sources – mostly within the industry, and professors don’t count — and they’ll require you to move across the country and rent a place with money that you can’t possibly have because you’ve just spent the past four years of your life growing ulcers and having panic attacks every day over a degree that basically qualifies you to work at McDonalds (not that you can’t work at McDonalds if that’s your dream career – do you Boo Boo). Or maybe the panic attacks hit at night, when you’re laying in your bed and your roommate has just been talking about their STEM degree and job security and you’re an arts major and you keep hearing the snickering in your head as you recite the timeless joke “oh, so basically you’re studying unemployment,” but you don’t feel like faking a laugh that signals that you’re really okay with everything that’s just been said and it actually isn’t causing a sudden outburst of perspiration, instead you just lay in bed and shiver because you’re dead inside and even when you did everything you could to secure a future for yourself, you’ll still be called lazy and trashy and incapable because you’re a millennial and its fun to blame things on millennials, right?
Suddenly its year four, you’re here, you did it. Congratulations! You worked hard for this. Your family will be the first to reassure you of that, which is especially nice when you’re extra panicked because you got a Creative Writing degree instead of an accounting degree, but what happens now?
You could just be like me and wander campus in your Canadian tuxedo with bare feet. Stare at the sunsets for too long, until you’re on the flats alone and its cold. Make puns in your head and laugh quietly to yourself. Stay up reading books into the wee hours of the night. Drink coffee at 11pm, cause you’re not sleeping anyway.
It’s all really quite overwhelming.
I came to Washington State University in the summer of 2014. I still had a twang from my life in the southwest, I had some crazy bangs (affectionately dubbed my ba-bangs), wore lots of bright colors and had absolutely no idea what I wanted. I guess I had a vague idea, but college wrecked me.
Now, in the homestretch, with three months to go I’ve been feeling some type of way. While I’m stoked to finish my degree, I’m having anxiety attacks pretty regularly — it feels like my heart is pounding a million miles an hour, my ADHD is flaring up at an impossible-to-participate-in-class way, and my mind is constantly racing through “what if” scenarios.
I worked really hard in college. I came in as a Journalism major but am leaving with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing, two minors in Media Production and Comparative Ethnic Studies, and a certificate in Editing and Publishing. I stayed in the Honors College for my whole undergraduate career, managed a pretty solid GPA, nothing spectacular, but enough to signify that I tried. I have a master’s level thesis to present for my undergraduate, and I have been abroad every summer of my collegiate career. I was the president of the END IT Movement branch here on campus, have managed four-five jobs consistently while enrolled full time, have been a student ambassador, representative, speaker. I’d say I basically crushed this whole college thing, so why am I feeling so overwhelmed by the lack of prospects ahead of me?
For the first time, I am scared. I’ve always been the first to face a challenge. To jump into new waters, test the ropes, adventure. I don’t often get scared, of anything. I get curious. I mean, that’s where this whole corner of the internet was born — “wonderlust,” a word I made up to articulate my curiosity of the world in the most potent way possible. The world is a small place, despite how big we make it seem. It’s all interconnected. We’re the same in America as we are in South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia — we all bleed the same color, are made of the same stuff, but we forget that when we let ourselves become the most significant players in our stories. I think that’s where the anxiety comes from. Not from the world being a big place, or necessarily the lack of opportunity, but rather the crazy amount of opportunities we have if we have the courage to take them.
When I lie in bed at night and panic and think about how broken our world has become, I think about Jesus. I think about how hard this whole graduation thing is. I think about how difficult it is to be twenty and have society expect you to have the responsibilities of a forty year old while treating you like a delinquent. I think about how easy it is to be distracted by how big we make things. I think about how hard it is to settle my nerves when my mind is racing.
And then I breathe. Because I have let comparison become the thief of my joy.
A few months ago I repainted our living room coffee table to have a chalkboard surface. When our friends come over I ask them to write little notes on the tabletop, and I write bible verses and quotes that inspire me (and sometimes draw pictures of sharks and stuff). One of my friends came over and we went for a walk and when we got back to my house I asked him to write a note so he grabbed a piece of chalk and hovered over the table for a minute before inscribing my initials on the black surface. “A.J.” The J underneath the A so that he had the space for a small acrostic.
“You’re most yourself when you’re joyful,” he said.
And I smiled and laughed, and said “oh really” and then made some joke about how my thesis was sucking my joy and motioned to all the books strewn across the opposite end of the table.
“I’m serious,” he said. “You’re joyful.” And he didn’t laugh about my snarky comment, just reiterated the words before he left.
I cried as soon as I shut the door behind him.
Because I knew it was true, but I hadn’t felt joyful recently. I used to be the happy girl, and then I was the depressed girl, and then I was just the outraged girl, but I was always the truest form of myself when I was the joyful one. Because joy isn’t temporary. Joy is a force so much deeper than momentary elation. Joy is about contentment. Joy is about a hope that is bigger than yourself. Joy is faith in something more permanent than the brokenness that plagues our world.
Joy is a gift.
In the midst of decision making and future-planning, it is hard to feel joyful. It is especially hard to feel joyful when there is so much sadness in our nation, and the world at large (something I have a lot to say about, but will spare you for the sake of word count in this post).
I’m finding it hard to feel joyful when its not natural. I am finding that anxiety is a disease that spreads through me quicker than I can diagnose it. I am finding that while this whole college thing is coming to a close and my world seems to be expanding bigger than I can comprehend and shrinking until it suffocates me all at once, there is one thing that I can cling to: joy.
Joy is the comfort of knowing that while everything is falling apart and spiraling out of control there is a force that roots you deeper than your fears.
“Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift my spirit.” -Psalm 86:4