Changes, Turn and Face the Strange.
In high school we learn how to focus, stay scheduled and task driven, yet when we leave we are suddenly in unfamiliar and unpredictable situations. Change is a daunting thing, especially when we aren’t equipped with the tools and skills to get through it. I felt overwhelmed with change after high school and to my surprise this feeling came back in my last year of university. I chatted to Alannah about her post-high school experience and came to realise our situations were alike.
There is a point in time when we are in between life decisions and looking for where to go next. I think leaving high school would be the first major one. I started looking at this feeling of overwhelm and confusion after school as just a transition. These life transitions would happen again and again - leaving high school, finishing university, job hunting, looking for further education, ending relationships, finding new friendships, being back from traveling, finding a new home and grieving.
Transitions might mean a lot of time spent at home and by oneself. Then anxiety or depression can creep up on us. This can lead to feeling lost or daunted about the future. Figuring out what to do after high school can feel like the loneliest time. I came to realise that if I didn’t work on my own internal negative belief-system, I couldn’t be content with whatever I do. I felt like I had to start facing my childhood trauma, manage my anxiety and challenge my negative self-beliefs. Pinpointing what is messing with positive core-beliefs can make way for finding our own idiosyncratic tools to gain self-awareness. Reading, therapy and talking about my worries became my tools.
Johann Hari, in his book Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions, suggests a list of 7 factors that can contribute to feeling disconnected. Hari outlines nine causes of depression, seven of which relate to a disconnection whilst the other two are biological, such as genes and brain changes.
Meaningful work - does our work provide us with meaning and purpose.
Other people - do we have nurturing connections with people?
Meaningful values - challenging core, negative self-beliefs. Are you seeking happiness from external factors?
Childhood trauma - painful experiences from childhood can affect negative thinking styles. Life events and stress.
Status and respect - do you feel as though you are respected?
The natural world - spending time in nature can benefit mental and physical health.
Hopeful and secure future - accepting where you are at and pushing forward for positive change in the future.
Alannah studied a Bachelor of Communications in Journalism and International Studies in French. Since finishing the degree in November 2017, Alannah has worked in fashion, at FBI Radio and enjoyed a fun snow season whilst working at Thredbo. It’s been a journey from facing the harsh repercussions of the HSC to finding her feet whilst working, traveling and studying. Alannah isn’t sure what’s on the cards next and now just takes opportunities as they come.
Have you ever found yourself in a transition? This can be a time after high school or university where you felt lost.
Yes absolutely. It’s funny you say after high school as an example because this was the lowest point of my life so far. I feel like being so focussed on the HSC for so long, as an ultimate goal, meant that when high school was over, I had no certainty or direction. I lacked the ability to see my worth beyond my grades.
What was happening? What were the next steps you were trying to take?
I remember the period specifically, between finishing the HSC exams, and finding out whether I had been accepted into university. It was a period of limbo, of unknowing and feeling helpless to change your own fate.
Did you find yourself stressed or anxious about the future? If so, what were some obstacles you needed to get through?
At the time I didn’t realise why I was so depressed, I attributed it to other things like family, only in retrospect years later did I realise that those feelings arose from being so stressed about the future. It was a period of learning how to accept myself for who I was, to accept not always being in control, and most importantly that marks and academia does not define success or failure.
What are some reasons you think contributed to being in a bad head space during this time of limbo?
I wish I knew exactly what went so wrong. I’ve spent so much time mulling over what could have contributed to my hospitalisation, but at the end of the day I suppose it was just an unfortunate concoction of many things. From childhood trauma, to an unhealthy lifestyle, to emotionally turbulent teenage hormones.
What are 5 important factors that keep you in a better headspace during this time?
I’m an extrovert so being social and being around friends keeps my feet on the ground and distracts me from overthinking things. There’s thinking and then there’s overthinking, and getting trapped with your own thoughts can be terrifying. Listening to other people’s problems and being there for them. Learning from the past and knowing how to combat unhealthy thoughts and realise c’est la vie. Thinking about all the things happening around the world and being grateful for the life I’ve been given. Spending lots and lots of time in nature, especially looking at the clouds or the stars and remembering how small we really are. Getting enough rest, even though admittedly I do not. And finally not putting so much pressure on myself, at the end of the day I’ve realised that if I’m healthy and happy, I’m winning. Being able to escape in a healthy way. Meaning sometimes when I feel the need to escape, rather than turn to the things that used to give me a sense of release, I find that moving through genres of music is helpful to change my mood.
Where did you end up after the transition?
I ended up scaring myself and my family to death, and was too ashamed to tell anyone else for a really long time. Now I suppose I’m more open about it but it’s still a period of my life I’d like to forget. The thought still scares me. However, you can learn a lot from looking at these transitional periods in hindsight. Even though large changes and transitions can be scary and you can feel like you’re losing grip on your life, I think it would be scarier to change nothing and continue to meander through the same, dull existence every day forever. There are some changes we can’t resist, and although it’s easier said than done, welcoming them is the only way to make the most of them. For those of us lucky enough to come out the other side, to have learnt from our experience, means we are more ready and able to help out others that are going through the same thing.
Written by Matisse Strong
Edited by Samantha Callender
Any information on this blog is not a substitute for professional advice. It is written from personal experience and research only. If you are in crisis, go to your nearest emergency room, call lifeline on 13 11 14 or dial 000.