I am one of the lucky college graduates who managed to get a full-time job with benefits within a few months of walking across the stage. In some ways, it was an easy transition—I work at the same place I worked while I was in school, but have gradually taken on more responsibilities and hours.
At the same time, the last few months have been nothing but a huge transition. My fiancée has returned from Afghanistan, I’ve taken on a few more financial responsibilities, and I experienced the strange phenomenon of not having to do any back-to-school shopping. But truthfully, I’m not even close to being done with the transitions. Walter is moving to Seattle in a couple of days, which is exciting but also terrifying. I have my own health insurance now, and have worked out plans with my parents to take on the rest of the bills that they still handle, but sometimes I wonder if I can do it. Once Walter is finished with active duty in February he won’t have a job or health insurance. In May, we’re getting married. And at the moment, we aren’t very clear on where we’ll live after the wedding or where we’ll even be past September.
I work at the Center for Change in Transition Services, a state-needs project funded by the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (yes, that’s a mouthful). The Center works with students in special education who are between the ages of 16-21. In the special education world, these are the ages of transition for young adults, during which schools are legally required to provide specialized instruction that prepares them for the postsecondary world—college, vocational training, employment, or whatever else comes next. The problem is, most young adults don’t know what is coming next. The addition of a disability only complicates matters.
The irony isn’t lost on me. Much of the work I do is to help young adults a few years younger than myself transition into the big scary grown-up world, when half the time I don’t know if I can handle it myself. Many of the students are in special education because they have mental health issues like the ones I have.
Growing up is scary enough for a healthy young adult, but if you throw in the intensity of anxiety, depression, obsession, addiction, etc., it can seem unbearable. To make it worse, many young adults suffer in silence because of the stigma around mental illness or the failure of the adults around them to recognize their distress. And the cherry on top? About three quarters of lifetime mental health issues begin by age 24.
I work with students with disabilities, but the truth is that everyone my age is in transition right now, and transitions are stressful. The post-graduate world is a bit of a grim place, and how are you supposed to figure out what you really want to do anyway? Besides, no matter how many people we have supporting us, what ultimately defines our lives are the choices we make. That's a lot of responsibility.
Scared? You're not alone.