By Temnotfo Mvubu
“I’m struggling” I told her. And she looked at me with a vagueness of emotion. I suppose she too was struggling. With understanding, that is. On the outside I looked okay. I was doing better than most of my peers who I had graduated with. I had a job; financial security and my bills were paid on time. I had even just moved into a big ass apartment and bought two dogs. Pretty made for a twenty-four-year-old, I’ll give you that. But, that’s the thing with on the surface conclusions. They aren’t entirely true. “I am really struggling” I repeated. “I feel like I’m suffocating”. And then, silence again. I was talking to my mother. I had graduated with a degree in Architecture but after job hunting for months with no victorious claim, I eventually settled down into a receptionist job. It was alright. I mean, it reflected well on my bank account and I was learning some pretty neat interpersonal skills, but now eight months in, I was experiencing a sense of misdirection. Day in and day out, I put in the hours and sent out my CV too, but still no luck. I was beginning to drown.
I recall how in the first few weeks of landing this job, I was mad excited. I mean, who doesn’t like a definite stream of income? I revelled in the bliss of finally being financially emancipated from my mother who had single handily raised my siblings and me. This job was a breakthrough and I was amped.
I had always been a closed book of a child growing up, very reserved and perhaps that’s why my post graduate depression went unrecognized for long. I was four months into my 9-5 when I started to feel the water come in. It was as if I had gone to bed one night and woke up the next day tired. No, not a physical tiredness but an emotional one. I had been diagnosed with clinical depression just two years before, stemming from a trauma in my childhood. It should have been easier to see the overgrow of this second bout of depression long before it peeped behind the door, but that wasn’t he case. I didn’t see it coming. No one did until I was standing across my mother in our small cubicle of family house kitchen and uttering the words ‘I’m struggling”. She put down the plate she had been wiping and lay the dish towel over the sink cabinet and moved over to me. “What is it that is stressing you?” she finally asked. And all at once I was flooded with the emotion I had suppressed for months on end. It was as if someone had pulled out the plunger and let the waters run. See, on a positive side, I was doing very well. I was steady building something for myself. I was independent. But, I wasn’t happy. Each day was becoming a fight of having to weed out the negativity of knowing very well that I was a fish out of water in the job I was keeping. And even more so, having to adjust to the reality of job scarcity in Eswatini and dealing with questions about “Wait, you’re qualified in something else, so what are you doing here!?”
I couldn’t find the right words to answer my mothers question. I didn’t know how to tell her that I wanted to quit my job and sit at home without sounding like a spoon fed ungrateful snob. I didn’t know how to express to her that her generation was far too removed from mine so therefore she could never understand what it was like to job hunt in this millennium. So, instead, I looked at her and said “I don’t know what I’m meant to be doing right now.”
I’m an unapologetic believer in the ideology that if a door doesn’t open, then it isn’t yours. Therefore, I wasn’t struggling with the futile job hunt. But rather, what was weighing heavily on me was not knowing if I was evolving into who I was meant to be. My academics had been part of my identity for the longest time and I had excelled at every class, exam and module, then if that wasn’t enough, I had graduated on top of my class. But now I didn’t have that identity anymore. I was another adult trying to make their mark. And the 9-5 had me so discouraged.
I spaced out for a minute as I wandered back to a conversation I had had with a close friend just weeks before. We had been discussing how the environment was favourable for an entrepreneurial boom. He had laughed it off before telling me that not everyone has what it takes to start a business but our peers should consider it nonetheless. The social culture that we were born into had strict guidelines of getting through school and getting a job. But, it had failed to predict the evolving job landscape and had not produced more guidelines on what to do should you hit a wall. We were absolutely unprepared for the don’t call us well call you because according to our standards, we had submitted the thesis and gotten the A’s. We were supposed to graduate and be alright. But we instead became the faces of Mchazeleni. Entrepreneurship had been a subject taught to us just to entertain the system but never really as a means of possible survival. Hence why when we never got shortlisted for the jobs we wanted or when we received emails that started with “we regret to inform you” we felt backed into a corner. A corner of post graduate depression.
We were never entirely ready to build our destiny ourselves because we had grown up around our parents who had never struggled for a job. My mother jumped straight out of class and into an OR so I really didn’t expect her to understand this emptiness I felt in my soul knowing that I wasn’t where I wanted to be. And don’t even get me started on how on the exterior my life seemed alright so therefore I had to keep up appearances of being that way. But now, here I was. 24, Standing in my mother’s kitchen, confessing out loud for the first time that I was struggling and the admittance of my struggle felt like liberation. I didn’t have to put up a front anymore. I didn’t have to justify my withdrawal with lies of “Its’s been a long day at work” or “I’m too busy to hangout” whenever I purposely turned down invitations. I finally had a name for my bogeyman. What I soon discovered after shook me to my core. I learnt that my depression wasn’t a one-man phenomenon, but rather something quite common amongst millennial. So, I began to check on my friends. I started to reach out to others who I felt might be walking in my shoes too. I started to speak out about growth and developed a habit of calling out the negative emotions just so I could put on the positive ones. It was around this time that I bumped into Velefini and told him about the Faces Project. (My blog project that got me recruited into Word!s).
I had conceptualized a written series dedicated to documenting the lives of twenty-somethings in this country. I wanted to give them a voice and a space to encourage others to push past the obstacles. Velefini was the first one I profiled and I suppose that’s why his story stayed with me for as long as it has. Just before we concluded our sit down, the photographer, Khaya, who is also now on the Word!s team too, posed the ultimate question on youth unemployment. To which Velefini responded with “Don’t just sit back and tell us kute umsebenti. We know that. Do something. Go out there and make things happen for yourself” And the epiphany I experienced with that statement has been evolving ever since.
Post graduate depression is not a myth. Nor is it an excuse. We should all take it as our responsibility to check on our people. That goes without saying, but, it doesn’t stop there. The 9-5 was designed for financial security, but now more than ever, this generation is hungry for financial freedom. Congratulations to you if you are part of the working class, but that shouldn’t be your end game. Don’t rely on a 9-5 to fulfil you. Let it grow you, yes, but never let it be the box to which you forever remain confined. We know more than any youth that has existed in this country how challenging it is to secure a definite paycheque. Therefore, lets be about our business to create jobs. The next generation is dependent on our critical creativity. If you hit a few walls and struggle to find an open door, create your own. After all, a wise old adage goes “if opportunity doesn’t come knocking, build a door” It’s time to uproot the culture of expectance. That’s how the depression clawed into us in the first place. I truly believe that our generation is bigger than we have ever imagined it to be and it is up to us to realise that. I found my avenue of release down a dark road. But it didn’t stop me from dreaming past the depression. If anything, the depression became a beacon, a signal that something in me was not yet complete. So, I wake up every day to work on it. To build it up. To invest in it. I urge you to check on your people and most importantly, to check on yourself. A flashback to that kitchen conversation. My mother pulled me into one of her warm hugs and told me not to be daunted by how things are. “You get placed in a season for a reason. Find the lesson in it, then take it from there”.
And my perspective has remained changed since.
Can you do me a favour and switch yours? The millennials will be alright.