March 21, 2016 by Caroline Leland
I subscribe to a daily email called A Word A Day, which sends me a new vocabulary word with a thoughtful quote each morning. On November 19, 2015, my word of the day was bathos.
noun: An abrupt descent from lofty or sublime to the commonplace; anticlimax.
From Greek bathos (depth). Earliest documented use: 1638.
I almost laughed when I read the definition. I recognize that I tend to express my feelings with dramatic language — but for someone who’s not used to experiencing strong emotions, it feels appropriate. Despite how much I’d like for it to be an exaggeration, the word “bathos” encapsulates how I view the past year of my life. I know it’s absurd for “real life” to make me so miserable, but I have yet to figure out how to overcome my resentment of the losses to which I’ve struggled to adjust since graduation.
I’m lucky that school was generally easy for me. When it was challenging, I enjoyed the challenge with confidence in my studying, writing and test-taking abilities. I was confident approaching teachers and professors to ask for help or extra credit when I needed it. I was continuously affirmed by my grades — and I enjoyed the entire process because I love learning and feeling accomplished.
Graduation stole away that comfortable and rewarding academic structure.
In school, making friends was easy for me. I met people constantly and crossed paths with most of them multiple times, automatically cementing “friendly acquaintance” status at the bare minimum. At UNC, it seemed that I had 50 or more mutual friends with each person I met, no matter how random the context. At Duke, I fell into a selective living group that made me feel welcome immediately and throughout my time time there. In Pamplona, I clicked with Brooke and Massi from day one.
Graduation dissolved that convenient and serendipitous social structure.
In school, I was lucky to find activities early on that I found fulfilling and fun. I worked at The Daily Tar Heel all four years of college, rose through the ranks of APPLES in three years, wrote for Rival for two years, and led the Robertson mentoring program for two years. I committed to those organizations because I believed in their missions and effects and because I knew I could contribute to them significantly.
Graduation erased that engaging and varied schedule structure.
General society led me to believe that graduation would be an exciting launching point for my “real” life, a significant upgrade from whatever preparatory activities in which I had previously been engaged. That expectation is exactly what made the bathos hurt so particularly much: the abrupt descent from sublime to mundane that I actually experienced was largely unanticipated. I had pre-graduation fears, of course, but never expected life after college to be so much more intimidating, confusing, and exhausting than college ever was. I’ve never felt more lost and lonely than I have during these months since graduation. Without the academic, social, and activity/schedule structures of college, I’m desperately — and resignedly — treading water. Struggling to survive the anticlimactic reality of adulthood as I know it.
I can only hope that one day I’ll be able to recoup the same level of happiness that came so naturally to me in college.