If you’re feeling abandoned after uni, you’re not alone
By Becca Yeadon
It seems embarrassing to admit feeling abandoned in your early twenties, but it’s a natural process. If you recognise it, reflect and work on it, you'll get to a happier you.
Turning into a “young adult” sometimes involves experiences you thought were long buried in childhood. Experiences like, abandonment. My earliest memory of this sensation was being left in a car with my little sister when my dad dashed into Morrison’s to pick up some bread, assuring us he’d be “right back”. The feelings of panic and fear as he ran out of view were unforgettable. Child me suddenly felt tiny and vulnerable, without the people I depended on, for the first time. Little did I realise, this was an experience that would return in my early twenties.
The fear of being abandoned by those you rely on is a natural experience for young children; being generally defenceless and naive. But, when you’re in your twenties - post-education and considered able to stand on your own two feet - you’re supposed to have all the tools you need to survive. You’re expected to flourish (like everyone around you seems to be). But, I found that the “Morrison’s incident” was just the first of many times that the world has felt so big that I could get lost in it or squashed by it.
University was a much needed hit of liberation and independence.
As a kid, I was overly cautious and anxious; always looking to family and friends for assurance that I was doing okay. I’d always admired my little sister: a bowling ball of energy who was naturally confident and physically strong. At uni, I finally experienced the levels of confidence I had admired in my sibling - building relationships with people from diverse walks of life. I expected this to continue as I finished studying - the trajectory of self-belief steadily increasing, until I turned into one of those wise, reassuring (or so they had seemed at the time) adults I had looked up to as a child.
I never imagined that my early twenties would trigger a return to feelings of abandonment I’d first felt in childhood.
But at 21, fresh from graduation, the world seemed too unstable and overwhelming to grasp all over again. A few things had happened in quick succession to trigger it. Like many quarterlifers, the big group of friends I’d lived with at uni in a four-floored student house went back to their hometowns.
Suddenly, the close group of friends I had come home to each day for two years was disbanded - each friend dotted sparsely across the country.
Then, my uni relationship ended and this breakup left me reeling. I felt the swift disappearance of someone I thought knew me better than anyone. Finally, came my first real job hunt - a summer filled with a flurry of misdirected interviews, half-hearted grad-scheme applications and the overwhelming aimlessness of having no clear plan ahead of me.
The support networks I relied upon had broken down and, whilst I was lucky to have such a supportive family, I had to look to myself for strength and guidance for maybe the first time ever.
I didn’t have the answers I sought - with each failed interview my confidence was shot a little more, and friends’ LinkedIn updates came in droves, making me feel left behind and worried that I might never catch up. It was the same sense of intangible fear that had overwhelmed me in the car at age three.
It manifested itself in a constant flutter of anxious thoughts that kept me up at night: “I don’t feel capable”, “the world is too big to navigate, and without those I depend on” or “I am as insubstantial as a feather in the breeze”.
I looked for support externally rather than internally, and when those sources of reassurance seemed to have disappeared, it made me want to wail and try the door handles all over again. It took me a while to figure out that the internal me had more to offer than I realised. I had always liked my own company, but it wasn’t until I had to take other people out of the equation and listen to what I really wanted, trusting the instincts and passions that had always been inside me, that I started to find a sanctuary in myself.
I shocked everyone - mostly myself - when I decided to move to London (without a job).
Whilst anxiety and caution were still present, part of me knew that remaining somewhere that felt familiar and safe would only pander to these fears. To quiet them, I had to venture out of my comfort zone and, through sink-or-swim scenarios, prove to myself that I had the capability to survive. In taking this big leap and believing I could start a life in London from scratch, I learnt that the concept of abandonment disintegrates if you choose to fight for yourself and what you truly want; you become your own support system.
The change of city forced me to look forward rather than back, and, once I arrived, to live in the exhilarating present.
I still looked to others for support - my family were only a phone call, or a two-hour train ride away - and I forged strong friendships with my housemates and then work colleagues as I started new jobs.
My anxiety about having people nearby, on-hand, was much less thanks to my reinstated self-belief.
I had reached a point, for the first time where I felt comfortable with the idea that people might come and go from my life in inexplicable ways. I wouldn’t always have the answers and had no control over the change and fluctuations ahead. But unlike that period during and after uni, when my confidence and sense of strength was based on the connections I had built with other people, I had learnt to trust my own capacity to cope independently and to survive on my own terms.
Turns out, that with a little self-belief, the world becomes strong beneath your feet, just like my sister has been showing me all along.
Image by Lily Brown; used with love & appreciation.