I had always heard about gap years, through old high school Facebook friends, YouTubers, and bloggers who spoke about their fabulous years off, travelling or finding themselves. It had never been something that had really crossed my mind, up until I found myself at a point where there was really no option for me other than to take a gap year myself.
I started university in 2016, just a couple weeks after turning eighteen years old. At the time, everything seemed to be coming up roses for me. My boyfriend and I would be attending the same university, my dream school, where I would be studying Social Work, which seemed like a good idea at the time at least. My boyfriend and I would be bussing in together, which wasn't so bad because I could read (or nap) on the drive. I was learning to drive, I'd made a bunch of amazing friends, and I was loving the university.
Everything seemed to be picture perfect. At least, it did from the outside.
Somewhere around Christmas time during my first year, I woke up one morning and realized I hated my program. I wasn't enjoying any of the Social Sciences geared courses and I absolutely knew that I was not the kind of person who could handle the stress that came along with a job in Social Work. I suddenly realized that all this time, I'd been lying to myself. I had wanted to be an English major forever but after years of people telling me it was a bad idea, I just gave up on it and decided that I loved Social Work instead because it was what was considered a "practical" job. Good idea, right? This is what happens when you force seventeen-year-olds into choosing their futures.
After days of talking it over with my parents and my boyfriend, and countless e-mails to academic advisors and English department heads, I was transferring into the English & Cultural Studies program. Well, technically transferring. I wouldn't be officially in the program until the spring when every first year applied for their majors. In spring, I was accepted into the English & Cultural Studies program and everything seemed to be finally settling into place.
But it wasn't. My first year was, let's say, turbulent. Around the beginning of the second term, I realized that my anxiety was starting to get bad again. Being me, I did what seemed like the best option: hide my anxiety from my friends, family, and loved ones, and continue on with life like nothing was happening. In reality, people were starting to suspect that something was wrong - but it seemed like it was mostly a fear of moving, as we were moving house around the time that second term was finishing up. But it wasn't. Halfway through second term, I started skipping classes, for no other reason than I was petrified to walk inside. I would sit in my favourite study spot on campus and stare at my phone, counting down the minutes until a specific class or, worse, my English tutorial. Sometimes, I'd get up and walk to class, only to make it halfway and give up. But eventually, I stopped trying at all. I'd tell my boyfriend that I was busy in class, meanwhile I was really working on essays on my laptop on the opposite side of campus.
By the very end of term, it was increasingly obvious that something was wrong. My parents went away on holiday in April, near the end of the school year, and my boyfriend came to stay with me. I would drive us to the bus stop so we could bus to school every day. But the very first day, I drove to the station and told my boyfriend I couldn't go with him. I dropped him off, went home, and got back into bed. The next day, it was the same thing. I went to exactly one class all week, for five minutes, just to pick up a graded essay. The majority of the week, I just laid in bed and watched Thirteen Reasons Why. Miraculously, my grades didn't founder. I actually finished the term with an overall cumulative average of 8.2 which was insane for someone who not only didn't go to most classes but also thought she was going to fail her Linguistics course. Honestly, things would have probably gone on just fine if that were all. Except it wasn't. I took one English course, in second term, to allow me entrance into the program. And I finished with a C+. For me, that was a death sentence. I cried for hours, despite the fact that most people I know in uni have had more than one C marks before. But it hit me hard. I sat on that all summer long and, probably, that's part of the reason why second year went so badly.
That summer, as a whole, was horrible. My anxiety had reached an all-time high and I was miserable. I never left the house, I had countless panic attacks, and most of all, I was terrified about going back to school in the fall. As September came closer, my anxiety got worse. But nevertheless, I started classes up in September, hoping for the best. Luckily, this year, I had moved closer to school and had my license, so get there was easier as I could now drive. Unluckily, I was unable to even get in the car to drive. My mum (God bless her soul) drove my boyfriend - who was now living with us - and I to school every day. I went to classes (mostly) and acted like things were better. We started looking into my school's mental health services and quickly realized that it was not going to be an easy process. But I started seeing a professional for my mental health for the first time in six years (let that sink in). And I was doing fairly well in my classes.
Until, one day, I sat in my kitchen with my mom and boyfriend, sobbing because I just couldn't understand what my History professor wanted from an essay. There was entire booklet of instructions and none of it made sense. Every time I tried to start writing, I wrote something awful, nothing near my usual quality of writing. After spending about four hours working together with my mom, I sent in my essay. And that was the first time we seriously talked about me leaving school. But it wasn't until my mom dropped me off for an English lecture and I called her ten minutes later, sobbing, asking for her to come pick me up, that we decided it was probably necessary. I dropped out of all my classes for both terms in the middle of October, after coming home from Reading Week break in Florida.
Taking a year off was the hardest but best thing I've ever done for myself. At first, I really hated it. I felt like I was missing out on everything, like I was being left behind while all my friends went on with their lives. I hated that I was going to still be a second year when my friends were third years. But eventually, I realized that it was necessary. And most importantly, I realized that I was putting so much unnecessary pressure on going to university, that it was becoming a chore to me. It wasn't something I enjoyed anymore. I had spent my whole life building everything up to four years and a degree on a piece of paper, that I had never really stopped to think about what I really wanted. I do want to be a student, I do want a degree - but frankly, it isn't the be all and end all of my life. I want to be a writer. I want to write books. Do I need a degree for that? No. Anyone can become a writer, if they have the passion for it. But I want a degree, for myself. I enjoy being a student; I enjoy learning and reading and hearing what other people think. Realizing that made university so much less daunting and actually exciting.
I'm not saying that taking a year-off is a necessity for everyone or that it will magically cure your problems if you do it. But for me, it was the best decision I've ever made. And it just goes to show that frankly, you don't need to decide what to do with your life when you're seventeen, or eighteen, or even nineteen. Hell, I'm almost twenty and I'm still figuring things out. You have your whole life in front of you, and it's not worth it to spend your life stressing about doing everything the "right" way.
Until next time!