To be blunt, taking a semester off halfway through your undergraduate degree is weird. Between second and third year is where things are supposed to really get difficult. But instead of focusing on my junior project like so many of my classmates were, I went home.
My two years at college had been spent jumping from purpose to purpose, major to major. I didn’t have time to think about whether I would stay interested in my latest major, so I didn’t. It was easier to keep changing majors and chasing the high that comes with thinking that this time I had finally picked the right thing to study.
By the time I reached the spring semester of my second year, I realized it wasn’t sustainable. I had just spent two years of my life devoted to school and all I had to show for it was an ever growing list of free electives at the bottom of my degree audit. I didn’t have a compelling reason not to take a gap year, so I filled out the paperwork for a leave of absence.
Suddenly my future had months of open possibilities. I was going to take an internship in Hawaii, volunteer with MCC in Nicaragua, study for a semester in France. Sure, my depression was getting worse and I kept missing classes and assignments, but it would be fine. I just needed to power through and I would be fine.
Then midway through April, things caught up with me. I had a bit of a mental breakdown, called my parents crying and went home for about a week. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Who do you tell? What do you tell them? I still don’t have a good answer. What I did was give minimal information to the minimum amount of people.
Over that week, I just took a break. I saw my doctor, switched my medication and didn’t think about school. I thought I was fine then and was back in Goshen just in time for choir rehearsal.
The semester finished without a hitch, aside from the fact that I got extended deadlines for 75 percent of my classes.
Over the summer, I worked full time on campus. It went well in the beginning, but by the end of the summer, I was struggling to show up to my shifts. I saw my doctor sporadically, and on one of the visits, she broke the news to me that I shouldn’t go anywhere on my gap year.
I needed regular appointments with her and my therapist if I actually wanted to get things under control. That wouldn’t be possible if I wasn’t at home. That’s how I ended up in tiny West Liberty, Ohio, living with my parents and no real responsibility.
It’s easy to get caught up in the moment of rushing from one responsibility to the next. You never stop moving, so you think you’re making progress. Sometimes you actually are moving forward; I wasn’t.
At the beginning of my break, staying home ‘doing nothing’ was easy to do but hard to accept. Isn’t college supposed to be practice for the ‘real world’? In the real world, you can’t just take three months off and not do anything with that time. Was I wasting my time? Was I going to end up living with my parents until I’m 42? I wondered if I should have just toughed it out.
I know enough now to realize that if I had tried to push through, I would likely have had to drop out before the semester was over. If I ever wanted to move forward, I needed to take a step back, drop my responsibilities, and just exist for a while. Finally finding meds that worked for me also had at least some effect.
Most people probably won’t need to do something this drastic. Many people who need to probably can’t, for a variety of reasons. I am incredibly lucky that I was able to do this and that I had people who supported me.
Maybe you have people who tell you there’s nothing wrong with stopping to catch your breath, maybe you don’t. Regardless of that, believe me when I say, you deserve to be okay. It doesn’t matter who you are. When things get difficult, be gentle with yourself.