Coming straight out of high school you either feel insanely lost/on the brink of an inevitable existential crisis, or you feel like the shit. Though I almost definitely should have been feeling the former, I was seriously vibing with the latter. I finally got to go off to university! I was going to study philosophy! I was hip! I was leaving home, ready to be independent and have all the wild ~college~ expeirences that I had heard about in my rather sheltered Toronto bubble.
However, I was ignoring the fact that I just spent the summer in a treatment center for my anorexia, hearing over and over why I shouldn't go to University - I wasn't ready. But my wonderfully, chemically imbalanced brain choose to ignore that advice. My logic was this; once I got out of Toronto, got to a new place (one where all my friends were going), my eating disorder and problems wouldn't follow me! They don't fly Air Canada right?
I chose Dalhousie University out on the east coast to start my trail to world domination/social shananigans. Dal is a great school and I have a ton of friends who are still there who absolutely love it, but for me? I was suddenly plopped into a situation where I was a two-hour plane ride away from the people who had been helping me through a lot more than I ever knew, I was probably as ready for University as a Wall St. banker is to give up the corporate world, sell all their possessions and become a hippy. Translation? I messed up.
When I choose Dal, for me it was all about the adventure. I romanticized this life out at University with all of my friends from high school (the majority of my high school graduating class went to the east coast), ignoring the fact I had no f*cking clue what 17-year-old me wanted to do. Arts? That sounded good! They have a history course, I like history! I thought the point of University was to figure out who you are, all that teenage soup for the soul shit we hear, I ate up.
But, I truly believed that setting out on this wild adventure that is university meant that I would not only be leaving my home but my problems. I had no idea what I wanted to do at University, plus I was battling a solid case of anxiety, OCD, and anorexia. A 1950's teen could really only describe my scenario as "neato" or a "pickle". But they would leave when I got to school right!? Ha. My brain was having a good time laughing its ass off at me, cause that bitch of an eating disorder and all my emotional baggage moved into my dorm room with me.
So I packed up and left. Imagining leaving on a jet plane blasting in the background I sadly boxed up my stuff hopped on a plane and told about no one I was leaving because I was too embarrassed (which led to some pretty awkward texts that Friday night when people asked me if I wanted to pre in their dorm tonight, "Sorry actually leaving the city and not coming back! Maybe next time!"). On the outside I pretended I was okay with the situation, I tweeted 'gap yeah!', posted relatable memes from How I Met Your Mother, it was all gucci on the outside but I was, surprise, freaking out. I was going to miss out on so many experiences, parties with my friends, late night dorm room chats, other rom-com themed college experiences etc.
I was so worried about "falling behind", that I didn't even give myself a chance to catch up with my own thoughts that told me I wasn't ready to go to school. I was racing to the next step of "what you should be doing" and ended up miserable. The very idea that there is a certain way to live your life with a specific timeline is now ridiculous to me. My philosophy teacher in high school (amazing guy, kick-ass Metallica record collection) talked once (and I'm paraphrasing) about how strange it seems that we rush through high school to get to a good university. Work hard in university to get a good job, work hard at a job we really don't like to retire. Then what? It seems like it's then we realize that we never really like what we're doing, but it's what we should be doing it so even though we may have been unhappy, we, I, was so scared of falling behind I didn't bother to stop and think of other ways to live.
I worked at a diner on my year off, scraped mac and cheese off tables, met amazing people and loved the job. I worked hard, but my problems still followed me. My eating disorder got worse and I went into inpatient treatment. Those four months were better than any single university experience, and although it was the hardest thing I have EVER done (and for anyone who disagrees please try to battle with your brain/worst thoughts/deepest doubts/biggest fears every single day and get back to me) I am 10x smarter than I could have been from any University course. If I told you about the strength of the people I met and the friends I made it may just turn into a sappy romance novel and I'm not down to shed a tear (or bawl) right now so just know- getting outside my comfort zone and meeting people who had completely different life experiences than I did enabled me to see the world from a whole new perspective. Life happens in different ways, and we can't be so shut off and whipping down this "school all the time, one way to succeed"
Life happens in different ways, and once we step away from the "shoulds" of what we think we need to do, I found out what I actually wanted to do. I'm not saying you should just check into rehab or something, or drop out spontaneously because of this, this isn't a Steve Jobs story. It was a combination of the new job I got, my family from inpatient that I made, and time away from my "normal" that made me realize that I was living in a bubble which made me think life had to be lived a certain way.
When I finally went to school the next year (Queen's hey hey), I was beyond pumped. I still didn't fully know what I wanted to do, I just knew that I didn't feel forced to go to University but I actually chose too. I was stoked to do my 25 page readings about history because I actually. wanted. to. be. there. I auditioned for a fashion show, got a job on campus, things I may never have done before. Now that I felt like I was actually choosing what I wanted to do, so basically I had the confidence of Elle Woods at Harvard Law.
Taking time off can be seen as weak or lazy. There seems to be this idea that unless you're actually dying you need to be in school. But what is so weak about facing real life and figuring out what you actually want to do without spending thousands on tuition? Why is it such a bad thing to put your mental health first, or simply your own wants? If you truly need or want to take time off and are scared of missing out all I want to say is "missing out" is the only way that I was able to live again. There's no one way to live your life, and if something isn't working out for you, who is to say that that is wrong?