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How Taking a Gap Year to Focus on My Mental Health Saved My Life

If you are a high school senior or a college student struggling with mental health, I’m here to tell you, a gap year can help. It can give you time to work through psychological issues and find the right psychiatric medication combination — if that’s necessary — without having to worry about deadlines, grades and social commitments. It gives you the opportunity to find and explore new passions. And, if you need it, it gives you the option of seeking more intensive treatment. Without the barriers of school and extracurricular activities, it is easier to ask for and get help. Dealing with mental health issues is hard enough without being in school. If I hadn’t taken a gap year, I’m not sure I would be alive today — it saved my life.

You know how they say everyone marries people like their parents? Yeah, well, not me. Hopefully. This year has given me time to work through issues like codependency and my sense of worthlessness. This will affect how easily I am able to form healthy relationships (both romantic and platonic) in college. My path will still be difficult, sure, but because of my gap year, I’ve had hundreds of hours to process these things with mental health professionals.

During this year, I’ve completed one residential treatment program, two partial hospitalization programs, and spent one week in the hospital — all in the span of eight months. And during those eight months, I wasn’t prescribed a psychiatric medication combination that worked. As I tried my fifth antidepressant, I began to resent my psychiatrist, feeling like a lab rat. I was eventually switched to mood stabilizers, which improved my condition drastically. I’m much better now. College ready, even. But could I have handled being a lab rat while also being a freshman in college? Absolutely not. The antidepressants that can make you more depressed? Yeah, those don’t go very well with term papers and exams.

To accommodate my sadness rather than fight it, I started a new hobby: writing poetry. I jotted down poems on the therapy handouts I accumulated while in treatment. I wrote of my pain, my hopelessness and my sense of loss. In three months, I had written 300 poems, and I’m now in the process of trying to publish my own poetry book.

I realize that I have been privileged, both financially and geographically, to have had access to a large amount of mental healthcare (though another gift of the gap year is my ability to work and pay for some of my treatment, taking pressure off of my family). I also realize that my struggles may be far more acute than is considered typical. But I believe that something can be learned from everyone’s story. To all those wondering if they should take next year off, know that gap years don’t magically fix your life, but they do give you one thing: time. And, if you’re struggling with mental illness, this time can save your life. It saved mine.

Getty image by Grandfailure