The Real Reason I Had To Take a Gap Year
As I stare at the blinking cursor, I feel my heart pound a little in my chest, not really knowing how to make all the thoughts in my head make sense.
I didn’t really choose to take a gap year.
It happened like this: I was recovering from anorexia my senior year of high school. During the winter/spring, I relied HEAVILY on my parents to help with making my meals, doing my laundry, having lots of appropriate food in the house, cooking, and keeping a clean kitchen. My parents played an imperative role in my recovery while I focused on other things. Rather than having to do all my own meal planning and shopping etc, I was involved when I wanted to be but I could let them take the reins if that is what I needed. My mom (bless her soul) was willing to drive to the farther away Whole Foods to get the specific brand of plain cashew yogurt because all the other non-dairy yogurts didn’t meet my “standards” of clean eating or whatever. Some might say that this was only fueling my disordered behaviors, but in this case, it was the difference between me eating and me not eating, and obviously the former was the better option, no matter what lengths we had to go.
I had become pretty comfortable in this role of allowing my parents to take away some of the stress of my life while I focused on what was more important: school, work, friends, etc.
However, I realized that I was essentially codependent on their support.
I was also actively seeing 3 mental health professionals each week, and in fact, I still am. But I needed them a LOT more back then. (I’m so thankful for all of the times they would answer my crazy emotional texts and emails when I felt like I was dying).
Paired with my questionable behaviors in the face of wicked stress, my treatment team decided that I really only had 2 good options for the fall of 2017: stay home and commute to college classes, or stay home and take a year off.
We all knew that I was still feeling willful enough to take full advantage of the dorm life and take every opportunity that I could to manipulate my food. Having 24/7 access to a gym, no parental supervision, and being surrounded by disordered behaviors made college seem like a far away dream fantasy of eating disorder behaviors and I knew in my wise mind that I would not survive that.
I attended 2 admitted students days in the spring at schools that I was deciding between. Both days had a free cafeteria meal for lunch. Both times I got so panicky that my mom had to pick out my meal for me. Ouch.
As I stood there in the whir of college kids, other prospective students, faculty, and endless food options from pizza to pasta to burgers and salad bar, I just couldn’t take it. There were too many options and too many people and I would rather just not eat. Clearly this wasn’t going to work.
I was admitted to a few really good schools, but my first choice was 2.5 hours away, so commuting from home meant going to a college I didn't want to go to, and sacrificing my full college experience to try to get better all while juggling school work as well.
So whether I wanted to or not, that's how I ended up taking a gap year.
I was so nervous to tell my friends and teachers because it sounded like such a failure to me. I felt like I was weak and stupid and falling behind for not being able to move out and live on my own.
I wanted everyone to see how successful I was, so I tried to spice up my story as much as I could. I talked about traveling, volunteering, meeting all these cool people, working, adventuring, having all the freedom in the world.
Luckily, I have manifested a lot of those things into my reality. I have worked quite a few jobs, I am now a certified yoga teacher, I volunteered and met amazing souls and I am headed to Mexico next month. But in between the magical adventures and character building jobs, I am really just slowly slowly healing myself. And stumbling a bit along the way.
I had to figure out how to grocery shop for myself. I had to figure out how many hours of work was too much for me. I had to say no. I had to be rejected. I had to get up the next day anyways. I had to wake up early for work. I had to stay up late for work. I had to ask for breaks. I had to eat dinner in the car. I had to eat dinner earlier than normal and later than normal. I had to be brutally honest about things that I didn’t want to share. I had to learn how to still take care of myself when no one else was going to do it for me. I had to learn how to live.
This work is hard. So. So. So. Hard. But I am so incredibly glad that the universe set me on this path instead of starting school last fall. I know that I am conquering what I need to, and I am where I need to be, and that all of the pieces are falling into place as they are supposed to.
In fact, I am really really excited to start school in the fall of 2018. I get to go away to my first choice school. I get to show up established in who I am as a person. I know my limits. I know my weaknesses. I know my tendencies. And most importantly, the thought of eating in a dining hall sounds pretty neutral to me, and I think I could hack it just fine.
My intention that I set for my gap year was to find myself. The challenge that I didn’t expect was that I would have to come face to face with the parts of myself that are mean and ugly and hurting and scared and just no fun to be around. I am still trying to have grace with those parts of me.
This is all a process, but I know that I am where I am meant to be.