Why Taking a Gap Year Was the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me
I’ve done a lot of stupid things before, but taking a gap year between my junior and senior year of college was one of the best decisions I ever thought of. For me though, it really didn’t feel like it was a choice I had. Things got so bad at the end of my junior year, that it was either take a gap year, or drop out of school. Here’s why:
I 100% believe that if you push your body past it’s breaking point, it will start to shut down & refuse to cooperate with you until you fix what’s broken and make peace with your body again. Around January of 2020, my body was screaming at me and sounding off sirens that got louder and louder as I went toward the end of my junior year.
Between January and May, I was taking my hardest year of classes, all online, which I HATED. I was also the main newspaper reporter for a local paper back home and I was so thankful for the opportunity that I took on waaaaaay more stories than I could manage. AND I was also doing an online internship. And I started this blog around the same time because of course I did haha! I’m nothing if not a productivity chaser. So not only was I booked too busy, and stressed beyond belief, I was also staring at a computer screen more than I wasn’t. And so unnatural it’s disgusting- human beings aren’t meant to sit in front of a LED screen all day.
My health was also terrible at the time because I was addicted to sugar & eating like crap since I fell for all the healthy marketing gimmicks at the grocery store. I was getting almost zero time in nature and I wasn’t working out nearly enough since I spent almost all day sitting at a desk. And being in the thick of a pandemic was just so depressing every day, because it really felt like things would never get better at the time.
Around that time I was diagnosed with endometriosis, and that sent me into a state of constant rage and anger because it took an entire DECADE for doctors to finally realize there was something wrong with my body. I was so mad my doctors made me believe it was all in my head for ten whole years- that’s exhausting stuff to unpack. All of a sudden I was drowning in research trying to figure out what to do next. A lot of options and opinions were thrown at me- I’m talking surgery, heavy drugs, and inducing menopause symptoms temporarily. I. Wanted. To. Throw. Up.
I didn’t do any of those things, but I decided to change my diet top down, which turned out to be the best thing I did. It was really hard in the beginning though to change everything overnight, and it was harder when my friends I lived with ate completely different meals than what I was having.
There’s a lot more I can say, but you’ve probably read enough to know now- life was not good for Solen during that time.
One day in March, I realized that I 100% hated my life when I was sitting on the world’s most awkward Zoom class for my minor. So I started daydreaming instead and imagined doing something crazy, like taking a break from school and moving to Europe. It was terrifying, but it was almost more exciting. I told my friend Alex about it and she thought it was a great idea, which made me feel better about even thinking about considering it.
As I got closer to the end of semester, the more burnt out I got. And the more I felt like I didn’t have a choice in taking the gap year. At this point, my body was full-on SCREAMING at me to get some rest and recover from being angry/sad/hyper-stressed/chronically fatigued all the time. And I just knew that a short summer break wouldn’t do it for me. Since 16, I’ve spent every summer working full time to save money for college, so summer break never feels like a true break to me.
Then, a month into summer break, I got offered a really exciting six month part time internship in my hometown that I couldn’t pass up. So I took it and started interning part time over the summer while I was trying to learn how to make peace with my body after putting it through hell. And slowly but surely, my chronic fatigue went away. And my endometriosis symptoms stopped controlling my life as much. A majority of the stress melted off, and I didn’t feel panicked all the time.
In the Fall, I added a second job working in sales at Kate Spade. And when my internship ended, I had almost two months off before I started another six month internship that went until the week I came back to school. It was so nice doing nothing for once!
And I loved every minute of interning. I finally felt like I was learning something useful and doing something with my life that was helping me grow. After taking online classes for longer than anyone should, I was just so glad to feel like I was doing something worth doing again. I got so much out of both internships, but I got even more out of falling in love with life again. It
My anger towards the world before I took that gap year was off the charts. I was so furious over so many things that were out of my control with COVID, college, my health, my friends and family. I finally got to simmer down most of that which made me feel like I could breathe again.
For the first time ever, I felt like I had control over my life at 22. I got to spend my days doing exactly what I wanted. And there was so many new things I discovered that I never had time for when I was in school. I learned how to garden, and run a 5k, and I got really good at cooking and using food as medicine. I saw more sunsets that year than I’d seen in my entire life, and I got really good at doing as many little things as possible each day that brought me joy. I finally got my smile back and things weren’t perfect, but they were good. And most importantly, I was happy again.
And the happier I got, the more I realized how many things I let stay in my life for too long that made me unhappy. I let go of a lot of friendships that year that I should have ended earlier. But that made room in my life for new friends and new people. I got really picky about what I chose to spend my time and energy on, because I realized how precious the gift of time is.
And one of the biggest things that came out of that was I learned how to be happy alone. I was always that girl who felt uncomfortable going places alone. But it’s really hard sometimes to find people who want to do the exact same things as you. So I just started going on adventures by myself, and it was hard at first, but eventually I fell in love with doing things alone without feeling lonely or weird. It’s one of the best gifts my gap year gave me!
That entire year was so much fun, and I miss it all the time, but I’m really proud of myself because I brought the things I learned that year back with me to college. I still prioritize catching sunsets and getting out in nature as much as I can. I still go on adventures by myself instead of staying in when my friends have other plans. I’m a lot more comfortable drawing boundaries with people and letting go of friendships that don’t serve me. More than anything, I care about my health way too much to let anything disrupt my peace out as much as I used to do. I bought this sweatshirt on my gap year when I had COVID that says “protect your peace”. And if I can sum up everything my gap year taught me, it’s just that. Life is too precious to be unhappy in any way. It’s a gift to be living here today, healthier and happier than I ever thought and I don’t intend on wasting that gift ever again. Protect your peace, friends!