Self Expression Magazine

The Gap Year & A Half; a Breakdown.

Posted on the 03 March 2019 by Scribe Project @ascribeproject

A gap year is a period taken by a student after school as a break before university.

Little did I know, I’d experience more than I expected and learn lessons and values I already thought I had. The past year has been a rollercoaster indeed, but a beneficial one.

By senior year, I was keen on leaving and starting a new chapter in my life, in a new country with new surroundings, new experiences. I had been told about the gap year multiple times, but I never really had it in my plans. I was so fixated on going at the same pace as everyone else and ticking things off my life checklist as everyone else would. I have always liked having things go according to plan. Everyone who knows me, knows I love a good plan, and a solid structure for any eventful thing in my life – whether it be a meeting, a party (mostly parties, who are we kidding?) or anything else.  So, when my plans fell through, and university wasn’t a viable option at the time – I was, miserable, to say the least.

I had a deep fear of missing out on things I didn’t think I was going to have – most of the conversation that took place revolved around where everyone was going, what they were going to do, which classes they wanted to take, how cute the boys would be, how hot the girls would be; the usual excitement. It made me feel out of control, out of place but at the same time, I was overjoyed because it meant the people that I cared about were one step closer to doing what they loved.

The past one year has been one full of love, laughter, lessons and of course, tears (Shout out to all of my lovely friends who sat with me through all my meltdowns and mentally draining rant sessions, I love you all). So, here’s a breakdown.

The Jobs; earning my way into the gap year.

By August 2017, I had been employed by a real estate company – now, I was never really interested in that field, but I thought, might as well give it a shot, take the risk and learn something new. And I did,  worked this job for three months; met so many new people, learned the real way to negotiate, and the power of words and persuasion. Of course, during this time – I was drawn back to where I felt safe, so I was often caught visiting school and being the butt of jokes because of it, however it didn’t affect me because there was no shame in being comfortable with where you practically grew up. It’s not as if I didn’t have reason to keep going back, I enjoyed going back to see my friends and teachers that were there, to walk the halls in which we laughed, cried and maybe sometimes screamed or got screamed at by people. I knew I had to let go of it eventually, but I was holding onto something familiar for so long because honestly, I was scared to move forward but I was also frustrated with the stagnant nature of my life, so it had to be one or the other. I moved forward and left it in my past, a happy memory.

I left the real estate industry by November 2017 and began working in the cosmetics industry as a Sales Coordinator and Social Media Manager – which was more my speed; it meant I got to come up with Instagram and Facebook content which I enjoyed doing anyways. I underestimated the real world because I can’t count how many times I’ve had stress attacks due to my job, you would think packing gift bags was easy but apparently not. I can recall one time where I had five friends of mine help me out with deliveries and packing 250 bags. It’s safe to say none of them wanted to take my place. Well done to me for thinking it was going to be all rainbows and butterflies. I am happy to say that I learned how to manage my time better, but not my money. Even though I was earning, I wasn’t all to great with my money management, I tend to have a shopping obsession and that didn’t only mean clothes. It meant makeup, food, random gift items for people and sometimes, even my pets. I’d like to think I’ve improved from when I first started out, let’s hope so.

Key things to take away from this is – start a savings account and put a percentage of your salary into that every month. I was told this when I started out, but my pride got the better of me, of course. And, when you’re working with people and you don’t particularly agree with some things – it isn’t a crime to stand up and voice your opinion; it might end up improving the discussion and opening up further paths. It isn’t all about the money, the experiences you get will be worth way more than the money because they will last you longer than the materialistic things you pick up along the way (but it wouldn’t hurt to treat yourself every now and again for the hard work you put in).  Anyone who is looking to take a gap year or is taking one due to unavoidable circumstances, I strongly advise getting a job – try your best to do something that you enjoy, that will help you with your degree in the future. It will keep you busy and constantly on your toes, and you might not suffer from severe boredom. You will also be able to make some extra cash on the side, so you can treat yourself to some new shoes, or a cheesecake every now and again.

The Excursions; inbound and outbound.

When I started reading up on what to do in my gap year – I saw all these articles about kids who went miles away from home, volunteered and built houses and what not. I wanted to travel and do all these exciting things but it wasn’t in the cards for me, financially speaking.

I went on small trips here and there with my friends when they came to visit, and conveniently made a fool out of myself one time by running out in the rain, fully clothed – in white, mind you. But then again, what are trips for?

Two trips that fully stand out in my mind;

Image may contain: ocean, sky, cloud, outdoor, water and natureFebruary 11th 2018; We were more or less all hungover from the birthday party we had the night before, so we went for lunch (including the birthday boy, of course) and then proceeded to kidnap another friend and sneak out to Hikkaduwa (which is about an hour and a half away from Colombo, for everyone who isn’t Sri Lankan) for a quick bite, and the sunset which was slightly disappointing but the point was that we were all together. It was so impromptu and I think it really describes the whole year in a few hours; spontaneous, fun and exhausting but memorable.

No photo description available.March 1st 2018; I had successfully saved up enough money to buy a plane ticket to Bangkok, to see my voice of reason who is pretty much my family. We grew up with similar family issues and she’s the biggest tough love advocate there – which I severely needed in my adolescence, and still do. Anyways, saved up, hopped on a flight and went to see her. It was one of those moments in life where I was down to shave my head and have my 2007 Britney Spears moment. But instead, I opted for a solid hair dye session and that was enough. I came back with some blonde hair and a new perspective on life. I was and still am so proud of her for doing something she loved with her time and being so independent at such a young age. She had always been independent, but this was different – she was happy. It made me think that there’s so much I could be doing instead of moping around, complaining. So, I tried to make the most out of my job and enjoy it, I paid more attention to my surroundings and myself. However, after this trip – I did not save any money again till December. I’m terrible at money management, I know, everyone knows.

All in all, I do advise to get out of town every now and again – even if it’s just for a night, take in a new surrounding and breathe a different air. Might be just what you need, even if you don’t realize it.

The Relationships; all of them – family, friends and love.

Before I get into this, let me clarify – I don’t mean multiple romantic relationships. Think more along the lines of family and friends.

Family; As I mentioned before, my plans fell through, so I wasn’t always in the best mood – I had my off days, as does everyone. I loved to place blame for the fact that I couldn’t go to university and follow the timeline I wanted. This meant that I’d act out and do things that seemed out of character to my family. One incident being going for a fashion show in October 2017 and staying out till 6AM when I had work the next day (honestly, I don’t regret it at all, I met such brilliant people and made amazing memories).The Gap Year & A Half; a breakdown.

I didn’t go out as much as I do now when I was in school, so this was an adjustment for my family. What made this situation worse was that I didn’t answer my phone all night so cue the typical parent lecture about respect, safety, timing and keeping in touch – well deserved, in their defense.

There have been many times where I’ve had days where I don’t talk to my parents or my brothers out of spite and anger but one of my mom’s best friends taught me that holding my tongue and listening to my parents rather than responding with anger, would solve the problem more efficiently and so far; this has worked. Silence is another thing I severely underestimated, I can only hope I have matured enough to have discussions with my parents rather than arguments. Except maybe when it comes to clothing, times have changed and I’m just going with the times – ya feel?

Anyways, to all of the distressed teens out there – your parents are trying their very best to provide for you and keep you happy, even if you can’t see it. They love you so very much and you and your siblings, if you have any – are their pride and joy. Life isn’t only hard for you, you’re all human so cut them some slack. Parents aren’t robots – they feel sadness, anger and frustration just as you do. Try starting a conversation with them about work and how they’re doing – it might pave the way for a better relationship and open discussion. Trust me, I had to talk my parents about my boyfriend and as every brown kid knows – you don’t do that, it’s a no-no. But I did, I defied the unspoken rules and told them (It took a lot out of me and took a lot of convincing) and it had allowed them to get to know me better as an adult as well as open up a conversation about their experiences.

Friends; Since most of my best friends had left the country for their higher studies, it was a matter of keeping in touch – which I can say I’m not too great at. It meant terrible response timings, monthly catch-ups but it also meant things were the same when we reunited when everyone was back.

At the beginning of this new chapter of my life, I reconnected with people that I hadn’t really kept in touch with due to personal reasons but it ended up being a great decision because from that, I gained three of my closest guy friends whom I trust and adore more than they know (I love to bully them, and they know that). I also developed friendships with people who I wasn’t really close to during school and they have been some of my pillars of strength ever since. All it took was a phone call and maybe some manioc chips, and they were at my door to console me and make me laugh. Appreciate your friends, even if they annoy you sometimes, even if they make mistakes – they will always love and care about you, so don’t doubt that, have some faith. Image may contain: indoor

Honestly, when you start out with a gap year – you will feel bored here and there which is why it’s important to have people that make you laugh around, even if you end up doing the same things every week. We got tired of partying every Friday night, coming home at 4AM, but those nights make for some of the best memories and, also the best Instagram photos. Go for lunch, for art festivals, movies, dinners, have a game night – whatever you do, if you’re with the people you love – you will enjoy it.

The value of friendship is so great that everyone deserves to have someone that loves them, and vice versa. There had been one daunting issue that clouded my mind from April 2018 and my aforementioned friends were of utmost importance, and I couldn’t have been more grateful for their support. I had come to a point where I thought that everyone would be sick of hearing the same pointless nonsense over and over again, but people that came back for their summer vacation that I’ve known since I was 12, sat me down and gave me the tough love I needed. Not to mention, the juniors (I can’t call them that now, because they’re all in university now and for another reason that I will make clear later) – they have been the reasons for my constant laughter since my senior year and have turned into some of the best people I know. I am ever so thankful for the friends that I have met and reconnected with during the past year and for the experiences I have had with them.  The friends I grew up with, the friends I made in my last year of school and during this year – I don’t think I can say I got here by myself, because each and every one of them played such a pivotal role in my life.

Love; As I mentioned before, I can’t call the juniors ‘juniors’ anymore and that’s been requested aggressively by one of them which is fair in their defense. In June 2018, they had all graduated from high school so clearly, they were no longer juniors but I had gotten used to that – although, multiple things had come up and I ended up spending lots of time with them as well as friends from my grade. There was this one though, I think he caught my eye unexpectedly; the shy, sensitive one. It’s the classic “fall for your best friend” situation.

For those of you who know me, you know that I was never the type.  I had a discussion a few months before this with another friend where we happily vowed to never get into relationships because it ‘wasn’t our thing’. In fact, we had a 2020 pact – ‘no feels’. But, then I caught myself in July and August having ‘feels’ for my best friend, of all people – the one I least expected. I was in a state of confusion, shock but it was also something that made me feel happy, and excited – all that soppy stuff people write about when they talk about love, that’s what I felt, and what I continue to feel.  Imagine being loved, the way you love. That is the easiest way I can put it into words. It was such an alien feeling to me, and I discuss this with my ‘gap year squad’ often considering they were there from the very early stages of this; from the insane takeover of butterflies every message (which hasn’t disappeared) to the first date, and the first public outing.

Considering the events of the year, that was a definite upgrade of my mood. Our friends were always spewing jokes because we were so close, and always with each other and it led to something more – which was expected but also unexpected at the same time. It made me realize that my relentless force to shut myself off from feeling that kind of love could have made me miss out on this, on him.

The Gap Year & A Half; a breakdown.

photo credit – Thenuka Perera

I am glad that my guard was put down, and my heart was opened to this kind of love and happiness because I can honestly say that it has made me much happier and has also definitely taught me how to balance my time, boundaries and myself. Whether you’re 18 or 80, there is always something new to learn in a relationship – some people just have a better hang of it than others, but all said and done, it takes an immense of work and effort from both parties to make it work.

While I’m on this topic, I must say that a relationship isn’t necessary. You don’t need a boyfriend or a girlfriend to be happy. Don’t misplace your happiness in someone else. They are not there to complete you, or to fill a hole. When you’re with someone, you both grow together and learn together harmoniously as two individuals. That’s just my opinion, but I do think that love will find you – one way or another, just be patient and it will hit you right in between the eyes.

The Mental State; happiness, sadness and all;

In this new wave of open discussion about mental health – get ready for some (more) real talk.

As I said before, I wasn’t in the best mood when this all started out, but it got better overtime. I was working so I wasn’t terribly bored but most of my days consisted of coming home at 7pm, exhausted and I would barely eat so I’d already be out of energy – cut to the pass out at 9pm, wake up at 11pm, stay up till 3am and repeat. So, all in all, wasn’t the healthiest option. However, things were manageable till they got out of hand – as it always is.

From April 2018, things started to go downhill, and I followed the things. Sleeping patterns, eating patterns – all of it; fell apart. It came to a point where my friends had to come to my house and order food for me, so they knew I was eating. Every time I thought it was getting better, it got worse – I was playing myself. An unhealthy decision I made, was to hold on to something so tight that it slipped right through my fingers. Every word I said or move I made was fueled by anger, and sadness, an indescribable pain. There would be days where I wouldn’t wake up for work, I would skip important meetings; I just wanted to be alone. I pushed people away, the people that I needed the most. My mind was in a different place, and with this – everything came crumbling down. I felt like I wasn’t good enough and that’s why things didn’t go the way I wanted them to when it came to my personal life, my professional life, my academic life. It came to a point where physical violence was the only outlet I had; I can remember a day where I went to a friend’s house after the juniors had graduated, and just punched his walls and sat in silence. I felt nothing and everything at the same time.

Mid July 2018, I realized there was no point and I was wasting time, and losing my friends, my family and my sanity over something that wasn’t in my control in the first place. I had practically drowned my sorrows in substances for months thinking it would numb whatever gut-wrenching pain I was feeling, and that made my physical health deteriorate severely, so don’t do it. I tried my best to move on, and I put my time into myself, my friends and my work. I had missed out on so much by shutting myself out and off from people, and so much was happening that I didn’t even realize.  By September 2018, I had more or less felt better – things were starting to look up, and I was trying to do my best every day.

I came to realize that our mistakes don’t limit us, it’s our fear. The fear of not having certain people or things in my life, scared me. And that fear could have been a block that kept out so much love, joy and appreciation out of my life. I am glad that I had a support system by my side 24/7 when I had breakdowns at 3AM, or 3PM. It took me a solid 9 months to learn that if things are meant to be in your life, they will find their way back and it’s not always about you. Sometimes, people need space for themselves and if you can understand that you also need time, when someone else needs it – it won’t be so painful. It takes a great amount of self-awareness to realize what you’re doing – whether it is right or wrong for you, and that takes time. And, that, is okay.

Here I am, months later – still learning, still making mistakes (after all, we are just human) but I am happier, to say the least. Your mental health is by far one of the most important things that you should cherish. Take time for yourself, do things that are fulfilling your soul and your mind. It’s okay to just not do anything for a few days – it took me so much time to stop punishing myself for feeling sad, or crying. It was one of those things that I’d try so hard to get past because, I had to be strong for other people and other people go through worse things but how am I going to help anyone else if I can’t even help myself? What was wrong that I made my feelings less than what they were and that did not make anything better. It just made it ten times worse than what it was.  While you’re taking time off from school, you might as well put some time into yourself and make sure your health is intact. There’s absolutely no need to over-exert yourself by partying yourself out every week – you’re not losing your youth if you don’t, so don’t worry.

The Next Few Months; plans, hopes and goals.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for taking time out of day to read about a 19-year old’s experiences. I truly appreciate it and hope you’ve been able to take something away from it, if you haven’t – well, I apologize.

Anyways, I still have a few months left before I go to university so, there are a lot of possibilities for the future. To start, I quit my job. Started looking for something that made me happy and made me want to get out of bed in the morning. In the meantime, I’m taking time for myself and tutoring on the side, so I’m not completely unproductive. I love writing, and taking photographs, and painting – so I’m trying to get back into all of those things, hence this 4,000+ word article.

I want to continue to work on myself to further better my being, soul and all. I am still figuring things out; what I want in life, where I want to be in 5 years. Although, I’m not having any more time specific plans because if I’ve learned one thing – it’s that things don’t always go according to plan, and that’s okay. I want to give more of myself to the people I care about and also maintain a solid balance between helping others and helping myself. I don’t know what the future holds, and I don’t know what I’m going to do once I get my degree. But that’s okay. Day by day, I will get one step closer to knowing what I want and how I’m going to achieve my goals.

Image may contain: Mahika Panditha, smiling, sitting and outdoor

photo credit – Amira Suhayb

Every single day, is a new chance to do something good for yourself, the people around you and the world around you. I don’t want to waste a day or any time at all. Life is so short, and you will miss out if you don’t grab it by the horns and take control. You control your destiny, so make the most of it.

If you’re thinking of taking a gap year or if you have to due to unavoidable circumstances, do it. It’ll be one of the most eye-opening, life changing experiences – if you let it.

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