If you’re reading this, it’s okay to take time off.
Of course that’s not what the little voice inside your head will tell you. The one comparing you to the students set to graduate early. Or the students who have a killer internship this summer. Or the students who browse through their LinkedIn connections while sitting in their Lawn Room and jotting down computer code that will revolutionize, I don’t know, something.
At least, that’s what the little voice told me. Some unfortunate combination of genetics, perfectionism, and low self-worth created an anxiety that shaped my entire existence.
Nothing was ever good enough. Get an A on an exam? I must have lucked out or taken an easy class. My early acceptance my dream program? I was undeserving and fooled them into accepting me. My heavy involvement at the University? It wasn’t enough.
In my mind, even my closest friends hated me. My only solace was knowing that there was no way they could hate me as much as I hated myself. But no one knew I spent my days with racing thoughts and a pounding chest and my nights crying silently in my pillow. And even as I wore myself into the ground as I obsessed about studying, working out, controlling my diet and my appearance, I was determined not to let anyone know how much I was struggling.
I remember thinking that living this way was exhausting. I wondered if it was worth it to go through another day.
Years of bullying myself finally caught up to me in the worst time and place. I was finishing my semester abroad when depression hit like a freight train: brain fog, constant guilt, sleepless nights, crying spells, obsessive thoughts, no appetite -- the whole shebang. At the time, this all felt like proof of what I had been telling myself for years: that I wasn’t good enough and never would be. I was ruined. Everyone would be better off without me.
My parents, in their infinite love for me, forced me to take a semester off from UVA. At the time, it felt like even further evidence that I was worthless. But through therapy, a new medication regimen, and the love and support from my friends and family I began to feel not only like myself again, but like a way better version of myself.
UVA hasn’t changed one bit, but I am a completely different person. I feel like my capacity to love, learn, and enjoy life has grown ten-fold. I’m doing great in my classes, with a fraction of the stress, conducting research and holding an internship. At the time, it felt like taking time off from school was affirmation of my self-hatred: but taking the time to invest in my health was the best thing I could have done.
So, if you’re reading this, it’s okay to take time off. I urge you to slow down and take time for yourself. A semester, a year, whatever you need. School, friends, and everything will still be there when you get back. But if you don’t take care of yourself, you might not be.
Caroline A., University of Virginia