First off, this title is a little inaccurate. I didn’t exactly choose to take a year out; rather, that decision was made for me.
I had recently embarked on my year abroad in France. I was living in Paris, and I was doing an amazing internship. I was supposed to be living the dream, and to some extent I was, not least because I was head over heels for that beautiful, breathtaking city. But I was also lonely, sad, and very, very poorly. Instead of being filled with irregular French verbs and idioms, Erasmus parties and attempts to understand the weird and wonderful Parisian ways of life, my mind obsessed over calories and kilos. I was controlled by such rigid rules and restrictions that the spontaneity integral to life abroad was non-existent and my brain and body were so starved that I often lacked the energy to do anything other than work and sleep.
But none of this meant I wanted to leave. I was terrified of failure and saw admitting to the severity of my illness as exactly that. I was desperate to make a success of myself and to make my family proud, and the thought of abandoning such a precious opportunity was unbearable. So when I was forced to, I was angry. I cried and I screamed and I sobbed and I bargained and I begged and I made promises I could not keep, but the fact of the matter was that regardless of how much I wanted to stay, the voices in my head were far too loud for me to fight alone. So I came home.
And in hindsight? There wasn’t really any other option. If I had stayed in Paris, my eating disorder would have deteriorated to the point of hospitalisation and I’d have come home anyway. All my parents did was spare me of this and took me to safety before things got inevitably worse.
These days we are engulfed by pressures to live every moment to the fullest, surrounded by meaningful mottos incessantly reminding us that ‘life is short‘ and ‘you only live once‘. But I think that sometimes these throwaway statements do more harm than good, because life isn’t really that short and there are times when we just need to give ourselves a break. Our health should be our priority and everything else can wait. What is the point in being so desperate to live life to the fullest that we end up grinding ourselves to the ground? We are stressing and fretting and running and studying and travelling and volunteering and working working working without ever pausing in our pursuit of happiness to just be happy.
Whether it’s next week, next month or next year, everything will still be there. University, travel, marriage, children… none of these opportunities are going to disappear just because we don’t seize them right this second. Time can be a wonderful thing; it can show us what we truly want and need, and sometimes this can lead to completely redirecting our lives altogether. But that’s okay. It’s okay to not have everything – or anything – figured out just yet, and it’s okay to take the time to do exactly that. It’s okay to relax and it’s okay to live slowly and it’s okay to take some time off from the great race of life to discover what makes you tick. It might end up being the best decision you ever make.