As of 4pm Tuesday, my gap year began, and I am so fucking relieved. Only a fraction of even my closest friends and family know that I am taking a year out from studying a masters in Chemistry, hence I thought it best to write an explanation rather than having to explain it to everyone individually.
I am frequently asked why I am studying a degree that I so obviously hate. I chose Chemistry at the age of seventeen because, after ditching the idea of studying dentistry, it was the only one of my three A level subjects that I felt both competent and interested in. Plus, I was constantly being told how good it would be for my future. Upon arriving at the University of Sheffield, I quickly realised how difficult this degree was going to be, and I still had a good 4 years to go.
In all honesty, university was not what I had expected it to be, and though I was loving independent life and the constant going out, I was struggling more than I would admit – even to myself. That is not to say that I did not make a whole new group of amazing friends, and learn a lot, but 2016 was a particularly bad year for me personally. Prior to leaving for university, my mental health had spiralled downwards and, when I arrived in September I was not in a stable place. The stresses of being in a new environment and having to cope with Chemistry’s heavy workload only added to my woes and I essentially worked myself into a psychological car crash. Once I sought doctor’s advice and, subsequently, therapy to deal with my mental health issues, I managed to convince myself that the reason I disliked my degree so much was because of all the other clutter in my brain, which made it hard for me to focus on day to day activities, and that once I’d managed to overcome some of my personal problems, I’d find my studies much more manageable. So I stuck it out and, after a year of hell, I somehow managed to pass first year with a first overall.
However, the further into second year I got, the more I realised that my degree also played a significant role in bringing me down, as I was constantly stressed and overwhelmed, which had a domino effect on the mental health issues I had been working to overcome. Even though I was in a better place mentally, I still hated my degree. Yet again, though, I made excuses, as I had applied to undertake a year abroad in Australia, and was motivated to study by the promise of a year in Sydney should I achieve the 60% necessary. Sooner than expected, July arrived and I flew out to begin my third year at UNSW in Sydney, excited and extremely jetlagged. This year has been an amazing one for me: not only have I had the opportunity to live in Australia, but I have made a lot of progress in the final stages of recovery from disordered eating paired with anxiety and other issues. I am proud to still be studying Chemistry because, not only has it allowed me to experience living abroad for a year, but I know how much of a struggle it has been at times, and every grade I have achieved is a merit to my own perseverance, even when I had a lot of other stuff going on. Despite this, I still hate it, and constantly find myself getting worked up; whenever my stress levels increase, I notice myself slipping back into negative behaviour patterns and my mindset backtracking. I have been granted leave of absence on the grounds of mental health, and I feel like taking some time off to consolidate the progress I have made is the best option; looking after myself is my priority at the moment, and that is what I intend to do.
There are no set plans for this time off, other than to rejuvenate. I would like to explore potential avenues for career paths, as I don’t have any idea what I want to do after uni – only that it most definitely does not include Chemistry. For the first half I intend to work and save up, possibly getting experience in some different fields that I am interested in, such as primary teaching, and toward the end of my time off it is highly likely that I will go travelling again. I can only hope that by doing some work experience I might be able to get a better idea of what I want to do after university, which will potentially motivate me to return in September 2020 and finish off my degree. If you are considering ask me (as so many people have) if I really think I will return, bog off. Quite frankly, it is none of your business and I don’t owe it to anyone except myself to complete the Chemistry course, which is something I will decide on toward the end of my leave of absence. For now, the relief of being able to fully focus on my interests, and pursue things I have never had the time do to do, is immense and the range of opportunities at my disposal both intimidates and excites me.
I would like to thank every single one of my lab partners over these horrible three years, for putting up with endless tears and tantrums – and a special mention to my PPR gang (you know who you are) for all of the support you have given me, without which I probably would have quit after the first week. So, here’s to the next 16 months of freedom, with the lack of stress and endless prospects that this time off encompasses!