I have no grades to report. I don’t go to college.
That’s the just of the emails I’m currently sending out to all the schools I’ve applied to transfer to as an explanation for why I can’t submit the mid-term grade report form. It’s tough to get non-existent professors to fill out a form documenting your non-existent grades. All of the schools have been understanding thus far, but some have asked for a short explanation of what I’m doing with my gap year and why I decided to take a gap year in the first place. This is a question I’ve answered a lot in the past year, to curious friends, family, and the occasional stranger. I had a standard answer– “I just needed a break from school.” It’s not that that isn’t true, but being asked to put this down in writing has gotten me thinking. Now that I’m 2/3 of the way finished with this year (what would have been my sophomore year of college), I feel that I can think about it from a slightly different head-space, and I’m finding that the reason I decided not only to not return to Washington and Lee, but to not return to college period has evolved and become much clearer.
At risk of sounding melodramatic, I will admit that I was entirely miserable at Washington and Lee. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again– it was a torrentially bad fit. Completely incompatible. It sucked, but at the same time, a part of me is thankful that it was so dramatically the wrong place for me. Going into college, my head was not in a good place. I flat out wasn’t ready for the social pressures that come with going to college. I wasn’t grounded firmly in my sense of self. I was trying to define myself by externalities when the only way to really figure myself out was to look inward. I was setting myself up for failure. And because W&L was so drastically wrong for me, I crashed and burned in a major way. I wasn’t treating myself right, trying so hard to cram myself into the right boxes. I had wonderful friends who tried to take care of me, but I wasn’t in a place to return the favor. I was sad. So sad, that I had to admit that the way I was living wasn’t sustainable and wasn’t conducive to my growth or education.
I remember the day that I realized I couldn’t finish my education at W&L. It was a beautiful spring day and I had just finished a work study shift at the radio station. Walking back to my dorm, I ran into some friends lounging on the quad, and I sat with them for a while and felt absolutely disconnected. Everything was beautiful, it was a scenario that would have fit into any college movie, but I couldn’t stand it. I went up to my dorm room, sat on my bed, and calmly called my mother and told her that I could not return to this school. I had to transfer. It was as simple as that.
To say I needed a break from school isn’t not true. But it wasn’t because I was sick of the formal academic experience. It was because I had quite literally no idea what I wanted or needed. Even after I decided to take the year off, I still didn’t know– all I knew was that something was wrong, and I needed to figure out what would make it right before I dove back into the academic world. Call it a gut instinct. They always say you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else. I needed the time and space to figure out what taking care of myself meant so that I could find a place to finish my degree that would help me to meet those needs. I needed time to grow on my own terms so that I would be able to form healthy, symbiotic relationships with my peers.
Now, I’m doing a lot better. Living on my own in Detroit, far away from my family, has forced me to take care of myself. It took me a couple of months to really figure out what I need to be a real, functioning person, but I’ve gotten there. I understand my needs. I have strong, healthy friendships with people who challenge me to be better. They take care of me when I need it, and I’m able to return the favor. And perhaps most importantly, I’ve become really good friends with myself.
I don’t know exactly what I’m going to say when I reply to the emails from the colleges. I do know that this gap year has been the one of the most necessary things in my life. Maybe I’ll just tell them that.