Last year, when someone suggested I take a break from school, I thought it was the scariest, worst thing I could possibly do for myself (right after hitchhiking or meeting someone from Tinder in a private location).
But I took a semester-and-a-half off last year, and I lived. Here are some things I did with my time:
- Read a book about Coco Chanel being a Nazi.
- Hung out with my dog, Leo.
- Hung out with my grandpa, Jerry.
- Worked as an intern at a local newspaper.
- FaceTimed my friends at school.
- Read “Little Women.” Hated it.
- Drove my little brother to school.
- Started moisturizing post-leg shaving.
- Saw “Phantom of the Opera.”
- Met a very tall, very cute boy on Tinder and started dating him.
- Bought a fanny pack.
- Read three books by Herman Wouk and felt like a better Jew.
- Prioritized my mental health for the first time in my life and learned how to deal with my formerly all-consuming depression so that I could come back to school and focus on my work and friends rather than how miserable I felt.
Taking a medical leave for depression was something I knew I probably needed but resisted for a year. Had I known that everything would be fine — better, even, than any previous semester I had at school — I would have left much sooner.
Like many (if not most) of my peers, I was taught to prioritize school over everything since I got my first homework assignment. It’s good to teach kids that doing their homework is more important than watching “Lizzie McGuire,” but eventually, they have other, more serious things to worry about. Like mental health issues. And those, I’ve learned, should always come first.
I’ve had depression since high school, but it hit me hardest my junior year of college. I was going to class, doing most of my work and hanging out with friends, but I was deeply unhappy and didn’t care about any of it. Things improved a little over the summer, but fall semester my senior year, I was so depressed I could barely motivate myself to get out of bed and brush my teeth, much less go to class.
My friends, professors and, eventually, parents, encouraged me to take a medical leave of absence so I could see a therapist regularly and find an antidepressant that worked for me. I thought they were insane, but after a couple particularly difficult weeks at school in October, leaving for a semester felt like my only option.
One semester turned into two, but as I mentioned, both were infinitely more productive than I thought they could be. My worst nightmare is no longer taking a break from school and graduating later than originally planned, but TLC canceling “90 Day Fiancé” and its spinoffs.
I swear this isn’t an advertisement for taking medical leave from school, but if you feel like you might need to, it’s not that bad. Your well-being really is more important than your grades, and you can’t rely solely on Taylor Swift songs and Barefoot wine to absolve you of serious mental health issues (I tried).
I still feel a little weird about starting my second senior year this week; a lot of my friends have graduated, and I have to retake classes from last fall and the backpack I used for the last four years recently broke.
But I would rather be a little bit nervous than have debilitating, mind-numbing depression.
It’s not that bad.