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  • Madeleine Lake

The gap year that turned into the gap life

"I didn't get the grades," I said looking at my parents at 7 am. "Congratulations! We know you're joking- we are so proud" they exclaimed enthusiastically. "I didn't. I'm not in," I replied, staring back at them in the calmest state I'd found myself in. Anyone who has ever logged into UCAS Track on result's day and read 'You are in clearing' will understand the feeling that sinks you lower than you could ever imagine.

I didn't cry that morning. I was actually quite composed for someone who had their life plans derailed at 7 am in August 2019. The ironic part was, I never packed for university. My gut feeling told me something hadn't gone right. I had worked hard for two years and had gone through a breakup which threw me off at the time of my exams. Was that to blame? I don't know, but I'm here to tell you that it doesn't matter. I got good grades; I wanted to go to a top world university, at least I thought I wanted to. Two years on, I am still not at university and that does not make me a failure.

That day my best friends were celebrating leaving the small town we all grew up in and faced the beginning of a new journey. It was hard to be happy for them when you are mourning the loss of your own plans. I spoke to a few other universities on result's day, and I was offered a spot at Newcastle University as well as a few others. I realised something was wrong because I couldn't bring myself to go. I felt like a failure, so I decided to resit the year, which I still regret to this day. I had convinced myself getting into that university was everything I needed, and I couldn't forgive myself. If I could meet myself two years ago, I would tell her she is going to be okay and that she did amazing in her exams anyway.

I wanted a future and I wanted to succeed, but I didn't know what to do.

My mental health declined rapidly, already hating my choice to go back to studying, I felt lost. I had a phone call at 3 am that changed my life, and in a state of depression, I said I wanted to leave and go to Canada. My friend asked me what was stopping me and that's when I realised, nothing was. The only way I can describe the six months of depression was 'sleepwalking'. I was performing the necessary actions without being present. The day after that life-changing call, I dropped out and booked a flight to Canada. I began working at a bar and by the time I knew it, I was working three jobs simultaneously. It seemed like I had got my life together within fewer than 24 hours, but truthfully I was running away. The onset of Covid-19 ruined my chances of leaving in the summer of 2020. I was still working at the bar and felt like a failure.

All my friends had left and I started feeling lonely, so I decided to support myself. I decided to spend my weekends travelling up and down the country to stay with friends at different universities. I had time off to do as I pleased, and it began to sink in that I was going to be okay. My chances of going to Canada were cancelled, but I still wanted to go in 2021, so I decided to try new jobs and make more plans. I never committed to my dream of being a writer and working on shows, I thought it was unattainable. The truth is, it's not. You have to work for your dream, but you are allowed to do it by any means. Schools often promote university as being the only route to go down, but I wish I had been told that it was okay to have a gap year. Everyone is on their own timeline, and I never understood this fully until I recognised my life had taken a different turn.

I was commissioned for my first article in 2019 and had published a poem by the end of that year, resulting in some fantastic job offers. I have also been offered an unconditional spot at University, my top choice for that matter too. Had I gone two years ago, I would not be the same person. My gap years have taught me how to support myself, travel, appreciate everything, and work hard and engage in the world around me. I learned to stop caring what others thought about me and to understand my full worth and potential. I have been fortunate enough to have spent weekends in new cities every month and instead work freelance alongside a bar job before working in media from September.

If you're reading this, you may be considering a gap year or maybe a gap life. I don't like calling it 'gap' because it's so fulfilling in so many ways. My first year was challenging. Had I cut myself some slack and recognised that I would be okay, then it would have been far greater. I am no longer running away from anything in my life; I am in the healthiest mindset I have ever been in. It has taken a lot of time to get here, but I would not change the journey in any way. There have been dark days that I thought I would never come back from, but each time I did, and I smile. Give yourself a little hug and a break; I promise everything will be okay.

I've composed a little list for you, perhaps a small survival guide for making a gap year everything you could hope for it to be. I hope you can learn from this what I wish I had learned sooner.

What can I do in my gap year?

1. Visit your friends, spend freshers with some of them if you can! You will have friends in different cities, and they can show you around.

2. Do Camp Canada or Camp America. I recommend applying directly to camps and not through agencies, which can save you around £400-500 and also gets you a summer abroad and free accommodation.

3. Get a job. I know bar work can seem intimidating or not your usual thing. It can be hard work, but it's very sociable and you can have a good laugh. Not to mention you can earn good money as hours are always available.

What should I have learned?

1. Your grades do not define you; you're not a number. No number can ever tell you your worth, you are capable of anything.

2. This is your life and no one can tell you how to live it. Don't let others judge the path you're on, accept the choices you've made.

3. You can always change your mind, you don't have to be miserable in a job when you're supported. Join LinkedIn and look to further yourself and find opportunities.

4. It can feel scary to be alone but know you are not. You should always be your own number one cheerleader, but it doesn't mean you always have to be. Lean on your friends, they will still be there for you.

5. Put your mental health first. Health is wealth and you need to be happy in yourself and what you do. Be inspired, bold, brave and beautiful.

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