I never entertained the thought of a gap year. I thought such a year was meant for traveling and I've never been enamored by the idea. Schools don't really talk to you seriously about taking a year out; it's sort of a "you're on your own" policy, which is a scary concept even when your gap year is premeditated.
My year-long gap came about through disappointing grades; they just weren't good enough for my course at Uni. It's a gut wrenching feeling, opening your results and trying to process what you're seeing, what it means in the short term and the long. The next two weeks or so were horrible, waiting for re-marks, talking to various Unis about my options and making serious decisions, feeling so alone as I made them. However, in hindsight, there's a relief when the waiting is over and you know once and for all what the future holds...
So, for me this meant a gap year and some retakes. Certain parts of the year were harder than others, it was really miserable seeing friends leave for Uni: getting new friends and experiencing new things/ places when I was stuck at home. Their monumental return at Christmas, bursting with stories, and eventual arrival back at the end of Freshers, lamenting the end of an amazing first year; were also challenging. I felt both so close to it all yet excluded at the same time.
At the start of the year I think I was beginning to get depression. I still didn't have an inclination to travel and my funds were insufficient. With retakes on the far horizon I was at a loss as to what to do with myself in the mean time, no friends around and sometimes stranded without a car. Without a reason to get up, I would lie in bed most of the day and not leave the house for days at a time. My stagnant life meant all I could do was think about how unhappy I was, how I wasn't where I wanted to be, my friends were advancing their lives and I felt like my life was on pause. Inactive days meant getting to sleep was a struggle, so my mind continuously rolled round these depressing thoughts like a broken carousel. Honestly, the support and love of my family and eventual self-discipline to structure my days, finding meaning in each one, were the only reasons I kept afloat.
As the year progressed the good days began to out number the bad when I made the decision to get work experience; it seems to be what every company wants these days. I had to take a moment and think seriously about what I wanted to do after education; the placements had to be meaningful. With an idea of what industry I wanted to get into, the time came to actually apply...
I've learnt the importance of a cover letter, a CV at a young age should be well presented but no one expects a rich and varied job history. The cover letter should include: who you are, what you're currently doing, what you'd like to do and what past experience you may have (what useful skills you may cultivated). You need a tough skin applying for work experience, I must have sent over 100 emails and got a dozen or so offers for placements? You should always try and email the most relevant person (worse comes to the worst, send an email to the general enquires inbox with a title like 'Work Experience Enquiry'). I really enjoyed my placements and honestly don't think I would have spent my time any differently if I were to do the year again. Not only did they give me important skills for working life but they helped to focus my mind, gave me a reason to wake up early, a purpose for the day. Furthermore, the tiredness from working a full day made me sleep well without my mind having time to pick apart my situation and feelings.
My mental state was also improved through healthy eating and exercise. Being more conscious of my diet helped me start to lose weight and gain self-confidence. The exercise allowed me to set goals I had to work to complete and for a few hours a week I was forced to clear my mind and think of nothing but the immediate physical task. I had more energy to be social and proactive.
At the start of the year, I struggled to accept the things I couldn't change. As time passed I learnt that the plan we make for ourselves so often isn't the one the cosmos has intended for us and that's not necessarily a bad thing. I now understand that sometimes finding happiness in your life can be the hardest thing to do but only you have the power to find and accept it when it does appear.