When I first received my acceptance letter to the University of Toronto in 2015, I was ecstatic. I wasn’t just excited at the prospect of attending the number one school in Canada, but I was elated by what this acceptance letter meant for my future. Symbolically.
Attending the University of Toronto meant that all my goals were coming to fruition just as I’d planned them. It meant that life was something that I could navigate, wield and manuever, according to my whims and desires. If you’d met 17-year-old Grace then, she’d have exclaimed some half-truths about how the universe works in your favor if you just believe.
You see, my entire life was planned out perfectly before me. I’d attend the University of Toronto, set the building blocks for a long, fantastic career and finally, graduate at the top of my class in 2019.
Things, of course, did not go according to plan — as they seldom do.
Two years into my English degree, I found myself unable to stay afloat within the endless sea of University of Toronto students. I struggled to juggle long medieval literature readings with clubs and a social life and maintain relationships with friends from back home. Not only did I miss my family back home terribly, but adjusting to life in Toronto turned out to be much harder than I’d imagined it would be. The rising difficulties led to a dip in the quality of my mental health. Following the advice of my academic counselor, I took two years off of university to recuperate my staggering mental health.
Two years later, I’m back at the University of Toronto and the busy, winding streets of Toronto are as familiar as home.
This time, though I’m ready to face the new challenge. Yes, everything is occurring under the novel context of coronavirus and many of the faces in my classes are brand new (since many of my old friends and peers have already graduated). But, I’ve learned a lot in my gap years and decided to see this as an opportunity for growth, to make new friends and to develop new skills, hobbies and interests that I’d never considered previously.
Taking time off from school taught me unforgettable lessons about mental health. Working at a doggy daycare taught me that it isn’t your fault when you struggle. My study abroad experience helped me realize the importance of reaching out for support when you’re feeling low. These are lessons that I wouldn’t quite have mastered if I hadn’t taken the time I needed to care for my mental health.
Most importantly, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in school or how long it takes you to graduate with a degree. It’s okay if you’re only truly ready for school after you take a couple years off. It is the experiences and the memories and the lessons that you garner along the way, that make it a truly worthwhile ride.