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Minding the gap

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OCTOBER 12, 2022

We all exist in little limbos — whether we know it or not. We belong to a world of the in-betweens: constantly caught in the intangible space between the internet and reality or lulling ourselves to sleep on some form of transportation. Truth be told, we spend much of our time neither here nor there. 

Although we trace our lives in milestones, tallying up only the endpoints, much of our growth occurs in this intermediate state. So much of our learning comes from the setbacks we endure on the journey to where we want to go. 

Taking a gap year was one giant respite for me. For the first time in five years, I finally allowed myself longer than a second to catch my breath, allowed my lungs to fill with air. I had spent the previous years attempting to outrun my anxiety and eating disorder while juggling the rigorous coursework of my high school’s IB program, moving from Singapore to Manila and surviving through a global pandemic in the wake of it all. The decision to defer my entry to college was not an easy one, as the Philippines remained in one of the longest lockdowns worldwide, leaving opportunities for jobs and internships essentially nonexistent. Yet, I couldn’t shake the deep-rooted, innate knowing that if not now, when? 

If I didn’t choose myself on the cusp of a new era, would I get the chance to do so in the middle of the chapter? Would I be sabotaging this new era of my life, undermining it by carrying with me the same burdens and worries of the past few years?

As someone with anxiety, making the decision to take a gap year without a clear-cut conclusion was unnerving, but paled in comparison to the desperation I felt to finally improve my mental and physical well-being. The length of time recovery would take was unclear, but it was a risk I was willing to take. Whatever headway I made in a year would be progress I would carry with me for the rest of my life.

Although the discomfort seemed to cloak my entire being, acknowledging that it was a human response towards the nature of uncertainty brought me some sense of relief. As humans, we enjoy stories. The linear progression of a story’s beginning, middle and end has conditioned us to seek the assurance of closure — a predetermined ending. Accepting that my life was a story I was writing in real time was simultaneously empowering and terrifying. Remembering the fact that I write my own story, regardless of how my brain might catastrophize during periods of high anxiety, allows me to scale things back into perspective. 

Choosing to diverge from my own expectations, from a path I had constructed in my mind, was a risk with an open ending. To see this as an opportunity, as a blank slate, rather than a gaping hole in the story of my life, allowed me to take the narrative back into my own hands. While no one could assure the success of my gap year, I eventually reached the conclusion that there would still be value in trying, regardless of outcome. A year felt unbearably long, but I decided to view “extra time” as more chances to try and try again, to allow myself to explore unfamiliar terrain, to resist the temptation of familiar compulsions. No matter what transpired in a year, I would still be learning, growing along the way. Making peace with the idea of failing empowered me to finally choose myself, to envision a future where things got better. 

Although we may imagine our life in separate chapters, the reality is that some limbos interlock with others. The boundaries of these chapters may be blurred, undetectably sealed over by time. Post-gap year, I had anticipated things would feel more certain, more stable. But the reality is, there was no concrete boundary I crossed over the summer that concluded my mental health journey, allowing me to neatly tuck it away for college. Instead, I entered this new realm a healthier version of myself — a character upgrade with more levels to unlock. I realize that pursuing a better state of mind is an ongoing journey, one that will shapeshift along with the fluctuations of life.

In times of high anxiety, when I get caught up in the uncertainty of what to do, I remind myself to seek stillness: to take a deep breath — or several — and take it step by step. Perhaps the key to navigating these intermediary stages is a careful balance of knowing when to look at the macro or the micro. 

When things feel insurmountable, when deadlines seem to domino into the next, I anchor myself by confronting what’s right in front of me first. But instead of letting uncertainty immobilize us, may we remember that even taking a single step is still movement in the direction we want to go. Allowing ourselves to exist in the not knowing is an admittance of being human. 

There is power in recognizing that we don’t always have the answers — and that’s perfectly okay.

Andrea Benitez writes the Wednesday column on existing in between spaces. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

OCTOBER 12, 2022