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What I Learned About Myself During My Gap Year

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In the span of just a few months, I have finished my gap year, moved back in with my family, and begun my first “big girl” job. All the while, the summer has given me time to reflect on my “gap year” abroad. I had a meeting with my college orientation leader this week, and when the call was about to end, he asked me if I was scared or overwhelmed by the upcoming big change that is college. “Well,…” I replied. “I’ve kind of already done this before. I’ve had a chance to adjust to living on my own.” 

What I didn’t tell him was that adjusting to living independently did not necessarily equate to feeling comfortable with it. In fact, I struggled in ways that I really had not anticipated. To be candid, I had assumed that any struggles I would encounter living away from home would be a product of my ADHD or executive functioning challenges. I failed to predict that there were so many other factors that could get in the way of day-to-day living – those that required my first attempt at “adulting” like: refilling prescriptions, doing my laundry, and eating nutritiously (just to name a few). It wasn’t the inherent fact of living alone that inhibited me, or even the things that I knew going in might be difficult (especially those that require organization and planning); rather, it was the loneliness and overall discomfort of this totally unfamiliar gap year experience. 

I had plenty of extended family and friends in Israel, even lifelong camp friends just a few streets away. Even still, the loneliness I felt was all-consuming. Although Sunday night dinners with cousins and weekend sleepovers in the dorms of friends I’ve known since I was 7 provided tastes of home and were some of my happiest moments from this year, the feeling of solace would quickly elude me on the quiet bus rides back to my gap year program. 

It was difficult to explain this sad phenomenon to my parents, who could not seem to fathom how their extremely social child, who NEVER got homesick at summer camp, had such heartache and longing for home at age 18. My peers didn’t understand either; they seemed to always be talking about how nice it was to not have their parents hovering over them all the time. 

And although deciding to go out for drinks on a Tuesday night was fun, I couldn’t help but miss my old life. I missed my family. I missed my house. I missed my friends. I missed high school. Now, as I write this in August, I understand that this mourning of my “old life” had a significant impact on my ability to care for myself and make the most of my newfound independence. 

Since I was young, when a shirt falls off a hanger it feels like a tiring chore to put it back on, whereas to other people it seems so simple. And when three shirts would fall off a hanger, I feel like I could cry. My ADHD mind gets immediately overwhelmed. My ADHD mind/brain just didn’t tune into those types of things. Living at home, I fell into the habit of letting piles of fallen shirts surround my room; living in a space that was shared with a roommate, I no longer had that luxury. This past year, I have had to train myself to pick up my clothing. To refill my own pillboxes. To take myself to the doctor’s office at 7 am when I really didn’t feel up to it. 

I realize now, what made these things so hard when I was on my gap year was not so much my ADHD or my executive functioning challenges, per se, but the loneliness that came with trying to adjust to a new routine (something, it turns out, many people with ADHD also struggle with). I missed my best friend Orli’s company while I reorganized my closet. I missed the catch-up time with my mom as we refilled my pillbox at the end of the month. I missed the bakery where my parents and I used to stop to get cinnamon rolls together after early morning doctor appointments. 

As I move forward into this next chapter of college (which starts in just two days!! Ahhh!!) I realize how much I have already learned about living alone. I have learned to love myself like I love my cherished family and friends. I have learned to value the mundane routines of laundry and filling prescriptions. In fact, I now look forward to the routines of taking care of myself; I am no longer scared of its loneliness. Rather, I feel empowered by the knowledge that 1) I am capable of doing so, and 2) that it is quality time to spend with myself. I will aim to create new traditions in my self-care, akin to cinnamon rolls and catch-ups. And I look forward to sharing it with you when I get there.

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