CN: Emotional abuse, depression,
I still know deep down that moving back home after graduation was the right choice for me. I knew at the time that I didn’t have the mental capacity to focus on my degree and scout around for jobs and internships at the same time, like some people were able to. I knew I’d wanted a gap year before university but that I hadn’t been resilient or mature enough at the age of 18 to handle it.
My strategy paid off. I ended up with a first and now have plenty of time to research the Masters I never had the confidence to contemplate before. After a difficult first two years at Cambridge, overshadowed by anxiety and depression, I couldn’t be more taken aback and ecstatic about how everything turned out. I’m glad I have given myself time to breathe and consider before I throw myself into the next stage of my life. But coming back home isn’t without its worries. In fact, despite all my convictions, I worried about it a lot during my last term of university.
“You start to fear that the person you’ve become away at university, that person you’ve become proud of, might gradually start to slip away”
Make no mistake, I am lucky to have a mum who will welcome me back home for my post-uni gap year and help feed and support me. It is a privilege not everyone has access to. But all the same, it’s nerve-wracking to return to the site of your teenage alienation, to encounter again the person you used to be, the person you thought you’d left behind. You hope you won’t slip back into the same patterns. You hope you won’t slip off the map entirely. Does life just seem slower because you’ve left the frenetic place of university? Are you just tired all the time because final year’s crescendo of stress and excitement has finally begun to dissipate? You start to fear that the person you’ve become away at university, that person you’ve become proud of, might gradually start to slip away.
It might not just be all the triggers and reminders that make returning home potentially fraught. It might be the situation at home itself. It took me a long time to realise that my father was emotionally abusive to my mother throughout my childhood, as it did her. After they finally began their divorce during my first year of university unravelling those threads has been fraught and painful. Away from home over the past three years, I’ve been able to shield myself from the worst of it. I haven’t spoken to my dad since he left. I’ve been shielded a lot from the everyday toll his lying and manipulation wreaks on the mental health of our household as the divorce stutters along. Walking back in through that front door, I knew I was going to have to face that reality all over again. But there’s only so much you can prepare for. Knowing what’s coming and facing the reality of living it are two different things. The first week I was back home the strain was so much I wasn’t sure I’d last a month, let alone a year.
“Sometimes the opposite of drowning is not frantic swimming but floating on your back and watching the sky pass”
But there are certain things I remember. I have to remind myself that there is not such a sharp distinction between some rosy, colourful life at university and the staid, painful reality of being back home. Even in my final year when everything went so much better there were days when getting out of bed was hard. But I was ok then, and I’m ok now.
I remind myself again and again that I am not lost. I will be out of here in a year. Sometimes the opposite of drowning is not frantic swimming but floating on your back and watching the sky pass. I make a list of all the things I want to do over the summer. I start to fill a notebook with information about potential Masters. I use the experience I learned at university about structuring my day, about being independent. In this way, I start to show myself that I am a different person. Things will not be bad like before.
I came back because I didn’t want to rush headfirst into a life I wasn’t sure I wanted out of fear. This year of my life will be a challenge but in some ways it will also be a luxury. For the past year, I have had an illustration I like set as my desktop background. It says:
‘Trust the Choices You Make. Give Yourself Time.’
Other people will succeed faster, move more. My news feed might be full of everyone else’s success as I continue my meandering path through life. But they will be on their path, and I will be on mine, and that is where I want to be.