This is it, Gap-year, the sequel. This is the Empire Strikes Back of our series on the awesome value of Gap Years. I’m gonna be honest though, I’m more of a Jedi guy myself (Ewok haters back off), but Empire is obviously the better movie, so I suppose this essay has a lot of hype to live up to.
In my last post, I shared just a brief summary of why I believe that taking a Gap year is the best decision you can make. Chances are, if you missed that last post, this one will seem like it’s coming from nowhere. Go read that one, and then come back. Go ahead, I’ll wait 😉
You’re back, okay good, I was getting worried for a minute. Sorry, that’s the overwhelming social anxiety talking. Anyway, this week, I’m gonna dig into the value of taking a gap year when it comes to your emotional health and your relationships. Let’s jump in, shall we?
Think of this as a catch-all: emotional health, mental health, spiritual health. Let me be clear before we start: pre-meds are incredibly strong people. It takes more grit than many pre-meds realize to get through the rigorous challenges of preparing for medical school. Undergrad takes a lot more out of pre-meds than we realize. If you’re like me, while you enjoyed undergrad, you probably weren’t exactly having the time of your life in the same way some of your peers seemed to be.
Undergrad was a lot of work, and your mental health, your identity probably suffered.
Trying to figure out who you are, your future, your passions and interests, and excelling academically. It’s exhausting. The problem is, while we pre-meds are really good at a lot of things, we suck at two things: taking it easy, and humility. Stress and emotional anxiety become the “new norm”, and being the highly adaptive samurai-wizard-geniuses we are, it’s bizzare and strange to slow down. Use gap years to slow down, to recoup, to stop lying to ourselves. That’s where the humility-specifically about our own limits and weaknesses comes in. Take a gap year to take honest stock of your mental well-being, because I can assure you, you will not have the luxury of time while in medical school. I admit it, I was way more tired after finish undergrad than I allowed myself to believe. I’m not proud of it.
I’m not tired- I’m Superman darn it! I should be able to handle this!
Admit it, you feel a little bit like this too. It’s okay, you’ve probably earned that feeling in many regards. You just came off one of the most rigorous undergraduate careers possible, and you won. But the truth is, you’re probably weaker than you realize. You’ve been fighting for so long, it just seems normal. Learn to relax, to become sane again. A gap year affords you opportunity to rediscover what real emotional stability, what low-stress feels like (and yes, applying to medical school is stressful in its own right, but we’re talking relative stresses). Do yourself a favor- return to your place of rest, your Batcave. Regain your sense of well-being, remember what it feels like to not be stressed. Get some mental health hit points back, because you’ll need them for the herculean task ahead.
Every relationship I know-be it friendly or romantic- has suffered at least in some part while in medical school. That isn’t to say that if you don’t take a year off your person, your people will suddenly and spontaneously combust out of your life. But medicine has a way of chipping at the cracks in the relationship, causing rust and rot, festers where you thought you were strong. So be aware, and plan accordingly. I’ve seen more than my fair share of failed relationships in medical school.
There is no way to ignore that medicine asks a lot not just of you, but your people too. You need to realize that.
You need people who are willing to put up with your crap on a monthly, daily, weekly basis. To be okay with your long absences- physical or otherwise- from their lives when you study. People who find tactful ways to share with you when you inevitably drop the ball, without throwing life off-track. Those are the sorts of people we need to surround ourselves with before medical school. Use your gap year to galvanize those relationships. Build into and invest in the people you hold dearest. Have tough conversations with your people about the future. Obviously, it’s not possible to fix every problem in a relationship in a single year, or even two or three, but taking a gap year is an incredible opportunity. This is the time you can really focus in on the people you care about the most. The hopes is that when the time comes, those relationships can pass through the crucible without cracking.
Check back next week for the last part in this three part series, where we talk about the value of gap years when it comes to experience, identity, and finances.
By Matthew Wright