My gap year is (according to my mum) now officially over. I go to university two weeks on Sunday, and she has just informed me that my gap year is up, now I just have 'a fortnights vacation' (please ignore that horrible American-Brit hybrid of a phrase, it's painful having a mum who works for an American company). It's strange. A year, have I changed? Of all the years of my life, I think maybe this is the year I have done the least amount of changing. Which I know is to be expected, really- everybody changes less each year, the difference between a child that is newborn and a child of a year old is the greatest difference that that child, that that person, will ever go through.
Wait, no. Hang on...
I'm contradicting myself and that's because I'm thinking as I type. Trauma (and I'm deliberately being ambiguous; trauma is totally subjective, after all), changes a person more, and maybe serious illness. I know I wrote before about the greatest difference between men being between the sick and the well, but what about the greatest difference within ONE man? You can put a sick man (I'm a feminist sympathiser, by the way- I'm using the word 'man' because that is what the word in the quote I wrote about, in 'A quote') next to a well man, but you can never line up the person you were when you were ill with the person you are well.
Maybe that's not the ultimate comparison anyway, though. Maybe the real change is between the person you would have been had you never been ill and the person that the illness produced. I don't think that illness or trauma or really anything that life throws ('that-that-that-that what don't kill me...') necessarily makes a person stronger. Maybe the way you deal with it does, but you don't have to be the strongest or the best person you can be, to get through a situation. No matter how bad it is, you generally just draw on what you know and go through unchanged- that what does not kill you does NOT always make you stronger.
People let themselves be soothed with the idea that whatever shit they had to go through was for the best, that they are now so much better. Because what if that's not the case? What if they're no better, no worse, but for a few more recent bad memories? Or what if it HAS actually made you worse, you're bitter or you're trapped in fear or, you know, you're just not all that nice any more?
I've been a nightmare to live with.
And so, have I changed? And if I have, have my changes been down to having had the illness or having got better? (I think I better add, I'm not just talking about my eating disorder, although I am a lot better than I was this time a year ago. I'm being general, I'm putting all the symptoms of all my diagnoses together.) Am I good, have I wore the changes well? Am I different from how I would have been, had I never been ill?
I think the main thing is responsibility. I am responsible now. Almost everybody holds the responsibility for their own life, they take the responsibility for self preservation and it's just sort of... a given. But with mental illness the level of responsibility fluctuates. I mean, I've had times when I haven't taken any sort of responsibility- I've moved like a zombie, in a different time zone and with the speed of my light moving differently, not taking any preserving actions and waiting for something to make a decision for me, to kill me or to save me. Then there are times when I get there, I get to where I'm genuinely sure I'm close to death, in one way or another, and I take a step back- my responsibility heightened because death seems almost inevitable. It's paradoxical, but it is as it is. The level goes up and down and the differences between the average person and the person suffering with some sort of mental illness are the peaks and dips- sometimes you have to take actions NOT to take your own life, for example. Instead of just NOT killing yourself, which every day most people do, you have to take a definite step against it- a phone call, whatever. Sometimes you genuinely don't care. And that's not 'normal', to fluctuate so greatly. And I am taking responsibility, I am choosing to live. And that is the ultimate change, perhaps.
Perhaps it's the only change. And so I must be better, although I stand by that I'm not necessarily better or stronger for having been ill or for having got better, getting better. I'm glad there is no way I can know for sure, how I could, should have lived to produce the best person I can be. Perhaps it was worth taking a year, just to find that I DO care, I DO care if I live or die. That's all it comes down to; a year ago I couldn't tell you whether I wanted to live or die, because either seemed bound by the restraints of the illness. I'm not free of the illness, not yet, but that's almost irrelevant because now I know, I get to choose. And I have chosen and that's all. And that has been my gap year.