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person holding white printer paper, mental health
person holding white printer paper, mental health
Sydney Sims
Wellness > Mental Health

Breaking the Stigma Around Taking a Semester Off

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

Content Warning: this article talks about battling mental health

Two weeks ago, I was driving up to Massachusetts to move back into UMass after a tough fall semester. I was nervous to face the spring semester after the mental health challenges I worked so hard to overcome during winter break. I was hesitant about my ability to take care of myself mentally and physically but was told by my therapist that getting onto medications would make the spring semester doable. 

Fast forward to a week ago and I was feeling miserable. I was having panic attacks in classes, I was constantly unable to breathe, I couldn’t eat without feeling like I was going to get sick, I wasn’t able to do any of my classwork, and I didn’t find any enjoyment in all of the activities I was supposed to feel so excited for. My medication (which I hoped and was told would be my saving grace this semester) was not working at all anymore. At this point, I was left with two options:

  1. To stay at UMass and keep pushing through feeling miserable all of the time, try to up the dosage of my medications, work with my therapist a couple of times a week, and constantly be in touch with my family
  2. To take the semester off from UMass and go home to work on healing myself mentally and physically

After lots of tears and conversations with friends and family, I made the decision to go home. The last thing I wanted to do was feel like I was giving up and making that decision made me feel weak. So many people struggle with mental health, and as soon as it began to feel unbearable for me, I was so fast to call it. I was disappointed in myself and all I wanted was to feel as much excitement for life as I did a year ago. Despite feeling this way, I made my decision and decided to only move forward from there. I withdrew from UMass and began packing all of my things.

Initially, I was so upset with myself and the decision I made. I wasn’t sure if it was the right call and was afraid of what people would think of me for taking a break from school. But as the days passed after sending in my withdrawal form, I began to feel relief for the first time in weeks. I was finally hopeful that I would begin feeling like Megan again. I came up with a plan to take online classes through University Without Walls, work, be a content editor for Her Campus, and even participate remotely in the lab that I was accepted into. Having this plan gave me justification for my decision and it wasn’t until a few days ago that I realized that it is okay to not always follow a plan. Letting go of the plan to do all four years of undergrad back to back after graduating high school allowed me to finally breathe. I no longer feel trapped under the expectations I was creating for myself and am now allowing myself to grow and be healthy again. 

Society puts a world of pressure on how our lives are supposed to be structured and it makes decisions such as mine feel impossible. I’m here to say that there is nothing wrong with taking a break. Knowing that taking this time off will allow me to find happiness again is the greatest encouragement and I hope that if you feel similarly, you know that you are not trapped. There is light at the end of the tunnel and doing whatever is necessary to find that light again deserves the utmost respect.

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Megan Hawkins

U Mass Amherst '24

Meg is a sophomore at UMass Amherst and is a Psychology Neuroscience and Chemistry double major! She loves everything about the outdoors, but hiking/backpacking and biking are her favorites. She plays tennis and loves to bake cupcakes, and her perfect day would consist of going on walks with her cat, Kal.