7 Years to Graduate

From a young age, I did everything according to the traditional timeline. I graduated high school with the rest of my peers and started university at just the “right” time, according to my age. I had heard stories of people taking gap years and others taking time off to travel or work, but I really felt that that wasn’t for me. I needed to graduate by 23 so I could land my dream job by 25. That would pave the way for marriage by 28 and children by 30. My whole life was planned out by none other than… me. 

In the middle of my university degree, I got hit with something that I am still working towards recovering from, an eating disorder. My genetic predisposition coupled with my drive for perfectionism led to my diagnosis of anorexia nervosa, and I struggled for months trying to finish my semester. I was in Anatomy and Cell Biology at the time, at a very reputable school in Montreal. The goal was to get into medical school, and eventually, fill a position in Pediatrics. But after the Fall semester, my body couldn’t carry on anymore. I accepted the fact that I needed to take some time off school and seek intensive treatment for my eating disorder. 

I went back to school 6 months later. My friends had all moved on to higher level Anatomy classes, and I was left with traumatic memories of pushing my mind and body too far to get the perfect score (and the “perfect” body). Going back to school caused me to be filled with fear and flooded with bad memories. School was once my passion, my hobby, and my life, and now I was left with nothing but dread. 

So, I made a drastic move. I never saw myself deviating from the sciences - I had taken high-level Math, Physics, and Chemistry courses since Grade 10 in high school. I excelled in Sciences and maintained a near perfect GPA. But I didn’t want to go back to the program that might have been detrimental to my health in the sense that it caused me to work harder than I could handle, both physically and mentally. So, I switched majors and enrolled in the Faculty of Education. 

I did about a year of schooling in the Kindergarten and Elementary Education program at the same school. Now on the opposite side of campus, I was far from my friends, both in terms of distance and coursework. I met some new peers, who were amazing, but I wasn’t really happy learning how to be a teacher. And, to make matters even more complicated, my eating disorder had reared its ugly head again, and I had to break it to my new-found friends and peers that I had to leave them behind as I sought intensive treatment once again.

Another year passed by as I fought to work on myself and truly leave my illness behind. A few semesters later, I decided to not only enroll in a new program, but also at a new school. I knew upon enrolment that a major in Child Studies at a school just a little down the road was the right fit for me. I loved every class I took and I was thriving. But the reality of eating disorders is that they strike unannounced and literally destroy everything you build up for yourself. I had to write my final exams early that semester so that I could go the United States for intensive treatment. 

Does my story sound repetitive yet? If yes, you’re right. My university education was truly a matter of starting and stopping classes, where I was constantly putting pause of my life because of one overwhelming illness. 

The point is, though, 7 years after I became an undergraduate, I proudly walked across the stage at graduation. I managed to graduate top of my graduating class in a major that I loved with my whole heart. I walked the stage right after my younger sister and I had my parents and friends in the audience. Not only did I manage to actually GRADUATE, I did so with great distinction. My hard work had paid off. 

It’s been four years since graduating, and do you know how I really feel about having taken seven years to get my college degree? I don’t care. I really couldn’t care less! Extending my education by a couple of years plays absolutely no role in my day-to-day living. Truth be told, the only thing I can say is that I landed a job IN MY FIELD that I love. It is everything I wanted for myself. Maybe I didn’t have the traditional college experience. Maybe I didn’t make a bunch of friends in college that would eventually become my bridesmaids. Maybe I didn’t meet the love of my life at school, and maybe I didn’t party as hard as I should have. 

But you know what? None of that really matters right now. I have my diploma hanging proudly on the wall of my apartment that I pay for with the money I make at the full-time job I received based on what I discovered my true interests were in college. So, I have to say that I’m proud that I had the courage to leave a program that wasn’t right for me, focus on my health (and put my health first), and STILL, despite adversity, manage to successfully complete my undergraduate degree. 

What I want you to take away from my story is that there is no timeline for anything in life. Don’t feel pressured to accomplish or achieve certain things based on what others around you are doing, or according to what others tell you to do. I really do believe that everything falls into place eventually, for everyone, so be patient with yourself and with the timing of things in life. Have faith in the process and don’t be afraid to deviate from the set “plan”. Take risks, assert yourself, and recognize that you happiness comes before anything else. Always.