On the last day of my senior year, I sat in my last class - AP Literature. My beloved English teacher stood in front of her class, with tears in her eyes, and spoke to us from her heart. She challenged us to "suck the marrow out of life", to live to our fullest capacity and experience the life we always wished we could.

She told us to do what was best for us. Even if everyone was going to college, or being accepted to their dream university, not every person is the same, and taking a gap year is okay. So there I sat, hearing my teacher, a brilliant woman, tell us to do something that every person in my life had warned me against. I took it and ran with it.

Over the last year of my life, I have never felt happier. I, like many others, struggled with depression and anxiety, but without the academic stress placed on my shoulders by an advanced course load, I felt lighter.

Many people told me that taking a gap year would decrease my drive, and I would never go to college. But here I am, taking a pre-req course so that I can begin a hygienist program in the fall. I feel more focused than ever, with all the detritus cleared away from my path.

I have listened and discovered new music, I started a bullet journal, I've been on several out-of-state trips, grown closer to friends I had drifted away from. My life narrowed down to what was really important, and even though I thought I already had, I found myself.

I got a job, enjoyed the weather, built the wardrobe I always envisioned my dream closet would house, wrote poems that felt like my heart was written in ink on the paper in front of me. I took a breath. Albeit, a year long breath. Instead of just jumping from one pond to another, I landed on the ground, struggled and flopped around, but eventually evolved and became who I was meant to be.

No one will be able to tell me my gap year wasn't worth it. I was able to hold life by the hand and journey down the open road. Finding myself was an irreplaceable experience. Some people never find who they should be. A gap year doesn't guarantee you your identity, but a little time and a lot of perspective never hurt a confused, barely-adult like me.