For a while I’ve been struggling with anxiety, depression, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Being ill gave me the ability to check out of life for a while, which I felt I needed to do. But now I’m trying to check back in. I’m starting simple, doing things that most people take for granted, like going to the dentist and getting my hair cut.

When all of the bad stuff hit me, it was my fundamental instinct to not be involved with life, because I thought that would be easier. I took a year off from everything—I stopped going to school completely, and stopped going out almost at all. I thought hibernating like this would help me figure things out, but it didn’t really get me anywhere. In fact I feel like I dug myself in a little too deep. Sometimes I think it would have been easier in the long run if I had stayed in school, stayed the course, taken my A-level exams, and carried on into the next year, which would be sixth form, or college (what Brits call the last two years of high school). But I didn’t. Right then I couldn’t cope with it. I felt like I was at the edge of a precipice…and I took a step back.

Some good news this week is I am able to sit my exams in June at school (the one that I left last year) as an “outside student.” Last month I had a dream about being back at school. Could it have been a premonition? Now I’ll have to confront it in real life, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it is a terrifying thought. All my memories of those paint-peeling classrooms and carpeted halls come to the surface…it will be odd to return to a place that I thought I had left behind. My feelings are so jumbled up over the whole silly concept of what is essentially a building (and what it contains).

I’ve been studying so hard over the past couple of weeks, and I’ve been so tired at the end of every day. I have become unused to that feeling. I know all of this is progress, but it’s nerve-racking. I am worried about getting all my work done in time, especially since I’m the only one keeping me on task and in check. The other week I had a mini-breakdown (hiding in bed and sobbing) and decided I wouldn’t do my exams after all. But little breakdowns are actually a good sign for me—they’re how I get out all my heightened emotions so I can move on. They’re a sign that I’m taking something seriously.

That feeling, of being serious about something, reminded me a little bit of the self I was when I was still going to school—tinged with hope and anxiety. I get nostalgic about that old me occasionally, but who doesn’t? All the time you are changing, and that means leaving good things behind as well as bad.

Something else happened recently. You know when you see a family member or friend and immediately your instinct is to say “I love you” out loud? The other day I looked in the mirror and had that instinct. I haven’t had it again since, but still, I paused, looked myself in the eyes and said it. And I meant it. ♦