Life Beyond GEMS

Sharmila Ghanekar, Writer, Illustrator

TW//Mental Health 

In May 2019, GEMS World Academy made an announcement that they were shutting down their Swiss campus. I was a student there at the time, as were many of the ISL population now. GEMS meant something different to everyone. Some loved it, some hated it, some were indifferent about it. For me, GEMS was the place in which I found comfort and safety. To me, GEMS was never a school; it was a community, and that was what made it so hard for me to accept the announcement. 

The closing of GEMS served as a catalyst for the inevitable destruction of my mental health. I would like to preface this by stating my opinion: I’m glad that GEMS shut down. 

The truth is, despite my previous statements, I hated myself at GEMS. Not just in a “cringy 13 year old” way, but in a truly hurtful way. In hindsight, all I feel when I look back at myself is pity. I wasn’t happy, or confident, even if I thought that I was- I was confused. I hadn’t taken the time to actually get to know myself. When I moved to Switzerland, I was terrified. After my first week of school, I cried for days because I couldn’t figure out where I fit in. So, I took upon this persona of a confident and extroverted young girl, when in reality, I am an extremely introverted person. I didn’t even know that I was a very big introvert until after GEMS shut down. At GEMS, I put my happiness in the hands of those around me, and this put a lot of pressure onto my relationships. GEMS needed to shut down in order for this persona to shut down as well. The problem was, once the mask came off,  I didn’t know what was underneath. I felt empty and numb. I fell into a depression. It is important to recognize that my mental health was not dependent on GEMS. I was not depressed because my school shut down. My depression and anxiety stemmed from a number of things, but GEMS shutting down forced these problems into the light. The reason I am forever grateful that GEMS shut down, is because it forced me to get help. I went to therapy, I saw professionals, and together we attacked the root of my problems. 

Transitioning into ISL sucked. I was still confused about the entire situation which hadn’t even completely sunk in yet. It happened so fast. One of the hardest things to overcome through the transition was the guilt associated with being happy. Not only was I dealing with this underlying guilt connected to my mental health, but I was also too full of pride to admit that ISL is a good school. If I was enjoying my lessons more here than there, there was guilt associated with that. Guilt associated with “betraying” your school.

My mental health and internal turmoil held me back in so many ways through Year 12. It prevented me from making friends, trying new things, and caring about life. I was in a constant state of being numb, because that way I wouldn’t have to deal with anything that was happening internally. Then I blew up. All of the emotions I crammed into a space exploded from within, and I saw so many unhealthy things. I dealt with the emotions, I dealt with the unhealthy coping mechanisms, I dealt with my mental health, and I grew. 

Entering year 13, I left many things behind. I left behind this mask I put on throughout my time at GEMS, I left behind my unhealthy attachments and toxic relationships. With that, I also lost some of my old passions. I started caring more, breathing more, living more. I learned who I am, and what I like doing. I learned that I want to study health and human kinetics because I am a passionate advocate for the body positivity movement. I learned that crying is okay, and that it’s ok to be sad. I left behind GEMS, and that was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.