By Abigail d’Souza @abi_dsouzaa
Upon graduating high school, it’s broadly expected that students embark on a degree at university. I grew up believing I’d follow suit, that it was the only way to succeed. But my life trajectory had other plans, and I landed myself in TAFE.
I’ve spent a good portion of my life in fear of just about everything. As a child, I never wanted to stand out and the idea of having to talk in front of more than three people made me an anxious wreck.
Fast-forward to 2023 and I’m a Screen and Media student who’s talked on live radio, interviewed absolute strangers on the street, participates in editorial meetings, conducts podcasts, and writes and publishes articles.
I spent high school in an up and down battle with severe anxiety and depression. but the last two years of high school pushed me to my breaking point. Anxiety had me in a chokehold and I was suffocated by it from the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep. This led to seasons of hopelessness.
Dozens of psychology appointments, a rocky personal life, and night upon night spent violently sobbing in prayer alone – I despised life.
Until one glorious day when I finalised the decision to terminate my Year 12 study a few months shy of the HSC trials. Although it wasn’t my first choice, my alarming lack of attendance made it virtually impossible for me to pass my final year. I used to run out of classes and exams because of anxiety attacks I was trying to conceal.
A few months on, I was out of school and didn’t feel as though I was limping through each day. I felt free and slightly hopeful.
But as I watched my newly graduated friends move forward into the next phases of their lives and on to university degrees, I began comparing myself. I felt like a downright failure. Anxiety and depression were still massive obstacles in my life and my faith in overcoming it was withering.
I spent the next few months trying to recover at home but that quickly turned into a spiral of fear of re-entering the outside world. I knew I’d get worse if I didn’t make a change; I desperately needed a routine.
After doing some research, I came across the TAFE website and began searching for potential courses to enrol in.
But I was sceptical. TAFE had always seemed a second-rate version of university made for people who weren’t “smart enough” to attend “the real thing”.
Late January 2020, I enrolled myself in the Certificate IV Patisserie course at the Ultimo campus and spent the year doing what I most loved, making food. The year was trying at times, and I wanted to quit, but I persevered and learned so much. The way that I spoke to people and approached life reflected confidence and the tearful prayers I used to scream out to God were being answered.
Since I was a child, I always knew I wanted to work in the food industry- it’s always been my thing. But university didn’t have anything to offer me and my specific passions in the way I needed it to. However, TAFE taught me everything I needed to grow.
The environment was comfortable, the campus wasn’t overwhelmingly large, the teachers were empathetic and gentle, and the work was transferrable to the working world outside. It ignited an excitement in me that traditional learning institutions never could.
That’s what I believe is the beauty of TAFE; its embracement of diversity. Inspiring people from all walks of life, capabilities, experiences, socioeconomic status and so forth, you’ll find it all at TAFE.
Since then, I’ve completed my Certificate IV in Screen and Media Journalism and am currently undertaking my Diploma. I’m anxiety and depression-free and I’m focused on becoming a food, travel and lifestyle journalist, and a screen personality. I’ve found so much excitement and purpose in combining all my TAFE-acquired qualifications to mould my dream career.
I’m continuing to take steps to get there but I couldn’t have done it without the love and support of TAFE. They’ve given me the energy, tools, confidence and opportunities to make a name for myself. I now have a zest for life that 16-year-old Abigail would be dumbfounded by and immensely proud of.
If you’re struggling with mental health, please get in touch with the following resources:
Featured image: Graphic by Abigail D’Souza