Thanks for sharing your journey. I can relate as I have large student loans as well from my journey to completion of a PhD. I am on an income-based repayment plan, which works better because I own a small business and my net income is smaller. Would I work W2 it would be different.
One really important thing I like to recommend for you is to already check-in and make sure that all the payments you assume have been counted for your forgiveness program are officially recognized. A few of my friends did what you decided and got jobs in non-profits and government agencies and when they recently checked they were shocked that all kinds of reasons were given while their payments in some months didn’t count, some weren’t even recognized at received inside the program and on and on. The level of frustration and powerlessness was palpable when they told me. I hope this does not apply to you but you can only know when you check.
I had been contemplating writing my next article about a journey like yours, but not looking at education. My area is helping people become economically independent with residential real estate investing. You inspired me to write it more so as you are the living example of how life changes when external forces lie a recession happens at the most inopportune moment