mother daughter clouds umbrella

It has been quite some time since I last made a blog post. I have stopped counting my days, literally and figuratively. Since I last wrote, I've been puttering away like an absolute tortoise at my studies. I was also selected as a Penn Foster Student Ambassador in February, an honor that, some days, I am still not 100% sure I've earned. Let me tell you why.

For as long as I can remember, I have suffered from clinical depression. In my 20s, anxiety crashed my mental health party and never left. For those of you who don't suffer from these things, I would describe the feeling as if my body is stuck in thick molasses in the dark, while foreboding movie music plays (the kind that tells you that something bad is going to happen, but not what that something is or when the shoe will drop). Most of the time, I am spending the majority of my energy trying to escape the molasses in order to flee the hidden but intense danger, but I am just getting more exhausted. My unhelpful mind, while vaguely telling me I'm in peril, also tells me that I may as well stop trying because I'm not talented or motivated enough to escape anyway. It also tells me that everyone can see me struggling, but I'm not worth the effort that it would take them to save me.

On my good days, I know my perpetually negative brain is just wrong, that nothing scary is coming, and that I have friends, family, and fellow students who care about me. On my bad days, though, I believe all of it.

What does this have to do with school? Quite a lot, actually. A self-paced program like Penn Foster's Veterinary Technician degree is great in so many ways: you can do your schoolwork when you are at your best. The student, professor, and staff support is amazing. If you're an introvert like me, you can adjust your exposure to the people and noise that can be overwhelming. You can't as easily do that at a brick and mortar school. On the flip side, though, when you have bad hours that snowball into worse days, then bad weeks, it can be hard to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and generate enough energy or self-worth to independently pursue your dream. For me, this manifests as perfectionist inertia -- I will rewrite notes, reread chapters, and review flashcards many times more than others might, just so that I can get a perfect grade and convince myself that I am enough. It also manifests as the days when I call in sick to my job because I literally can't make my legs swing out of bed.

To those who suffer from depression, anxiety, or both, I'll tell you that it is doable. You may struggle to motivate yourself for days or weeks (or months. It happens). You may read the same paragraph five times and, when you struggle with the concept, convince yourself that it is just because you are not as smart as everyone else. While these feelings may seem like the real deal, I can tell you that they're not. Over time, I have found things that help me. Hopefully they will help you, too:

1. Create a system of cutting yourself some slack. Observe and recognize the obsessive or depressive tendencies in yourself, put a system in place to nip them in the bud, and make a habit of letting yourself know how ok you are. I put time and repetition limits on myself, and enforce them through external reminders (digital notifications, willing friends, my mom, etc.) I also have a board where I print every compliment that anyone gives me and pin it up. When I'm having a bad day, I read the notes on the board. I don't let myself second-guess them.

2. Find a good support system. One thing I can say for PF students (at least the ones in the Vet Tech and Ambassadors programs, and probably lots of other PF programs) is that they are there for you when you're struggling. Reach out to them, either in the student community or in one of our social media groups. People have been where you are and they are really willing to talk you down from the ledge and give you a virtual hug (if you dig that sort of thing). I've made more friends through this program than I recall making when I was studying for my initial bachelor's degree many years ago. One of the blessings of an online program is that it is much easier to find people who "get you." Make sure you pay this forward; we're all fighting some sort of internal fight.

3. Find study tools that make it easy to study when you can't even get off the couch. I am a huge fan of Quizlet. I make my cards when I am having an up day, but when I'm having a day where I feel like a trash person, the only physical energy I have to expend is a finger flip on my smartphone. I'm also a fan of watching or listening to webinars when I don't have the energy to read, which doesn't seem like it should take much, but it does sometimes.

These are just three of the things that I do to curb my natural tendencies. I also want to let you know that I'm here for you if you ever want to talk, or vent, or just say "Kylie, I haven't cracked a book for three months, help me." You can find me on the community! Sometimes, we just need a little help from our friends.