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How withdrawing from school helped me become better

INSTAGRAM @becoming.dr.becca   
Rebecca Sheehy, BSc, is a 26-year-old, third-year student at Ross University’s School of Veterinary Medicine. She worked her way up through the veterinary field from the age of 16 as a kennel hand to the age of 23 as a vet technician when she decided to go to vet school. Rebecca’s interests are in small animal general practice and she hopes to own a hospital someday. On her off time, she loves cooking and spending time with her two dogs, Thor and Mo.

Take a break.
Take a step back.
Take some time off.
These are phrases we as vet students don’t use often.

When you jump into vet school, you need to be fully in it and I was when I first started. Fast forward one and a half years into the program, the unimaginable thing happened for me: my marriage fell apart. Now, this isn’t about my relationship, but how I reacted.

I find that many of us plan our lives out and we expected it to go a certain way. When it doesn’t happen, we fight for what we thought we wanted. Throughout that time of my life, I could not focus on my school work. Even when I thought I was, my mind was elsewhere. I needed to step away, but I could not see that at the time and it took me eight months of struggling and failing a class to finally say I need help. I admitted to myself that I couldn’t keep pushing through and needed to take a break.

When I made this decision to withdraw, it did not come lightly, I spent multiple days in our student success center office, talking to the dean of students and the counseling center. When I finally made the choice to leave, I called my parents and my first words were, “I just need you to listen.” They were supportive, as they saw how much it tore me apart to make the decision but knowing I wouldn’t do this unless I absolutely knew it was the right call.

The one thing I wish I would have changed about withdrawing was telling my friends (or lack of telling) and colleagues. I told only those who needed to know at first, and then I packed my bags, settled all my bills, and got someone to take in one of my dogs. That was it. It wasn’t until I was home for a week that I told my vet prep group, which were the people I regarded as my family on the island. They of course understood the toll the past year had taken on me and only met me with praise for choosing my mental health. The things going through your mind when you withdraw are not always kind. They are even worse when you have been told over and over again that you won’t make it, you are wasting your time, and in fact, why are you even bothering?

First things first, do not ever let someone convince you, you are not good enough. You are more than enough. You have made it this far and will make it all the way. Secondly, if people who you thought were on your side turn out not to be, find new people who are. Most importantly, be your own biggest cheerleader.  In the end, this is your dream and passion—do not let anyone take that from you.

So, I did all of those things. I took a break, and stepped away from vet med for a while. I worked at one of my old jobs as a bartender, talked to family, met up with some old friends, and stopped hiding all the pain and distraction I had been through for the last year and a half. For someone going through a lot in life: don’t hide it, talk about it (when you’re ready). I didn’t realize how much telling friends and family the things I had kept to myself was going to help. Also, seeking professional help is important when you need it. There is no shame in talking to a therapist and sometimes they have perspectives you can’t quite see.

Doing all of this helped me refocused and led me to reapply to school. I knew I was ready to do so was after about a month and a half of being home. I finally had the courage to step back into my old clinic, see my former coworkers and mentor and tell them what had happened. Only do this when you are ready, but don’t wait too long as it can be hard getting back into the swing of things. One of the vets gave me the best advice I had ever gotten, “Vet school is hard and you have to take care of yourself and know when you take care of yourself.” I knew I chose the right path when I heard other people in the field validating my decision.

When I got my readmittance letter I remember being excited at first, then upset. I was going to be pushed back two semesters, because they were not letting me start again for the next semester but instead told me to take more time. I didn’t think I needed it then, but now I am glad I did. When I started feeling excited again and began my work, everything was hitting me. Can I do this? The work started to pile on and suddenly I felt like I was drowning. If you ever feel this way, you’re not, I promise. I learned you have to talk to people about your concerns and fears. Talk to counselors, colleagues, friends, and even professors. Never feel ashamed to ask for help. Many people will have insight, advice, or at least words of encouragement to help your through. Use friends and colleagues to work out material you don’t quite understand. It is amazing how people in your class, even if you don’t know them, are willing to help. Make a plan, sit down with a planner, and physically write out what needs to get done and schedule the time out.

At first, all I could handle was 30 minutes at a time, but that’s okay. Every 30 minutes that passed and my alarm went off, I realized I did it and I could keep doing it. Every day it got easier.

I realized it was okay to take time off. We have all heard the stories, read the articles, or even known people in our field who have gotten burnt out. I’m not sure I can say I will never feel that way, but I know I can recognize it now and take action. Withdrawing made me see I’m no less of future veterinarian than anyone else for choosing my mental health and it is okay to pick yourself. It was okay to be scared to start again, as long as I took a step forward. What I knew was not okay was letting the fear stop me, letting what other people say drag me down.

Believing in myself was the first step into getting back to my passion and regaining my drive to become the best veterinarian I know I can be. It helped me get over the fear and anxiety of starting school again. If I can do it, so can you. All you have to do it take that small step forward: get up, go to class, study for those 30 minutes sessions, and you will make it.

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