My Experience With Distance Learning

Mateus M.
Mateus M.
Apr 2 · 8 min read

Full-time job is no easy task no matter how you look at it. Some jobs allow you to work five days and rest for two. Other jobs (read commerce and most “essential” public services) allow you to rest only one day per week. On a daily basis, you have time reserved solely for commute, plus the time you’re working. With a quick math we can safely assume at least 12 hours — i.e half of the day — is spent dedicated to a job.

Not all people work with something they like, or don’t plan on focusing their careers on the job’s field, meaning they plan to leave someday and live to their own goals. For that, you need a degree, which means if you want to build a career on a field you love, you will have to study. A lot. Now, all of this is nothing new, but here comes the interesting and cruel reality: you have a full-time job, after that, you go to college, and some five hours later you’re allowed to go home, where your day won’t end yet because you still have basic self-care to do — eating, showering, breathing — and maybe reviewing what you learned in today’s class. You’re then left with uh…5 or 4 hours to sleep? Rise and shine! You can do it!

Except when you can’t.

Full-time job is no easy task.

Full-time job and college after is low-key insane.

Full-time job and college while struggling with mental illnesses — such as depression and anxiety, to name a few — is…well, you get it.

Of course this is not the ultimate truth for everyone struggling with mental illnesses out there.

I tried it for two semesters back in 2017, and it wasn’t actually that bad. The atmosphere of the place was quite ok, there was tons of places to eat nearby (or bars for those who wanted to skip classes), and it was a short commute from home, around 20 minutes. Fine, when you consider the array of privileges I had back then: I just had to walk for 10 minutes to get to work, which means I had time to return home to eat and later to change clothes and get ready for classes. I’d spend no more than half an hour walking up and down the streets, whereas the average time spent on commute by citizens here is more or less 2:30 hours (and it IS my average time currently). The unluckiest ones may find themselves on journeys almost or more than twice as long. Anyway, before the second semester started, I got fired from my previous job, which made things a lot easier when it comes to attending classes, so another six months passed by.

What I didn’t mention was that during the several months I’ve been unemployed, my mental illness has gotten significantly worse, mostly because after being fired and losing health insurance, I had no way to pay for my therapies. It was that, or studying, and the latter seemed to be the only right choice. Should I pay for my mental health or for my future (two non mutually exclusive needs)? The all so famous millennial dillema right there before my very eyes, while I spent my days alone at home being mostly unproductive and feeling sorry for myself — the grades were fine though.

By the end of that year, with some pretty big help, a job opportunity finally made its way into my life, and with it I would have a routine again, an entirely new one of course. I won’t go into details about how long-term isolation (I was not a hikikomori by any means) is a dangerous coping mechanism, but to come out of my shell and leave it all behind to meet new people/places/have my free time drastically reduced…my mind nearly broke in the process, it hurt like hell. But there’s still a bit more to it.

Since it was the beginning of the year, I was still on college vacation, which was nearing its end. Not only I’d have another full time job — this time a bit far away from home, around 16km — but also I had to transfer to another college unit located nearby.

Trying not to panic over the nonstop thinking about how I’d spend almost 20 hours from every weekday outside doing things, I started to read about people in the same situation…but none of the posts even had the words “mental illness” or “depression” written on them, anxiety did come up but on lines like “it’s normal among freshmen, everyone is a bit nervous on the first days…”, yeah, not really my case.

It might seem I’m only bragging here because I’ve been in a safe space for too long and therefore want things the easy way to avoid hardships. Well, it’s actually the oposite: I wanted to do things and improve, but I knew everything would be so stressful and demanding that one thing would affect the other and both my professional and academic life would suffer as a result, not to mention my mental health in between. It’s not only because I’m an introvert and need time to recharge in order to function normally (which I wouldn’t have at all save from weekends), it was simply too much to take and I wasn’t at my best already. I’m pretty sure it would have been the worst year of my life.

Well, maybe it was all overthinking and the experience itself could be better than I expected! So, full-time job shift is over, I make my way to college, feeling tired and ready for classes with a lot of stuff to write and read and talk about; it’s already nighttime by then.

Look! So many people are here after working and surviving the rush hour too, they are doing it pretty well, maybe you can do it after all. That’s what I said to myself during the few hours trying not to sleep on my desk and trying not to swear at the guy trying to be smarter than the teacher, not realizing everyone laughing behind his back. Figures.

It was 22:50PM during a class where I knew everything being taught (I’m a web development student since way before attending college and the class was about the basics) when I was barely able to handle the anxiety and stress built throughout the day anymore (I was visibly shaking and sweating), I came up with some lame excuse and left the class a few minutes earlier. Then I got home almost 1:30h later, at 00:20AM, to sleep for a bit more than five hours — there was no content to review that day. That would be my life everyday. I never attended another class again. This life must be dangerous and unhealthy even for people with no mental illness (yet). For me it just felt impossible, I accepted my defeat right there.

Then I saw a light at the end of the tunnel, something called “e-learning”, or distance learning (EAD for you brazilian nerds reading this) and then I thought…why not?

There were actually quite a few doubts and questions to consider, but nothing a few days of research couldn’t help. By the end of the week I finally made up my mind, a decision to put my well-being above what “everyone else is doing fine”. “YOU’RE NOT EVERYONE”, once said the Mother of Mothers perpetuating the most famous scolding of the universe, so I stood up for myself instead of submiting and believe me that was an incredibly rare atitude.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

There were some challenges given the fact that I was nowhere near the mindset required to study alone and leave behind a life of regrets and procrastinations. But it was either training myself to dilligence or…that. So I set some goals and tried my best not to fall behind schedules (oh do I have some war flashbacks from school…), reading stuff beyond what was taught in the text walls and videos that now were my classes, and it was so much easier, I was getting things done and still had time for myself. And to do everything and simply leave my room and take a bath afterwards instead of fighting against suicidal thoughts and anxiety on the subway a quarter past 23…is one hell of an improvement. I honestly don’t doubt I might have saved my life with that decision. Maybe.

I’m currently at 3rd semester and studying not only college related things but my so loved web development as well. I can afford both my psychiatrist and the meds, as well as pay for my education. I also have loads of free time during work which I use to study as well, which often allow me to get home and just chill. It’s kinda paying off little by little. I’ve learned more things and finished more programming books last year than in the previous five+, one could say I’m on a roll. But things are far from over and even farthest from ideal.

There are days I can’t get anything done. Where I read a paragraph three times and forget it right after. It may last for a day, for two days, for almost a week. And fighting against the guilt and shame for not being productive, for “wasting” n days where I could have used time to get closer to my dreams…is hard. The first two months at work this year have been so bad I still don’t know how I wasn’t fired. I have some demons inside me and sometimes they just take over, their rage much stronger than my will. I can only wait for it to stop and reclaim myself slowly, and that’s ok! No one will judge me because I’m not socializing or sitting by myself in a corner. The classes will be there right where I stopped, I won’t have skipped anything.

A funfact is there IS interaction with other people in a distance learning degree, we have whatsapp groups to discuss content and organize projects assigned to us through the online platforms. Some say distance learning is not as good as having a teacher in loco, that might be true, but there are exceptions. I wouldn’t learn so much skipping classes on days I’m not feeling good to interact with anyone after a stressful or bad day at job, albeit still with no problems to read text walls and watch 50+ minutes videos of technical information.

While not every academic degree will offer a long distance learning option, if things go extremely bad, please consider the available options, as your future depends on what you can do for yourself (emphasis on the <can> word, because forcibly doing something generates mediocre results at best). Many people take pressure from parents or even themselves, but it’s not worth it if it breaks you in the end. We tend to “trash bin” bad stuff from our memory and it might include a day where you force studied something for a test, only to forget it completely when you most need to remember.

I think the girl from the “lo-fi hip hop radio — beats to relax/study to” videos might understand me pretty well on this subject.

There’s a whole other point of view regarding my experience learning to code with all that stuff happening, but that’s an oversharing for another day.

Mateus M.

Written by

Mateus M.

Web developer who doesn’t know how to develop (yet), writes and overshares mostly about mental health. Tech, cats and cute things.

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