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A Journey of Growth and Numbers

Math is done! Hurrah!

I kicked it’s ass! I didn’t just get an A, I got a 97.5% for the entire course kind of A. I don’t usually brag a lot about my grades, but the work and dedication I put into getting this grade has made me very proud of doing so well. Wow, what a way to begin going back to school. This has been an amazing summer for many reasons. Odd as it sounds, I’m going to let my last writing assignment for this class sum up my experiences of the last two months.

The only thing not mentioned in that essay is the amazing person Zain has been this summer and how instrumental he has been to my success. This didn’t seem like the sort of thing to put in my class essay, but it must be said. I would never have done this well, possibly not made it as far as the first exam even, were it not for Zain. His support of my efforts and unending belief that I was more capable than I could believe for myself, have helped me to achieve this marvelous feat. Thank you, Zain!

Last, though a little confusing, the only other women in my class this summer oddly enough are both named Jess. Each is pretty damn awesome and I’ve been a very lucky person to have a chance to get to know them inside and outside of the classroom. After our final test, we went out on the town and I had a night that left me feeling incredibly alive once more. I didn’t feel like someone who’d lost the last 13 years to illness, but instead I felt like someone who’d found the ability to live and play once more. We ate tasty Mexican food, drove around town picking up various things we needed from each of our homes, and ended the night with them playing guitars and me on a drum out in a park as the sun and moon both set while the stars came into being. We saw dozens of shooting stars and shared so much of our lives, it was a brilliant time.

On with the show! Hopefully I’ll have pictures I can put up here soon now that I’ve the time to work out some bugs that came up recently with my photo hosting.

Pre-Calculus: A journey of growth and numbers. (last essay for my class)

I’ve been looking forwards to this question and am happy it has been asked. What is the most significant thing that I learned in this course? I have been finding out who “Cat” is at this stage of my life and developing in marvelous ways.

When I began this class, I was a 37 year old returning student fresh out of a life of very long term disability. I’d disappeared over the last 13 years as my life was dramatically changed and terribly hard to gain back. I knew I was a strong woman or I’d not have been sitting in that classroom jumping into pre-calculus after having just finished a self taught course in intermediate algebra two weeks earlier, but it was a strength born of need. I had to be ready for calculus this fall semester at CSU in order to enter the mechanical engineering program next spring and I trusted in myself enough to reach well beyond my boundaries with this class and give it a try.

It was a whirlwind the first few weeks; frightening and many times I doubted myself and my abilities. Thankfully, though I may have lost many things during my long hiatus from life, I also gained many skills in return – such as the ability to persevere even when I feel completely overwhelmed at the task before me. The first unit test was a terribly nervous affair in which I was now faced with proving the knowledge I wasn’t really sure I was actually learning. It was also a completely new experience as the last time I was taking class tests I was a healthy woman in my early 20’s taking my tests with the rest of the class and being fueled by classroom competition. Instead I now had to learn how to overcome a great deal of anxiety and other symptoms caused by my disability and which threatened to leave my mind completely blank or make horrendously simple errors.

I honestly did not expect to achieve an A on my first test. I left feeling that I really hoped to see a B, but not even sure I had managed that much. However an A was a great surprise, almost like an echo from my past who always easily found such grades in math because it all came very naturally. This time I’ve had to work hard at my grades, but they feel much more like I’ve earned them rather than showing up and being handed a good grade.

I’ve grown considerably more confident in my abilities and my testing shows this. I am absolutely amazed at having once again earned a yet higher grade than my last test – I had thought I’d peaked with my 98% on unit 3. To sit here now and think of how I doubted my abilities at the beginning of the class, even considered the possibility of not passing the class – I just shake my head with a bemused smile on my face at the amazing ability of the mind to heal.

I feel ready for CSU this fall. I am now excited by the prospects before me and feel tremendously more confident that I will be able to walk this new path of an engineering student. Thank you.

I also must thank the two Jess’s and the time I’ve spent with them. I certainly would not have met them in other settings and they have also played a part in my personal growth this summer. Combined, they are less than a year older than I am – yet they’ve helped me to shake off some of the more stoic traits I had to learn while dealing with the depths of my disability and find again the young woman I once was.

In the younger (blue haired) Jess, I found a vibrant spirit filled with much of the innocence of her age and a wonder at just starting to explore the adult world around her. Her zest and ways of looking at things are marvelous. In the somewhat older Jess, I’ve been completely surprised at finding a kindred spirit and the friend I’ve needed for many years. Our friendship has been transforming my life back into a place of beauty instead of the stark realities I’d been living in for so many years of hardship.

In every way possible, I have grown into more of the person I truly am instead of who I had been forced to become by circumstance. This class has been a wonderful experience for me. I am incredibly grateful for the spark of fate that came to me while napping just four days prior to the first day of instruction and left with me the thought that I must look up pre-calculus at FRCC and ignore the cost of non-resident tuition because some things are more important than money.

Goodbye to Lisa

I’ve been delaying posting this until things were in the process of becoming legal – Jeremy and I are fully changing both of our names! Not a post I thought I’d be writing when I started this blog nearly 5 years ago… wait, 5 years? Wow!

I’ve shared so much of my life here. The struggles we had living in the tent and trying to get well, but only getting sicker. The fantastic journey to Hawaii where everything changed and healing became part of our lives once more. Then now, this journey leading me back to college and a future that is opening more for me every day.

Changing our names is a pretty big thing for us. Those of you who have read through this blog know things were rarely easy while we struggled to find healing in that tent. Though this blog starts in 2009, that struggle actually began in 2001. It’s been a very long and hard road to get to the point we are at now.

Along the way, I found it interesting that the only time in my life I ever began identifying with the name “Lisa” was in the deepest and darkest part of my life story. Somehow, through all the pretty lousy stuff in my childhood (of which I’ve rarely said much, but trust me, it was not good) the name “Lisa” came to mean pain, unhappiness, sickness, and life being upside down with no easy way to right it.

As one might imagine, while my healing has been progressing these last couple of years, I’ve felt rather distanced from the name of “Lisa.” I’m just not that girl anymore for whom normal is sadness and believing that life beats up on you, never feeling like I can succeed because that only allows in more pain when you fail.

I’m on my way to being happy, truly happy and being able to feel it. Starting to believe that life isn’t only ever going to tear me down, but that instead I can trust in the foundation I’m building on to hold me secure while I build to greater heights.

It’s scary, very scary. Everything is new and different – I’m new and different.

Hence, the new name. Something that is more the me who I’m becoming and want to be in life, rather than a name that is connected to so much pain in the past. As for Jeremy changing his name too? We’ll, that’s his story to tell, but it’s much the same – just as our last names are changing to be the same too.

Who will I be? It was a hard choice, I mean – how often do you really stop to think about what name suits you best? After settling on something I liked very much, then came the trial period where I had to try on the name, much like a new set of clothes, and see how it fit. My first try at a name fit me very well – too well. I found it highly uncomfortable when people would mispronounce it or worse yet they’d make fun of it. Since the name was so close to my heart I had no armor to protect me from their words. A new name had to be found, but I already had a nickname I liked and wanted to keep.

I’ve decided to go with Catrin, but you can all call me Cat. Yesterday, someone didn’t hear me right when I said my name was Catrin and understandably they thought I’d said Cathrine. I found that I didn’t mind it so much and easy enough to tell them to just keep on calling me Cat. It also seems to help that Cat is so easy to see where it comes from with the name Catrin.

What happened to the first name I liked so much? Well, I’ve decided to keep that one too – but I’m putting it in the middle where it can be a bit more protected from the world and the evils of telemarketers who find your phone number.

Jeremy has been a different story. He simply asked me one night for interesting names starting with “Z” and when I mentioned Zain, he knew that was for him. Same with his middle name, I just tossed something out and he loved it so much he’s kept it.

We’ve filed with the county courts and are in the middle of making everything legal. Within a few weeks we should legally be Catrin and Zain and can start the task of changing our names everywhere – and I do mean everywhere. It’s a little daunting, but also exciting and fun. Think for a moment of everyone and everyplace you interact with at least once a year and that will be the list we use to change over our life to new names. Phew, it’s a big list!

Our dog Falkor, well he’ll be staying Falkor. So I guess not everything’s changing around here!

Long Math Days

I’m in the middle section of my math class and the topics I don’t know just keep on coming. It’s been an interesting adventure, but tiring too.

I always feel like I’m running to keep up with the class, yet I know I’m doing better than most. This last math test (number 2) saw me scoring 96% on it, which felt like a well earned grade. As I said, I’m doing better than most, but it’s at a steep cost to my time. Feels like all I do is study math, rest and eat, then study more math.

There have been so many lessons I’ve learned – most of them not math. In fact, despite how much math I do, I think only about 40% of what I’m learning right now is actually to do with numbers. That other huge portion of learning is made up of things like being social again and relearning how to take a test without my PTSD sabotaging me. Trying to keep on a schedule and most importantly, how to deal with life’s chaos while still getting my school work done.

It’s not easy, but I’m starting to see where this is all leading and how worthwhile it all is. Starting to feel like I can see many years of engineering school being possible and I could be successful with this endeavor.

Hard work, yes. Tiring, yes. Lots of fun – yes!

Time to rest, been a long day of math.

Today I Saved a Life

Summer school has been crazy paced. I am keeping on top of things, mostly, and feel fairly good about our first test tomorrow. Quizzes have gone well and homework is challenging at times, but with the help of the math center’s tutors, everything is being completed.

Scuba is going well too. It was a major challenge to overcome the smell of the chlorine at the pool – to feel safe in a place that a person with MCS would be afraid to go. However, last Wednesday night I put on all the scuba gear and happily swam underwater in the pool for a couple of hours.

Thursday morning saw me getting hugely sick, I’m ok now, but I actually had to go to the emergency room for IV fluids and antinausea medication. After several doses of meds, I was good to go home where I then slept the next 22 hours away. Needless to say, I missed math class that day.

What a weird week.

Yesterday saw me in a study group with a girl from class, Jess, who’s a surprising 17 years old. I couldn’t help but be curious about the coincidence in life to bring us together. She began college at 16 – as did I. When I was 17, I met up with a study buddy who became a friend who was older than me and married – as I am now. Its like I am looking back at time and now participating on the other side of an experience I had twenty years ago! Heck, when I was having this experience, Jess wasn’t even alive yet. Wild!

Then today was I driving to an appointment that’s a little outside of town. It’s a little more wild there, fields on one side of the two lane road, houses on the other. I do this drive twice a week and its very common to see small roadkill because of the traffic and proximity to the fields. As I was driving behind someone and seeing traffic coming my way, I spotted what looked like a very recently killed bunny in the road. It was only a few inches to the side of the center line. When I drew nearly abreast of it, I was looking at it some more because it seemed a little too upright for roadkill.

Wait! That rabbit is alive!

I didn’t have to give it much thought. Immediately I pulled over to the side of the road and went back, hoping it wasn’t going to jump into a passing car’s way because of my presence. Thankfully, the poor rabbit was completely petrified with fear and I was able to easily pick it up and hold it to my chest.

After a little searching nearby, I found a very nice spot to leave the rabbit about 50 feet or so from the road. He’s right next to some tall grass, under a shady tree, with a small pond about ten feet away. Lovely little spot. I set him down and he fell over, stiff with fear. One thing my time in those woods taught me though, is that the rabbit will be ok. The best thing I could do at that point was to leave and trust that in five or ten minutes he’d snap out of it and hop away.

As I neared the road again to cross back to my car, a large dump truck came barreling down the street. A truck that size wouldn’t have swerved or stopped for a bunny in the road. Without a doubt, I save that little guy’s life by just a few minutes.

Life is weird and then it gets weirder. This week looks to be keeping that trend. Still… at least I have this bright new memory of holding the little body in my arms and keeping him safe until I could find a good spot for him to stay while recovering.

First Day of School

Today was my first day at Front Range Community College. I started my day off with a hard workout at our CrossFit gym (CrossFit North Fort Collins) to burn off some nervous engery. Immediately after I finished the workout, still trying to catch my breath even, I found a quiet spot next to a nice view of a wildlife area and burst into tears.

This isn’t actually the first time I’ve cried after a workout there. Something about pushing my body so hard, going well beyond my mental blocks that would keep me weak and quitting, it takes me to a place where I can finally feel all of the hard years behind me. As someone who’s had chronic fatigue syndrome, working my body as hard as I can and still feeling good – it’s a huge neon sign to my brain that life is much different now; I am well.

Today’s cry was sparked by the chasm of time between the last college course I took in 2001 and starting back to school today. So much has happened. So much pain. The losses during those years are indescribable in their depth to destroy a soul. Yet, here I am having conquered them and returned to a full life once more.

This journey has been rough and one way to make it through was to keep locked up the knowledge of just how bad things were. It’s times like this morning when that door is unlocked and I view the truth laid out before me. How can one do anything else but weep in that moment? To keep in the pain would only give it more power over me, power I have chosen to take back as my own. The tears let it go.

I grieve for the innocence I’ve lost, the hardships I have endured, and the incredible struggle I had to fight in order to heal. This healing process has been huge. Enormous. Gargantuan is really the most apt word to describe how much I have worked and accomplished to become well.

It was never easy.

After grieving for my past, I dried my tears and went back inside the gym. A little more weight lifting helped get my endorphins kicked back into gear and by the time we left I was feeling as though I was ready to make my new start this afternoon.

My first impressions of pre-calculus?

Tough. I’m thankful for the studying on trigonometry I completed on my own last week, because apparently we are going to skip the whole algebra portion of pre-calculus and focus mostly on trig and a couple other advanced concepts. This frustrates me as I’d hoped to have a well rounded class – not be told to study algebra on my own from the book so I can understand the concepts in class.

I’ve been reminding myself this is about much more than simply learning math. Today I sat in a classroom full of people and had to focus on difficult material. I took notes at the teacher’s pace for the first time in 13 years. There was a group activity and I was a good partner who helped us complete the work correctly.

I also felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work – this course is only 9 weeks of instruction. Tons of homework each day, quizzes and tests on a fast paced schedule. It’s crazy! This is a good obstacle for me to face when I only have the one main class and can afford to get a lower grade than my usual A.

All in all, I’m not paying to take a math class – I’m paying for the experience I need to step into CSU in August and have already overcome these challenges as a returning student after long term disability. This isn’t something I could learn in a book or figure out on my own. I needed to be in the classroom smelling the tobacco lingering on a heavy smoker’s clothing, leaning to the side to get a better view of the diagram being drawn on the board, and having to make my head think faster to keep up with everything being taught.

I need this classroom experience to prepare me for success at CSU and becoming an engineer.

Surprise and Surprise Again!

Last night I eluded to plans that were very exciting and which I thought might take a few days to resolve. Turns out, the whole thing was incredibly easier than I had believed possible and I find myself here this morning, with this big mystery being even better than I had hoped.

What is it??

On Tuesday of next week, I will begin a precalculus class at the local community college! Yay! I won’t have to learn all this harder math on my own. It has left me with a greatly renewed sense of possibility, because I have a great deal of faith in myself and my abilities to tackle this coursework and succeed.

As I’d said last post, these past two days I have been thinking outside of the aforementioned box. Being on CSU’s campus yesterday really helped put things into perspective for me as well as talking with a few of the other students. With my mind in a highly open state last night, the thought popped into it to go and look at what courses are offered at the community college this summer, even though I was pretty sure it wouldn’t work due to their cost.

I was thrilled to find precalculus listed, but ouch! What a large price tag! I will not have any residency status until I begin at CSU in August, so I’ll be paying full price. Thankfully, that’s full price at a community college and not at a university; it makes a huge difference.

It looked like I would need to take yet another math placement exam (bane of my existence this summer!) in order to be allowed to jump right into the precalculus. Turns out, they were willing to accept my original math classes from 1995 and I could register without taking the test. It’s highly exciting, because by taking this class I won’t need to take the math placement exam at CSU for calculus either.

No more math placement exams for anything! HOORAY!

My goodness, this is all an incredible relief. By passing this precalculus class, I can walk right into calculus at CSU in the fall. When I pass that class as well, and I will, I can join the mechanical engineering program in spring 2015. Amazing.

It feels as though my future has just laid itself out before me in a highly manageable way.

This is not all my good news. The next came as a big surprise to me as well today. It seems that I will likely qualify for financial aid for this summer school class, but only if I take one more credit worth of classes. Luckily, part of the financial aid package will be a small scholarship from the college itself, which actually fully covers the extra class.

Essentially, if I take one more class, the college will make it a free class and I’ll then also qualify for federal grants and loans for the math class.

It gets even weirder. I had to ask, what do you take for only one credit over the summer?

Apparently, you take scuba diving!

Ok, I did have a choice between a few other classes, including a temping course about hiking, but after my time in Hawaii, scuba diving is the one for me. Sitting on my desk, looking at me right now, is one of my favorite pictures – Jeremy and me snorkeling. I look at that picture all the time and when I’m feeling low, it reminds me of how far I have come in life.

I’ve dreamed of learning to scuba dive, I just had no idea that dream would take the shape of a community college in Colorado giving me a free scuba diving course so I could have financial help with the class I really need.

What a strange, yet beautiful, turn of events!

I’m off to go buy my new textbook and begin preparing to start school in four days – not the four months I had been planning! Wow, I really can hardly believe this excellent turn of events. It’s going to be a great summer!

Bashing Them Walls Down!

It’s fascinating to me how easily the mind can become trapped in a box of its own creation. Rattling around the walls its made, it can be terribly hard at times to see beyond the box, assuming you are even aware you are in one.

Then comes those interesting moments when something comes along and opens the box – regardless of whether its an outside influence or something from inside yourself, its just plain neat. If you find yourself being willing to let your trapped thoughts escape, there can be no telling where they will lead you. True, sometimes they can lead you into less than pleasant places as you find yourself suddenly facing the harsh reality you’ve created or allowed someone else to create for you.

Luckily, this isn’t one of those times. I’ve found the mental thinking box I was in has broken open, thankfully leaving me in a much happier place.

Such simple thoughts I had two nights ago and shared here in my last post. A realization of the incredible adventure I am having these last few years, starting with Hawaii (yay!) and coming around to me being enrolled at long last in college once more. It has changed my outlook and the last two days have been much happier, sunnier places.

Honestly, last night I think I was having such a fantastic time at Ladies Night at my gym that I was glowing from the brilliance that is my happiness right now. I think a couple lazier people who I ended up teamed with for some partner work found my enthusiasm a little intense – but whatever! I was having fun and life was filling me with beauty.

Enough poetic ramblings. My point is that between my mental box being opened and today being a long awaited day, Transfer Student Orientation at CSU, I’ve been having an incredible two days. I’ve some plans for tomorrow morning that I shall keep as a surprise until I’ve been able to see if they can come to fruition, but should they work out – wow! I’m pretty excited tonight.

I’m really thinking outside the box today and the view is incredible.

As for my orientation… great news! I met with my academic adviser and she pulled some strings to get me into chemistry without having to take a math placement exam. Woooo! Tonight I registered for two of my classes next fall – I’ll have to still wait to register for calculus. I don’t mind though, because I’m in my preferred chemistry lecture class time and instructor, along with astronomy! I’ve always wanted to take astronomy and I needed something to fill up my schedule next fall. I may change my mind and drop it later so I can take a part-time student course load instead of full-time, but for now I’m thrilled to be finally getting to fulfill my longtime desire for an astronomy class.

That wasn’t all the good news either. Part of orientation involved playing a Jeopardy style game with 48 other transfer students (all of us considered “adult learners” which just means we’re old) and my four woman team won! We really rocked those questions and had a great time too. Our prize was to each receive a 4gb flash drive with the CSU name and college colors on it. I’ll enjoy using it to bring along my homework to print (for free) at the college and knowing I didn’t buy it, I earned it! All in all, a great way to begin what was my first official day of being a full member of the CSU community.

That’s all for now. It may take until next Tuesday for my exciting (and secret) plans to come to be, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to make them happen. I look forward to writing that post and sharing with everyone the pretty cool things that can happen when you finally find the way to open that box and take a fresh look around.

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