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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.

Frustration to Beauty

For the last six months, I’ve been doing my best to relearn all the math I once knew, but lost to 20 years of disuse. Twenty years is a long time, especially as my brain atrophied while living in the tent just as surely as my body noticeably did.

I have deadlines I must meet for some of this math. Two of the classes I want to take this August require I pass proficiency tests before I can register. Chemistry only requires I know algebra, but calculus requires a knowledge of trigonometry as well. It’s been rather frustrating to have this roadblock before me. The sheer volume of past college credits I bring with me to this school means I have to pay over $1000 more each semester for my classes – yet the credits do nothing to meet any of my requirements because they are over 10 years old. Seems a harsh welcome back to college after all these years.

Therefore, I do what I must to try and relearn the math as quickly as possible. My hope is to pass the placement tests in time to register for my preferred class times – or even to get the class at all. It’s a very real possibility that chemistry or calculus could become completely full, with wait-listed students ahead of me, by the time I can register.

What does this mean? If I don’t take calculus this August, then I must wait another full year before joining the mechanical engineering degree program. I already feel on the old side of going back to college for a potentially 5 year degree. To add on a sixth year is a hard concept to contemplate and so I push myself very hard to complete my math studies.

Yet, I struggle.

I recently completed intermediate algebra and it actually went pretty easy once I was able to focus and commit to regular study hours. I’d struggled the first few months of this year with it, largely because I was undergoing a lot of mental and emotional healing from scars left long ago. The healing process took almost all of my time and left me exhausted, too tired to focus on mathematical concepts. I felt the weeks passing by, only a bit of math done here and there; my time before CSU in August growing shorter.

As I said, finally I am done with that – only to be faced with college algebra and trigonometry still to be learned. These are proving to be more of a struggle to learn on my own, hard concepts without the aid of someone to help explain small details I do not inherently understand. Its so frustrating to do this on my own. Without a doubt, I could easily ace these topics if I were part of a formal class. I just can’t afford the tuition for summer school and financial aid for college will begin in August.

It’s also frustrating because we were told, repeatedly, that there would be no wait-list at Vocational Rehabilitation and that they would be able to help with retraining costs to a new college degree. I’ve now been on their wait-list since September 2013 and have no idea when I will finally receive their aid. Were I off the wait-list and fully in their program, then it is likely they would pay for these summer courses I need.

It’s all just so frustrating. I’ve said that word many times here, but it is true in so many ways. It is hard to have your life taken from you by a series of mishaps, overcome the challenges of long term chronic illness, only to be met by more roadblocks when trying to rebuild your life again.

Then last night a new thought occurred to me.

In winter of 2010 and spring of 2011, I honestly began to question how I would survive another winter spent living in our tent. It was a terrible time, my health was horribly low, and though I still had the fight in me to keep living, my body had become very weak – perhaps too weak to handle the rigors of a Washington winter. Every year I would come out of the previous winter happy to have made it through, yet already dreading the return of winter in six months time. That last winter was different though, there was a lot more snow and freezing temperatures. As well, living outdoors was taking a serious toll on us by then and the thought of another winter began to look rather grim.

It was in that moment of time when life miraculously shifted and within six weeks we found ourselves in Hawaii. Six weeks from wondering if we’d even live another year to instead living the next two years on a tropical island. Simply incredible.

Last night I was lying in bed, my head resting on Jeremy’s belly and the dog’s head resting on mine. I found myself enjoying the moment of peace and wellness life had brought me and reflecting on the differences between this life and the one I had in the tent. In that moment, I also found myself realizing that I have all the time in the world left to me because only three years ago I thought I had no time left at all. Every moment I have now is an amazing gift.

Why am I so worried about this math stuff? I’m worried because it will take me another year of college if I don’t teach myself trigonometry this summer. Yet, that extra year is a year I very nearly didn’t have. I now have to ask myself – is spending this next year enjoying life, enjoying my hard earned health, and savoring my return to college really that bad, even if it becomes an extra year of school?

I think not.

I’ll still try hard to finish my math studies and take calculus this August. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t work hard towards difficult goals – it seems to be what I do in life. However, I hope to keep this new sense of perspective. Every day is a gift I created from the darkness my life had become.

Every day I am living a life I would have considered the best dream in the world just a few, short years ago. Every day I want to remember that I should stop and enjoy this journey, no matter how long it takes me to get there, because its amazing I was even able to find this road to walk.

This is a beautiful road.

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