As life moves on and the past grows more distant, I have found it easier to let go of my experiences recounted in this blog of homelessness and chronic ill health. It has been difficult to update this blog the last couple years – I needed distance from these stories in order to continue to move forward and heal. Over the last several months, I have found my thoughts turning once again towards memories of living in a tent for so long, of how difficult the journey was, and of how much I grew and healed while living in those woods.
I seem to be at a great healing nexus in my life once more, one which is bringing together my past, present, and future. It is exciting and also difficult at times, as I bridge these aspects of my life, integrating myself into a greater whole. To understand this, I must recount some of the events since my last post in 2016.
It is hard to know where to begin, so I shall start in the middle. For about a year, I have been working hard in school to apply for nationally awarded scholarships. This is a long and arduous process for some of them, such as the Truman Scholarship, in which you must write numerous personal essays and analyze your life through their lens of a candidate who seeks to go into a career in public service. I also applied for the Udall Scholarship, an only somewhat less rigorous process. Both of these scholarships asked me to look deeply into myself, my background and experiences, and come to understand what motivates me in my career and life choices.
What I found was a strong woman who has been through many life changing experiences, however it was not my time homeless or disabled that defined me – rather its the life I have been building ever since moving to Colorado. A life filled with love and passion for experiences around me.
I discovered that I want to work in public service after I graduate and even spent last summer working for a government agency in Washington, DC. While I was in DC, I found that my passions for natural resource policy and social justice are leading me now to law school. It has only been in the last 6 months that law school appeared on my horizon, but it has really taken root in me and is surprising I had never seen how clearly it is a part of who I am. However, it is understandable because my experiences of having to fight for my disability benefits the first several years I was ill had left me with a sour taste for the law that could only pass after I had healed sufficiently from that fight to be able to see life with a new perspective.
Last April, an instructor who has been a mentor to me as asked if I had ever considered going into law. I actually laughed loudly – it was an absurd idea! But a part of me paused to listen and I asked her, “Why law?” In that moment, my life direction changed. A week later, I knew that my calling in life, the drive inside me that had pulled me out of the tent seven years earlier and kept me alive through that ordeal, it was to become a staunch advocate for the environment and social justice needs of disempowered communities. I often say: studying law was something so obvious once I saw it, like the nose on my face, but just as hard to see unless someone pointed it out to me.
This last weekend I received my score for the LSAT, the national exam required for admittance to law school, and am beginning my applications to law programs. Though the idea to study law was a seed planted only six months ago, it grew quickly in the fertile soil I had worked hard to build in recent years. I am daily filled with joy and excitement for having found this deeper sense of purpose, and watching it bloom into all aspects of my life.
Which is where the healing is once again taking place – in seeing my future build in front of me, learning to believe with every part of my being that this is where my inner calling has been guiding me since around 2007 when I first began to hear the faint whispers deep in my heart of something I needed to be doing in life – I then find myself looking back at the road I have taken to get here and can see how each step was needed, no matter how difficult or undesired, and I am finding a new level of acceptance for all the hardships and pain along the way. By accepting, not fighting against, the path that created the person I am today, I am healing in ways that allow me to walk back through those memories and heal.
I am here today, writing this update, because I came back to my blog to read through the posts I wrote years ago. To remember where I have been, so as to gain more insight into where I am going.
Small, additional updates: I became a Truman Scholarship Finalist and a Udall Honorable Mention – both of which are achievements you add to your resume, though I was not awarded the monetary scholarship. However, I did become a NOAA Ernest F. Hollings Scholar and HUGELY recommend anyone apply in their sophomore year of college if they have a love for the ocean. You can read more about my experiences as a NOAA Hollings Scholar on the blog I wrote last summer as part of my internship project: Life as a NOAA Intern
I will graduate from CSU next May and am going right into law school – though it is still unknown which school. I’ve struggled the last 1.5 years with health issues unrelated to my disability, but I have a good support system that is helping me to navigate this aspect of my healing, yet it is far from easy. I found love again for almost a year, but as is the case with many relationships, it eventually became obvious that despite a great deal of commonality, there were a few too many large differences to overcome.
Updates on Zain’s adventure – he graduated from CSU last May and I am very proud of his accomplishment. He’s setting up his own business making craft jewelry and specialty tools in the Denver area. His partner who was with us in pictures from my last post when we were dressed up for Halloween, she passed away recently from complications with her disability. It has been a hard road for him as her caretaker the last two years, but he has shown again his strength and deepness of love while caring for her as her health continued to decline. Zain and I continue to be family and see each other regularly for coffee or lunch.
And that’s it for this update!
Never give up, dear readers, on your dreams. They may be hard to follow and faint to hear calling, but if you stay open to possibility and true to yourself, they will find you.
Big hugs to all who have read my posts over the years and to new readers who find their way here. I know many find my site who are homeless or have chemical sensitivities, people looking for answers to help them in their own situation. You are not alone. It often feels that way when in the thick of it, but there are a surprising number of us who share these experiences and you are not alone.
Another year has passed. I am now settled into a degree program at CSU of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology. It suits me, though I am highly curious where my journey in the degree will take me. I sense it will not be the same as most others who graduate with a degree such as this – seasonal work in field research. No, after almost ten years homeless I have little desire to return to an outdoor setting for long periods of time. Instead I’m finding my way into more of the writing side of things – which is no surprise for anyone who has read my blog; I’m obviously a woman of many words!
Life continues to be an adventure. All those years in the tent and ill, I often dreamed of traveling to other countries and seeing more of the world. The dream helped fuel my recovery – and the dream finally came true a few months ago. In January I journeyed to Ghana with a class from CSU for a three week adventure into the Ghanaian culture. (Picture is me and a new Ghanaian friend, Eric. We were buddies for a couple days while our group was in his town.)
My trip was life changing! I had an amazing time learning how to be an international traveler. I brought my camera with me and it was my best friend there. It felt magical to see such a different, yet similar way of living. I continually had thoughts that human is human, and we are all people. White or black. Young or old. There are commonalities across the American and Ghanaian culture that go beyond culture and gave me a glimpse as to what being human really means.
As well, the trip was three weeks of living outside my usual comfort zone; in reaching beyond myself I grew immensely. The lessons I learned in Ghana have greatly influenced my life since coming home. I am growing in beautiful ways that will allow me to be a more whole and sound person. Through Ghana, I have learned how to be more mindfully present and less part of the shadows that have stayed with me through a great deal of trauma.
The last year at a glance:
- I became a runner! Last year I ran in the Bolder Boulder race (a 10k) and also the Big Gay 5k race for Denver Pride. An ankle injury in Ghana still has me unable to run this year, but as soon as possible I am going to start training again. I find a great deal of joy in running and feeling how healthy and strong my body has become.
- I also became a Blues Dancer! It became a passion for me during the summer, however is hard to maintain during the school year. I’m looking forward to another summer of dancing soon! (I’m in purple in the middle with the big grin!)
- Camping with Falkor several times. He’s an amazing dog who continues to grow and has become my best friend. Love this pup!
- Last summer I worked as a groundskeeper at a city park. It was my first job since I became disabled in 2001 and felt amazing to be productive in this way once more. (My job had a lot of fun toys… I mean tools!)
- Zain met a wonderful woman and they both live in an apartment here in town. We are more family than just friends, which brings a great deal of warmth to my heart. It was very painful to lose Zain in such a close way when we had to part ways as a couple. Having him back in my life as someone I can turn to and trust, who can still share a good laugh with me – it makes my heart happy. His girlfriend has also become someone close to me as well. She quickly found a spot in my heart too and is one of the people I enjoy spending time with the most. Even just last night, Zain and his girlfriend invited me over for a BBQ they were sharing with their neighbors. It was an excellent evening with a lot of love and laughter to fill my heart. (Picture is from Halloween!)
- I’ve been a full-time student this year at school. I am enjoying my classes and doing well. (Pictures are me in class and later in chemistry lab. We created a battery!)
- I rented my own apartment last August after a string of terrible roommates made me realize I needed to live by myself. I love this apartment. I can see the foothills out my window and walk Falkor in nature each day at the natural area next door. Last week was a milestone in my life – I renewed the lease on my apartment through July 2017. I have never renewed a lease before; I was always moving and doing new things. It feels really good to put down some roots here. Amazingly good. (Falkor and I walk along the trails at this pond at least once a day)
I wonder what another year will bring. I feel as though I’ve really found the flow of life in the last few months. It’s amazing to sense that I’m right where I need to be. I have grown the number of people I have in my life and feel love from all of them. There is a new sense of peace growing inside me since coming home from Ghana. This has the potential to be an even better year than the last one and that one was pretty darn good!
I made a new friend recently from an interesting place – archery club! I’ve taken an interest in shooting a bow after driving past the archery range one day and feeling such a strong tactile sensation in my hands that they needed a bow RIGHT NOW, I knew it was time to start. Leah’s becoming a surprisingly good friend in a very short period of time. It’s one of those comfortable friendships right from the start that tend to pop up unexpectedly.
Late last week I was mentioning to her that my birthday was coming up and how this year I wasn’t so thrilled to be having one. My birthdays have often been hard and Zain always tried to do a bit extra on my day to help make up for so many lousy ones. However this year, he really hasn’t been in my life as much since we’ve been working to build our lives separately and we still hadn’t even talked about my birthday being less than a week away. I’d already started feeling depressed about it and the disappointment it was looking to bring.
Then Leah offered to make it a good birthday and its sounding like it shall be exactly that! What a surprise. I’d known her a week and here she is offering me dinner and planning a bowling trip for us and some friends. She also suggested that perhaps this birthday could be a day of rebirth as well. Rather fitting given life’s circumstances right now.
So for my 100th post (yay!) I’m here not only writing about my birthday as I usually do, but also to continue on with my healing story as part of the rebirth I’ve been trying hard to live up to right now.
One can’t always know where healing of old traumas will take you. In this case, I’ve finally healed past some very old wounds and doors shut tightly inside myself to discover that I’m gay. No doubt that takes some of the mystery out of why if Zain and I had such a good relationship we are now moving apart – this isn’t really something we can find a way to mend. It was actually the mending and healing that brought us here.
This has been a hard time in my life. It’s filled with a large volume of grief for the loss of Zain and the life we had together. Things were comfortable, safe, and loving. At times, it’s a mystery as to why anything had to change…but then I remind myself that for the first time in my life I’ve stopped asking the question “Who am I?” because I now have the answer I was always lacking.
It’s strange to go through life feeling as though you are missing something, but you can’t really put a finger on it. Everything seems fine, looks right from the outside, but inside it feels a little off. I finally know why I felt that way and I’m sad at the loss it has brought, but happy at the things I am gaining too.
I’m gaining myself. I’ve never been me, always hiding those parts of me I was afraid others would judge, but I’m working hard to just be me – Cat. I think the name change has helped and was one of those important keys in the process of opening many locked doors inside myself behind which I was hiding in fear.
I fear those doors no longer and have been busting them down with a vengeance! ROAR!
Life is weird. That’s all I can say most days. I didn’t see this one coming, though in hindsight many things are rather obvious. Isn’t that always the way?
Birthday as a day of Rebirth!
I wasn’t sure I wanted to post about this, it’s terribly personal and of a nature that some may find offensive to their beliefs. Sundog Tales has always been about my healing journey and this is a very large milestone on that road. While I’ve been out for the last couple months with almost everyone I know, the internet is a very big place and so its a little scary putting this out here.
I’m tired of hiding me. I’m tired of being someone I’m not because the world I grew up in said I had to fit exactly inside their misshapen and pain-filled box. Time to burn that box, it’s never going to hold me again.
I’m curious where my journey will now go and am having a pretty fun time exploring this new aspect of myself. I’ve been getting active in the queer community around Fort Collins and on campus, while also just enjoying discovering all the things I kept hidden even from myself. As with most other things in my life since finding a way out of the darkness of the tent, I’m grabbing life and living it with a gusto that I once lacked but always envied in others. That gusto is mine now and I intend to keep it!
This post is a birthday gift to myself, words that will always remind me of who I am – a woman of integrity, courage, and strength.
Happy (re)Birthday to me!
I’ve been trying to figure out what I want to post here. Life has been an interesting place to live in the last couple of months and there are two really huge things going on which I have not mentioned here. It can be hard to balance private life with what I want to share on a blog. I’ve really enjoyed sharing my healing journey over the years and it’s always been a source of strength for me to share it openly here.
The next few posts are going to be the most difficult ones to share. They are probably some of the most important ones to share as well.
I’m coming to find out that the healing process can take many different roads and sometimes you have no way of guessing which way it will take you. It can be a place of both sadness and great joy all at the same time – which is a hard place to live in.
For many months, in hindsight maybe even a lot longer than that, Zain and I have been growing apart. It’s taken a big leap over this summer when we both hit huge milestones in our individual healing journeys. We’ve now grown far enough apart that it’s time to move on as friends, but nothing more.
When I started writing this blog five years ago I really wouldn’t have thought I’d be where I am today. Going to college at CSU and rocking a calculus test I took this afternoon. Feeling more healthy than I ever have in my life, both physically and mentally. Having an amazing dog who just gets more awesome every day. Grieving for the loss of my relationship with Zain. Exploring new realms of adventure that have opened up to me and which I will most likely speak of in my next post. If you’d told me five years ago that this would be life today, I’d have sworn you were off in a fantasy world.
It’s all so … big. When this blog started, my life was simple. Survival for another winter and keep hope alive until the day when I found a way to heal. I can hardly believe I’ve healed.
Yes, I am almost fully healed at this point. I feel like it must all be a dream still. Especially as life keeps taking weird turns that seemed so far away from possible reality as to be fiction.
Yet here I am working on my degree in mechanical engineering while having to relearn how to be 100% independent from Zain because we need to move into separate homes sometime soon. It’s all part of the healing process and so I’m happy, but I’m also sad. My world is opening up before me, though it also means closing the door on the some of the dreams I had been working so long to make happen.
Living life with an open heart and drive to improve, never settling for less than you are capable of doing, it’s simply amazing where that can take you. Where will I be in another five years? I truly wonder.
The last few weeks have been very intense. I’ve been attending CSU for two weeks and prior to that were many student orientation activities designed to make us feel more a part of the college. It’s been a lot of fun, but also an incredible amount of stress returning full time to classes.
Calculus was a bit of a surprise and I found myself quickly swamped. My instructor is a graduate student and this is his first time teaching. He’s nice and tries hard, but that doesn’t really take the place of experience. When comparing the learning experience of myself to that of Blue Jess who’s taking calculus at the community college, I feel she’s getting a much deeper teaching of the subject. It’s taking a lot of extra study time for me to make up for what isn’t being taught in class, but I’m getting there and feel as though I’m doing well.
Speaking of being taught in class – I found it rather odd that in every one of my classes, the first two times we met were mostly fluff. Nothing was being taught, it was all about the syllabus and how to be a student. I understand these are typically freshmen level courses, but as an experienced student ready to learn it was a little frustrating. Especially as the homework kept coming in, but no instruction was given on how to handle the problems.
Chemistry was my favorite class. The instructor was humorous and had a dynamic teaching style. Unfortunately, by not coming to it fresh from Intro to Chemistry, the homework load was enormous. A few days ago I decided to drop chemistry for this semester and try it again closer to when I’ll be needing it.
Intro to Astronomy has been ok enough so far, I think it will start picking up soon though. We have been covering the ancient Greeks and Romans and their contributions to modern astronomy.
I’ve had to pick up a one credit odd course since dropping chemistry in order to keep my financial aid, therefor I shall also be taking a class in West African contexts and perspectives. It begins in late October and will hopefully be very interesting as I hear the instructor is pretty great.
It’s been a bit of a frustrating thing to drop chemistry. I don’t like feeling as though I could have done more, done better. Truth is, there is an enormous amount of stuff going on right now in my personal life and this heavily contributed to my choice in dropping chemistry. There is only so much of me to go around and still actually feel like I’m not neglecting something important. Still… while the reasons are sound, I can’t help but wonder if I could have done chemistry had my personal life been less chaotic right now.
I have had a good time meeting some new people last week in various clubs. I’ve even volunteered to be a student council representative for SHPE – “Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers” and pronounced as “ship.” I’m curious as to where my involvement with them will go as they are a friendly group of people and I can see being with the club the next several years of my education.
Last April I began going to a CrossFit gym to do a dramatic boost to my fitness level. I’ve been pretty consistently going three times a week ever since. I love working out there, such an amazing group of people. My hope at the time had been to see my endurance raised enough to handle a full day of school and homework when I began at CSU. At one point last week, I was climbing 4 flights of stairs with a heavy backpack on my back full of textbooks and easily keeping up with everyone else. The thought struck me around the third floor that this was exactly why I’d been working out so hard all summer – I’d achieved my goal.
Even though I had to drop chemistry and feel a bit of failure in doing so, the reality is that I have achieved so much more that its time to focus on all the success. I have moved here, applied and been accepted into CSU, received residency so I could afford to attend, gotten my math skills up to the level they needed to be so I could succeed at calculus this fall, gotten my physicality up to the point where being bedbound only three years ago seems like it happened in a different lifetime, and am healthier physically, mentally, and emotionally than I have ever been before in my life.
That is a heck of a lot of success to culminate in these last few weeks. No wonder I feel so tired, it’s been a very long road to get here and now I see that this road has only just begun. Life is an adventure and I’m incredibly happy to be on this one, even when I’m feeling tired and drained by the road I’ve been walking to get here.
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.