Sundog –noun 1. parhelion. 2. a small or incomplete rainbow.

CSU

Life as a CSU Student

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.

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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.


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.