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.
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.
Almost a year has passed since my last post here, yet I am disappointed with my lack of posting at the second blog site Jeremy and I teamed up for. In truth, though he is a great partner for many things, blog writing is not one of them. This sapped my enthusiasm for writing and over the months turned into more silence than anything. In that time, much has happened, but what brings me back here today is this blog itself. Several weeks ago I began to reread my old posts here and appreciate once more how much Sundog Tales has always meant to me. I’ve shared so much of my journey, it’s only fitting that I come back here in these final months before I begin to attend Colorado State University in August.
Where does one begin? Perhaps there is no need for a beginning, for you already know me so well. A quick catch-up then.
In short, life in Colorado has been filled with many ups and downs, as any life is – healthy or chronically ill, and I’ve been undergoing tremendous growth to overcome these challenges. I’ve had the excitement of applying for and being accepted to CSU for the fall semester. This in turn kicked off a world of doubts and fears about my capabilities to return to school, being productive once more, and in some ways more importantly – to feel successful while doing it.
All those years living in a tent, day dreaming of being healthy again, working or going back to school – the reality is both much more fantastic and also more difficult that I had imagined. Somehow in each of my daydreams, the me I would become when well was the same me I had been before becoming sick. Other than knowing I was mentally a lot stronger and physically a lot weaker now, in my mind’s eye I was still the same 24 year old woman I used to be.
Boy was I wrong!
I am vastly different than who I had been. Though the tent felt like time was suspended within it’s walls, it was in fact not a time machine at all, waiting to deposit the old me 13 years in the future the same as I’d been before, but instead a device slowly molding me into a more mature and motivated person.
This is ever so obvious when I attend functions at CSU, surrounded by undergrads who are often half my age with problems I no longer identify with, such as which party to go to or who is dating whom. Worse yet are the functions for incoming freshmen and transfer students. The freshmen are often accompanied by parents who are the only ones asking questions, a glazed look on the kid’s faces, and everyone wondering where the dorms are. These are not problems in my world. My world is about paying rent, walking the dog, spending time with Jeremy, and otherwise devoting myself to my studies.
No, the me of 2001 who would have been only a bit older than these kids is as surely gone in the past as VHS tapes and a world without cell phones.
This morning I was writing an essay for a scholarship (something else past me had never done) and one of the questions was on how have I grown as a leader through my leadership activities. Well, as someone who was bedbound much of the last decade of my life, let me tell you – there wasn’t much call for leadership activities. Then I woke this morning with the thought on my mind, this right here is a leadership activity. I have reached lives I have never known, inspired people with my words to be more than they were before reading my stories, and that to me is a leader.
It reminded me of how much this blog and all my readers have meant to me over the years and I realized that at one of the greatest points in the story – I left. I went elsewhere and was hardly there too. It’s time I remedy this and finish this story, you all deserve nothing less.
So pull up a chair and settle in, because there will be more blog posts to come over the next few months as we count down to the first day of school – August 25, 2014.
I have enjoyed this chakra meditation video very much over the last few months. It has a nice grounding effect and is quite relaxing.
Each day Jeremy and I do some combination of between 2-4 meditations spread throughout the day. It is part of the Gupta Amygdala Retraining Technique we have been doing and it helps immensely. Though the program starts you off with guided meditations of their own and cd’s to help you get started, we’ve taken it beyond those to now encompassing other meditation styles too.
Sometimes we skip the afternoon meditation in favor of a walk in the park or around our semi-rural neighborhood. This also seems just as relaxing and really depends on the day as to which we do.
Over the last several months of this program I have had a lot of time to think. Originally I was unsure as to when I would share with my reading community that I was doing the Gupta program, as it is a bit alternative and honestly, I wasn’t ready to face people judging me or how I choose to heal myself. Sad that even with all I’ve been through from these illnesses, there are those people out there who will harshly judge anyone who dares to break their own boundaries by becoming well.
Unfortunately, I did indeed face some negative criticism and a fair bit of what I felt to be an irrational anger towards me for not sharing on my blog all the intimate and private details of my life. As though somehow by denying this person those details, I am not only standing in the way of their own healing, but outright doing them harm.
I hate to admit it, but even despite finding their position to have been in the minority it did take away some of my enthusiasm for sharing this healing journey with you, my readers and friends. At this same time in life, I found myself to be going into a bit of a downturn in health because of our cat, Tashi, waking us multiple times a night and causing enormous difficulties. I love that cat, but she knocked down a considerable part of my health for the better part of four full months. All in all, as you may have noticed, I haven’t been posting very much for sometime now.
But that’s about to change… just not here.
Now I’m bouncing back quickly, more quickly than I had even dared to hope! With this gigantic boost in health is also the same boost in motivation to get a move on life. Jeremy and I are going to see about moving to Colorado, sooner rather than later, and start the process of getting back to school through the work training programs available to us.
Jeremy and I started a new blog for us to share, A Thousand Miles, where we will detail out more of our adventures while trying to find enough money to make the move. Being on Social Security Disability and food stamps doesn’t leave much money to try and save up for a big expense, and being on an island means big expense if you want to move off it. Plane fare alone starts around $1200! If we actually want to take with us anything besides carry-on luggage, such as shipping our computers to Colorado or blankets, well the costs skyrocket.
Life is full of challenges and as any who’ve read my blog here for very long knows, we take each challenge and overcome them. It’s all just a matter of time.
Have you ever been to a nude beach? I went to my first one today!
Little Beach is part of the Makena State Park and known for being clothing optional, as well as it’s Sunday night drum parties. It’s a very nice little cove at the end of a quarter mile hike. The snorkeling wasn’t spectacular, however we saw some fish we’ve never seen before – including a small school of fish probably each the size of a large dog. As well, several sea turtles made the whole trip very worthwhile.
Yet, we didn’t go to Little Beach for the snorkeling – we went for the whales. Humpback whales migrate here each winter from December through April. According to my research, Little Beach would be just about the best place from shore to watch them passing by. Shortly after we arrived we were greeted with an amazing site. Two adult humpback whales only a few hundred feet off the shore, swimming along and doing their own thing. Though we didn’t see much more than their back spines each time they came to the surface, it was a fantastic site that brought tears to my eyes.
I mean, how fantastic is it to have seen something like that so close in the wild?
I wasn’t on a boat with dozens of other tourists or some other modern means to be out on the water with them. No, I was just standing on the shore of a beach I’d hiked out to and seeing them as I am, a human on land, and as they are, majestic beauty in the ocean. Absolutely one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in my life.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen whales, not even here on Maui – just something about them being so close I felt like I could nearly touch them… wonderful.
Have you ever wondered what whale songs are like in the wild?
Sometimes when you snorkel here during the winter you can hear them signing to each other underwater. This is the second time I’ve been lucky to hear them. Today they were loud enough to be easily heard, even over the white noise of the choppy waves we were snorkeling in. It was very magical, especially the times when we’d find a turtle to swim with. Whales whistling and calling to one another, following a sea turtle as it wandered the reef, scores of brightly colored fish swimming below us – I’ll always remember this.
I found myself at one point being struck by how diametrically different my life is now compared to March in Washington while living in a tent. Almost every year the last snow of the season would be sometime in the next two weeks. We’d be completely and totally exhausted from surviving another freezing and snowy winter only to look forward to a ridiculous amount of rain for the next two months, praying this summer would be warm and sunny. Often times it would be a wet summer too with nary a good, hot day to burn off winter’s chill before turning into Autumn and starting the cycle all over.
Instead, here I was snorkeling nude in the ocean, warm sunshine on my backside, while swimming with whales and turtles!
If life can change so dramatically for me in such a short period of time, just think of what else I can do. I am getting healthy again, there is no doubt about that, and sometimes like today I can really feel just how possible it is to change my situation for the better. It has taken an enormous amount of hard work and tenacity, but just look at where I am now!
I used to feel like I could inspire others to follow their dreams, grow as individuals, and reach places they thought were too distant – but sadly, I couldn’t do that for myself. Now I look at how life has changed me…I can be my own inspiration and reach my own dreams.
If I were to be able to speak to the illness that has stolen so many years of my life, I would have to quote one of my favorite movies – “Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the (life) that you have stolen, for my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great — You have no power over me.”