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.