Tuesday, October 12, 2010

College: achieving a life-long goal

Today I applied for a scholarship at my school. One of the essay questions asked if you have faced any obstacles that got in the way of your education. Boy, did I have an answer for that. I started college the first time when I was 19 years old and battling anorexia (and losing the battle). My mind was so obsessed with the numbers: calories, fat grams, pounds, that I literally couldn't think clearly about anything else. I dropped out of all my classes.

A couple of years later I went back, and while doing well as far as grades go, I was not doing well physically or mentally. I was seriously depressed and in great physical pain. The exhaustion that overcame me was so extreme, it was difficult to get dressed and leave the house. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome then. The diagnoses later changed, as regular readers here already know.

Fast forward to age 24: I was doing great at a community college in Baltimore, in an honors program. I got a huge scholarship to attend Smith College through the Ada Comstock Scholars program at that school, which allows students above the traditional, high-school age to attend an elite institution. I could not have been more excited. My brain and my body did not cooperate. Instead of Smith, I ended up in a homeless shelter carting around my famous box full of pills. That was the year I became delusional.

Fast forward again. At age 32 I returned to school, determined to finally get through it this time. Now I am 35, and after all these years, I will be getting my A.A. degree in December, and starting a bachelor's program in January, as I've mentioned here before.

Obstacles galore? Yes. But I do think that if you want something badly enough, and are willing to put in the effort to get it, you can get it. I still have symptoms. I still deal with those illnesses I mentioned. I am constantly trying to manage stress. But it was possible to get through numerous classes while experiencing symptoms. I realize I'm lucky. Not everyone with Schizoaffective Disorder or Schizophrenia has that luck, and my luck could run out at any time. But I am doing my best to get through school, and I am glad to be making some progress.

It's hard sometimes. I look back and think, "if only...." I wanted a degree from an excellent school. I was smart enough to get one, if things had worked out differently. If only I was not 35 and just getting started on the bachelor's. If only I didn't have these illnesses. If only I had more money, more friends, and more achievements under my belt. But what good does it do to second guess yourself? It accomplishes nothing much. I am where I am because of the cards I was dealt and the choices that I made in life - just like everyone else. If I didn't have a mental illness, I would have had something else to deal with.

All around me are problems. My car is in the shop and the bill for the repairs is extremely high. Several members of my family have serious financial problems, and I can't help them as I have no money to do so myself, but I have to keep my "eye on the prize", so to speak. I have to keep in mind my goals, and I am focusing with determination on school right now. I am making this happen, and I am even proud of myself for it, odd though that is for me. I have self-esteem issues, and usually downplay my accomplishments because they don't seem great enough. But all of us must believe in ourselves, because who else is going to believe in us if we don't? So there should be no downplaying of accomplishments. We should all be able to be proud of ourselves for the things we manage to do in our lives. That's healthy, and not conceited. So, yes, I am proud of myself.

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