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Here I sit in front of my computer with a blank mind. Not that this is anything new .. I've been known to have a blank mind on many, many occasions but here I sit in front of my computer with a blank mind and I have a column to write. Maybe the problem isn't really a blank mind but one that hops from one subject to another like quicksilver .. potentially earthshaking ideas traded for whimsy just because a breeze blows in through my window or the parakeet I keep in the office for company has decided to audition for the circus by hanging upside down on his perch or simply because my brain has chosen today to be one of the days where it skips and jumps around unable to hang onto anything for longer than 5 minutes. Maybe it skips around because it has too many things to think about. Maybe it skips around simply because it's afraid and tired .. all those things that used to be automatic are now manual and require so much attention and effort.
Part of the problem this time is that I have things I want to say about subjects from the past as well as subjects present and future and the prospect of pulling them together in a coherent way is just too daunting. Of course, maybe I'm overcomplicating it all and it doesn't really matter whether they bleed together in a hodgepodge of words and thoughts or maybe, in reality, they are all connected.
The last issue was about peer support, this issue is looking at education and the next is going to be focused on relationships. When I look at them written down, the connection between them all seems to take on form because they are all connected. None of them are going to 'work' without the other.
A few years after my injury, the Texas Rehabilitation Commission agreed to give me a shot at returning to school. What they neglected to do was assign a counselor to me that knew brain injury and was able to be involved in the process. Instead, I was on my own with the clock running. As horrible as it was, I can't imagine what it must be like for someone who doesn't have some awareness of what they need or, atleast, have someone available to help them figure it out.
The community college I decided to return to had a Disabled Student Services department. While they might not have known a great deal about brain injury specifically, they were knowledgeable about disabilities and the needs for various forms of accommodations and they weren't surprised at any of the requests I made.
The school was very flexible and they felt it best if I started out light by taking just one class that was not a heavy academic class. They figured it would give me the opportunity to get my feet wet and also make adjustments to my needed accommodations. The Texas Rehabilitation Commission, however, had other plans. If I could take one class, why not three or four. Eventually, they approved the trial run.
I realize that I was very fortunate with this school because they were 'ready' for me .. they didn't stand around looking at each other wondering what to do with me. They also were receptive to my input and weren't quick to blow off my questions and suggestions. Since I had a recent neuropsychological evaluation, they used that rather than running me through their full spectrum of evaluation procedures. I had relatively good feel for the accommodations I'd made at home, we started there and began running down the check-list of accommodations I might need at school.
Tape recorder .. check. Unlimited time for tests .. check. Quiet room for tests .. check. Access to tutors .. check. Access to study lab .. check. Portable computer for note-taking and essay question responses .. check. (By the way, in case you're wondering, I use a portable computer because when I handwrite something my brain gets so involved in the 'how' of writing that it doesn't have anything left over for the 'what.' Keyboarding seems to by-pass that problem.) Having access to accommodations and feeling comfortable with using them are two different things and I'm not all that sure that my discomfort didn't play a large role in the eventual outcome.
Registration day came and Le took me. He led me around and, on more than one occasion, pulled me back with the admonishment to "Not give up before I started." Overwhelming wouldn't exactly describe that day. All those young faces more concerned with who they would socialize with during the school year .. and one chubby, much-older-than-anyone-I-saw face looking at it all with nothing less than stark terror.
The DSS counselor gave me the instructor's name and phone number. I called her ahead of time because I wanted her to be ready for me and I certainly wanted to be ready for her. We talked about my needs and how she could help accommodate them. While that approach doesn't work for or with everyone, I'm glad I did it.
The first day came. My batteries were charged, I had a new tape in my recorder, I even bought myself a new 'school bag,' I wanted to be ready but I wasn't prepared for the discomfort I felt surrounded by all those young people. I wasn't ancient at 38 but I sure wasn't 17 either. That, in itself, was distracting. I wasn't ready for the impact that the classroom environment would have on me. Tapping pencils, air-conditioning vent noises, florescent lights .. all those little things that someone else could have blown off. What surprised me even more was the discomfort I felt with the some of the accommodations. It didn't seem right to change the 'rules' for me when everyone else was having to comply with them. What also surprised me is how quickly discomfort turned into plain ol' hostility. I didn't like having to get up and leave the room when I overloaded and I started to feel like a 'naughty little girl being punished' when I stood in the hall.
I made it through that class. Actually, I busted my tailend and got an A but I never went back. TRC told me that I had to carry a full course load if they were going to help cover the cost of retraining me. There was certainly no way I could have handled the expense so that took a large part of the decision out of my hands. However, looking back .. maybe if I had peer support, I wouldn't have felt so alone. Maybe that discomfort wouldn't have turned into anger. Maybe if I'd had better relationships with friends and acquaintances .. they could have helped share some of the load or helped me to see ways of climbing the mountains. Maybe just some time diverting or distracting me from 'school realities' would have given me enough relief that I could have hung in there. Maybe if everyone (me, my husband, the school's DSS department and, certainly, TRC) had been alittle more educated about a survivor returning to school, we'd not have been so taken by surprise.
HOWEVER, my experience isn't necessarily other people's and so I stand in awe and total respect of those people who have studied and worked and endured and made it through one class, one year, ten years or twenty to reach their academic goals and I can only hope that they occasionally walk back through those halls to talk to instructors, DSS counselors, students to share their knowledge and to offer their encouragement.
Survive with Pride!
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