The Life of a “Non-Traditional” Student

I have rarely, if ever, taken the “traditional” route with anything in my life. School, work, relationships…I have never conformed to what a young woman is “expected” to do. I have had several jobs, in a variety of fields, trying to find out what I want to be when I grow up. I just turned 30 in March, and have been with my significant other for almost 10 years, but we haven’t married or had children yet. And did I mention he is 14 years older than me? I am pretty much okay with the direction my life has taken so far. I consider all of my experiences lessons I can share with others and use to help people when I become a therapist (yes I figured out what I want to be). But of all of my decisions, and my life’s unexpected twists and turns, my decisions regarding my education have been the hardest for me to reconcile.

School has always been a unique psychological trigger for me. I was born with congenital birth defects that affected my facial features. I had surgery for it in 8th grade but it left a permanent scar on my heart and soul. I was made fun of quite a bit in school and despite being book smart and always getting good grades, school was always a little more than I could deal with. Given the fact that high school is just as much a social experiment as it is an academic one, my misery was compounded exponentially. I had very few friends. I didn’t go to my prom. I went to Homecoming once or twice but never had a “date”. I had serious attendance issues, mainly because I didn’t want to face other kids and the possibility of being hurt. I played sick a lot, and when I was older, I would skip school – taking the bus to the mall all day or hiding out at the public library. I badgered my parents, begged, pleaded, cried, went to counseling, and finally got my GED the year I was supposed to graduate with my class, 1998. I got one question wrong on the GED test. It was a joke. I was the “smart one” in the family. All I ever heard growing up was how smart and talented I was and how I could be anything I wanted to be. If I had stuck it out in high school I probably would have ended up with a full ride to some prestigious college somewhere. So even though I got what I wanted, I pretty much felt like a failure. I had let my parents and the rest of my family down. All those high expectations everyone had for me…down the drain. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t face the pain and torment I was expecting in those classrooms.

Fast forward through a year-long stint away at college (yes you CAN get accepted to a four year school with a GED. I was shocked!) and several failed attempts at community college. What was wrong with me? I was given the gift of intelligence but couldn’t pull myself together enough to make it in college either? I shut down. Took a waitressing job. Met my boyfriend and just lived…but always in the back of my head was this nagging voice that said I COULD do it if I really wanted to. If I found the right school, figured out what I really wanted. I began to re-evaluate and decided I really wanted to be a mental health counselor. Well, that requires an education. So I found the Program for Experienced Learners at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL.

Eckerd College

Image via Wikipedia

It is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I am taking human development classes with like minded adults and for the first time in my life, school is not a place to be feared or dreaded. It is a fun, interactive experience. I had forgotten how exciting it is to see the A at the top of your test or paper. I started my junior year this fall and it has FLOWN by! I am even planning (GASP!) more school – getting my masters’ when I finish at Eckerd next year. And I have received several scholarships! Just this week I got a letter awarding my $5000 for an essay I wrote about my life experiences.

I used to have this recurring dream. In it, I was reassuring my parents that I was going to class to finish my high school diploma, even though I had already gotten my GED. I guess it could be interpreted several ways. But when I found my calling, and found Eckerd, I stopped having those dreams. I have made my family proud and most importantly, I have made myself proud. I just had to figure out that life is a journey, not a destination, and just because you don’t know where you’re going doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the ride!

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…And Then I Panicked

My right eye fluttered open and I began to slowly take in my surroundings in a drug induced haze. I heard shuffling and beeping all around me. My left eye wouldn’t open but out of the corner of my right I kept catching glimpses of blue racing back and forth. Occasionally a mass of blue would approach me and speak but I was only vaguely aware of what they were saying. I turned my head slightly and saw my spousal equivalent hovering in the corner. He had written Billy Loves Sarah in big letters on the white board facing my bed. I couldn’t summon the words to speak to him, to tell him I loved him too. I just laid there and started taking a physical and mental inventory. I reached with my right hand and felt around on my chest. There were wires coming from everywhere, including one that I was pretty sure was coming out of my neck. I had already noticed that my left eye wouldn’t open but at the time it didn’t seem too alarming. As my hand made its way up my face and toward my hairline I began to feel stubble… AND THEN I PANICKED! They shaved my head! The doctor told me he wouldn’t; that they could use an old incision. And yet I kept feeling around and I had no hair on top of my head. I felt a tube jutting out of my scalp but that didn’t even bother me. As I ran my hand over my head, panic turned to horror as I realized, um, they forgot to shave half of it off! So not only was I a hideous mess with tubes and lines in every orifice, but they had only shaved half of my hair, leaving me looking like Bozo the Clown. Really? They couldn’t have just finished the job while they were up there?

It was a full week before I could go home and have Billy shave the rest off for me. It was a full year before I had a full head of hair again. But it has been two years and counting since my last chronic, debilitating migraine and despite the hair thing…I have to say I am pretty damn lucky!

Me and SO - 1 month post op - Felt a bit like a deranged elf!

With hair...and a new outlook on life!

Writing Prompt by Mama Kat!

Ahhh Honeycrisp!

How I have missed thee! I thought I would share my first Honeycrisp apple of the season with you. If you haven’t had one…DO IT! They are fantastic 🙂

Apple to die for...

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