The phrase “you can do anything you set your mind to”, is an infuriating one. Because it is touted as a truth. When in fact, it is a variable. I can set my mind to a hundred things and never be able to accomplish it.
Because of biology. Because of time. Because of resources.
Sometimes we can set our mind to something, and get results.
And sometimes, it is pure pain, and hell, and mockery, the thing that we want so badly.
Because we cannot accomplish it. No matter how badly we want to.
It was the day I took my last exam for my general psychology class, and my final for my career communication class.
A week and a day after my last day of classes.
Going to college has been a silent dream of mine for more than 10 years.
But I never thought it would happen now.
If anything, I thought it would happen when I was 40, or 50 or idono never.
Will I even be alive by 50? Will I even be valuable by 50? Have anything of value to contribute by 50? Feh, in this world that idolizes youth, and where people of 50 are expected to have lived a certain life (no matter what community one is in) and I just feel like I’m really still 18.
But I digress.
College became a pleasant surprise possibility last year October time I think.
I was so startled by the “early” opportunity arrival. Thinking about going made me tingle with pleasure. Even while I worried.
How would I be able to do college while doing everything else?
I don’t have the luxury of stability.
That was stolen from me.
I don’t have the luxury of family either.
That was stolen from me too.
How would this work in real life?
Still, I knew this was an opportunity I might never have again, and so I decided to run with it.
I could always change my mind.
I could always quit.
I could always pause.
Things that take non abused and traumatized brained people little time to do, takes me double time. So it was a long and difficult process getting from the decision, to entering the classroom that first day.
And I definitely didn’t dive in.
I teetered and tottered, almost like I was on a slippery log, trying to cross a deep lake.
And even once I crossed that wide bearth, (is that a real/appropriate word?) a steep and rocky hike awaited me, in the form of making it to class on time; (no matter if I hadn’t fallen asleep til 4am because anxiety, pain, and trauma ruled my body and brain that night)
Or if my car decided to break down that morning. Or while on the way to school (it did, numerous times. I’m buying a new one and I need help with it, but that’s for another long and winding post😂😂😂)
Interacting with people almost half your age; (even the professer!) (most are pretty decent, and I saw the difference of being raised in an environment of respect and value (them) over being raised in an environment of your voice and your needs are of zero value so be good and be quiet and please everyone around you but yourself, me)
And getting back into the world of academia.
That was my biggest obstacle of all.
And I wasn’t even aware of how big that obstacle was, until it hit me in the face.
I was that annoying girl in my Chasidish elementary and high school that actually valued and ENJOYED learning about George Washington and photosynthesis.
I had a copy of the Declaration of Independence, a deck of cards showing the pictures of the presidents on one side and interesting facts about them on the other side, and stack for the first ladies too. And we had books and coloring books and fun books about history, and about essential famous people that had shaped the world at home.
I absolutely loved it when we did science experiments on class (unfortunately that was far too infrequently) and we had lots of different science books at home.
But my real love was writing. Journaling was cool, I could write simpe essays and long (idono what to call it officially) about almost any writing assignment and I loved discovering and using lots of different words.
I don’t think I ever asked the horrid question of “will this be on the test”? In a whining tone of voice.
But again I digress.
My “elementary” and “high” “school” years were absolutely nothing like my first semester in college.
I was most worried about reading.
I haven’t been able to read since 2015.
Reading was my first hobby.
And so, I chose my classes accordingly.
Photography. (Sounds fun, and for the most part it is, but there’s also learning to be done, and that’s where I saw how terribly my memory had been affected by my ongoing trauma)
Career communication, I figured I wouldn’t have to put too much concentration into that because I’ve had my fair share of workplace training in classes and over real life. And for the most part I didn’t. I almost always gave the Professor answers that almost noone could think of, and I never read the readings, because I discovered that I could simply scan/skim the pages, look at the questions she gave, and fairly quickly provide the answers because it was open book and the questions were just one or two and the answers simple.
Despite all that, I still had some moments and assignments that were completely terrifying to me.
Imagine my shock, horror, and dread when I heard that there would be a final on all the reading material. I nearly died.
And my last class was for the semester was intro to psychology. I think.
Bless this professors soul.
Technically there was a textbook, (a downloadable one, kids these days) but think the only time I actually looked at it, was when I was doing my paper. (More on that later)
He had everything on blackboard, in tiny, bite size, PowerPoint pieces with additional information on a pullout tab.
And, he structured the actual time in class directly off of that. I nearly laughed in relief.
I still needed to force myself to take time to read, and study like crazy for the exams because so little stuck in my brain.
But I clung on.
The biggest punch in the stomach came when I had to do my paper.
A “simple” research paper. In a style I had never done (ok, that’s not such a huge problem) and on any topic, 3-4 pages long, 5-6 in text citations.
That’s where I fell apart.
I couldn’t choose a topic.
My brain couldn’t find one.
It’s not like I choose a topic and I’m like ok, let’s write a statement about this.
I needed to find a topic that my brain could then connect to.
Problem number one.
Problem number 2,
I barely use Google for simple tasks.
Google overwhelms me, and instead of finding answers my brain gets mired with random inapplicable information.
I knew I was in trouble.
Whoever I spoke to, could not understand what I was having trouble with. Furthermore, they couldn’t understand that I knew what help I needed, and that they were able to give it.
It was terrifying, paralyzing, and incredibly frustrating.
All of my shortcomings hitting me all at once, brain deadness dancing mockingly in my face.
I even contemplated not doing the paper at all.
I finally decided on a topic. Even bought a book for that purpose. I was forcing myself to read. But it’s such a new area of study, that noone had heard of it. Which made getting help even tougher.
(But I am determined to write a paper on that one day)
I got lucky, and a second “easier” topic appeared in my brain, along with a steering question. I was able to sit down for one or two hours and find good material to use.
And I was lucky I could think to copy and paste the sources into my document so I didn’t need to start from scratch at the next moment I was able to attend to the paper.
But at that point, it was just letters on a page. No coherent or concrete sentences, thoughts, or structure. I knew I needed help, I knew what kind of help, but it was nowhere to be found.
I will forever be grateful to my savior.
And while I fought for my full credit for this paper, I was filled with such shock, sadness and loss.
Reading and writing, my first loves, were not available to me anymore.
I had really thought, (believed? wished? hoped?) that college/reading/writing again would kinda wake up that part in my brain. It didn’t.
This is what college had been to me all my life. Reading and writing and learning new things and being passionate and delving into stuff.
But it was cut off from me.
I had a moment of “what the fuck am I doing here?!?” It filled me with such dread and fear and shame.
I needed to rethink my entire college reality.
I can’t decide if I should try to steer clear of most reading and writing classes and look towards art and science, or if I should davka include some reading and writing. (I know about core requirements).
Right now, I’m barely recovering from the past 4 months, while trying to get ready for the next 2 months (I think a winter class is absolutely insane, I didn’t think about the snow and shit, and I have days and days of upcoming trial dates lined up for all of January and February. I’m talking 9-5 days, I kid you not. Anyone wanna adopt me? You got work and school? Well we don’t give a shit, but we still want you to pay your abuser child support and his legal fees and you should have a two bedroom apartment. But I digress.)
I have so so so many people to thank for helping me do this.
I will not remember all of you, not because I don’t value or appreciate your help, but simply because my brain doesn’t remember 😥
Betsy Fabricant, this woman is a saint.
Tara, my support person from Blueprint Supported Education
The Office of Access-Ability at Kingsbourough, my advisor Gail, my exam coordinator Sonia, and Benjamin, who handles all things tech with assistive learning.
The Options Center, so helpful, so supportive.
All of my friends coming to the rescue on my asking for help posts, giving of your expertise, energy and time.
My surrogate mother Chaya.
The counseling center at Kingsbourough.
As well as the nurse’s office at Kingsbourough
My kiddo, who’s been so supportive, and involved and a very big force behind me pushing through this horrific hell, I hope and dream that one day, it’ll all be worth it.
Two more thoughts before I stop word vomiting,
I was almost always an A student.
The first time I remember experiencing academic difficulty was when I was 12 and early algebra kicked me in the face. I couldn’t make heads or tails out of it. But with a good tutor in the form of my aunt, I kicked it back. I also experienced some difficulty in my Hebrew studies in highschool because they more more “advanced” than my old elementary school (where the Hebrew curriculum was absolute shit I hate those thieving motherfuckers, denying children a right to their heritage, language and education).
And I never had an official tutor, or needed to be pulled out of class or anything.
It was mostly smooth sailing for me.
Until now. I buried my shame, and asked for help and support from places “I should logically not be needing to”.
But my reality is not my past. It is my present. And unfortunately, harm is harm. But boy am I grateful to have these supports in place. I would have not done as well if not for it.
And my second thought. Going back to the caption on this photo.
It is absolutely not a given truth that if “one just puts their mind to it, they can achieve/be it”. In fact it is possible to be a pretty harmful statement.
Sometimes we can do things, by ourselves, with the help of others, and by sheer luck. But sometimes we can’t. No matter how badly we want to, and how hard we try.
I was actually enrolled in college and slated to start in fall of 2015, but then I found myself on the street, with my whole life in shambles.
So I pulled out, and buried that goal.
And my life for the past 13 years, but more so the past 3 years, has shown me, brutally, over and over, that sometimes I can’t. No matter how badly I want to, or how hard I try.
Please do not ever tell me that if I put my mind to it, I can. Because that is hurtful to me.
I have berated and hated and kicked myself for “not being able to” for a very long time. “They can, why can’t I” is my constant companion. It is HORRIBLE.
I can’t. I need more SUPPORT than you. Through no fault of my own, through the fault of my abusers, and the way my brain responded to their abuse.
So instead of making me feel like shit, offer non judgemental, actual support. Maybe then I actually will be able to.