Life is not easy. Especially when you are in a family of invisible illnesses and disabilities. It can be serious, funny and downright hard! But we make it. Just like everyone else. We just do it in a different style.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A New Direction

I am in school.

Yes, I have enrolled in college...again. Now that I have started again, I can talk about the many attempts at going to school. I can talk about how I wished, dreamed and cried over this. How it shaped my life.

You see, I always loved to learn. Whether it was for a class or not, whether it was required or not. I loved to read and collect the books I read (see my library at: There was nothing I wouldn't try to learn and when the internet took off, I was there, realizing how much I could learn right in the comfort of my own home.

I started out at the top of my high school class (number 12 out of 604 students-top 2%). Everyone had very high hopes for my future. Everyone, but me. Little did everyone know the struggle I had just to finish my senior year. The migraines that would plague me through my college and work life were just beginning. My back already had a life of its own, slowing me down and making physical activity so painful. Maybe everyone should have known, since I took a semester off after graduation. Six months of doing absolutely nothing. Not even work. But when January 1984 rolled around, I thought I was ready. I had rested and was shouting, “Look out college life, here I come!”

Not even two months in and I contracted an eye infection. The doctor at the infirmary said it looked like someone used both my eyes for pincushions. What he couldn’t explain was the fatigue and weakness. I had friends lead me around campus at night because of light sensitivity, feeling the wind against my swollen, burning eyes, wondering if I was going blind. Six weeks later, still wearing sunglasses, I could see, but would suffer with sun-induced migraines for many years after. I only stayed another semester and gave up. I couldn’t do the reading, either for the psychology major or the literature minor. And suddenly, there was a new problem. I couldn’t remember anything. Not from my notes or anyone else’s. My near photographic memory was shot. I would suffer with this until this day, using Post-in Notes, lists and electronic memory devices to fill in all the missing gaps.

Dejected, I came home and tried again, this time while I was working. Perhaps I wasn’t cut out for university life. I tried a community college. Here I did a little better. But into my next to last semester, I gave up again. Fatigue, migraines and the constant back pain was overwhelming. I tried to live on Tylenol and couldn’t.

Over the next few years, I would try again, and again…three times, three more schools. Three abysmal failures. Finally, I gave up for good. I drew the curtains closed on a dream, and put it away. Maybe, I was meant to be a drone; work my fifty years in a cubicle and retire with the gold watch (or whatever it was they gave women). I went out into the workforce and started to climb the ladder.

And what a ladder! I started as a walking messenger, making $3.80 an hour. Sixteen years later, I would command a convention coordinator’s position while covering administration for a CEO/Founder and a Director of Business Development. I loved it. I was respected and admired for my drive, my calm demeanor when everyone else ran around like chickens. I asked for a $5000 raise and got it. No one wanted to see me leave. Except the woman across the street who ran her own business and offered me even more.

But again, I was living a nightmare. I could barely make it in five days a week. Because I was so capable, nothing suffered, but everyone knew. They chalked it up to being a single parent, raising two boys, one with autism, all on my own. What they didn’t know was the fatigue, the back pain and flu-like illnesses every weekend were taking its toll. I routinely ran out of steam by Thursday. Finally, I tried to come in one day to cover when I knew I couldn’t. My boss was shocked. I was bent over and slow. I had to think slow and deliberately before I spoke and though I could still do my work, it was demoralizing just to look at me.

That afternoon, the rest of the staff staged an "intervention," called a good friend of mine to pick me up and sent me home. I felt horrible. I took some time off and tried to go back. Nonetheless, August 2001 was the last time I worked full-time. I would never see accomplishment like that again. Though I would work part-time at various places and even try to run a small graphic design business out of my home, I became worse and worse to where I finally applied for disability in 2003 and won it in 2005.

What does all this have to do with school? Well, all that time, I thought, I couldn’t go to school again. How many times had I tried and failed? Why set myself up for failure again? I thought I would have no chance at learning something to change my future. And I still thought that way, until a month ago.

The reason is technology. The same technology that connects me to so many wonderful people here on the internet has given me the chance to finish my education. The chance to go when I can go. Learn when I can learn. Read when I can read, in enlarged letters to save my eyes. In chairs to support my back. I have the chance to do what I really want to do. Learn and succeed.

Has it been easy? No, a migraine kicked in the first day. But I have a computerized magnifying system now that keeps the eye strain and pain at bay. I don’t overdo it and the classes and readings are structured that I don’t have to overdo it to succeed. How about my memory? It is still fuzzy. But I can print out notes and post them around my school area. I have charts on my computer desktop that I can open at a moment’s notice. I have the ability to use audio and a CCTV in order to facilitate every aspect of my education. It has been heaven!

But am I a successful student, you may ask? After 20 years, are you even capable? Well, below is a copy of an email I received from my communications teacher. I didn’t put it here to brag. No. I cried when I read it. I cried for the lost years and the pain and the failure. I cried for the feelings of disappointment and the fear of not having a chance to truly succeed again. I cried because here I sit in a room, knowing different and believing again: I can learn. I can succeed. I have not failed.

Everyone, I am grateful. Grateful to a system that allows me to try again. Grateful to a university that is set up for a person just like me. Grateful to God. That wonderful God, who gives second, third, fourth, fifth…and sixth chances. I have learned to really understand that.

So, here I go again. Pray for me as I do for you.



My teacher’s email:

You are Excellent!
Posted: Thu 09/18/2008 01:19 PM,
by: MM

Hi, Judi!

I read you[sic] response to my post on Persuasion vs. Decision and I couldn't help but feel the strength and energy from such an excellent learner as you--

As your classmates have commented, your energy, passion and excellent insights as well as ability to express your ideas are inspiring. This class is so lucky to have you. Despite of what you know what you can do, you remained humble with no air of arrogance on your part. You have also been very supportive of your classmates. You see? I told you that you have great leadership skills... I pray that you will be blessed with more energy and light.. Keep shining, Judi! Keep spreading the light and the energy.

I will miss you and I will remember you ever... I hope that we can continue to keep in touch even when you are no longer my student.