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My College Saga.....

Posted Aug 07 2013 12:00am
All my life, ever since preschool, school has been the most important activity in my life. I valued education from a young age, partially because at school I excelled and got positive feedback which combated the negativity I was receiving at home. My mom blamed me for everything that ever went wrong in her life. In school, teachers told me I was smart, talented, a good writer, gifted, an honors student. In school I felt valued. I didn't really feel that way at home.

All my life, ever since I can remember, I knew I was going to college. I knew it like I knew the back of my hand. I wanted to go to a good college, a prestigious college, a difficult college. But fate would have things turn a different way.

I dropped out of high school, at age 17, during my senior year. I was suffering from anorexia and my house had just been destroyed in a tornado. I hated high school too much to continue there. I left. I got my GED a few months later. Then I started college at the community college where, now, 20 years later, I am an employee.

College didn't work out that first try. I was totally obsessed with my anorexic thinking, which alternated with suicidal depression. I  was unable to do my college coursework because I couldn't concentrate well enough to read - a problem that I came to know intimately for the rest of my life. I was sick, mentally, and school was too much. College was beyond my grasp for a while. Sometime a few years later, I finished some classes successfully. I got A's in them. I met a professor, my friend Dr. Byrd, who told me, "You are a big fish in a small pond here. Why not go to a harder college and be a smaller fish in a bigger pond?" He suggested I try to go to a private college. I had never taken the SAT or ACT in high school, and he encouraged me to do it. He said, "I bet you would blow  away the verbal section", and since he was an English professor, I figured I'd try it. I got an 800 on the verbal section - a perfect score, and I got a low average score on the math. I've always had trouble with math, and one woman who worked in the office for students with disabilities at the community college I attended said I likely had a math learning disability.

Anyway, things didn't work out living with my mom in my early 20's, so I ended up having to move to Baltimore, where I lived with my grandparents. I signed up for honors courses - a full time course load. I worked as a tutor at the college. I got A's in everything. Another professor tried to convince me, like Dr. Byrd had, to go to a harder school. She was the director of the Honors Program, and she had speakers come from the women's colleges known as "little Ivy" schools in New England to speak to our class. I ended up going to Northhampton for an interview, and getting admitted with a huge scholarship to the Smith College Ada Comstock Scholars Program. But it was not meant to be. I'll never forget sitting in the windowsill of a two-story house in a snow-covered street in MA, and praying to the God I didn't believe in that if I could go to Smith I would start believing.

I guess the God I didn't believe in wasn't really interested in that bargain.

It would be a homeless shelter I ended up in rather than Smith College. I did not attempt college again anywhere for about seven years.

When I did return, it was back in Florida, at the community college where I met Dr. Byrd before. I worked hard, and I got, mostly, good grades. Finally I got my AA degree in 2010, and graduated with honors.

I fought, successfully, for admission into the local university. I got A's in all my classes there for two years.

And then psychosis took over and I had to withdraw and go into the hospital for a medication change. I asked for advice from the man who runs the office  for students with disabilities. He suggested I do a medical withdrawal, and he helped me do it.

I wanted so badly to be graduating next year. But leaving this spring, and skipping the summer session meant that would not happen. Still, I was intent on returning this month, and finishing as soon as I could - even if it might be another two years going part time.

Then, yesterday, I found out that my appeal for financial aid was denied on the basis of me not meeting satisfactory academic progress. I had written a letter explaining my illness, and had submitted a letter from my therapist about me being in the hospital, but apparently this was not enough to satisfy the university that I deserved another shot at finishing my degree. So they have denied me that opportunity.

It's the cumulative effect of withdrawing many times over many years due to serious mental illness, that now has me in the status of "not meeting satisfactory academic progress". I was devastated when I read that news yesterday on the college website.

My first thought? "I have to kill myself". Next thought: "I'll jump off the Skyway Bridge. I'll buy a gun and shoot myself in the head.." I wanted to cut my arms up with razors and swallow a bunch of pills and jump off that bridge.

I tried to rationally talk myself out of this suicidal wasteland of thinking that is not useful. I told myself, "You will get another letter, a better letter, a letter from the psychiatrist, and you will get hospital records, and you will make them give you financial aid again and you will finish college."

When I'm feeling strong, I believe I can do that. When I'm feeling weaker, I think I'm going to attempt suicide or check myself into the hospital again.

But I have no plans for ending my life. It's disappointing that the first thought to come to my mind as a coping mechanism is this old, tired routine of self harm, but I guess old habits die hard. Pardon the pun. I guess all the time I've wasted in my life contemplating suicide has stuck with me, an old cassette tape playing over and over "die, that's the solution". I know that's not the solution. I don't intend to give up and die after I've come this far despite the odds. I am not a quitter.

I just hope I can get the university to listen to me and allow me to receive financial aid so I can complete my degree. If they don't, I don't know what I"ll do with the rest of my life.
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