Monday, May 9, 2016

Half way there



It's been a long haul.

Last fall I decided to go back to college to get (first) an associates degree in accounting. It's my way of fighting back against Meniere's disease. It may have taken my first love and career, but it's not taking my life.

This week concludes the first year of maybe 2 years in that process. I'm still hopeful that my life experience will be able to cut off some of the required coursework along the way, but if not, so be it.

I'll admit, I had some concerns going in to school after a long time out of the classroom. Not so much with my ability, but more with the general idea of being back in school at 50 years of age. Those have been dispelled. I can handle this, and, quite a relief, I have been nothing but encouraged by every person I have met while there. The professors have been great. I find an ease of talking to them I did not experience in my prior college life 32 years ago. Maybe it's because I'm older than most of them!

The classmates have been warm and accepting. I almost get the impression they appreciate the life experience I bring to the classes. I've found it easy to talk to many of them, despite our age differences. It's actually pretty cool.

The support staff at the college has been more than willing to get me any type of accommodation I need. In fact, the director of the disabilities services department has told me that if I ever run into a situation where I am not accommodated, I had better be in his office ASAP and it WOULD be fixed. Tech support has gone out of their way to find ways for me to use my assistive devices with my Cochlear implants. Any room, any time, I am to let them know and they will set it up for me to use. No questions asked.

To be honest, I could get by with just my processors in the vast majority of situations. My accessories are my "secret weapon" for my advantage.

Academically, I have done well. Ok, that is an understatement. I have thrived. Fall semester I attained a 4.0 GPA. I was invited to join Phi Theta Kappa, the oldest and most prestigious honor society for two year colleges. I have accepted. While the recognition is nice, the future benefits will be a good return on investment. If I decide to continue on for my bachelor of science, I get an automatic scholarship just for belonging to Phi Theta Kappa. There are more benefits beyond that.

While I write this, spring semester grades have not yet been posted, but as things stand, I will be very close to, if not actually achieving, a 4.0 GPA again. I've been blessed.

Along the way, the conversations I have had with staff and students have been equally important to the grades I have achieved.

They have given me the chance to educate about hearing loss. They have given me the chance to educate about Meniere's disease. They have given me the chance to be an advocate, and most surprising, an ear to others. For example, I have talked to at least two professors who also have hearing loss and feel the same stigma that I do. It seemed a relief for them that they were not alone in their hearing challenges. These have talked to me more about hearing loss than class content. I have talked to a tech support person who struggles with sudden hearing loss and trying to cope with hearing aids. The idea of Cochlear implants as a future option for him was a relief. This same man works with a fellow tech support person who has Meniere's. He understands where I am coming from and said they had even set up a "quiet room" for this employee to go if/when he has an attack at work. It's his personal recovery space that no one else uses.

All this has been done while attempting to maintain life at home and also working as a tax preparer from January through April. There were some late nights, and I felt them the next day. There were days where I felt the urge to just walk away. There have been days where I am not the most pleasant person to be around. There have been more than a few days where I felt that all I did was trade the stress of farming with Meniere's for the stress of school and work. But one thing that working 80 hours a week for 30+ years has taught me, you don't just walk away from the commitments you make, even if they are only with yourself. As the saying goes, "Get up, Dress up, Show up, and never give up."

Honestly, the biggest challenge to my ability to do this was the fear that I would not physically be able to handle it. I commute 35 minutes each way to school, 4 days a week. I have to sit in front of a computer screen for several hours a day. I know the way this disease works. It can hit you from out of nowhere. For this school year, it has left me alone. For that I'm more than thankful.

Overall, this has been a good, no really good experience. Here's to that continuing until I achieve my two year degree.............and beyond.

'Til next time

Dennis

Just a guy trying to live with an invisible, potentially debilitating illness

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