Here are some thoughts and reflections that apparently keep me awake at night, and if I do fall asleep follow me into my dreams.
Of course it’s university.
This is a bit of a rant, so I hope it’s not too hard to follow along…
The hardest I have ever tried at anything in my life so far, was from September to November 2015. I was trying to cope with vastly increasing chronic pain while going through third year Cellular Molecular Biology classes.
The first day back to class, I walked to school as I always did. Walking to the main building where my locker was took me 11-17 minutes depending on the weather in ‘normal’ physical condition. I remember feeling like I wasn’t going to make it there because of the pain that was starting to build. At this point, my baseline was ~5/10. (You may recall me saying how pain scales are inherently flawed, but sometimes you have to use tools you don’t love so people can get a general idea of what’s happening.) I made it to my university. I made it to all my classes. I honestly can’t remember how I got home that day, I think I took a bus because I knew walking home was not an option.
I did not collapse when I got home, but I realized I needed to find a different way to class if I wanted to be able to walk in the building and do my labs.
Then I started driving myself to school. It helped. The pain was still building in a ridiculous way, and by mid-September my baseline had snuck up to ~7/10. At that point, I had to explore multiple medication options to manage the pain. I believed that my pain was coming from my meniscus. MRI images taken around that time suggested that I had a cartilage injury that could be contributing to my overall issues. The images also suggested that my meniscus was fine. I shifted my perspective, and started doing research on cartilage. My brain allowed me to accept a 6-9 month recovery time, and I started counting down the days until I was “healed”.
I was having a really hard time walking. I was stopped in the hallway multiple times by people asking if I was ok. I was walking slower than the nurses leading each other around in blindfolds. *Head smack, awkward giggle*
So I picked up my cane again, and it helped a bit so at least people weren’t so concerned I had strangers stopping me.
By October, I needed my mom to drive me to my classes. It wasn’t enough to drive myself, park in the lot, and walk into the buildings for class and labs. At that point, I was fighting so damn hard, needing all of my energy that the parking lot walk was too much for me. I was dropped off and picked up as close to my classes as possible. I was also required to switch mobility aids again. I went from the cane to one crutch, needing the extra support. Before I knew it, I was back to two crutches.
At home, I would basically collapse into a chair/my bed for hours. I can’t remember how I even managed all the schoolwork I had to do at home. I think I just did the bare minimum, and prioritized the areas I thought mattered more.
I remember one day waking up with a bonus migraine from Calgary’s lovely chinook winds. (You can also check out my previous post about chinooks here.) I barely made it to my Molecular Genetics class, and there was a midterm that day. There was migraine-related, and pain-related vomiting before and after that midterm. I was probably more focused on trying not to vomit than I was on achieving an acceptable grade on the test. There I sat, sniffing my mint essential oil-soaked sweater in a last ditch attempt to not gag as I argued the finer points of epigenetics. Somehow I pulled out an 80% on that test! Looking back, I am honestly amazed at what I managed to accomplish and how hard I persevered. Writing a molecular genetics midterm while trying not to vomit. It’s an experience that sums up the few months I managed to get back at university before having to drop out.
I made an appointment with Accessibility Services on campus. We tried to work out a plan that protected me in case I physically could not make it on some days. There’s only so far it would go, and my worsening condition presented complications that couldn’t be worked out from an administrative point of view. Yeah, I had access to things like notes ahead of time so when my brain was too fuzzy because of the opioids, I could follow along in class. There’s no option for science to not show up for labs, though. There was only so far they could go to try and help me manage.
Mentally and physically, this was the hardest I’ve ever pushed in my life. I still had to quit. I tried to adjust my expectations, and started planning out how I would get my degree in time if I had to skip the next semester or more. As time went on, from 2015 to 2016, I realized that going back was not an option. Physically, it was impossible. I could stand for maybe 15 minutes. Labs were 3 hours.
I dropped my classes. Time went on, as it does and eventually I had to accept fully dropping out of my Bachelor of Science program.
I think about school often. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my degree, I had no distinct goals for when I graduated except to “work in a lab”. It’s not like I was on the med school track, with everything perfectly planned out and my next 6 years decided for me, with a career track to follow after that. It was still a hell of a loss, dropping out was crushing.
At the time I thought to myself, is the pain really that bad? Do I just need to suck it up and carry on? Am I being crazy with how much I’m impeded by this? Is it my fault I’m not getting better? Looking back, I am shocked with how far I made it into that fall semester.
This is the thing about CRPS though. You can try as hard as you absolutely can, and often it’s still not enough to overcome the beast.
It’s one of my main goals to make it back, and finish a Bachelor of Science degree. I can’t put a timeline on it, I don’t even know if it will happen. I hope it will.
I regret that I was forced to drop out due to reasons beyond my control. I don’t regret how hard I fought my ass off to beat those odds.