As some of you will remember, I kind of freaked out about going to college last year. I was so nervous, scared and concerned about how well I would do. Luckily, I have learned a few things about making that transition. I want to share them with you. Whether you're blind or not, have chronic pain or illness or not or just bored, I hope these suggestions will make your transition easier.
Know Your Resources: Build A Tool box
One of the concepts that could have helped me the most if I'd been less hard-headed is having a toolbox. There are several people who have suggested this to me, some who are good friends, others whom I don't know but who know a lot about pain management.
Read one explanation of toolboxes for pain management.
This concept stretches further than managing pain. Knowing your resourses is extremely important. Do you have
If you deal with any chronic conditions, know who you should talk to about any flares. I can't stress the importance of staying in communication with your doctors enough.
Know a list of people who can help you deal with the challenges of college. If you're visually impaired, know where you can get accessible information for college. Decide how you will find out about information posted in residence halls and student centers. Consider asking an R.A. or friend for assistance. Learn who coordinates activities for your dorm and ask that she/he email you or call you when new information is posted about activities, maintanence, changes in rules or regulations or anything else that is posted. Learn where new information will be posted on your college's website. Does your college have a "Daily Update"? If so, read every word.
I'll keep coming back to the toolbox concept as we go through the other challenges.
Manage your stress and schedule
Stress can be one of your worst enimies. For me, too much stress causes an RSD flare and headaches that make me sensitive to light, sound and smell. Recognizing the stress levels before they go out of proportion is vital. Recognizing the patterns of stress can be tricky though. You'll be adding a lot of stress trying to learn a new area (sighted, blind or other), eating strange food, meeting new people and trying to live in a smaller space. Build in time specifically for relaxation. Even if, like me, you can't schedule your day and when you'll do it, make sure that each day you take stock of your emotions, physical sensations and spiritual habits. If you're sad, angry or frustrated, figure out why and try to think of at least one small step to get through that emotion. If you're feeling ill or have increased pain, try to figure out why. Decide if you'll need the help of a physician. If you're unsure, call the doctor and ask. Most doctors will help you decide when to come in. If you're feeling spiritual tensions, pray, sing or do whatever you need to do to focus on God.
When you've figured out what areas need help, spend some time in "self-care" mode. Find ways to manage your stress, pain and tenssion. This is where your tool box comes in. Take out the relaxation skills, objects to help you deal with the tenssion and the skills you already have to deal with challenges.
Back when I was on the evil Neurontin not-so-jokingly referred to as the "pills from hell", I had a very very hard time dealing with stress. I don't cry much, but I was crying up to three times a week (usually hard for my under-developed tear ducts to handle.) I really couldn't figure out where my toolbox was, not to mention how to use the tools I had. I asked the prayer group I'm in to pray for me (which they have done faithfully). Then, I asked for help. I went down to our Disability Services office and talked to one of the wonderful women who work there. She let me vent and helped me figure out how to manage the stress. When I left, I had a plan of action. Remembering just one skill or tool can make a world of difference!
Asking for Help Makes You More Independent
That sentence looks weird at first glance. For some reason, I always thought of independence as doing absolutely everything on my own. But that's not true. Asking for help politely and appropriately makes you more independent and helps you grow. Sure, I could treat my RSD completely on my own, or, I could ask for help from the doctors and learn how to treat it appropriately. I don't know anyone who would tell me that to be independent, I needed to give myself a sympathetic block. That would be extremely dangerous and could probably cause paralysis. But we often forget that trying to be a hero can cause emotional or spiritual paralysis.
In the example above, I didn't know which way was up. I was mentally paralyzed. Asking for help in that instance helped me function. We need others. We need our faith and we need our tools. Asking for help does not make you weak, it makes you smart for appropriately using your resources and tool box.
Take It Slow
Last year, when I signed up for only 13 credits for my first semester and then had to drop down to 12, I felt very guilty. Even this summer, I felt guilty for signing up for only 13 credits for this fall. But the more I've learned to read my body, emotions and spirit, I've learned that it is necessary to pace yourself. Taking a full semester while I'm still dealing with pain and recovering from surgery would not be a good idea. Last semester, when I took 16 credits, I pushed myself into a huge flare of RSD. My doctor strongly suggested that I drop a course, but since, at that point, I only had one month, I decided to keep them all. I didn't listen to my body. Pacing myself would have helped me avoid some of the pain. In the end, you have to answer to yourself and to God. I really don't think that in the end, we'll say "darn, I wish I'd taken 4 classes and made myself sick/crazy/completely overwhelmed".
Putting it all together
Your transition can go smoothly. You can enjoy your first year. Most of this advice will help you whether you're transitioning or returning for another year. Pace yourself, ask for help, use your tools and manage your stress. Things won't be perfect, you'll make mistakes, but you will be much better able to handle the challenges.
Note to friends: If I decide to do something stupid, and completely ignore this advice. Please remind me about this entry.