“Where’s the coffee??!!”

So it turns out I got the preparation thing all wrong. How do I get coffee into my body? Why is there only one socket in the classroom? Where’s the coffee? Since when did a one hour 10 minute train journey become a four-hour round-trip commute?

I finally started college last week, to the sound of people saying; ‘thanks be to God/Allah/Mohammed/Thor/Oprah (insert as appropriate) he’s started. He hasn’t stopped banging on about it since he got he’s place.’ To one and all I’m sorry, I was excited. Four years of volunteering and no study or paid work had left me slightly excited at meeting people and feeding the brain again.

The difficulty was (and is, will be) how much can my brain be fed? The fibromyalgia and its’ attendant fog of confusion, lack of concentration and soul-destroying fatigue doesn’t really inspire total confidence in a great student. How much could I realistically expect my brain to learn and adapt to before it put up its’ hands like Roberto Duran crying “No mas, No Mas!”?

I had never planned on writing last week. I knew I’d be overloaded with information and new things and my brain would be doing hula hoops trying to keep up. Sudokus, crosswords and lots of reading don’t prepare you for lectures, classrooms, timetables, new faces, early trains, long days and the rest.

So I gave myself the week to simply observe what went on. I tried and succeeded in everything I needed to. I interacted in all classes right to the end of the day and to the end of the week despite the incredible fatigue. I even dragged myself along to Culture Night for good measure.

All in all it was an amazing week. I made it to every lecture, I wrote or typed every note I had to and most importantly I’ve met some brilliant people, even if nearly all of them are scarily young. (Born in 1996/1997??) Everyone has a shared interest in the humanities and there is genuine passion in everyone for different areas of what is naturally a massively broad course.

Has it all been great?

Of course not.

I’ve found a lovely coffee shop across the road selling an incredibly reasonable €2 Americano but €2 a day every day is too much. For a serious coffee fiend like me portable instant is going to have to suffice.

Last week was extremely exhausting. When I wasn’t out I was sleeping or dreaming of sleeping or wishing I was sleeping. But anyone changing their so drastically would feel the same. So I’ve cut myself a little slack. Yes I’m tired, yes I’m going to bed earlier and earlier but I will find a routine.

Fatigue and concentration levels were always going to be a problem. The third problem was going to be pain. That too hasn’t let me off the hook. We generally describe pain in one of two ways, which I know from personal experience physio’s hate. it’s either a dull ache or a sharp stabbing pain.

My way to differentiate is usually the dull ache is a tired and stiff pain from over, or under, use. Sharp pain is the joint screaming, ‘there’s a f*****g here right now, fix me fix me fix me!’

The last three weeks has been the fix me type of pain. My hands and feet, my wrists and ankles, and my shoulders are on fire. They all hurt like there’s a loose chip inside the joint grating away. My ankles are locking, giving way and sore as sh1t when they crack. Some people might give out about the classes being in the same room but I’m chuffed. Let me stretch in my chair and around my chair and I’m happy. My hands and wrists are as sore as they’ve ever been. Yes I’m writing notes in class but it’s not a massive change because I write longhand anyway so it’s not a big increase.

So the steroids were whacked up again yesterday to hopefully get me up the hill. on the plus side I did manage to achieve something remarkable without even trying. I’m already through two courses of steroids and yet I’ve lost 3-4 kilos. It always goes the other direction so I’ve no idea what I’ve done but I’ll take it.

As I said I’m in a lot of pain with my hands and feet, my migraines are saying hello with the effort of concentrating and retaining information and I’m struggling to hold my hand up to shave every day.

BUT……

Through all of this is the overriding feeling of accomplishment. I’m doing something, I’m out meeting people again and already I can see some possibilities for the future opening up before me. All I need now is for my body to keep up with me.

…….and a cup of coffee

Back to School

“What do I need to bring with me? What do I do?”

“Throw on a pair of jeans and a shirt and shove a score in your back pocket to buy yourself a pint when ye all head to the pub afterwards!”

It was September 2002 and the advice for this particular fresher was very straight forward. My sister had done the first day of college and knew how it went. Everybody would be a bit nervous and fidgety but if you sat through the speeches and the inductions and the tours, ‘someone’ would suggest a quick pint and off you’d go to begin the bonding that would be needed to get you all through to your degree.

I remember wandering over to the Sidewalk pub on Cathal Brugha Street that day as one of 30 or so leisure management students. We formed a massive circle, some had pints, some had cokes, some had nothing but we were in it together. Where would your friends be, the potential girlfriends, who did you want in your group for the assignments? It was all new, it was novelty and I flew by the seat of my pants really.

Last Wednesday I had an induction for my new course which starts next week. Times have changed since 2002 and so have I. I kept a close eye on who walked into the class to join us, not so much searching for friends and girlfriends, more, hoping to see a couple of students in my ‘mature’ bracket. There are 3 of us for sure and some of the others may be older than they look although if bar work has taught me anything it is to be a pretty decent judge of ages.

It is just a completely different attitude going back to college now. I’m studying a subject I’ve a massive interest in. I want to use this course as a springboard to more study and/or a new career. There will be students in the class who have no idea what they want to do and that’s fine but I’ve got to make the most of this from the very beginning while they might just be on the piss.

I’m worried about being seen as the grumpy older fella pushing things along and asking all the questions but feck it I’m not there for them I’m there for myself so I’ll just have to get on with it. Group projects could be interesting though as I immediately found myself biting my tongue as student after student strolled in later and later. (Worst case was 45 minutes late and then we were let go after 55 minutes!) In saying that though if time management is their worst trait things won’t be all bad. I’m sure they’ll come up with a fine list about me before too long anyway!

For me the big difference between college first time around and this is preparation.

In 2002 I planned nothing and went with what I wanted to do at the time. If I wanted to skip a lecture for a pint or a game of pool I did, if I fancied a lie on I had it and if I wanted to put up off my assignment to the last minute then I did.

Today I’m older, I’m a little wiser and life has taught me a few things that may even qualify me for my title as a mature student. From the moment I started looking at college courses I’ve been preparing and planning. I’ll have to manage my home, travel, studying and coursework like everyone else. I’ll also be doing this while managing my arthritis and fibromyalgia like plenty of people do and there may well be people on my course managing their own medical conditions too.

This adds to the planning and preparation I’ve had to do to make sure I’m ready to start next week and it is going to have a massive impact on my daily timetable to make sure I get through each day healthy and ready to go again.

This doesn’t make me special in any way, as I said plenty of people do this for college or work every week, it’s just that up until about 8 weeks ago I’m not 100% confident I believed I could be one of them.

There is such a big list of symptoms encompassed by my conditions but let’s take a look at just three and how they need to be considered if I’m to excel in college and use this as a springboard to where I want to see myself.

Fatigue

Every morning I’ll have to be on a train earlier than I’ve woken up at any time in the last four years. I’ll have a nearly 3 hour round trip commute and a full day of college for five days a week. I’ll have to fit in managing my home, the necessary exercise to keep the physical symptoms at bay, cooking the right food and all the little jobs that I’ve had all week to do for the last while. Between the extra activity and the early starts, I will have to watch my fatigue very carefully in case I burn the candle at both ends and run out of juice in double quick time. It may be necessary for my already limited social life to take a back seat while I settle into a routine, another doable decision. The young fella who started college in 2002 would be suggesting pints after college, coffees during the day and nights out to get to know everybody but Fibrofella is a different guy and will, due to necessity, put himself first and make the sensible choices.

Concentration Problems

The fatigue could also impact my ability to concentrate on my studies. There are times with my fibromyalgia that I can’t read a newspaper report or watch a film because I can’t focus on it so if this happens with a module in college, I’m really going to struggle to keep up. By being aware of the dangers, studying something I’m really interested in and planning in as much detail as I can I’m hoping to minimize any problems I may have with concentration. Getting enough exercise and enough restful sleep will help to keep my head clear. The ability to concentrate will be vital and hopefully the practice I’ve had from writing my books and reading consistently will stand to me when it comes to my required reading and preparing assignments. One thing is for sure I won’t be able to rely on last minute sessions to finish my assignments.

Pain

Pain is a constant companion for me at the moment. It’s there all the time whether I feel good or bad. Sometimes it is in the background but sometimes it is all I can focus on. But thankfully at the moment my head is in a good place so I can carry on even when I’m in pain. Extra activity will cause more pain. If I don’t manage my fatigue well and sleep right, the pain will increase and if I can’t concentrate on the subjects or I become stressed or anxious about the situation then my pain will probably increase. Luckily though I know that these are all possibilities and so I’ll be doing everything I can not to let them happen. And if they do? Well I’ve the coping skills and management techniques prepared to get me through that too.

So here I am older, wiser and a little better prepared for what college has in store for me.

If I can do it, you can too.