Taking a breath, acknowledging limitations, and pushing forward


I emailed one of my professors last weekend to set up a meeting during office hours because I felt like I was “pushing a boulder uphill” while working on a project for his online class. I have since completed my third draft on that research paper and it will now sit overnight and be reviewed tomorrow with fresh eyes. I feel like I can stop and take a deep breath of relief. I still have a lot of homework to complete over the next few days, and an op-ed to write for the college newspaper, but this research paper was weighing me down, a feeling that I really disliked. I am so appreciative of the availability of my college professors, something that I have been told will be nearly non-existent at a four-year university.

Students use spatial context to remember information in textbooks: the location of a fact at the top or bottom, left- or right-hand side of the page all help cue memories.

Students use spatial context to remember information in textbooks: the location of a fact at the top or bottom, left- or right-hand side of the page all help cue memories.

It is extremely humbling to know that brain damage makes college-level work challenging for me. This is especially true because I used to be a very quick, visual learner before Lyme disease which caused short-term memory and cognitive difficulties. Add to that mix peri-menopause and it is a miracle I can think at all. But I do. Just not like I used to BL (before Lyme). I have lost that visual snapshot kind of gift where I could look at a textbook page and visually recall what was written there. I did not quite have a photographic memory, but the visual snapshot I could take aided me in recalling information. I was a visual learner and used visual memories to recall information. I have lost that ability now. That visual screen in my brain is all grey now, like a fuzzy movie screen with just noise and no picture. I feel like a blind person trying to grab words and information from a big bag. It takes a lot of feeling around to get the right one.

The loss of spatial context has been extremely frustrating for me. Previously, I could drive to a new destination one time and forever know how to return to that location without consciously thinking about the particular roads or turns because I visually memorized the process. I have lost that ability (and now occasionally get lost — something that was unheard of BL). So when I have a research paper that requires the processing of massive amounts of scholarly sources — I’m talking 2-100+ pages per article — without the ability to take a snapshot of the title and what the page looks like that contains that point that I need for the fourth paragraph of my paper, I am struggling. It would be easier if I could print out all of these sources but I can’t afford the printer ink and paper, so I read on the computer screen. I haven’t tried to read any of the .pdf versions on my Kindle; I should try that and see if it helps.
cogito ergo sum
Back to the loss of my ability to use spatial context when reading, studying and composing arguments for research papers: it is a lost ability. This means that I am forced to take extensive notes, copy and paste into other documents any quotes I find on the spot. I can’t just annotate and go back to that place; I won’t remember that place or that I even considered that passage relevant an hour after first reading it. I can, however, process the overall meaning of source materials. Eventually I do remember details such as names, places and dates if I see them often enough. There is a point in the research process where I get that boulder to the top of the hill, I can see the entire landscape, and can choose which way to go from there. But reaching the top of that hill is tough.

In spite of the recent challenge to my scholastic pursuits I have decided to take a summer class. My academic advisor and I discussed whether this would be a good idea for me (because of my cognitive issues), and we both agreed on an intro class that gets me started on an alternative major: Communication. I love English. I want to major in English. My school does not offer an associate degree in English. It does, however, offer one in Communication. So while I am checking off requirements for General Studies (which is my current major), I am taking English and Communication courses as my electives. Again, I appreciate the availability of professors, academic advisors and even the college deans and counselors whenever I have a need. I have never been turned away without getting the help I needed (usually on the spot).

Why would a summer class be such a big deal? Each summer session is usually only five weeks long. That means reading, studying, writing and testing on a full semester’s worth of material in only five weeks. Summer classes are notorious for bringing down GPAs. The course I registered for is a 10-week session which makes it much better for me with my learning challenges. It takes me longer than most people to process new information. I cannot just read a chapter and take a test on it. In order for me to remember it, I must create some kind of context for the information in my mind. I need to understand the big picture, then know where the little pieces go before I can then write about a subject or take a quiz or test. I am taking a big chance on taking this course. I plan to try to briefly meet with the professor who is teaching the course (the Dean of Academic Affairs) before this semester is over to assure myself that I can succeed (with an “A”). The only reason I think I can do this is that I will be taking only this class. I can wake up at 4:30 a.m. three to five days a week, put in four hours of work on this course, and then go work in my garden, returning for a little more work before lunch if necessary. I think I can do this.
i can do this
So while I am facing my limitations, I am pushing the boundaries I had created to protect me from substandard scholastic achievement. All I have to say is: What a week!

I also had an honor society meeting, attended a class that I am unofficially auditing because it is producing the college newspaper, had my youngest son’s 14th birthday and enjoyed his school jazz band concert this week. I plan on getting as much homework done today so that I can take either tomorrow or Saturday off from school work. I want to go play in the dirt — my garden is calling to me — sew, knit, and just relax. I need a day off and plan to take one this weekend.

Happy Thursday, everyone!

More information:
Do e-Books Make it Harder to Remember What you Just Read? by Maia Szalavitz, Time Magazine Online.


One response »

  1. Pingback: Perfection eludes me | Breaking Taboos

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