The elusive University Education

 

graduation cap

You know, I spent most of my twenties not knowing what I wanted to do, or having a general idea but not knowing how to get there. I also didn’t have the right resources, not just financially but socially or mentally.

I wanted to go to University. Since I was a little girl. My parents were uneducated and struggled with poverty. They were raised to make money with their bodies by working hard labour, not use their brains, but because they started really hard labour at the age of 12/13, as adults their bodies were breaking down. They couldn’t work anymore, struggled to pay the bills.

My dad lost the use of his left arm after a bad car accident, yet still worked construction with his bad arm just to get by. My mom had a bad back that would leave her paralyzed in pain for days. She took up a sales job when my dad had his car accident, but the stress of the job and her struggles with a debilitating depression led her to give up that job too.

This was my childhood. It was stressful, I had to live with parents who were stressed out, constantly had problems they didn’t know how to solve, and mother with a mental illness.

As a child you don’t understand “my mom is sick”. What you understand is that my mom hates me, yells at me, calls me names, and hits me. And that coming home is a nightmare everyday.

School was the one thing I was good at, and it was my one hope to get out of my hopeless situation.

I remember in elementary school telling my best friend that I had every plan to go to university right out of high school, because I wanted to be somebody. I wanted to not have to worry money, like my parents did all the time. Yet here I am, at the age of 30, and I have yet to step into a University as a student to this day.

How did that happen?

My parents dragged me from my home in Toronto to Portugal to live at the age of 15. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to leave the house I grew up in that they put up for sale. I didn’t want to have to start over in a new country. But I was 15, and had no freedom. I had to do what they said.

My brother, on the other hand, was 19, and told my parents point blank that he wasn’t going. So my parents still went, leaving him behind. At 19, to fend for himself alone. That’s something my brother has resented for a long time.

On the other hand, I started my new life in Portugal and ended up falling in love with it. I decided to take art in high school there and it led me down an amazing path of creativity and learning. I made amazing friends.

I wanted to study art, go to a Portuguese University, worked hard to get my grades high enough to get into the best Art School in the country (succeeding mind you). But my family problems once again got in the way. Those three years I was living in Portugal, we spent half of the time separated from my dad. He kept going back to be with my brother half the year. My mom’s depression got worse because the family was split up.

By the time I was graduating high school in Portugal, my mom was planning to move back to Canada. I begged them to let me stay behind so I could go to University in there. Begged. They said no. They didn’t have the money to send me to school. And I wasn’t “mature” enough to be on my own.

Nine days after my exam marks and final grades were posted, boasting a really high grade point average needed to get into my University of choice, I was on a plane back to Canada.

Suddenly I was 18, told I had to look for a job, and I had no idea how to even apply to University or how anything even worked in the city.

I was a passionate drawer in Portugal, I had a sketch book and was always drawing, writing stories. Moving back to Canada was so traumatizing for me that that part of me just died. I never drew much again.

I was 18, with no work experience, no education, no direction in life, and I lost the passion and drive for the one thing I wanted to do. So I spent most of my twenties struggling through part time, crappy jobs I hated that paid little money and were never permanent.

I’ve been working for 12 years in Canada, to this day I have never stayed at one company for 2 years.

At one of my part time jobs someone told me about a College transfer course that would help me get into University. I applied to Humber College and started in 2006. But things at home were so bad, I never finished the program.

I remember receiving my conditional acceptance letter to York U in the mail, and I threw it out, because I was already failing my classes and knew I wasn’t going to finish. That was so hard to do, throwing out that letter.

I wanted to find a full time job so bad because I hated being at home, living with my parents, and I just wanted to move out so much. Again, no skills, no post secondary education, I bounced around more jobs. I just wanted to get ahead, get a stable job that could pay my rent.

I never found that job.

Of course the recession in 2008 hit, and I kept getting laid off all the time. I considered school again, but I knew I could never go back to school for 4 years, to a University, taking out a meager OSAP loan that wouldn’t be enough to live off of so I would need to get a part time job to supplement my income.

Working and studying full time and living in a toxic home environment, I knew it wasn’t going to work. I was struggling with being overweight, I was depressed, and was just diagnosed with Diabetes and my medications alone each month was a huge expense. I couldn’t stand to live like that for 4 years, having to depend on my parents while hating them. I doubt my brain would have functioned enough to do assignments or pay attention in school.

I watched friends struggle to work and go to University Part time, doing all-nighters and dealing with that stress. I already noticed in college I was struggling with concentration and completing assignments. I knew it would be impossible. So I chose a 2 year college course instead, hoping it would get me somewhere.

I hated my corporate, retail jobs so much, they went against all my moral values, and I wanted to have a job I could be proud of, that I loved. I didn’t want a job that would make me sicker.

By the time I started my course at George Brown in 2010, I was struggling with clinical depression that I couldn’t shake. I started taking anti-depressants. I still had a retail job to supplement my OSAP loan while in college. I still lived at home with my parents. It was a 2 year course.

I only got my diploma a few months ago, in 2015. What happened?

While I was in school again my life did two things. It started coming together, but it also completely fell apart, at the same time. My group of friends I held in my twenties, the ones I escaped to so as not to be at home with my parents, those relationships got really toxic. I watched someone die slowly of cancer. My job investigated me for fraud (which was committed under my account by someone else) and then fired me. I missed so many classes from my depression I failed a whole semester. This all happened in ONE month, by the way. I had a meltdown, one that took months to recover from. I continued with the program, barely passing, but I didn’t get to graduate with my colleagues. That was really hard on me. I had to return the following summer to re-do the semester I failed. And it took me until early this year to complete some final minor courses.

For me, I realized, I need to take things really slow. I cannot take on too much at once. University life is structured in a way that forces you to cram your life filled with assignments, classes, part time jobs, go go go go and be able to function under time constraint and pressure. My mental health won’t allow me to do that. I would love to go back to school, get my bachelor’s degree part time. But guess what, OSAP loans are only for Full time programs, and I can’t afford to take it part time.

I’m finding it really hard to find jobs with my college diploma. My contract at work is ending in January 2016 and I’m being replaced for someone with more credentials. I know I sound like I am ranting about all the negative in my life, and going on about “I can’t this” “I can’t that”. I know my limitations and I know what I can sacrifice. But I also know how much I can accomplish when I do go at my own pace.

Everything happens for a reason, and everything happens at the right time. When I started College again in 2010 it was a trans-formative time for me. Like I said, not only did my life crumble around me but it also set itself in place too. I found a new purpose.

When I got fired from my retail job I took an oath to never work another crappy corporate retail job ever again no matter how badly I needed to pay the bills. I spent some time on welfare just to get by while I looked for a job that wouldn’t damage my mental health or hurt my soul. I’ve been working in non-profit ever since.

I want a career, and I want one that involves helping people. I’m passionate about social inequality, poverty, mental health, because I’ve lived all these problems. Because I personally know that having a mental illness gives you so many barriers to being able to have a normal life. A financial stable life. Because society is only designed to benefit those people who have no problems at all.

University programs aren’t designed to accommodate for those with mental health issues, social barriers, disabilities. Yet how else are we suppose to get ahead and build a life for ourselves?

If I can, I want to be able to bring about change. I want to help other people like myself that they too are entitled to dignity, to jobs they love, to having a meaningful life.

I am 30 years old, and the one thing I want the most is a Bachelor’s in Social Work (BSW). At this point in my life, if I’m going to get that, it may mean giving up the chance to ever have children.

Family or a University Degree, I want both soooooo badly, but my biological clock is ticking. I refuse to have a family without having the financial stability to raise them. I don’t want my kids to have to experience or go through what I did. But achieving that means going back to school. By the time I achieve my goal it might be too late to have children.

Ryerson Photo.jpeg

That all being said, yesterday I sent out my application for the BSW program at Ryerson for Fall of 2016. If I find a decent job by then, I can attend the advanced placement part time program and get my degree in 2-3 years. If I’m not working full time, they have a full-time 3 year advanced program. And Ryerson is known for its anti-oppression perspective on Social Work. That’s if I get into the program (fingers crossed).

So I think back to that 13 year old, standing in line after recess, talking to my best friend about my intentions of getting a University Degree. That elusive piece of paper, ridiculously expensive piece of paper that will hopefully open up more doors for me.

Again, fingers crossed.

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