Life is full of challenges; age does not play favorites. I think the key is how we handle those challenges. That is where courage, resilience and strength come into play.
Since starting undergraduate courses at the University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, in August 2012, I faced a number of challenges—residence changes, job changes, health challenges, and school challenges. I remember rolling into the fall semester in 2013 feeling exhausted, stressed and wondering if I would make it. I was trying to put some space between my long-time boyfriend and myself. He moved across the street from me after a fire where we used to live.
I was still working about 30 hours a week, attending school full time, and preparing to start graduate school in January. The final challenge was his unexpected death from a heart attack the day before the last week of fall classes in 2013. Over the next two weeks, I made it through classes, finals and a funeral.
At 52, I have experienced my share of obstacles and stressful events, but this put me into a tailspin. I am one of the strongest women I know and my obstacles are usually short walls. I made it through the spring semester, but that first summer semester knocked me back onto my heels, mentally and physically, and I could not climb over that wall. I learned then how much support I had in the school faculty, staff and my classmates.
During that summer semester, I lost my focus. I felt buried under the mountains of clinic paperwork, a research paper and challenging coursework. My clinical evaluations were not positive, and I was floundering. That is where I pulled my courage from deep inside myself and turned to the faculty and my friends for help.
Reaching for help is hard, because sometimes the answers are not what we want to hear. My supervisors got me back on track and helped me stand up on my own two feet. I had to take a long, hard look in the mirror and face the person they saw. At the final case conferences, I asked them some direct questions, which is how I not only became a clinician this fall, but also a client. As a former U.S. Army sergeant, and as someone with a strong personality, I fit in well in some venues, but I needed help to be successful in other venues—like the speech-language pathology field. That is where the strength came in. I am self-aware, and willing to look at myself, but I had to admit I needed help with my pragmatic skills.
My clinician is wonderful, and together, we are discovering how to work on my pragmatic skills. My clinician created a scaled list of questions about how I communicate, and we used that to get feedback from my teachers and supervisors. The answers knocked me back a bit, but I accepted their feedback with grace and maturity.
We are working on my personal interaction skills, my resume, and even my social media postings. The interventions are working as my teachers and supervisors notice a difference in how I communicate. I am having a successful semester and my mid-semester conferences resulted in two A’s and a B.
Being a client is different from being a clinician. I am convinced it takes courage and strength to come into a professional clinic and lay oneself open to change. Change is hard. Change is not always fun. Sometimes change is painful.
While attending graduate school, I turned 52, and in November my first grandchild will be born. So many changes, so many opportunities lie ahead for me. This field of speech-language pathology is ripe with opportunities for older students. As nontraditional students, we have faced challenges and experienced things that younger students will not experience for a while.
Sometimes our life experiences mirror those of our clients, giving us the ability to be empathetic and genuine in our care. I am looking forward to this next chapter in my life. I will face any other challenges with courage, resilience and strength, because that is what I do.
Teresa Shane is a speech-language pathology graduate student at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Missouri.