I finished my nursing prerequisites in 2010, with the help of testing accommodations, and the new knowledge that I was smart, and just needed new coping skills/work arounds to deal with the visual processing deficit, and processing speed deficit, It was a relief to have some answers, and tutoring on how to shore up my weaker areas with other senses. I used a program that read the textbooks to me out loud as I read them visually. This brought two senses into play, and increased my focus and retention of what I studied. I determined that my processing speed deficit only affected my speed learning something new. Once I knew something I could access it just as fast as anyone else. My grades had jumped half to a full letter grade after learning these things. I felt confident and ready to take the TEAS test, and begin the nursing program. (The TEAS test is the CA entrance exam for nursing majors at most 4 year colleges.) I scored very high, and had good grades. I should have gotten in easily, but was getting turned down at every school despite meeting the requirements. I had been honest, declaring my learning disabilities, and was told I was admitted to the college, but nursing was an impacted program. I could go on a wait list, anywhere from 1000 to 3000 people long, and it was a lottery program where they accepted 12 candidates per year.
I did the unthinkable and applied to out of state colleges, and panic set in when one of them said I was accepted pending passing their entrance exam. It had been 3 years since my last prerequisite, and I studied for two weeks between jobs, flew into Arizona, and took the entrance exam, and was back at work the next day in California, at both jobs. I cried when I got my acceptance letter, because it meant doing the scariest thing in the world to me. I had to quit the two jobs I had from 2001-2013, leave friends that it took me 20+ years to make, move to another state, and figure out how I was going to live and pay for nursing school. My friend Amber saw how scared I was and helped me move, but then she went back to California. She could see what was going on, but could not understand why something wonderful and exciting could affect me this way.
Eventually, I did calm down, and I was doing well in the program. I still had severe anxiety with each new thing, especially skills returns, and group simulations. I was socially awkward, except when I was actively taking care of patients, because I felt comfortable with them as long as I was doing something for them, or teaching. Besides, it was the only social outlet I had, other than talking to a few classmates who had accepted me in class but never asked me to coffee or anything.
It was the end of the first year, and all of us who had made it were getting ready for our pinning ceremony, everyone had broken off into excited little clusters of friends, except me. I felt so very alone in thst moment. I knew something was different about me, and I didn’t know how to fix it. I started wondering if maybe the first diagnosis of being autistic that they tried to tell my parents I was in grade school had any truth. My parents discounted all the diagnoses that I had been labeled with, so I really didn’t know.
I put together the money and had myself evaluated for autism, and all of the other labels that were thrown at me while growing up. It was determined that I had Asperger’s syndrome., now called Autism Spectrum Disorder. It explained why I felt anxious with change, awkward in social situations, and did best socializing with a purpose. It explained why I had to force myself to make eye contact, and sit on my hands to keep from fidgeting, and why after prolonged social situations and 8 hour classes I needed absolute silence and to be alone. I cried when I found out, and it took some time to absorb.
This would be the turning point for me. I quit focusing on being accepted, quit trying to figure out what normal was and emulate it. I embraced my weirdness, and learned what I thought was anxiety was more than that. It was over-stimulation and meltdown. I learned to take breaks and prepare myself for possible changes, and take my classmates at face value since I couldn’t read between the lines, and was just driving myself crazy trying.. I stopped attempting small talk. I focused on the big picture- practicing skills, scripting my dialogue, reading books on body language and coping skills for Aspies. These would enable me to function better as a nurse, which is all people, and all change, all the time. I started talking about what scared me, or concerned me during clinicals. I got help, I got answers, and moved on to the next tasks. I started running toward what scared me, instead of away from it, as the only way to become a nurse was getting past the roadblocks.
I had 3 teachers who were really there for me, and by the end of the second year, and graduation, I had friends. Not many, but a few. To know that there were people in my corner was everything. I was getting ready for graduation, and I felt that feeling of being overwhelmed and panicky. I knew it was going to be too much. Too much noise, too many people, and I would have to walk onto a stage and be seen by all of those people. Amber had come out to be there with me for graduation, and Amy was there hitching a ride with us. She handed me a Bloody Mary at my request, and it tamped down the feeling for all of 15 minutes. This should have flattened me, as I don’t drink, but in that situation, it barely did anything. I remember one instructor telling me to savor the moment as I waited to walk across the stage. She did not understand when I said no -this is horrible for me and I am only doing the ceremony for my Dad. I got through it, because they were there, and it was important for Dad to see me graduate. I had promised Mom and Dad that even if she died before graduation I would finish…and she did a month before, after an 8 yr fight with cancer.
So I made it through nursing school, made a few friends, passed the NCLEX-RN, and landed my dream job, at the organization of my choice. I sat calmly at the interview, hands clasping each other in my lap, looked the interviewer in the eye, and when asked what I knew, I stated, I know skills can be taught, experience takes time, but what I have right now are the parts that can’t be taught. How to make someone feel heard, cared for, and how to help someone feel less scared, because I know what it feels like to be where they are. I got the job, and that steep, scary learning curve was about to begin, but I walked out on top of the world.