Back at school: Looking back and being vulnerable.
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Back at school: Looking back and being vulnerable.

Alejandro Melgar sits in front of his laptop in his apartment in Calgary on April 2, 2021. Melgar is a journalism student at SAIT, and at 32, has been attending online school as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Alejandro Melgar/SAIT)

Back at school: Looking back and being vulnerable.

In an optional ethics class with a handful of other students, our professor, at one point, asked us all how challenging the classes have been for us compared to life before COVID-19. I replied by saying “ten times easier,” or something along those lines. And that’s not to say the classes have been easy, but that everything to do with having my own training business, connecting with clients and ensuring they were happy, making sure I was making enough sales to live for a month, checking my emotions and hiding them (a practice that was not the way to go), faking it till I made it, teaching classes, and so on; going to school and learning is a hell of a lot easier for sure.

While attending school at SAIT these past two semesters, what was noticeable to me was the intelligence of many of my peers. There are students that are 18 with comprehension comparable to people I know in their 30’s, along with being well spoken and thought out with their answers and responses. A student that I have had the pleasure of having multiple conversations with has a very high amount of emotional intelligence, and he is 18. His outlook on life is so inspiring to me. Another student I can think of is quite grounded and competent with her studies and writes notes constantly while engaging as best as she can in class, and she is also 18. And those are only a few examples, I can list off many more, and it makes me happy for our future generation. It also reminds me that age is only a number after all, maturity is in the ability to learn from those around them, along with shedding away any ego we might have.

I think of my self when I was their age, and I was such a mess. I was partying, smoking weed all the time, drinking a lot, getting into trouble, and just acting out my pent-up frustrations; or rather, looking for ways to calm myself after all the crap I went through that was my childhood. Not to mention I didn’t listen to anybody. Suffice to say, I was not prepared to attend post-secondary school at that time; I was still an infant despite my age.

There are students, I am sure, that are struggling in this online environment. We can’t see each other constantly, the teachers assign tasks frequently, the teachers don’t check in and provide reminders in the same way as high school. It is different because it is online too. Looking at a screen constantly, along with some classes asking us to participate on a social media platform for a couple assignments is rather stressful (my eyes are pooched when I have to do another few hours of class after my SAIT classes). Not to mention that any technical issues that arise can’t be fixed as easily since meeting in person isn’t a possibility at this time. It’s not easy, and I empathize with students that have learning disabilities and language barriers as well.

A man has a cup of coffee while working on his computer. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels. Many adult learners are still attending online school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After sharing my thoughts with my peer support research group on students in post-secondary institutions requiring peer support, one of my peers said, “I think everyone should take a couple years off before going to university or college. Our hands are held all through high school, and college can be a rude awakening to adult life since it is self-sufficient,” and she also said, “without venturing into the workforce, or paying for multiple things and having other responsibilities, how teachers are in college might be upsetting for them.” It’s why we concluded that post-secondary institutions might be a good direction to focus our research on, but we had plenty of ideas of what direction to go in.

What we had concluded on was how collaborative the post-secondary experience ends up being, because it has to be to circumvent the change in teaching style from high school to college and university. I remain grateful for attending at my age, because I have had my teeth punched in by life, and faced some tough trials that prepared me a little more for this reality. Overcoming those trials is a whole other thing. It is also why I have concerns for students, because it is a whole new world that has been opened up to them, and it can be hard to face those changes and realities.

The time I spent trying to be this grown-up “adult” with a career was rather shoddy. The experiences with the people and my clients were great no doubt, but my awareness of my mental well-being was so poor, and I wasn’t doing anything to deal with the thoughts in my mind, the mental distress I was going through. Without dealing with that distress – which can be taken care of easily – it can lead to other mental illnesses and issues.

A couple fidget spinners in action. Image by Finmiki from Pixabay. It is common for people with ADHD to fidget and do something to distract themselves.
A couple fidget spinners in action. Image by Finmiki from Pixabay. It is common for people with ADHD to fidget and do something to distract themselves.

I have attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), and I was diagnosed when I was about five or six, and it remains with me to this day. I took medication till I was 17, then stopped one day, only going back on a couple times. Without knowing about the strengths and weaknesses that come with having an imbalance of chemicals in my brain, I struggled greatly throughout my life.

It didn’t help that people around me would say that ADHD wasn’t real, and anyone and everyone has some form of it, and I agreed at one point (I was sick of the meds, so any excuse to stop), so this led me to not do anything to help myself. However, as I learned during my time at the Sheldon Chumir hospital in downtown Calgary, ADHD has very real affects on our mental wellbeing, and can easily spiral into depression and other mental distresses and illnesses. I couldn’t put ADHD on the back burner anymore, I had to do something about it, and thankfully it hasn’t been a major issue while in school, because I took the time to find ways to help myself.

Once a couple students left the optional chat with our ethics professor, one of these students stayed behind with me and the prof, and he shared his experience with depression, anti-depressants, and what his mindset was like prior to making some serious life changes. He is also 18.

While a harrowing tale that told me a lot about what people his age can deal with (very relatable at any age, and shows it can happen to anyone), his ability to note how he had been affected, along with having that awareness to see what he was like without his anti-depressants and his withdrawals, it was…well, inspiring.

What he went through was something I wish for no one, but a person lacking in awareness and emotional intelligence would have crumbled under the stress and anxiety. To put simply, if it were me, I would have not handled that ordeal well at all. It was only when I hit my rock bottom that I finally took depression and my ADHD seriously.

Our wise professor shared a quote said by Trey Parker, the creator of South Park who also has depression, “Depression and the feelings we have are what we’re feeling at the time, but they are not our reality.” Our prof then went on to share his own experiences with depression.

I admire my prof greatly for this, as I have not met many men willing to share like he has on a consistent basis, and he openly shares his struggles with depression for us to learn. Because, as a journalist, we are seeing life in a potentially cruel way on a regular basis, and that can wreak havoc on our minds, so dealing with it by sharing and building a community of support is important.

When I think of that brave young student that shared his dealing with depression, another student that shared their asexuality and dislike for nakedness after everyone thought the opposite in another ethics lecture, and the many other students in my program that have been vulnerable in sharing where they are at while staying headstrong in such a tough time to learn, all while being self-sufficient before heading out into the real world; it fills me with hope for the future. I find myself looking up to them at times.

Feature photo: Alejandro Melgar sits in front of his laptop in his apartment in Calgary on April 2, 2021. Melgar is a journalism student at SAIT, and at 32, has been attending online school as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Alejandro Melgar/SAIT)
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