This Day Melissa Starr

This professor likes me. One day in the future he will write a letter of recommendation for me to include in my grad school application, and I will get in the program. Protocols do not allow me to read his letter, but I do read parts of it ultimately, when I am accepted into the Master's program. The head of the social work program recommends me for a fellowship award, which I do not get. He includes quotes from Dr. Carlson's letter in his own recommendation, and asks me to proofread it. So I know this professor likes me, and I knew it on this day.

Dr. Carlson teaches the Abnormal Psychology class in my undergrad program. He reminds me of my little brother, the youngest one. They share similar facial structure. My fondness for my brother may transfer a bit to my fondness for this professor. Dr. Carlson writes me notes on my tests, commending me on my answers. At first I assume he does this for everyone, but then I learn that many of the students think the tests are hard. I study, but Abnormal Psychology isn't hard. It's about lists of symptoms, memorizing the criteria for each disorder, and recognizing what separates one from another. Like bipolar I and bipolar II. Does the person experience a true manic phase, or not? And anorexia shares many aspects with bulimia, but a diagnoses of anorexia requires a body weight significantly lower than then the norm, under 85% percent of what would be expected given the other variables.

It seems I learn these things easier than some of my classmates. It might be because I have some reference points to attach the information to. I am older than the average student, and life provides us with reference points. I have known many people, and been many places. In the future, the year that I finish my Master's program will be the same year that I turn 50.

As far back as I can remember, I have loved to read. Reading has gifted me with a large vocabulary. Just don't ask me to pronounce all of the words I know, because I have read more than I have heard, even today. I do know the meanings though. I remember learning in grade school about root words, and suffixes, and prefixes. For me, this knowledge was like having the key to a secret code. I could figure out most words by using the context and what I knew of their Latin origins. So hypomania holds meaning for me, even before I read the definition, because I know the parts that make up the word. Maybe it is that this understanding gives me an edge over the younger students. I wonder if they still teach root words and such in grade school.

I often read the materials before class. Not always, because I was taking a heavy credit load to finish the program in three years instead of four. Trying to make up for lost time. I do not remember if I read the chapter prior to that day. What I do remember is how my body felt when Dr. Carlson read aloud the DSM-IV criteria for PTSD.

      A. "The person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which both of the following were present:
      (1) The person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others."

Frozen. I look down, down, down as each word fills the space around me. The world slows and my heartbeat quickens, pounding, pounding. My face is flushing, or has gone pale. I don't want to be here. No way out. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Don't look up. He continues:

      "(2) The person's response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror."

The world is still in a sort of slow motion. I know these things, all of them. These words do not lend themselves to distinct definitions, they blur together simply as the feeling of my body. I hear some of my classmates having a side conversation about nothing at all. Dr. Carlson is speaking… "persistently reexperienced, intrusive and distressing recollections, dreams, flashbacks" .... I am breathing. I can breathe. It just takes focus and looking down, but not at that page, here, this one. Others in the class engage in a discussion with the professor. I remain with "…actual or threatened death or injury, a threat to the physical integrity of self, …a response involving intense fear, helplessness, or horror". I remain, with a pounding heart and an inability to meet the eyes of my professor, for fear that he might recognize my knowing. In a room full of people, I sit alone, breathing and breathing again, confronting the knowledge that I might be the only one in the room who comprehends the meaning of his words.

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