Pollinator: One Semester at the Centre for Accessible Learning

Guest post by Blaine

Nine days before chaos,water bottles I lingered outside the Centre for Accessible Learning, UVic’s support for students with disabilities. It was March of 2022, and I was contemplating saying hello.

Being Autistic, these moments can take as much brain power as the math I study. Inside, Kristina (Exam Coordinator) handed me a pink butterfly sticker, to complement my pink water bottle and its existing stickers. “You have some flowers on there, I figured you need a pollinator.”

My CAL journey began in October of 2019. I had just returned to the island after a homesickness trip, laying on the ferry deck under the moon reading Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos for fun. Agonizing over how I could be on the verge of failing every class five months after transferring to UVic, asking the stars what I had done. CAL accommodations gave me freedom to manage undiagnosed chronic illness and academics at the same time.

Nine days after I got my butterfly, I woke up feeling incorrect. I have always had chronic dehydration symptoms despite excessive fluid intake. But this episode was worse than ever, and when one off day became two, then seven, then nine, I fell behind in classes.

But CAL gave me this magical place where I could show up radiating neurodivergent energy and not be misunderstood, just welcomed, loved, encouraged. A place where, despite the unknowns in my life, I was unafraid. Having them there at the end of those days pushed me to go through the motions.

In Math 301: Complex Variables, we were using the imaginary number, i, to answer real math that real numbers cannot solve. April was the first time my fluid intake surpassed that of the average horse. But it brought me back to life.

Inventing language and strategies to treat a real illness without a known name, I found a delicate equilibrium. With time, I believed, I could understand both my body and Complex Variables. I deferred my final exam. While I learned, I kept catching glimpses of my pollinator. And I smiled.

In the summer, I upgraded to the 2-litre fuchsia water bottle of my dreams. “That one is so big, you can pick out two butterflies,” Kristina said.

While I taught myself Math 301, my CAL advisor was there to ask questions like, is this the best study strategy for you just because it worked for your classmates? And, which unchecked box is causing you the most stress? She increased my accommodations and made sure I knew every relevant resource. That A minus was one of my biggest UVic victories.

There exists an answer, even if undiscovered. In math and in my body. Sometimes, its elusion is frustrating. Sometimes, I remember, I am no longer laying on BC Ferries’ Coastal Celebration reading about mathematical chaos, wondering how I became human chaos and how I can fix myself.

I am finishing my degree with autonomy, hope, a bit of magic; surrounded by people who remind me that nothing about who I am was ever what needed to be fixed.

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