Student shares techniques for overcoming education anxiety
In 2018 Celeste Friedrichs was 24-years old and fresh out of a four-year stint in the Air Force where she served in Security Forces. “In simple terms, I was a cop, she clarifies. She was also a pre-deployment instructor who helped prepare recruits for their ‘down range’ experience. “I educated them on their potential danger level, how to react under fire (using fake bullet-like paintballs), vehicle maneuvers and how to drive at night with vision goggles,” says Celeste.
Then as a private citizen she had a new challenge. “I was in limbo and didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” says Celeste. “And it took me a minute to get back into civilian life.”
She had an idea that she wanted something in the medical field and Respiratory Therapy had a particular appeal. Her grandmother had breathing issues and she had watched these specialists give her “Grandma” life-preserving breathing treatments. “Seeing the Respiratory Therapists come in and give breathing exercises, and that they were so great with her.” Celeste’s interest grew and her career research took on a new focus.
She was accepted into two Respiratory Therapy programs, but it was San Joaquin Valley College’s Rancho Cordova campus that clicked. “From the minute I walked in, they were amazing,” says Celeste. “They treated me like I wasn’t a stranger, like I already belonged there. I knew that’s where I wanted to be.”
In no time, Celeste was sitting in classrooms and participating in intense labs where hands-on experience put her face-to-face with her potential for success.
Everything about the program called to her. “The specialty portion of it is what I like,” she explains. “It’s like a craft. The more you work at it, the better you get.”
It’s not that Celeste didn’t have concerns. “The neonatal class was nothing like I had pictured. It was intense and the information so important that it kind of shocked me,” she says. “I didn’t really know that babies and kids could have so many issues and that we would play such an important role in their care. They are the epitome of helplessness and can’t explain what they’re experiencing and feeling.”
The full impact of Celeste’s scope of responsibilities hit her. “It stood out to me that I literally stand between someone’s life and death. It’s absolutely scary.”
The first term of her Respiratory Therapy program was challenging. “I struggled a little bit and it was really hard for me to find that groove. I had full-on melt-downs, crying and everything,” she admits; “but my husband (Chad), our local family and friends were there to help bring me back down.”
She found refuge for her anxiety at school, too. “Mrs. Foss is amazing and her advice and just being a shoulder for me to cry on – because that definitely happened – reminded me that I could get through it.”
Another important voice of reason came from Celeste’s mom, JoAnn. “My mom has always told me, ‘You can do anything you want. You’re strong enough, you’re smart enough and you’re brave enough to do anything you put your mind to’.” That message helped Celeste to strengthen her self-confidence and resolve to go forward in her studies and the career she envisioned.
Over time Celeste’s anxiety was calmed by her growing sense of competency and recognition of the teamwork her profession enjoys. “We have all the tools we need, and everyone in the hospital or Emergency Room relies on each other; you’re never really alone.”
During her clinical rotations in medical facilities, Celeste was both exhilarated and devastated in her patient care experiences. She worked with a young woman about her own age who came into the ER with a severe asthma attack. “She was refusing treatment and ended up in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit), really bad off,” says Celeste. “I related to her because we were the same age. I was able to sit down in front of her and get her to calm her breathing enough to finally agree to treatment. That was my favorite moment.”
Another emergency took her in a completely different direction. “The hardest thing was learning that every patient doesn’t make it,” she says quietly. “You can’t save all of them no matter what you do.”
Celeste was part of the responding team when someone came in who could not be saved. “That was the first code I was in where the patient didn’t make it,” she remembers. “And I took it really hard.”
She stepped outside and called her mom who, as a nurse, would understand the loss her daughter was feeling. “I knew she would have the best words for me,” says Celeste. “The team could have done every single thing right, but if God wanted them home, then they’re going to go home,” her mom assured her.
“I took comfort in believing that someone’s not in pain anymore and is in a better place; and that brought me back a little bit,” says Celeste.
Celeste has taken every bit of her program’s instruction, clinical experience and personal and professional growth opportunities to reach the top of her expectations. She is on the Dean’s List and was further recognized with a special award.
“After many entries across all our campuses, A Respiratory Therapy program student in Rancho Cordova was chosen as the recipient of the Veteran’s scholarship provided by Tuition Partners,” says Jeff Rutherford, Rancho Cordova Campus President. That recipient was Celeste.
“Celeste is a very hard-working student and loves to be involved in extracurricular activities on campus,” says Amy Bianco, Campus Dean. “She is a member of the Diversity Committee and organized a blood drive here on campus. She is deserving of this scholarship and recognition.”
She completes her Respiratory Therapy Associate degree program in May, but she is already gearing up to take on the Bachelor’s degree online program to further her professional aspirations.
She knows more bumpy roads lie ahead, but she is ready for them. There’s a line from a Country-Western song by Rodney Atkins that she and her mom quote back and forth to each other when times are tough. “It’s like my life theme,” Celeste laughs. In fact, she has this lyric tattooed on her thigh.
“If you’re going through hell, keep on going.” “Even now, if I’m having a bad day, I’ll think of it and the next line: ‘Don’t slow down, if you’re scared, don’t show it’.”
Celeste wants to reassure anyone who is thinking about going back to school or who is in school but feeling overwhelmed and about to drop out to just ‘dig deep within themselves’. “I want to tell them that they can overcome it if they just believe in themselves and keep going.”
Maybe Rodney Atkins can help her out with another lyric: “Face that fire, walk right through it. The good news is, there’s angels everywhere’.
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