Overcoming Early Life Traumas to Achieve Midlife Success
Have you ever read an ‘About Me’ page and thought it looked more like an advertisement than a biography? Most don’t tell you about the individual as much as highlight their credentials and accomplishments. They’re more like shiny billboards than authentic depictions of people’s professional and personal lives.
Sure, I present myself like most professionals do, with a stylish headshot and a broad smile. But, this page is different. I promise, if you read through to the end, you will know the real me. I have experienced incredible ups and devastating downs. As you become familiar with my story, you will understand why I chose to start my midlife business blog and how I intend to use it to help women, maybe even you.
As a child, I struggled physically and emotionally with near blindness in one eye and was often bullied because I wore a patch and thick glasses. In my twenties, I found myself stuck with almost $40,000 of debt that was not mine. Two years later, I contracted a virus that nearly ruined my life and sent me into a deep depression. In my thirties, I suffered a debilitating injury and was unexpectedly left by the man who had been my partner for seventeen years.
1971- Humble Beginnings
The first born to young parents, I essentially grew up with them. They struggled emotionally and financially but somehow kept it together through those lean years. Humor, hard work, dedication, and love are what I remember most. It wasn’t a bad childhood. Mom and Dad worked their fingers to the bone, laughed a lot, and they loved their children. Overall, life was good.
1976 – Kids Can Be Cruel
That’s not to say there weren’t problems growing up. I was cripplingly shy because I looked different from the other kids. There were few blondes in my neighborhood. I had nearly white hair and wore a patch over my ‘good’ eye to strengthen the ‘lazy’ one. On top of that, I wore humongous glasses. I was constantly picked on and ostracized. My only saving grace was that I was athletic. Thankfully, it kept me from becoming a complete outcast.
1983 – A Fresh Start
A move to the suburbs, when I was twelve, didn’t improve my social standing any. My parents used every dollar they had to build a house in an area with a better school. As a consequence, my sister and I wore hand-me-downs and clothes from thrift stores while most of my peers owned the latest brands. I remained introverted and began to struggle with my weight. Before long, I was an easy mark for a new set of bullies.
When the time came to enter high school, I was fed up with this torment. I wasn’t going to hang my head or run away anymore. Once I committed to standing up for myself, the positive changes were immediate. For the first time, other kids weren’t picking on me. I finally relaxed and let people get acquainted with the funny part of my personality. The silly side my family loved and encouraged. I had unlocked the door of my prison cell. Life was good again.
The summer after graduation, I enrolled in community college, started working full-time in an office, and began dating a young man. It was an exciting period for me. I could only afford to go to school part-time as I was paying for it on my own. Naively, I moved out of my parents’ home at nineteen and started paying rent and tuition. Not the smartest financial move.
1992 – Playing House
Three years into our relationship, my boyfriend and I decided to buy a starter house. Yep, I was twenty-one, a part-time college student, a full-time employee, and a proud home owner. I was going to make it, come hell or high water. All that was left to do was get married to my long-time boyfriend. So, at twenty-four, I finally did. I felt like such an adult.
A few months after our nuptials, I opened a credit card bill of my husband’s, thinking it was my own. We had maintained separate accounts for the six years we dated and successfully split our expenses. So, why mess with a good setup?
To my dismay, the bill was over $3,500. It had to be a mistake. What else did I not know? I rifled through his opened mail and found eleven statements from different companies. The total debt was slightly under $40,000! My head was spinning. It was a financial disaster. And I had unwittingly married into this mess.
When my husband arrived home from work, I set the pile of statements in front of him and just stared at him, trembling with anger. When he realized what they were, he hung his head and softly said, “I’m sorry.” He confessed he had been making minimum payments for years and never known his debt had grown so large. He hadn’t told me because he felt ashamed. I remember yelling and crying that night, but I don’t remember much else.
Ultimately, I told him if he wanted me to stay, I needed to take over the finances, and he had to cut up his credit cards in front of me. He did. I dropped out of school and used my savings, $2,800, to pay off a few of the smaller bills. It took nearly two years of sacrifice to eliminate the balance, but we did it together. Life gradually improved.
1998 – Sick and Tired
Eager to start classes again, I transferred to Regis University and took a nearly full load of courses. I was also honing my Tae Kwon Do skills in preparation for my black belt exam. A couple of weeks before my test, I started to feel fatigued much of the time. I was physically wiped out every day and thought I had the flu. Reluctantly, I went to a physician. He told me I had contracted the Epstein-Barr virus and it could turn into mononucleosis. I rested whenever I could, but was scheduled to take my black belt test in mere days. In addition, I had finals coming up, and it was the busiest time of year at my job.
A panic attack always sounded like something fictional to me. I had never personally seen someone have one. I was entirely unprepared for what happened next.
Sitting in my office, examining my overflowing in-box, I suddenly couldn’t breathe. The room started closing in on me, and my hands began to shake. I didn’t think I had a heart attack, but mine was racing for sure. After I had managed to close and lock the door, it took several minutes to talk myself down. Freaked out and exhausted, I wondered what had just occurred. Maybe it was just a bug or food poisoning or a symptom of the virus.
Later that week, it happened again. And again. And again. I managed to keep quiet about it and earn my black belt. But, illness and anxiety were affecting the other areas of my life. I was becoming weaker. My grade point average was nearly impossible to maintain, and I was making careless mistakes at work. On Easter Sunday, at my parents’ house, I had a complete breakdown. The sobbing, hyperventilating, rocking in the fetal position type that can get you locked up for a few days.
Thank goodness, my family was there for me. They quickly realized how serious this situation was. I was not able to sleep but had no energy or desire to get out of bed. Depressed and irritated, my life had spiraled down and was unrecognizable to everyone who knew me.
I took an immediate leave from my job, quit school again, and temporarily moved in with Mom and Dad. My husband had to work, so my mother, even though she too had a full-time career, agreed to care for me. I consulted a psychiatrist who prescribed an antidepressant with a sleeping pill and predicted I would feel better within two weeks. It didn’t happen. He upped the dose. Nothing. He upped it again. Over the next four or five months, I took several different medications that had no effect. Eventually, my doctor put me on lithium. I quickly packed on thirty pounds. The stress brought on by my rapid weight gain did not help my mindset. In an irrational attempt to regain some control of my life, I changed my wardrobe and dyed my hair dark red.
As the lithium failed, my family and I were getting desperate. The depression, the anxiety, and the side effects were hard to handle, and I was starting to believe I would never get better. My hopelessness was leading to a very dangerous state of mind.
One evening, my mother was lying in bed with me, guiding my breathing exercises. I had continued to have awful insomnia every night and would pace and fret unless she made me lay down and relax. Frustrated and tired at this point, I couldn’t imagine putting my loved ones through this for one more day. It was like she heard my thoughts at that moment. In the darkness, she turned to face me and said, “Please, don’t leave me.”
A few days later, we found a psychologist to work with me. She was wonderful. I finally felt as though I was being guided by someone who cared. She suggested a new psychiatrist. Over time, he took me off lithium and prescribed two new medications that were effective. Slowly emerging from that blackness made me appreciate my health and the great people around me. Life was genuinely good again.
2002 – Three Jobs Are Better Than One
In therapy, I tried to learn how to cool my jets. The alternative was overwhelming myself with unrealistic expectations and possibly getting sick again. I returned to work and moved back home as my health improved. A nutritious diet and regular workouts helped me gradually lose the extra weight, and I resumed my classes, although, at a much slower pace. In 2002, I proudly earned my business degree with honors. It had taken thirteen years, but I finally graduated.
A year earlier, my father asked if I would like to become a contractor like him. He would teach me his craft, and I could help him remodel homes and eventually do some work on my own. It paid a considerable amount of money, and I had grown bored with office work. Although I had never pictured myself in the construction field, I knew it was a great opportunity to start my own business.
Actually, at the time, I already had a part-time gig as a Mary Kay consultant. It was an odd combination to be sure. During the day I would swing a hammer and cut lumber. On weekends I would teach ladies how to apply makeup and sell beauty products. I enjoyed running both businesses. However, pretending to run a company in a classroom proved easier than managing one in the real world. But, I loved it. Well, I loved most of it.