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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.scan0003-2

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.

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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.

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It quickly became evident that construction was not what I wanted to do long-term.  It was heavy, dirty work.  Most of my colleagues had knee or back trouble or had suffered a serious injury while on the job.  I wanted to avoid that.  So, I decided to become a personal trainer.  The idea of helping others lose weight and get fit was appealing to me after a lifelong struggle with weight and my experience with lithium.  I studied, got certified, and launched Absolute Fitness, LLC.

While growing the new company, I had to pay the bills.  I continued to remodel and sell beauty products on the side.  Then, disaster struck.

2003 – Broken Pieces

In September, I was helping my father renovate a bathroom.  We were taking a large mirror off a wall when it shattered.  Huge shards fell to the floor, and suddenly there was blood shooting everywhere.  I hadn’t felt a thing, but I looked down to see my left wrist gushing blood.  Just then, my father wrapped my arm and rushed me to the phone to call 911.  As the towel we were holding changed from off-white to bright red, it dawned on me that I could die.

During the ambulance ride, the agony set in.  One of the paramedics told me it looked like everything was cut to the bone.  Tendons, muscles, arteries and nerves.  All of it.  They had managed to slow the bleeding, but we needed to get to the hospital quickly.  The driver was weaving in and out of traffic and hitting bumps that sent waves of pain through the laceration.

Once we reached the ER, my thoughts were getting hazy.  It seemed to be taking forever for the hospital staff to wheel me into surgery.  A nurse told me they were waiting on a particular surgeon, a specialist.

Not long after the operation, I reluctantly dissolved my personal training business and began months of painful physical therapy.  Being left-handed, I had to relearn how to use my dominant hand entirely.  Buttoning my pants or signing my name or washing my hair were extraordinarily difficult tasks.  It was a deflating and humbling experience.

After the doctor had reattached the nerves, they regenerated for the most part. The lengthy process felt like small volts of electricity pulsing from my scar to my fingertips.  After I had healed, my hand tingled, like the initial discomfort of my foot falling asleep.  I adapted to that.  Within a year, I hardly ever noticed this permanent sensation.updated-wrist-photo

I never thought of myself as handicapped.  My injury was more a nuisance than anything else.  Though, the limited dexterity tested my patience at times.  Trying to fasten a necklace or tie my shoes was either humorous or maddening, depending on my mood.  When frustration set in, I reminded myself that I not only survived the trauma, I kept my hand, damaged or not.  Life was still good.

2006 – The Beginning Of The End

That autumn, I noticed my husband’s demeanor had changed.  He was distant, even cold at times.  I thought I knew why.  He had recently suffered a shoulder injury at work, and his employer had not been the least bit helpful or supportive.  He had ultimately been pushed out of his job and into a new position at a different company just a few months earlier.  On top of that, his stepmother had just died of cancer.  Who could blame him for being withdrawn?

We arranged to meet two friends on New Year’s Eve to share dinner and ring in 2007 together.  This was an annual get together with this couple, and we enjoyed their company immensely.  It had been a rough patch, and I wanted a fresh start for the new year.  I was about to get exactly that.

After a day of sanding drywall, I arrived home a dusty mess.  We were supposed to meet our friends in an hour.  I asked my husband to call them, to push back our double date and give me more time.  He seemed agitated, but I was in a hurry and dismissed it.  I again asked him to make the phone call while I hustled to grab fresh clothes and hop in the shower.

I had never heard the strange tone of voice he used when he announced, “I have had enough!”  As I turned toward him, puzzled, I asked, “Enough of what?”  He flatly told me he was leaving because he didn’t love me anymore.  This declaration caught me off guard.  What?  Was he serious?  Since when?

In disbelief, I watched the man I loved pack a bag and walk out.  He left me, our dogs, my family, our friends, our entire life together.  All with no explanation or apology.  After a few minutes in shock, I slid down my bedroom wall and wept on the floor until I fell asleep.

I woke to the sounds of fireworks and my neighbors yelling “Happy New Year!”   Disoriented, I wondered why I was on the carpet.  Then the realization hit me hard.  People I knew were celebrating a few yards away while I was experiencing one of the worst moments of my life.  I cried myself to sleep once more.  It certainly wasn’t the last time.

As a result of the stress, I lost six pounds that January.  I couldn’t eat or focus on anything but the state of my marriage.  Consumed with fear, I was willing to do whatever it took to get my husband back.  Begging and pleading didn’t work.  I insisted we go to therapy.  He did agree to get counseling, but not couples counseling.  I asked if there was another woman.  Angrily, he asserted there was not, but would not consider reconciliation.

After a couple of months, I relented.  He wouldn’t be coming back.  I mistakenly thought the vows would be enough to hold him.  I couldn’t decide what was worse, losing my husband or my best friend.  He had been both for half my life.

By the summer, mourning this loss had grown tiresome.  My family had been a great comfort throughout the ordeal.  They acted optimistic around me although I knew they worried about me slipping into another depression.  The thing was, I knew that was not an option.  I was determined to be happy once more.  The way I dealt with stress and anxiety had changed.  Treating myself well had become a habit.  I continued to exercise and started eating properly again.  All the while, mentally preparing to be a single adult for the first time.  Little did I know…

2007 – When One Door Closes

In July, Mom asked me to accompany Dad to my cousin’s wedding in Las Vegas.  She couldn’t attend because she was taking care of my elderly grandfather.  This trip was a welcome escape.  The women in my family attended the ceremony wearing colored wigs in honor of the bride, who had vibrant pink hair.  It was a fabulous event.
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Unexpectedly, I met the love of my life that day.  And I was, naturally, not prepared for that.  Yes, the first time my husband ever saw me, I had turquoise hair!  The timing was unfortunate because it was so soon after my breakup.  I told myself to take it slow.

Apparently, I didn’t know how to dip my toe in the water.  We immediately started dating and were married nine months later in 2008.  Our daughter was born in 2009, and our son came along in 2010.  I did manage to take a break from my career to be at home with our babies for a few years.  And I was grateful to be able to make that choice when so many parents couldn’t.  But, I yearned to be an entrepreneur again.scan0004

2015 – Opportunity Knocks Again

Late in the year, I started to brainstorm about what industries were appealing to me.  I longed to try my hand at something new.  I figured there must be thousands of women over forty, like me, who were trying to make a go of an existing career or starting a new business.  Surely I could find several groups or sites to help me through the process.  Surprisingly, I couldn’t find the aid and encouragement I craved.

To be fair, there were great coaches and blogs out there for career women.  But there weren’t many who focused on people my age.  I thought it odd there was such a lack of interest in professional women in their forties and fifties.  There was my opportunity!

I could write about, provide information, and give support to this community.  Excited about the idea, I knew I was capable.  After all, I had experience writing a few articles for an online magazine back in the early 2000s.  But that wasn’t going to be enough.  I knew I had much to learn.  So, I studied and took courses for over a year to make my dream a reality.

This is not just a blog. It is my professional purpose.  I am dedicated to helping you overcome your career challenges to achieve midlife success.  Given my life experiences, I believe I am qualified to do that.  Now that you know my journey, I hope you agree.  Life is good.life-wise-lady-pic-10

Thank you for taking the time to read my story.  Feel free to send me a message.

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All career women should read the uplifting life story of Jen Monks, Chief Business Blogger at LifeWiseLady.com.  Discover how she overcame four devastating traumas within a ten-year period to ultimately find success both professionally and personally.  Her resilience will motivate you.  Please share this story with the business women in your life.