Monday, March 13, 2023

No Longer Afraid, Part 3a: The Amazing Things that Happened After the "Years from Hell"

So that I won't bore you with another long story, I'm just going to list as many of the things that I have experienced and learned during the time after "the incident." (not necessarily in chronological order or order of importance... I'm just writing as I remember them.)

But before I get going with the list, I have to highlight the most unlikely and incredible event:

On the way home from our honeymoon, Travis and I stopped at a rest stop in the northern part of Alabama. As I walked into the building, I saw a dad talking to his son about Fahrenheit vs Celcius while looking at a thermometer on the porch. This wasn't anything amazing, except that the son was a teenager and had Down Syndrome. 

I remember thinking - boy, that kid must have some great parents and have had some amazing teachers. (Not that I don't believe those with Down Syndrome can't learn - in fact, I feel totally the opposite - but because of stigmas and fewer opportunities than others, many can't reach their personal potential.)

It was a passing thought and I quickly went inside the building to the restroom so we could get back on the road. 

As I walked in, I saw a woman who looked familiar. In fact, we each did a double-take. But I'm HORRIBLE with faces and I assumed she simply looked like someone I knew. 

I mean, what are the chances of running into someone I actually know at a rest stop in northern AL? I've lived in the Birmingham area and the Knoxville area, so if I was in one of those places, it would be a definite possibility, but a random rest stop?

I kept trying to place the face with a name while, um, actually using the restroom, and couldn't come up with anything.

Imagine my surprise when I walked out to see all three standing together... and at that moment it hit me.

This was the student who I advocated for, taking the side of the parents and against what my school system proposed - the student who I was told that I couldn't talk to the parents outside of class (I snuck them notes) - the student who was much smarter than the school system would give him credit for.

The student who my school system wanted to put in a CDC class (one for students who have a really, really hard time learning) instead of getting special help in order for him to be in regular classes.

(Excuse me while I take a minute to bask in this amazing memory...)

    Looking back, I feel this was the major situation that led to my being micromanaged, stressed further in an already stressful job, and eventually losing my career.

    So, in a way, it was because I believed in this student so much that led to so much heartache, pain, and loss - but then became the best thing that ever could have happened to me.

(Back to the story...)

I couldn't pick my jaw up off the floor. I stood there, staring, wondering if I was dreaming. I could barely form words.

My new husband, Travis, stepped in and worded for me. The mom (I'm keeping their names anonymous) told me how he was doing. 


He had lots of modifications, of course, but if I hadn't gone to bat for him, his life could literally be completely different. He could have been put in that CDC class and wouldn't have even been exposed to the vast majority of information typical students get. 

Even though he's smart, he would have gotten further and further behind as the years went on and would have probably graduated with a special education diploma instead of a regular one.

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that those things are bad. There are many students for whom that is a wonderful plan. But not for this little guy. I knew he had more in him.

Even with everything that happened with "the incident" (and I still don't know how much they know of the entire story), this mom had reached out to me a few times through the years to ask about how to handle certain situations. Those boosts helped me tamp down the shame I felt about what happened and it seems they helped her keep advocating for him.

She told me she is still tired of fighting, but she's done really well getting him the services he needed to get him to this point. As he ages, he'll probably need more and more support and may not be in regular classes at all by the end of high school (I doubt it, but it's possible) but my school system had wanted to give up on him in KINDERGARTEN. 

I'm so proud of her and his dad.

I'm not bragging, but I'm also so proud of the fact that I pushed the school system to give him what he needed instead of what they wanted to give and that I continued to encourage her to advocate for him.

My life is wonderful now (not perfect, mind you, in fact far from it) but you know what? 

Even if it wasn't wonderful, it would have been so worth it anyway. He was worth it. That family was worth it.

And God used it all.

It's amazing.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

When the Progress You've Made Isn't Enough (Coping with Panic Attacks)

I've made a lot of progress through all of the years of counseling, self-help information, addiction support groups, EMDR, and other activities that contribute to healing. 

And I've made a lot of progress. Really I have. 


There have been two instances in the past few weeks that showed that I still have a loooooonnnnng way to go. 

When I woke up for church a couple of weeks ago, I wasn't feeling well. I almost didn't go. 

It was one of those times my determination (stubbornness?) was an asset, I guess. I had missed a lot lately due to work and other issues so I got ready and left. 

On the way, I started having a panic attack. It's been a while since I've had one and I knew I couldn't handle Sunday School the way I was feeling. 

I called my husband who was driving his car (due to somewhere he had to go right after church) and explained my thoughts about a way to cope.

My plan was to go to a local Dollar Tree and shop for about the next 45 minutes (I've fallen in love with DT!) and then I felt I should be okay to attend church after the distraction. 

It worked... To a point. 

I did calm down. I even laughed some. And as a bonus, I got some shopping done! 

I just knew I'd be okay. I was ready to handle church. 

It didn't work out that way. 

I don't know what triggered me, but something did. 

After only a few minutes, I knew I couldn't stay in church. It's a deaf church and it's true that they are more visual than many hearing. There would be no way I could fake it through the service. 

I fled before I completely lost it. 

Ironically, the closest place for me to head was my Sunday School's classroom. 

It was only a few steps away, but by the time I got there, I started hyperventilating. My husband had followed me out and knew what to do - talk to me about mundane things to distract me from my breathing. 

I expected that... But what I didn't expect is that others would follow me out. Everyone was worried about me and several actually tried to find me. 

One man, the deaf ministry's worship leader, really engaged with me. I couldn't believe it, but before church was out that day, I was literally laughing out loud. 

Like I mentioned before, it had been a while - months? years?? - since my last panic attack. Once I made it through that one and remembered that I hadn't been sleeping and had a lot of caffeine which I had figured out were my main causes (but had forgotten at this point). 

I really didn't expect to have another one so soon. I know that I pushed it too much last night, shooting Winter Jam 2023 (my first time to shoot like I used to since the rotator cuff surgery). I shot about 1500 frames from angles all over the floor of the arena. 

I did stop early, once I realized what I was doing. But by then it was too late. 

By the time I got home, my arm was killing me. I couldn't sleep, even after taking multiple meds. I finally got up and took a bath and feel asleep for a short time in the tub.

I went back to bed for a while and slept another hour or two. It wasn't enough. 

On the positive side, I was able to walk and move my arm when I woke up. I really thought I'd be out for days while I let it heal. 

Instead, I was able to move, but the mental affects from the lack of sleep has caused a repeat of two weeks ago. I'm at a women's retreat and several times on the way here and after I got here, it took major strength to not go back home. 

I'm glad I didn't leave. Some of the women here were so accomodating when they realized I wasn't doing well. That helped, but I still wasn't able to make it through the first session. 

I consider it a "failure" that I had another panic attack, but I am proud of myself in that I did what I needed - I went outside to calm down. 

When I got to my car, I cried and prayed. I took photos with my phone.
I enjoyed the beauty and stillness of this setting. 

It made all of the difference. 

Though I'm still really tired and my vision is still blurry from crying, I didn't go into a full-blown panic attack this time... And one reason why is from a realization I had. 

One of the issues today was the overwhelming thought that all of these women who are wearing nice clothes and have fixed hair and makeup have it all together.

When I was outside, I reminded myself (out loud) that yes, I'm not like these women. I never will be. I have a weird personality. I question everything. 

I have physical and mental health issues that literally affect everything I do. I don't have nice clothes and I sweat off makeup so quickly that I don't even try any more. My hair is cut in a "brush it and go" style (and it's especially bad today since I slept on it wet). 

But I'm not less - less worthy, less important, less a woman - because of those differences. 

I feel that God made me this way and even though I'm the weirdo in a group of neurotypical women (or any group of neurotypicals), I'm okay with who I am. 

I might not be like these women, but I have a lot of great traits:
- I see the world through the lens of a camera and can tell you which angle would be best for the show without having a camera in my hand. 
- I have been told that I'm a very good interviewer. 
- I can empathize with those going through a lot of crap. 
- I question everything (yes, it's both a weakness and a strength). 
- I am usually able to juggle all of the aspects of my life effectively, in spite of my struggles. 
- I know how to live without having much. 
- I've been really, really low and I lived through it. 
- I'll keep trying and rarely give up on a hard task. 
- I'm fiercely independent but I'm learning how a measure of give-and-take. 
- I get to interview and shoot some amazing people and events. 
- I can understand those who don't fit into the mold, especially in Christian circles. 
- I am blessed with a good living situation and enough financially for what I need. 
- I have amazing friends and family (not all, but most). 

I could go on but I need to get back to focusing on what's going on about the retreat. 

Life is good and I'm thankful, even if I still have panic attacks. 

Thursday, March 9, 2023

No Longer Afraid Part 2: Provision During "The Year From Hell"

As often happens, it took a while for me to add part 2 to my last post. As I'm incredibly busy right now with work, it would have been even longer to write this, but just as I decided to go to the pool to work out this morning (something else I've been putting off), it started thundering. The pool I go to still has the winter season dome over it so the rain isn't an issue - but if there's lightning in the vicinity they clear the pool.

So... I have some extra time to finally finish the "No Longer Afraid" post. (Don't worry - it won't be as long as the other post.)

The same day "the incident" happened (which led to what I affectionately called "The Year from Hell"), I interviewed at Sylvan Learning for a part-time job. The director was a former student's parent and she loved me. She called me about the job and as soon as I sat down for the interview, she told me I had the job if I wanted it - the interview was to simply tell me what it would entail so I could decide.

I remember thinking, "For the first time since I became a single parent, I will finally not be struggling financially." (My ex-husband rarely paid child support and by this time, he hadn't been paying at all for years.)

It didn't happen that way, as it was only a couple of days later that I was suspended without pay. 

Now the word "provision" in the title of this post doesn't mean I was completely provided for financially. I made it because I had great credit, a house with some equity, and the willingness to let go of a lot of my "stuff" by selling it. My parents also helped.

I maxed out my credit cards and hoped for the day that my ex-husband would finally pay the back child support. In fact, I was careful to keep my credit debt to less than the amount he owed.

However, I also had this new job. It wasn't much, as it was only part-time and the pay rate wasn't great.

But it was something to help with the financial battle I was facing until I got back to work (as I just knew I would at the beginning of this time).

Much, much more than the small financial boost that this job gave me was the confidence that I wasn't a horrible person - or a horrible teacher. In fact, I quickly became the favorite. Parents would request me to work with their children and the director would always put me with the students who had the most issues with learning.

It was really strange. As I mentioned in the other post, one of my biggest fears was that the incident would get into the news. Also, some of the teachers working there were in the same school system as me. Even if it didn't become public information, the rumor mill is huge within schools and I was always afraid I would be found out.

I never was. 

It was a tremendous help to know that I was wanted, that I was productive, that I was making a little money, I was getting out of the house to a safe place, and that, as I said before, I wasn't a terrible teacher.

But this story doesn't end there. When my parents and I made the decision to buy a house where we could live together, it took a while to sell the house and fully move. I still had things I had to take care of at home and so I went back there every week or two.

Sylvan is a national company. I talked to the director of the branch near my new home and he was excited about hiring me. I quickly became one of his favorites and he even started training me to possibly take his place when he retired.

During that summer of housing limbo, I worked both places - I just had to let them know when I could work and it was never a big deal in either place to take off a week or more at a time. 

I did so well in my local branch that eventually I went to another one on the other side of town to get extra hours. It wasn't enough to live on independently, but with my parents' help, I was able to make it and start paying towards some of my massive debt.

Speaking of debt, another provision was how I just happened to get a free consultation with a financial advisor whose office was part of the building where I worked as a receptionist. (This was later in the timeline.)

To my complete surprise, he suggested bankruptcy. I was the kind of person who always paid my debts and worked really hard to get and keep a great credit score. (In fact, it was part of my identity - that I'm good with finances.) 

I told him that I simply needed to get the back child support I was owed, and I had enough to pay everything off. 

Again, this is something I'll never forget: He told me that there was no shame in filing for bankruptcy. In fact, it was made for situations like mine.

And then he suggested an idea I never could have even dreamed about... He said, "Just think - what if you had all of your debts wiped clean AND you got the money he owed you?"

I was floored. I couldn't imagine getting ahead financially. I did take his advice and later, I did get most of that child support. (I'm still owed a good bit)

Even as the year from hell continued into the first two and then three years since the incident (now I call it the yearS from hell), God continued to provide. There were many times my anxiety overtook my mind and I forgot how faithful He had been. But then I would step back and remember that this provision was nothing short of amazing.

One day soon I'll try to post about all the other amazing things that have happened since the years from hell finally subsided. It's just wild how incredible my life is now when I thought it was over during that season.