My Unrecognizable Life
I am an average, ordinary Midwest wife, mom, sister, and daughter. I am also a speaker, writer and nurse. But, my life right now is unrecognizable from what it was just six months ago. From the outside looking in, you would find that much of the exterior remains the same. But on the inside, there has been a great deal of remodeling. Where once there was hope, there is now an unspoken emptiness. Where once there was joy, there is a haunting gnawing within me. While there are moments of peace, these are not the norm. Usually my mind is quite busy. Busy figuring things out. Whether that be the reasons “why” we are where we are today. Or, contemplating what might be next and how I can best prepare myself and my family. A new companion on this journey is panic. Fear morphed into panic is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. You cannot breathe, your heart physically hurts and there is a lump in your throat the size of Texas.
In March, I was living my “best life.” I had left my secure job of 12 years to follow my heart and become a speaker and facilitator in the field of emotional wellbeing both in the workplace and in small private groups, committed to ending the loneliness epidemic and suicide (the irony isn’t lost on me). They say, “if you can’t help yourself, help someone else.” I guess this holds true for me too. I had spent my lifetime helping people find health and happiness as a trainer, a nurse, consultant, facilitator and speaker. I put in the time to do deep internal work and this time, I thought I finally had it figured out. As I sat there on my first solo wellness retreat, a surf and yoga trip in El Salvador, I was finally at peace. Any trace of any anxiety or fear was gone. I thought I was “healed” and that I had “arrived” at this destination in my life where “all was well.” I was healthy, tan and enjoying every minute. I presented our company’s material on a global scale at digital conference while on retreat, fulfilling a life-long dream of mine to get paid to travel. After the retreat finished, I met my husband in the Bahamas to attend a large conference. It had been 20 years since we were last in the Bahamas during our honeymoon. It was deliciously wonderful and I felt like I was flying!
When we returned, the virus was gaining its foothold in America, both physical and emotional sense. Facebook blew up with statistics and doomsday predictions of years and years of lockdowns and the “new normal” was birthed and touted before the virus even arrived in the United States. Shortly after returning home, my symptoms began. Did I have the virus? I wondered. I quarantined myself just in case. My lungs ached and I felt I could not catch my breath. A lump developed in my throat and pain seared near my heart. Something was so wrong. My internal “radar” went into the red zone and I remember thinking, this is a virus of fear! Appropriately named “corona” virus as that means “crown” or “head.” Not only a real virus, but also a virus of fear that lives in your head. Aptly named.
I tried to resist this tsunami of negativity with every ounce of my being, posting uplifting stats on social media. This led to arguing and defending our ability to beat the virus. But it soon became futile. I succumbed to the darkness I felt was permeating our nation like a fog, settling in the low-lying valleys. I felt it pulling at my feet and as I clung to everything that I could, until my small little fingers could not hold and…I fell…in a gigantic free-fall…far…hard…fast…into the deepest, darkest pit…of my life.
One by one, my hard-fought public speaking engagements began to cancel. My mind began to do what it does best, ruminate. “What had I done?” The demons I thought I outran, began to dance once again. I had loans for my business and suddenly found myself unemployed and “non-essential.” I knew I SHOULD be posting in my groups and helping people maintain their emotional health during this rough time. But, I just couldn’t. No longer did I want to be seen or have the pressure of being positive placed on my shoulders. I have always been the “encourager” or “cheerleader” equating myself to an excited little puppy who cheers everyone up, just by being around it. Everyone admired my passion saying things like; “Jesse is incredible” and “she’s helped me so much.” Well, not anymore. My world just folded in onto me. There was something so sinister about what I felt was present on earth during this time, I could no longer hold ‘space’ between it… for others and not even for myself. In the medical field we honor when a patient uses the phrase “I have a sense of impending doom” because they’re right. They can sense when something bad is going to happen to them. I had this sense. I unpublished my pages and told my business partner that she was going to have to take more social and visible role in the business. This was too big to put into words, it only could be felt. I couldn’t meditate nor do yoga. I just couldn’t or maybe…wouldn’t. There was too much truth that I just couldn’t look at if I sat still. But what I did do…was run. With angry, ugly tears running down my face, sobbing… I would run. Like a chased, wild little animal…I ran. With my angsty 80’s and 90’s hair bands playing in my ears, Crazy Train seemed to fit this world that we lived in quite well. Like Forest Gump…I just kept running. I would just run and run and no distance seemed to matter. It’s like there wasn’t enough time on the road to “figure” everything out or clear my head, so I kept running.
I am a fraud, an imposter.
All of my worst fears have come true.
I ruined everything.
I am an epic failure.
Everyone would be better off without me.
We are all doomed.
People cannot fathom when their loved ones take their own lives, but I can now. It is nearly impossible to think clearly. You try to reason with yourself but that only puts you into a more negative space. I know that space. The space where packing up your belongings into boxes to and assigning them to your loved ones gives you the only relief from the intense shame that drowns you. For those brief moments you can rest and find just a bit of peace. When writing out your death “to do” list feels like sweet release as the tension melts away. I know these feelings. I would try to make it look like an accident perhaps, like running into a mac truck on County Trunk B.
Being an extrovert, quarantine was like being locked in my head with some of my worst enemies. On my darkest day, I lay in my bed during the middle of a Sunday, tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t take it. This pain needed to end. With my little hands wrapped tightly around my neck, squeezing so hard that my head felt like it would explode, I realized that there were dark forces at work far beyond my control. The only thing I could say was, “Jesus help me. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.” And, slowly my hands let go, and the redness faded from my tear stained face...and I was able to get out of bed and run. I know now that I was in a spiritual battle for my life and Jesus fought for me that day and declared victory once again over death. As I read more about suicide, I learned that suicide harms and is even emulated by the 7 people you love the most and are closest with. So, whether or not I felt like I was good enough to continue living, I most definitely needed to, to keep those I love alive as well. If I could do that, then I would have accomplished something with what seemed like, at the time, my wasted little life.
I realize that my story doesn’t need to make sense to you nor to anyone. It could be a tragedy, a comedy, a comeback or sweet, sweet redemption. I don’t know what’s next for me, and maybe that’s right where I am supposed to be. I’m still alive, wild and I’m still longing to be FREE (my word for this year). “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” right Janis?
Writing has been therapeutic for me and I can only hope that you will be blessed in some way. Maybe knowing yourself more deeply or maybe just a feeling of normalcy in regards to the darker emotions of this life. My hope is that you will be connected with the One who loves you in ways you cannot fathom and that we all begin to know our inherent worth. I don't have any agenda in sharing my writing beyond the hope that God works through broken vessels. My writings will share my journey throughout life, my highs and lows, through stories and my prose. For the first time in my life, there is this hopeful sense of freedom in "not knowing."
I want to leave you with one of my most treasured passages from the Bible as it explains why I have decided to embark on such a vulnerable journey with you. The apostle Paul asks the Lord to take away a personal weakness or “thorn in his flesh” and the Lord answers…
“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”
This passage was given to me by God one night in 2014 when I had my first encounter of deeper faith with Jesus during a time when I was brought to my knees. I learned about the concept of grace on a very personal level. Grace is unmerited or unearned favor and love. I always thought that if I could be perfect or perform a certain way, I would be accepted and loved and it was exhausting to live that life. I experienced first-hand the profound love of God and learned that I didn’t need to earn my happiness nor try to earn love. God had given me sufficient grace, even in my perceived weakness. I knew that I needed to remember that moment so I got a tattoo that reads “found by grace" on my right forearm.
In May of 2020, I looked up my special verse once more and saw the second part of the passage that perhaps was the biggest revelation of my life’s purpose thus far when Paul talks about his "thorn" once again but this time after God's grace was given to him…
Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. That is why, for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 2:9-10
When I read that passage, I knew what I had to do. I had to "boast" or share my weaknesses so that God's power could be made perfect THROUGH me (not by me). I am the nurse that is now the ‘patient’ and for the first time, I am okay with… feeling weak. In this weakness, there is complete surrender and dare I say…power.
My writings and ultimately my life, are dedicated to Jesus to whom I owe my life on this earth and beyond. To Him I will be forever grateful.