I start a new job tomorrow. It’s usually a pretty exciting and hopeful thing for a person to start a new job. For me, starting this job now is more than just a nice new job. For me, starting this job is a major, huge, mind-blowing miracle. To understand what a big deal this is for me, let me walk you through my history.
When I was 4 years old, I wanted to grow up to be a horse. True story.
When I was 13 years old, I decided that I wanted to be a professional French horn player in the Chicago Symphony. I put my mind and heart to it, practicing and studying hard to get into the best college to learn French horn. And I did. I went to Northwestern University and in June 1997, I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education. The dream had changed from being a pro horn player to being a famous university conductor, married, with 2 kids, a golden retriever and a house on the lake.
When I was 23 years old, a year after my first year teaching music, I had a full-blown eating disorder. I attended a Partial Hospitalization Program for depression and ended up hospitalized for the first time. Not hospitalized in a room with a nice view decorated with cards and flowers from friendly visitors, and sweet nurses to bring me trays of food and asking me to eat. That’s what I expected. No, I was hospitalized on a locked psychiatric unit for adults in mental health crisis.
That was only the beginning of my career in mental health. By the time I was hospitalized for a suicide attempt in 2001, I knew there was no career as a famous conductor. I did the best I could but nothing seemed to keep me safe from me. I hurt myself often and severely. What was the dream then? More like, “Why dream?” I was hospitalized numerous times for my self harm, depression, anxiety and PTSD. I was still a bright and gifted woman but my mental health issues and necessary treatment kept me from being able to maintain a healthy marriage or decent career/job. The best anyone hoped for me was a somewhat stable life still needing psychiatric care and hospitalizations.
When I was 37 years old, after about 20 hospitalizations and a divorce, I made a last ditch effort to get my life back. In June 2012, I admitted myself to Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center for Women. The experience saved my life. I learned that I was seeing myself through the distorted lens of self-hatred and trauma, not through the loving lens of truth that the people who loved and cared for me saw me through. I challenged myself to believe their view of me. They supported me and inspired me. I started to believe I was a human worth caring for and I managed to be successful in recovery as I never had before.
When I was 38 years old, my worst fear came true. My dad died of cancer. I returned to Timberline Knolls for safety. Not able to stay as long as needed, I struggled with grief and keeping myself safe. But I was also working with the therapist I met at TK and involved in the TK alumnae community. I bonded with my mom, whom I lived with and was also grieving my dad. By the year after my dad died, I had begun to start seeing myself through the lens of truth again instead of despair and self hatred.
When I was 39 years old, the rug got pulled out from under me. My mom was diagnosed with Leukemia, a blood cancer. My mom, the strongest woman I ever knew, was very ill and very weak. Our roles were reversed. I was her strength and inspiration. After a lifetime of depression and despair, I had a hope like I had never hoped before. Hope that my mom, my hero, my rock would survive this fierce trial.
When I was 40 years old, in fact one week after my fortieth birthday, the unthinkable happened. My mom died. My hope shattered, I pretty much died, too. In my mind, my life was over. How was I, a chronic mental health patient with no career or job to sustain me, going to survive? It was a practical issue and an emotional issue. Without a husband, home (my childhood home that I had been living in was sold), parents, or career, how was I going to support myself? With a 20 year history of self harm, eating disorders, depression, anxiety and PTSD, how was I emotionally going to survive this trial?
At first, I didn’t. I self harmed severely and was hospitalized again. I had a plan to end my life. A social worker was hired to help figure out the practicalities of my future life and it was suggested that I apply for disability and live in some kind of supportive care. The state hospital was suggested and we even applied for me to live in a senior independent living facility. They said I was too young.
I had a choice, literally to live or die. Under the care and guidance of that amazing therapist, a beautiful woman of faith, and a handful of other women who “mothered” me after my loss, I decided to live. I decided to trust that loving lens of truth that I had started to believe in. I put into action all the wisdom and skills I learned over many years of treatment. I trusted that so long as I was breathing, a loving God who was good even when I and my circumstances were not, had a good plan and purpose for my life. I took care of myself, my new apartment and my dog all on my own. I not just maintained but was successful at a good job. That job was not enough to support me, though, and I relied a little too heavily on the small amount of money left to me by by mom.
When I was 42 years old, I got a job at Timberline Knolls as a Behavioral Health Specialist. Through my hard work and service in the alumnae community, my commitment to my previous job, and evidence of success in living a recovered and meaningful life, TK actually hired me. Instead of asking someone to let me into the locked bathroom, I held the keys to the place. Wow. Just wow. And I was even told by nursing staff and my supervisors what a great job I was doing. I was known for my patience and compassion, knowing those girls in a way only someone who had been in their shoes could. Still, TK was a far commute for me and I still was relying too heavily on my inheritance.
Now at 43 years old, I am starting a job as a Behavioral Health Associate on the adolescent inpatient unit at a hospital not far from home. It seems my years in treatment earned me an “honorary degree” you might say in mental health treatment. The circumstances of this job are definitely moving me forward towards being able to support myself on my own.
It’s an intense job, working hard in a field where my expertise comes out of a world of personal pain and experience. It’s living a modest life on my own with a little brown dog. Is it a career as a famous conductor, a husband, 2 kids, a golden retriever and a house on the lake? No.
Yes, as I start this job, I thank God for every failed career and job. I thank Him for every misstep that landed me in the hospital gaining more experience, skills and compassion. This is not just a nice new job. It’s GRACE and it’s REDEMPTION and it’s a MIRACLE.
So if you are struggling with things not turning out as planned, I encourage you to consider this that I wrote in the months after my mom died…
“We are not the writers of our stories. Our good and gracious God has a plan for each of us. Whether or not we agree with or like the plan is not the debate. It’s how we are going to surrender to His will and handle these situations with grace.”
I believe my story of redemption and healing speaks to just how truly amazing grace is. And I believe there is a story of amazing grace for you, too.