As the Iraqi war raged and NAFTA passed, finding a job was difficult. My first job out of college was selling cars for Saturn Corporation. I enjoyed sales, and finally was part of a “team” where I fit in. I worked too much, drank too much, and my relationship with my boyfriend faltered. There was no balance in my life, and I blamed the car sales hours and lifestyle. I went from car sales to mortgage sales to retail sales, all resulting in a feeling that something was “missing” from my life. I got engaged. But something still wasn’t right for me. I decided to go back to school and get licensed to become a High School English teacher. I broke my engagement, moved back in with my parents in the mountains of North Carolina and enrolled at a small private college to get my teaching credential. I was starting over.
I moved back to central North Carolina to take a teaching position at a middle school. I taught 7th grade for a year-and-a half, still feeling lost and unfocused. I got engaged and unengaged, again. I changed jobs, taking a territory sales position for a reputable publishing company in their school-based product division. I enjoyed the autonomy but the job required a lot of windshield time and my social circle dwindled further because I was never around. I tended to date men who were “projects” or who had a lot of “potential.” “Starting over” became almost a mantra for me. Either I was starting over in my private life, my career, or both. It just never seemed like I could get any real traction.
Fast-forward to engagement, and this time marriage. It felt like the perfect fit, all around. I got pregnant easily and it looked like I was going to have the best year of my territory sales career. I enjoyed a strikingly easy pregnancy and was poised to bonus myself into a six-figure maternity leave. I was on top of the world.
Until I got fired.
With four-and-a-half months to go before I had the baby, my company decided I was under-performing in one of twelve product lines, which was a justifiable reason for termination, they said. I got let go on Pearl Harbor Day. I was devastated, but too scared to fall apart because I didn’t want to negatively affect my pregnancy. My husband was self-employed and we were down to one income. I was scared, and found myself starting over again, now with a baby on the way.
I’d always had a passion for Real Estate, and decided to get my NC Real Estate Broker License. I filled in the blanks and calculated the HUD sheet while my baby was turning somersaults in my belly. I would start selling homes as soon as I could figure out motherhood.
When Samuel was born, I was elated, and felt like I was born to be a Mom. I made his baby food, breast fed, and had plans to homeschool him. Selling Real Estate wasn’t on my radar. It was a license I had in my back pocket, “just in case.” As Samuel grew and the time passed, I became increasingly resentful that I was expected to go back to work at a “regular job” while my husband struggled to get his business off the ground. We divorced, and I started over with a 2-year-old.
It was a tough two years as I struggled to support myself and Samuel. At one point, I had 4 different jobs. Then I met my second husband to-be, who seemed to have all the answers. He had an older son, so it just made sense that we would join forces. We married quickly, told the rest of the world to go scratch, and tried to be happy in our blended family.
Then 2008 hit.
The bottom fell out of the real estate market, and my husband’s employer closed its doors. I had 2 rental properties, and both sets of tenants decided to move out within 6 weeks of each other. I hit a new emotional low that I did not think was possible. On a cold and rainy Tuesday, I sat in the waiting room at the Social Services office, waiting for my turn to see if me and my family qualified for Food Stamps. I’d never felt like such a failure.
Finally, my husband secured employment and was on the fast-track to management. Things began looking up, and I got a couple of good real estate hits that got us on track. My husband set his sights on getting his PhD, and I reluctantly agreed that it was a good move for him. I just did not understand how we were going to pay for his degree.
My husband started his doctoral studies while I worked, ran the household, made sure his tuition was paid, and took care of both boys. His career was taking off, and his company offered him a promotion to run a facility out of state. I had primary custodial care of my son, so I figured there would be no fight in my moving away. I could not have been more wrong. In a custody battle that lasted months, the court decided to remand primary care of my son back to my ex-husband. I could move out of state, but my son would remain in North Carolina. Court ordered!
I could not believe it.
Leaving my son was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I raged at myself and cried, angry at the world and everyone for what had happened. The court expenses made my husband’s salary increase a wash, and hardly worth the move. I tried anti-depressants and therapy, but could not get beyond the dark depression I was in. My husband’s job was not thrilling for him. I questioned why we even moved – what did we gain?
At the encouragement of my husband, I started a Master’s Program in Mental Health Counseling. I think he thought that it would get me out of the house, and student loans would pay for the “therapy” I needed but wasn’t getting. I always loved being in school, so I studied hard and threw myself headlong into my coursework. Turns out I had a knack for counseling, and at post-40 years-old had enough life experience to be taken seriously. I could not wait to graduate and had visions of a private practice of my own.
Then my husband got fired.
The only place that would hire him was 900 miles away.
We moved. Again. Even further away from my son.
More court appearances. Now I got to see my son once a month, on a weekend. More tears and sadness for me, being further removed from my son.
I started interning at a Neurofeedback Clinic and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. As I worked with clients and my supervisors, it became clear to me how the brain and body are connected, and how we can change how we think to affect how we feel. I felt like I was on the cutting edge of mental health and new-age science, and the internship experience gave me a solid vision for my approach to counseling, wellness and achieving real happiness in one’s life. I was energized and inspired by my colleagues and clients, and I vowed to incorporate biofeedback into my own mental health practice once I graduated.
I was slowly becoming more optimistic. I had just opened my private practice, and my caseload grew every week. I networked, began to advertise, and set my sights on designing a website. Things were improving for my son, and it was looking like I would be spending more time with him soon. It was all coming together. My depression lifted slightly, and there seemed to be a “light” at the end of this long, painful tunnel.
Then my husband asked me to leave. He wanted a divorce.
Within days, I was forced to dissolve my practice, refer out my clients and tell the few friends I had goodbye. Stunned, I packed my things and moved back to North Carolina. Thanks to my family and some close North Carolina friends, I survived, sanity intact. And I am back with my son.
To say it has been a journey is an understatement. What’s taken place since I returned to North Carolina fills me with gratitude and appreciation not only for what I have, but for where I have come from. Hopscotch to Happiness is an idea whose time has come.