Monday, March 10, 2014

Who I Am

My story of resiliency:
My dad’s military career moved us around a lot. We lived in Italy for much of my childhood. Growing up with a bipolar family member made me collateral damage to a brain disorder that doesn’t care how nice you are. Besides the mood swings, a big marker of the disorder is poor judgment and impulsivity: my mom placed me in a different school every single year and my dad allowed it. In ninth grade, my mom thought it would be a good idea to put me into an Italian public school. I was fourteen, but they put me in sixth grade. Why? I didn’t speak Italian. The Italian administrators thought I’d have an easier time learning the language if I started at the beginning of their middle school program.

At first it was all, “Ciao, ciao, ciao,” the only word I knew. I had no idea what was going on and failed every class for about a month or two, but I continued to study my butt off.

By Christmas, I was making real progress, a solid C student, and I could understand about seventy-five percent of the conversation. I finished the middle school program, in a different Italian school than when I started, with a B average.

But I had a huge problem: I was seventeen years-old with an eighth grade education and we were moving back to the United States for my dad’s retirement.

Panicked, I went into an American high school with my ‘Scuola Media’ diploma and they turned me away. Overcrowded schools were not open to someone who already had a diploma. It was in Italian, so it was unclear to them that it was a diploma for middle school.
Several months later, we moved to a small town so my mom could open, The International Café. By March, the restaurant was facing bankruptcy, but now that I wasn’t needed, I was free to go back to school.

This time I left my diploma at home. Told the guidance counselor that I was eighteen, new in town, and needed to do twelfth grade. She blinked at my transcripts, “No one here speaks Italian; you’ll have to translate these…”

A few months later, I had an American diploma. And I went to Prom! (No proms in Italy.) I applied for tons of scholarships, camping out in the guidance office. The counselor encouraged me to enter the Miss Alexander County pageant for the scholarship money and I won!

Appalachian State University offered me an academic scholarship and an invitation into their honors program. As a quasi-gypsy child, App State will always be my home. I worked three jobs and had to take out a student loan to make ends meet. I ate lots of cereal and Top Ramen; God bless those cheap, wavy noodles!

I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a minor in International Business, which allowed me to study abroad in Australia and China.

Next, I completed a Master’s of Science degree in Mental Health Counseling from Stetson University, which included a study abroad tour in Europe.

My professional career began as a therapist at a boys ranch, where my supervisor told me to double bill for services. I refused. The following week, the boys ranch made the front page for insurance fraud. Everyone was laid off, some went to jail. Not a great career start.
My new job was at a private psychological practice. It was a great fit and I learned a lot.

I pursued a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy, from Barry University. The road to becoming a doctor was a ziggidy-zaggedy one, but once I arrived, it was so worth it.

After getting married, my husband and I moved to a small, developing town and I created Central Florida Mental Health, a private practice for children and families.

Things were going great until we decided to start a family of our own. It turned out I was infertile, but still made every attempt as if I was chained to a terrible hope/failure rollercoaster. It was a very dark time in my life; consumed from the inside out by the jaws of infertility.

Five years later, I got pregnant thanks to the Center for Reproductive Medicine. I decided to close Central Florida Mental Health so I could stay home with my daughter. And nine months later, I had another life growing inside of me without even trying.

Writing is how I make sense of my feelings and provides a wonderful creative outlet. It has always been a part of me and when I don’t write I get cranky. I have no idea where my writer’s journey will take me, but when I look back over my life, there were plenty of times when the future was unknown, but hard work and perseverance paid off.

Day by day; one breath at a time. Some breaks may be longer than others. And some pain may take longer to heal, but I will always get back to work. Because pleasure can’t exist without pain, and you can’t divorce success from failure. Examine each moment for the yumminess it contains, and if you happen to lick a sour patch, wrinkle your nose, but keep searching for something sweet.

I'd like to invite you to add your own quotes or stories of resiliency to my blog, Facebook page or Twitter.  It's our stories that inspire and encourage others to keep fighting the good fight.  I'd love to hear from you!

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