The grand plan for my future: 2008
In August 2008, I graduated with my master’s degree in professional writing from the University of Southern California. A two-time Trojan, I had obtained my B.A. in humanities from USC, and I had been an actress and teacher in my twenties. During that time, I raised my younger sister Adrienne from the age of eight until she died from liver cancer at age 15. One year after Adrienne died, I founded Blue Faery: The Adrienne Wilson Liver Cancer Association. I never planned on starting a nonprofit, but no one else seemed to be advocating for liver cancer patients. Being a patient advocate is my passion, but it is not my vocation. I am a writer; I love telling stories.
The thesis for my master’s degree was the story of raising Adrienne for seven years and then losing her to cancer in 147 days. During my first year of graduate school, I received two national awards for my nonfiction book proposal and for an essay, which was an excerpt from my book. That early success boosted my confidence. My peers were sure I would have an agent before graduation. Despite receiving positive feedback about my writing from peers, readers, and mentors, agents didn’t think they could sell my book. #majorsetback1
So I did what anyone with a master’s degree in writing and a background in teaching does … I sought a position as a professor at various community colleges. In November 2008, I became an adjunct faculty member at Kaplan University, where I taught the Freshman Writing Skills & Strategies course. Even though I enjoyed teaching, I was bored, and I was broke. Worst of all, I had stopped writing. Instead of writing the second draft of my memoir, I focused on my jobs. In addition to teaching, I worked as a resume analyst for Getinterviews.com; I started a freelance writing business; I tutored elementary school children; and I continued running Blue Faery.
A downward spiral into depression: 2008 – 2010
Less than two years later, I quit. I quit teaching for Kaplan. I quit working for Getinterviews.com. I had my freelance business, but it barely had a pulse. But I didn’t quit Blue Faery though I stopped talking to patients for awhile. I couldn’t bear it because every patient I spoke to ended up dying. Despite my depression, I never gave up on my dream of becoming a published author who helped people through storytelling.
When my husband of four years left LA to take a job in Detroit, I would spent days alone in our house watching the clock, waiting for time to pass. By late afternoon, I would tell myself how horrible I was for wasting time, for not writing my second draft, for not working toward a goal. Since I hated leaving the house, I almost never went to the grocery store. Without meaning to, I began a raw food diet because it was easier. As a result, I lost over ten pounds. Finally, I was the perfect ‘LA actress’ weight of 102 pounds for my height of 5’3″. Guess what? I looked awful. Being that skinny ages you. The only thing that kept me going was our dog Winston, who was my once-in-a-lifetime dog. Without him, I’m not sure what I would have done. #majorsetback2
An upward turn of hope: 2011 – 2013
Then something magical happened. After almost leaving my husband during the worst time of our marriage, things improved. The TV show he worked on was not renewed for a second season so he returned home. I began eating again. I still had other health issues including a severe tailbone injury that caused pain for five years, but I gained weight. I began looking for a full-time job. After a few misses, I landed a position as a social media manager at the country’s largest wine importer, which was a perfect fit because I’m a tech nerd who loves wine. I liked my job, I liked my coworkers, but I hated my commute. Spending that much time in traffic always drained me so I never had enough energy to write when I came home.
When my husband went on disability for the first time for a second karate injury, our marriage became strained again. We seemed incapable of improving our financial situation. When we had money, we spent it and paid off ‘pet debt.’ Our friends said we had the worst luck with our animals. We called Winston our pirate robot dog because he had his eye removed (benign tumor), a hip replacement, a metal plate in his thigh, and a plate in his knee when he tore his ACL. We also called him our money pit.
The next few years were a mix of extreme highs and lows. I quit my social media manager job after one year, but finished the second draft of my memoir. My husband and I went to individual and couples counseling; altogether, we saw more than six therapists who were either psychiatrists, psychologists, or MFTs. Though our communication somewhat improved, the underlying problems in our marriage did not. He went on disability for a full year for a fourth karate injury. I couldn’t understand why a grown man wouldn’t listen to his body and quit doing a sport that was not only hurting him physically, but also hurt our marriage emotionally and financially, as he was the primary breadwinner. Additionally, we had to put Winston to sleep on May 10, 2013. After 10 1/2 years, I had lost my best friend, my side kick, and the best dog ever. Between the absence of Winston and a shell of a marriage, our house seemed empty. #majorsetback3
A life-changing decision: 2014
When I saw this photo of myself taken at a private party at our favorite LA wine bar, I was shocked. I had just won the first blind tasting round. I was close to landing ‘my dream job.’ I was wearing one of my favorite dresses. I was even having a good hair day. But as the picture shows, I was not happy. My forced smile couldn’t hide the deep lines of stress in my face or the vacant, hollow look in my eyes.
As our marriage was failing, Blue Faery began succeeding. Funny how the universe works. Suddenly, people were paying attention to liver cancer and they were paying attention to my desire to help liver cancer patients. I began focusing more of my time on Blue Faery, but I still needed a stable income. I wrote a detailed, specific, bullet-pointed list of everything I wanted in my dream job. I landed the job and started Friday, February 7. After receiving an excellent 90-day review and a 10-percent raise, I was fired on my 100th day. Talk about a bitch slap from the universe! Damn. #majorsetback4
That same spring, I was working with an editor on my book. He said my memoir was the best book he had ever edited in his entire career. He said he gave my book to Nan Talese, a well known editor at Doubleday. He even asked me to work for him, and we negotiated a salary with an anticipated start date of early September. After I sent him his final payment for his editing services, he disappeared. Poof! Vanished. Despite numerous emails and phone calls, I never heard from him again. #majorsetback5
In September 2014, I made a life-changing decision. I had to leave Los Angeles. I had been unhappy in the City of Angels for a long time. I had been unhappy in my marriage for a long time. Though the universe had given me numerous signs to change my life, I had been doing the same things. Over and over and over. I was a hamster on an exercise wheel. Always running but never getting anywhere. From my perspective, the single biggest change I could make was to change my environment.*
The time of my life: 2015 – present
After careful consideration, I returned to Birmingham, where I attended high school and where my sister Adrienne was born. I have some family and friends in Alabama, and all of my family lives in the Southeast. Though I doubt I’ll be here forever, rediscovering my inner Steel Magnolia was what I needed. Until I was willing to embrace change — to jump off the cliff, to trust the universe, to believe I would grow wings before I hit the ground — I remained lost, frustrated, ambivalent, and indifferent. As a storyteller, I had become the master at Fakebooking it. And then, one day, I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t pretend to like my life. Facing my fear and loving myself for exactly who I am was the best thing I have ever done — for ME.
*I’ll share more stories about Living in the South and my many adventures since I’ve returned to Alabama.
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