Some might say I have been cursed, but I am blessed. I have not always felt that way, but as I see how the craziness that was my life, and at times still is, I see where God has used all that craziness to develop the woman that I have become.
I spent most of my childhood in a little town in rural Indiana. I was an odd child from the start. I wasn’t one for talking much, and I just never seemed to fit in. I was an introvert to the Nth degree.
My silence covered so much. First, I was undiagnosed autistic. I longed to be more verbal and more social, but it was just totally against my nature. How was I to know though? It was rarely diagnosed in those days, and only for the severest of cases. But I knew I was different, and I carried that shame silently for years.
And there was another shame I carried: sexual abuse. In many ways, I was the perfect victim. It didn’t take much to keep me quiet. In all honesty, it was so frequent and by multiple perpetrators, that I never knew I was being abused. I thought everyone carried these secrets, and the burden was heavy.
By the time I hit 14, I had a nervous breakdown. How I managed to graduate high school at all is a miracle, let alone graduate Salutatorian. The one thing about autism was that I was good at memorization and parroting, so test-taking was easy. The flip side was, I didn’t really learn a whole lot, even in college.
I was 17 before I realized I was being abused, so no surprise I had another nervous breakdown. I had one semester left, and I barely made it through it, then left home to live with my sister. The problem was thatÂ I had no idea how to function in the real world. Between undiagnosed autism and a load of psychiatric problems, I couldn’t even leave my sister’s apartment, terrified to even get the mail.
This continued for the next year. I was in therapy, but I was a mess, and it seemed like no one understood.
And then came Steve. We were set up on a blind date. Big problem though, he was 32, and I was 18. Neither of us was really interested in the other, but neither of us was working, so we ended up spending a lot of time together. Steve was a recovering alcoholic, and he was the first person that understood what it was like for me. Later, of course, he would be diagnosed with his own list of issues, including social phobia. We were quite the pair!
But Steve believed in me, and he understood my fear. He went with me to put out job applications and held me when I cried, and in the end we fell in love. In many ways, we were an odd couple, but yet we were so much alike. He even brought me closer into my faith with God, challenging me to study the Bible for myself.
We were far from perfect though. When I was almost 19, we both found jobs and moved in together. The next month though would be one of our greatest tests. I had barely turned 19, working my first job as a third-shift convenience store clerk. I thought I was safe. It was a little town, and the cops always checked in on me several times a night, but I was wrong.
June 6, 1988: I was cleaning the parking lot outside in the predawn hours when someone touched my elbow. That someone was the Gaiser Park Rapist. He would kidnap me at knifepoint and then rape me. I remember looking up at the stars and praying that God would just let me get home to Steve. He answered my prayer, but I will be honest, there were so many times since then that I wished I had just died instead.
The following years were, well, they were. I stuffed the pain, trying to be the good little Christian and forgive and forget (oh, how I hurt myself with that). I also blamed myself because I was living in sin when it happened (I definitely needed to rework my concept of God). I numbed myself with food. Steve and I got married, and I had two babies back to back, bottling everything up inside.
Then my life came crashing down around me as all the stuffed emotions caught up with me, and I ended up in therapy again. Then somehow I ended up in college with two in diapers. Well, “somehow” was because after the kidnapping, parts of me died, including my ability to write, which was my love. I gave up on my dream of being a writer and decided I’d better go to college. I decided to be a teacher.
Don’t ask me how I managed college with all of my issues and two young children, because all I can say is by the grace of God. Four years later, I finished up, started my first time teaching in a private school, ended up pregnant for the third time, and then quit my job. I just couldn’t do it. I ended up teaching at a small, public school as a Title 1 teacher’s aide. It was actually the perfect job for me, and I was a good teacher, but I just couldn’t do it. What I didn’t understand was that I was autistic. Dealing with the kids was one thing, dealing with adults was a completely different story.
So I gave up. I ended up homeschooling my kids and became a hermit in my rural Indiana home. My writing had come back during that time, and I did write two books, but marketing just wasn’t happening. I tried but failed.
In the meantime, a series of events would happen to Steve, and the man that had been sober for the first 12 years of our marriage began to misuse drugs and then drink again. The next six years were a downward spiral which included a suicide attempt, arrests, and eventually violence. Due to the increased violence, I made the decision to end our marriage, but I still loved him. It just wasn’t safe for me and the kids anymore. Ten months after the divorce was final, Steve was dead. He drank himself to death. I still feel the loss today.
During those difficult years with Steve, I was finally diagnosed as autistic. It was a relief. I wasn’t a freak, I was simply different. With the relief though was also a sense of hopelessness. I understood why I had failed so much in the past, but there was no help for adults on the spectrum in rural Indiana. So I resigned myself to living on disability.
Then came my knight in shining armor, or so I thought. A man who said he was an ordained youth minister and classical pianist along with a long list of other accomplishments came into my life, saying he loved me just as I was and would help me. There was a whirlwind romance where he swept me off my feet. The problem was he lived 1200 miles away.
We had only been married for six months when the first argument happened, and from there, it was basically over. The person I thought I married seemed to disappear more and more each day, and the person he was becoming was emotionally abusive and controlling. I wanted to leave but was trapped.
God made the way though, and I was able to get away about a year later, but then my life would go crazy yet again. I went for routine blood work with an HIV test thrown in. I wasn’t ready for it to come back positive. For the next month, I would be going to a ton of other appointments, but it took about a month for me to get my first medical appointment, so they could see my numbers on the virus.
The next day, I got a call asking if I could make it in again. They said they had some good news and some bad news. The good news: I was HIV-. The bad news, I wouldn’t be seeing them anymore since I wasn’t HIV+. I would later be told that they thought it was a blood swap, and I felt so badly for the person who was told they were negative only to later be told they were positive.
My life would continue to be crazy. I did the best I could, but my youngest was dealing with alcohol and drug issues along with mental health issues. I lost my apartment. The next year and a half would be spent bouncing. I lived without heat, water, and electricity for a while. I rented a bedroom for my son and me at one point. Then I slept on my daughter’s couch for over a year while my son was getting mental health help.
At this point, I was finally able to rebuild. I got help and found a job as an editor. Even though the living conditions were not great, I had a couch to sleep on. There were five of us crammed into a small, one-bedroom apartment. My daughter, her husband, and my grandson slept in the bedroom, I slept on the couch, and then a man I had maybe met once came to live with us and slept on the floor beside me, so it was a tad bit awkward.
But I rebuilt. I was working, gradually increasing hours. I clung to my faith in God and started attending a church where I met an amazing man. Al was in my life for two years, and I was so blessed to have him. God knew I needed a safe, father figure (versus a romance), so he gave me Al. I rode the bus for an hour to get there on Sundays, so he said since I rode the bus there, he would take me home, but of course, he had to feed me first.
That was our routine for the next two years, as long as Al was physically capable of driving. Dec 5, 2014, at the age of 84, Al went home to be with the Lord. Through his gentle, fatherly love, I learned so much, including the love that my Heavenly Father has for me.
So here I am today. I have my own little apartment and am working full time. I am closer to the Lord than I have ever been. And I have more hope now than I have ever had before in my life.
But I don’t want to stop there. Sure, I would love to sell my books and my paintings (another thing I lost for years after the kidnapping), but that really is nothing. What I want most is to show others, who may be living in the darkness that I lived in for so long, that there is hope. You are not alone. Ultimately, I would love for everyone to come to know the loving Father that I know, but if you are not there yet, that’s okay. I’m not going to beat my belief over your head. But maybe as I share who I am, where I came from, and where I am today, you will see my belief alive in me, and it will give you hope. There is light in the darkness, and I hope I reflect that light of Love to you.
UPDATE: In Feb of 2017, I got sick with what I thought was just a nasty bug. Unfortunately, I never got better. In fact, after the doctor gave me a Z-pack, I progressively got worse until I was at a point where I was gasping to breathe. The doctors could not figure out what was wrong with me.
The breathing issues got somewhat better after my throat was numbed to check my larynx, but I was developing more issues. Besides the breathing issues and consistently losing my voice, I was also having walking and balance issues.
Eventually, my ENT realized that heat made everything worse and thought I might have Myasthenia Gravis, a rare neuromuscular disease. He also started me on a medication to treat the symptoms, which I call Magic Elixir (Mestinon).
Unfortunately, the neurologists and neuromuscular specialist I had seen were unable to give me a proper diagnosis as the tests kept coming up normal. There is a small subgroup of patients who don’t have the known antibodies for this disease, and it would appear that I am in that subset.
In the meantime, I lived as best as I could with this disease. I spend months at a time homebound because heat intensifies my symptoms. I deal with muscle weakness and fatigue on a daily basis. I use a walker (now a rollator) and a cooling vest when I go out.
Update: I was finally definitively diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis. Although the disease has been debilitating, I am on a treatment program that has helped me to stabilize. There is no cure for this disease, but I will continue to follow the Lord and do what He has asked me to do. I may be weak, but He is strong. So I will walk on even if I go slowly.
I continue to serve the Lord as He sees fit, but I am human. I get discouraged and depressed.
As with everything else in my life, I want to be transparent. I want to share my journey so that I can help others.
I do not know the path that God is leading me down, but still I follow.
Join me as I journey on…