This week I did an interview over several days, between work schedules
Ethan: Tell us a little about yourself…
Joanna: Well, I was always a “smart kid” growing up and was primed to be a success. However, I had always dealt with depression and feeling like I was an “outsider” to the world itself, and, like so many others, mental illness got the best of me and ran me off track for a long time. I dropped out of a university I had a full scholarship to and got into a toxic, abusive relationship. That relationship was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and started therapy and medication, and I cut ties with my abuser and got back in school. I had several more bumps and bruises along the way, lots of heartache, a few relapses and some unhealthy behaviors, but I began to really find my way.
Thankfully, I managed to fight my way to becoming a success story. I finished my bachelor’s with a 3.5 and was awarded a full scholarship and stipend to get my master’s in cybersecurity, so I moved from tiny Rainsville to Huntsville. Here, I’m halfway through my master’s, I recently began working as a software contractor for the Army, I met the love of my life, and I’ve found a creative outlet by joining a metal band. (I play bass and sing.) I finally feel “normal” and I’m truly happy.
Ethan: Congratulations on your career by the way. That is awesome. I feel like we should throw career parties instead of just baby/wedding showers
Joanna: Thanks! Career parties would definitely be a fantastic idea.
Ethan: Tell me more about going to therapy, was that hard for you? There’s such a stigma on mental illness, no one feels comfortable discussing it, especially with their Doctor.
Joanna: It was very hard at first. When I went for my last appointment, my therapist told me that it was so difficult to get me to open up in the beginning. I was very surprised to hear that, because I felt like I was just cutting open my heart and baring everything. I do know I was resistant to actually take what my therapist said to heart for a while. I was arrogant and thought I knew myself best. Once I started implementing the changes and thinking techniques she suggested, though, I really started seeing changes.
I used to be afraid to tell people I went to therapy, too, because of that stigma and out of fear of what their reactions might be. Now, though, I’ve become much more open about it because I do want to fight that stigma and I want people to know they aren’t alone. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told someone about my illness and then been opened up to about their own struggles, because they feel safe talking to someone else who they feel understands and won’t put that stigma on them.
People are so afraid to talk about medication, too. “Natural health” is such a big fad these days, and a lot of people will look down on you if you take “unnatural” medication to try to help yourself. I hate that. Medication is available for a reason. I’m a completely different person on mine, and that is NOT a bad thing. I can function as a human, appreciate my life, and mostly avoid the depression and mania that have plagued me and almost completely ruined my life many times.
Ethan: Was it difficult to become aware that you were in an abusive relationship? Not all abuse is physical. That’s the only reason I’m asking.
Joanna: It was indeed physical, but I knew the guy for years before it started happening and I should have seen the signs. I hold no ill will toward him now; he had plenty of problems of his own contributing to his anger problems, but the whole relationship did change me deeply. I’m one to love as hard as possible and give as much as I can. When you’re trying to do that for someone who screams at you, calls you every disgusting name in the book, belittles you, gaslights you, breaks your things, threatens you, and physically harms you, it is so draining. It took all the life out of me. I got to the point where I didn’t speak unless spoken to, and I floated through our house as silently as possible, like a ghost, for fear of inciting his anger. He could go off for no reason at all. I was terrified, but I loved him so much and I thought that if I just loved him hard enough that he would be able to change. I would say, now, that that’s rarely, if ever, the case with abuse. I sincerely hope he’s doing well now, though, and I hope he’s gotten help and is able to love the right way.
Ethan: You’ve always really searched for growth and improvement. Has there been any push back for that?
Joanna: The only push back I truly had against growth and improvement, personally, has been in romantic relationships, interestingly enough. (One could argue that my old-fashioned, churchy family may have held me back in some ways, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree, but that’s another discussion entirely.) Especially with my abuser, he made it difficult for me to go to college classes or make connections with people or even think for myself, really.
Ethan: Has the Bible Belt changed to you since 2016?
The Bible Belt… well, originally, I was a very typical Bible Belt girl, myself. But, at this point, having seen the things I have, I’ve become much more cynical, especially toward modern ideals of religion. I feel that religion at its best should lift people up, and religion in America today does precisely the opposite of that. It holds people back, in ideals, in education, in love for their fellow man… So many people, too, just vote for a candidate because said candidate claims “Christian” ideals, but they get in such a religious fervor that they fail to examine the actual policy side and end up choosing candidates who are only claiming Christ because they know that gets votes. (Disclaimer: this is just in general. I know that there are religious people who practice their religion correctly and use it as a positive force. I’m just speaking on my observations, especially as it relates to today’s divisive political climate…)
Ethan: Tell me more about your career, do you find it hard to separate your ambition from your relationship?
Marriage vs career
Without even realizing it maybe?
Joanna: I’m in love with my career field. My current job is great, and I can’t wait to see what I’ll get into once I finish my master’s next spring. I am so incredibly lucky because my boyfriend, Jake, is just as ambitious as I am. He’s an electrical engineer for NASA and I am so proud of him. We both inspire and push each other to be our best. We’re both huge advocates of education and we’ve both worked very hard through personal struggles to get to where we are. And now that we’re playing music together, too, we can strive for greatness in that as well. It’s the best, healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in. For us, there is no marriage vs. career debate, because we’re a team, partners, equals, going out to kick life’s ass together and enjoy and enrich each other along the way.
Ethan: Thanks so much for doing this,Joanna.
Joanna: Thank you! I’m thrilled you asked! Photo origin
Joanna works as a software contractor for the Army. And studies M.S. in Cybersecurity. She lives in Alabama.