Talks with Women #8

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. 

Love doesn’t hurt. Learn more about domestic violence Here .
If you’re struggling with depression and Suicide or just want to learn more look Here . 

Love and Other Drugs

The first time 

I saw love 

Was through my grandparents 

My grandfather cooking 

Breakfast 

With a cigarette 

And my grandmother 

Cooking supper 

They would sit in the same room

Reading together 

And it was just a feeling of safety…

  

I remember the first time I woke up in the middle 

Of the night 

To go to the bathroom 

And stepped on something wet 

In the carpet 

It became sticky on the hardwood floor 

Blood

And then I saw our father 

Just watching tv 

And he said something about 

Our mother being sick 
I got up later 

Around 4am 

And stepping over more …

Dark – heavy blood spots in the carpet- leading to the bathroom-

Opening the bathroom door …

there was our mother 

In the floor 

She told me to get her some water 

So I did 

A few hours later she was still there 

And our father was still watching tv

And I told myself this was perfectly normal …

That somehow he was taking care of her…
The first time you tell yourself this

You really know 

Nothing about this is ok 

And nothing about this is 

Normal 

two days in the bathroom floor 

Or 4 days in bed 
Years later 

I would Force that same bathroom door open 

She would hide  behind me 

And he would  pin me to the wall 

I remember when she finally left …

I remember constantly praying 

Until I didn’t feel so nauseous 
I remember when 

I saw our mother happy 

And remarried 

Washing dishes 

Together 

And cooking together 

I remember later crying 

Because I had never seen that before

It had never even occurred to me 

That it was anything that could be done together or romantic 
And years later 

After all the sorting 

And all the sifting 

And accepting 

And understanding 

Even now 

Sometimes 

I get so nervous 

And I wake up 

terrified that 

I will somehow 

Look at her like that 

That I will somehow slip 

Into insanity 

Or madness 

Or unlock all of those doors 

And I lie down 

And I want to touch her

I want to but I can’t 

And I have all of these flash backs 

And then she pulls me close 

In her sleep 

And my skin 

Doesn’t feel like glass 

And I can breathe again 
It’s no ones fault 

It’s just the way it was 

And these memories 

Are reflections 

Unexpected 

Like our mother 

When someone watches two ball games at once 

They flare up

And we have to kill them again 

It gets easier

It took me years to see it 

Abuse is abuse 

And we all wear our scars differently

But I remember what love looked like 

And I am reminded of it well 

When we cook together 

Read together 

Sleep together 

And when it rains 

And we stay in bed 

Ace



She said 

His eyes went to gray 

She said 

he always had an answer

She said ….

He portioned her out 

Body and soul 

He cut the cards

And she bet her life…

She fought the devil 

And talked to God 

She said…

She played the Ace of Spades.

You are not a muse

not a destination 

not a definition 

You are a woman 

Full blood 

Emotions 

That run thicker

And hotter 

than the earth at its core 

Your eyes have galaxies 

And your heart is the pulse

To the tide in the sea

Touching everything 

And it’s ok 

You are a woman

Flesh and blood 

Mars 1

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Image origin (unknown)

48 hours ago
I was sitting at home
Trying to be “the good wife”
Hiding envelopes
And emails
From Captain Welling
I kept putting it off …
My husband needs me here
You know ?
I’m a wife now

Not that ours is a marriage
Of novel status
He chases things
Dreams
And God
He calls me to his chair
Asking me to sit in his lap
His hands roaming over me
Under my shirt
But I feel nothing
Just nausea
“Do you love me?”
He asks
Don’t make me say it
Not like this …
I don’t feel afraid
Anymore
I just don’t care
I look at him
And try to get up
His hand grabs my wrist
Keeping me in the chair
He looks
At me pitifully
“I’ve been praying
I have a plan for us
And you can assist me”

I look at him
“I haven’t heard about this
Before
What about my degree?
I’ve been thinking about going back into it…”
He laughs
“You mean you think you can go and be something?
What,you think you’re better than everyone else?”

I just leave the room
God hasn’t told me anything about
A plan
Or assisting
I feel things
I’m a sensitive person
A feeler
But
Dammit ….
My husband
He uses my senses against me
To get the reactions he wants
Even going so far as physical anger

I feel empty
I feel useless
I feel …trapped
Isolated
I can’t breathe….
I can’t breathe

Sunday morning
Captain Welling came to my door
Tall against the afternoon
Sun
and very straight forward
His face was set
His eyes were earnest
And Sincere
But hiding something
“I need you,Anna you are the most qualified…it’s a one way trip…
Mars 1 is happening.
But
I can’t do it without you …
there are only 75 people Anna,you are the last of four.”

I put my face in my hands
All my work
All my writing
All my studying
What was I doing
Me and Welling
Went to school together
He knew me
Probably better than
My husband
A hell of a lot better
And then
I started to cry
“All my life I’ve had something heavy
I’m supposed to do weighing on me…
But I don’t know what it is
What if I miss it?
What if this is it?
I feel like I’m drowning
But I can’t just go…”

He smiled slightly and put his hand on
My wrist…
“You can
You’re more than this
And you are your own…
No one owns you…
Even in love
And I can tell you
Anna
This is it
There will be
No other shot
We leave in 26 hours”

space
It’s cold
Earth is far away
And there is no isolation
Compared to the feeling you get
When you watch it …shrinking before you…
I woke up with turbulence
Something was wrong
I turned my face to the glass
And saw
Earth collapsing in on herself
Dissolving
Shot through by a comet

I heard
Captain Welling
Communicating
To someone
But how?
Earth is ..gone
When Ariel
Stepped in the bay with me
And watched the light show before us
“It’s like the Fourth of July huh?”
I probably looked at her like she was a
Raving lunatic..she looked right back at me with tears in her eyes
“Listen,evacuating an entire planet
Was impossible ….
But getting the best
The alphas
The ones who can build back
That was a possibility
That’s why we needed you…
You can tell our story
You can help build
There are 300 all together
From around the world
Together
We can do this”

I looked at her
“300? How ?”

“We had just enough time
10 years to build and plan
To search for the right people”

“10 fucking years!”

“Listen,how would you like to go?
In panic
Counting down?
Staring at the sky?
Waiting??
With no where to go.
Or sleeping
Living
Fucking
Drinking
Completely unaware…
This is us.
The future.
No wars
No crimes
Only hope
Because that’s all we have
We either live
Or we die.”

I look back at the fragments
It’s hard to picture cities
And history
There
It’s like time
And sin
Somehow
Erased itself
I don’t know about this new possibility
Before us….
It’s hard to believe
But it’s better
Than the years I’ve spent
It has hope

Ariel turns back to me and smiles
“Oh and Anna…”
I think I see her fighting off crying
She swallows hard..
“Welcome to Mars 1”

4th of July

Today we celebrate freedom
We’ve heard a lot of opinions on freedom this week .
Where our nation was, where its going .
I remember when tornadoes wrecked the south ……we lost everything . People I knew , couldn’t finish a sentence for weeks …they were trapped in a horrific moment in their mind . They would just stop and stare blankly ….I finally just started taking their shopping list and helping them get what they needed .
We rebuilt …over time …we rebuilt ourselves . That’s what freedom is to me . Being able to see where you are …where you want to be and getting there .

I don’t have all the answers ….no ..don’t mistake this for that .
I’ve been working since I was six
When I was sixteen I got tired of handing my paycheck to my dad and living on potatoes …so I started buying food instead ( maybe he wouldn’t notice ).

Life is not about money
It’s not about things
It’s not about security
Stuff happens
It’s about being free to live the life you choose
I’ve worked out my salvation with fear and trembling
But I struggle with depression
I’m 24 but I feel like I’m 40
I wanted to be in arts
But I’m in business
Life happens
But I have the ability to live and grow
To determine where I’m going to be
Life is out there all around us
To me
It’s about people
Helping people
And taking care of those you love
Living and growing
And never settling
So on this day
When we celebrate freedom
I just couldn’t help thinking about all of us who say we are free
But live in slavery
Slavery to fear
Health
Abuse
Verbal and mental even physical
There’s all kinds of slavery and abuse
Today
I salute those who have broke free from these things that hold us
May we all live free .