We Didn’t Know Our Son Was Autistic Until He Was Ten Years Old

Autism is a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, unique strengths and differences. Every person with Autism is different than any other person with Autism. Some people may have certain challenges or behaviors that someone else does not have. Some are nonverbal and do not speak. Some are extremely gifted (like Rain Man).

Some appear “normal” but struggle internally, socially, mentally. These people are referred to as “High Functioning Autistics”. My son, Trey, falls under this category, which is part of the reason that it took us ten years realize that he needed help. Yes, that’s right. We didn’t know that our son was autistic until he was ten years old. Looking back, there were more than enough signs from the age of one to two that could have, should have made us wonder if his quirks/behaviors were “normal”. But, he was functioning, and his behaviors were not so disruptive or abnormal that we were concerned. Trey is my middle child, so with most of his behaviors I thought “every child is different. He is not like his brother”. And, there are ten years between the two, so my memory was not as fresh on how fast a child should be progressing at certain stages.

It took me longer to wean him from the bottle. He was four, almost five before he was fully potty trained, and had a pacifier until age three or four. And not just one. He had multiple pacifiers at all times–one in his mouth, one in his hand, and one in his pocket. He has always had someone lay down with him until he goes to sleep, even now at eleven years old. He woke up multiple times every night. He never wanted to sleep.  Naps were very rare. He walked on his toes and still does sometimes when he is excited or anxious. He cried every single time I vacuumed the floor and hated fireworks. He did not like change at all: changing babysitters, changing Sunday school teachers at church (he was in the classes at least one or two years past what he should have been). His first year of preschool, I was called A LOT because he was crying and nobody could calm him down. He even ran out of the classroom and into the parking lot once! There weren’t many specific instances that I was called to school between kindergarten and second grade, but now that I think back on it, I  believe the teachers didn’t make a big deal out of his behavior because it’s fairly common for kids that age.

When he went into third grade, my oldest son was a student teacher, and it happened to be for Trey’s PE class. His PE coach stayed in communication with us both and would tell my older son things that happened, such as him crying or being picked on, and she would email me about it. One day I was in the car line to pick him up, and she came and told me that Trey was inside crying and no one could get him to move. I left my car in the line (there was no moving it out of line) and hurriedly ran inside to see what his problem was and to get back in my car before the line started moving. When I got inside, he was hysterically crying. I asked what was going on and was told he was upset because his car rider tag that he needed every day got ripped in half. No big deal, right? In his mind, it was a huge deal, although I did not know it at the time. I had so much going on in my life, this incident did not raise any red flags to me. My husband had been commuting to Arkansas for work for two years at this point, and was only home on weekends. I had a senior in high school and a toddler at home with me. We were also preparing to move to Arkansas as soon as my oldest graduated. So we were selling our house, looking for a new one, and to top it all off my youngest developed a very severe infection that required multiple trips to Dallas Children’s Hospital.

We moved to Arkansas a month after graduation. Trey, age nine, would be starting fourth grade in a new town, a new state, a new school (that is massive by the way compared to his previous school). We had always lived in the country, with few neighbors and nobody his age close to him to play with. We moved into a neighborhood with tons of kids to play with. Perfect, right?? Nope! This is when I started to get concerned. Neighbors would call me and tell me that he was in their yard or driveway crying and would not stop or move, and they didn’t know what to do. It was usually a reason that I felt was silly to be crying over, but he thought it was a major deal. It was not long after school started that I was getting phone calls from the teacher, the counselor, and the principal about his crying in class or refusal to participate.

They pretty much told me that it was absolutely not normal behavior for a fourth grader to be having and felt we should have him evaluated by a psychiatrist. We knew something was definitely not “right” about his behaviors. Being brand new to the area, they directed us to the program that the school used for evaluation. The testing process took months and months. He took two or three types of tests, I took a test, and his teacher took a test. In the meantime, we still didn’t have a diagnosis, but he was seeing a therapist once a week that came to his school, and he was slowly improving. Finally in the spring, we got a diagnosis from the psychiatrist and were referred to the psychologist for explanation. The doctor asked if we know what Autism Spectrum Disorder was. We didn’t. I always associated Autism with the movie Rain Man. He took out a book and flipped to a page and said, “Here. Read this.” We read the symptoms and signs of ASD, and our jaws dropped. This was Trey. Although not every symptom fit, there were more than enough that did. He was also diagnosed with Anxiety.

Autism is a complex thing to diagnose because the symptoms and signs vary so much between each individual. And with Trey being high functioning, it was easy to miss the signs. If we had been educated on Autism, we could have had him in therapy ten years sooner. I felt so much guilt for not catching it, all of the times he got in trouble for crying for no good reason, getting yelled at for walking on his toes, trying to force him to eat SOMETHING different. Haircuts were the absolute worst when he was little. We had to bear hug him every single time, so we let his hair grow out until we couldn’t stand it anymore. Doctors visits, shots, taking medicine, dentists–we dreaded every single one of those. He has gotten much better with the doctor visits, dentist, and shots, but still can’t swallow a pill, which makes giving medicine to an eleven-year-old difficult. Everything has to be liquid. But, he is a pro at haircuts now and has even experimented with different hair colors!

He has a Sensory Processing Disorder as well. Bright lights hurt his eyes, sounds that are normal to us are magnified to him, smells are extra strong. He is sensitive to tastes and textures. He does not like wearing clothes. They can not have any tags and must be super soft. He does not like to be touched or look you directly in the eyes, and he has dark circles under his eyes. He does not like to leave anything unfinished, such as a game or activity. He is kind of childlike. He plays better with younger kids. Most kids his age are on another level of maturity. For instance, he collects “plushies” (stuffed animals or characters). He sleeps with them and likes to take one or more with him when we go somewhere. His little brother loves it. He is five years younger. His older brother does not seem to understand why he behaves the way he does, even though we have told him why.

We definitely had to make adjustments in the way we parent him. Normal parenting techniques go right out the window when you are dealing with Autism. We had to realize that his brain does not work the way ours does. He does not know how to tell you how he feels about something, which is why he cries. It is the way his brain tells his body to express emotion. He rarely smiles, but he is a very happy kid. I love to capture those rare times when he finds something so funny that he laughs and laughs and laughs. Most of the time what he thinks is funny, is not as funny to us as HE thinks it is. A really good comparison to Trey would be Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory. He does not understand sarcasm or joking. Everything is very literal to him. He is clumsy and uncoordinated and has been known to fall down while standing still. He is very subject focused, is interested in one thing or topic for a period of time, collects every toy, game, or book on that one subject. He does not like to get rid of ANYTHING. He has to be reminded or told to do things constantly, even things he does every single day. That’s a daily struggle for me. He does not like to go outside very often. He likes video games, legos, reading, board games, card games, and playing chess. He’s in the chess club at school. His favorite thing to do is go to the arcade and play games.

It can be challenging to do family activities that everyone can enjoy, but we seem to make it work. He has been on anxiety medicine for a year and a half now, and in therapy for almost two years. He has things that he has overcome, things he still struggles with, and he has learned to handle social situations that make him anxious or upset in a way other than shutting down and crying. He still has meltdowns, but we work through them, and he overcomes them much faster. He does great in school and gets mostly As. He has learned to seek out the kids that have the same interests as he does, and to stay away from the kids that are not so nice to him and pick on him. All of the kids in our neighborhood and their parents know about his Autism, so they are understanding and accepting.

We have an amazing church family, and he is part of the Junior Youth group. He loves to take classes during school breaks at the Community Center, such as Lego Camps. This past summer he took one on how to design video games. He absolutely loved that camp and designed four original video games that he got to bring home. His dream in life is to become a video game designer. I have no doubts that he can make it happen.

I would say that some of the most difficult things about being an Autism parent the questions and reactions from people that do not understand it. Like, when people suggest that we should really make him eat healthier foods. Believe me, I know this and if I could make him, I would.  They suggest that wejust take away all of the foods he will eat and only give him new foods, and that if he’s hungry enough, he will eat. No, he will not eat. The amount of anxiety and fear that he feels when he’s asked to try something new is beyond comprehension for the non-autistic mind. An autistic person will literally starve. They suggest that we should discipline him more and then he wouldn’t act the way he does. I heard this a lot when he was younger, and he had his share of discipline, to no avail. Different approaches and tactics must be used on the autistic child. I am no softy with disciplining my kids. Just ask the other two! People say that we can’t just let him have everything he wants every time he cries. I pick my battles with him. If I know he is legitimately upset about something, we work it out together and compromise. He does not always get what he wants. People have asked me, “Are you sure he has Autism? He looks normal to me.” Well, I’m pretty positive that he has it! Kids with Autism might have slight physical characteristics that are noticeable, like repetitive motions, lack of eye contact, walking on toes, dark circles under the eyes, but most are not noticeable in a high functioning Autistic.

All of that, plus the everyday frustration, constant fear, and worry that something will upset him and he will have a meltdown. Meltdowns are not fun for anyone within earshot or eyesight of him.

My advice to anyone that is just finding out their child is Autistic would be to educate yourself and everyone around you about all aspects of Autism, read everything you can, and do research. Get your child into whatever type of therapy they might need ASAP, because it helps. If you are in a small town with no resources and not so good medical options (as I once was), go to where the help is, even if you have to drive two hours to get it. Having a child with special needs is a blessing, in my opinion. Trey is the most unique, friendly, caring, loving, smart, honest, sweet kid you will ever meet, and I am proud to be his mom.

My goal in telling our story is to bring awareness and education to everyone, so that no parent has to struggle for ten years before realizing their child can not control their behaviors, by no fault of their own. Autism is not a bad thing, it is simply an adjustment in our lives. I am thankful for the opportunity to tell our story, and I hope it helps at least one person.

A great website about Autism is www.autismspeaks.org.

Another great resource is www.autisminvolvesme.org. This one can connect you with local groups in your area.

 

 

I’m More Proud of Him Than Any Other Man I Know

I was 19 when we met. He was training to become a police officer, and I had just started working as a jailer. I worked as a jailer for three years, but I’ve just started a new job recently as a dental assistant. We will have been together three years this November. When I became an RDA, he planned a graduation party for me and proposed to me that night in front of our family and friends while I was opening my gifts. We have picked November 17, 2018 to be our wedding date.

We live in a small community.  All the love and support he receives from the community is so rewarding. And, seeing his face light up and knowing he’s genuinely happy with what he does is equally rewarding. I’m more proud of him than any other man I know. (I may possibly be just a tad bit biased.)

Sometimes the police department participates in charity basketball games, and donations can be made. The proceeds are given to a local charity. I’ve never been able to volunteer with my work schedule. I would like to see more community events involving the officers that lets the public get to know them as actual people.

Since we’ve been together, the police department hasn’t had any galas or balls, but I think it’s a great idea and could be very beneficial! I think it’d definitely give the community and officers a chance to get closer. I feel having a good relationship between officers and the community helps those in the community to trust the officers more. It would just take bringing the idea forward, planning it out, and  picking a charity to hold the event for. Work out all the details, and I think it could be done.

Occasionally, we attend shift parties with other officers and spouses, but here lately both of our schedules have been nonstop. So we haven’t had a lot of time for it.

The growing negativity towards police officers in the media and other communities honestly breaks my heart. I had a grandfather who was in law enforcement and a brother in law and soon to be husband who are in it now. Every group of people you come across will have a bad apple, but that doesn’t make the entire group bad. That’s the same for police officers. I can’t say that I’ve been directly harassed as a spouse of an officer, but I know people who attack and put down officers on Facebook. I’ve never been singled out. I do worry about his safety. Who wouldn’t be worried about their significant other putting his life on the line day in and out? My sister understands this. She’s an officer’s wife too. But I just keep him covered in prayer when he walks out the door, and I trust that the Lord will keep His shield of protection around him.

To me, every day when he walks out the front door is scary. I never know if he’ll walk back through it. Since I worked at the jail, I saw his work more up close than most law enforcement wives do. It is a blessing and a curse. One of the scariest feelings I’ve ever felt is knowing he may not come home. He’s my very best friend, and I couldn’t imagine my life without him in it. Mostly when he works night shift, I find myself lying awake, unable to sleep because I worry about his safety. One of my biggest fears is that I’ll get a call saying he’s been hurt or worse. That’s where my faith has to come into play. It’s helped me to be able to rest when he’s gone. I know God has a plan and that He holds him in his hands at all times.

We are both very active in the church. He’s preached once at the church we just started attending a few months ago and plans to again. We’re actually looking at getting involved with the youth sometime in the near future. We don’t have any children yet–just fur babies. But as far as our future goes, I hope that we’ll get married and keep growing in our faith together. Then once the time is right, we can start our family and keep our roots planted here in Palestine where we’ve both grown up. I want my future children to do whatever they feel they are called to do. If that means being a police officer, then I’d completely back them.

Like I said earlier, not all officers are bad. That’s my message to the world. In every group of people, no matter the label, you’ll always have some that are “bad,” but that doesn’t make the group as a whole bad. Don’t label all officers as bad or crooked. Some really do just want to serve and help the public. These men and women are average, everyday people. They’re husbands and wives. They’re sons and daughters. They’re fathers and mothers. They’re brothers and sisters. They’re human.

If you’re marrying into the force, my advice would be never lose faith and always keep them covered in prayers. You can never pray too much, too big, or too small.

To read her husband’s story please follow this link.

 

 

 

 

I am Man Made

Know yourself and seek self-improvement. I didn’t know it then, but this Marine Corps leadership principle would be the basis from which I live my life. This is the story of me, a life lived, and a promise to myself to leave my mark. A telling of how I went from sitting on the floor of my room as a teenager wondering why I should continue on to how I ended up living a life based in positivity and service to others.

As a child I was your regular run of the mill heathen. My brother and I ran the
neighborhood with our friends doing what little boys do. Riding bikes or skateboards, building clubhouses, fighting, and or just going to a store to buy a drink and a candy bar was how our days went normally. But as I grew older, things would change. Friendships
would dissolve, the curse of puberty would create distance, and I was falling behind. As my body and mind began to change, I became more and more uncomfortable in my own skin. The only sign of me going through the same changes as my peers was my height. I
literally only got taller. My little brother, two years my junior, suddenly was becoming a man, and I was stuck as a tall child. High school years were social hell. I put on a public face when around peers just so that I could have some kind of normalcy. There I was, 6’5” 170 lbs., long straight hair, pierced ears, and lacking in every quality that would
indicate that I was a male. Though I participated in athletics, it just gave me more reasons to feel insecure. I just did not look the part. Then the comments started. “Stan-the-Man” became the moniker. I’d laugh it off and go along with it when the phrase would be used in addressing me, but it was just solidifying the obvious. I was different.
It came from all sides, and it was relentless. The few friends I did have had already began choosing to escape the harsh realities of high school by turning to drugs. This further isolated me and shrunk my inner circle to just a couple people. Then there was the suicide of a very close friend. He too was subjected to ridicule because he was different than the social norms. The difference between he and I was that his troubles didn’t end when he got home. For him, there was no escape or sanctuary. Our silence regarding his troubles, I feel, ultimately led him to his point of no return. For me this was the beginning of my own personal downward spiral into contemplating joining him. It wasn’t too long after his memorial service that I too found myself on the brink of pulling the trigger. I sat crying and repeating all the reasons to myself as to why I needed to just end it. Then, as if it was divine intervention, my need for music to be played constantly to keep my mind occupied became my rescuer. A song titled “It Can’t Rain All the Time” began to play. Suddenly, every word was clear and meaningful. I had heard the song a hundred times yet never listened to it until that day. That spark of light was all I needed.

Fast forward a couple years. I’m now out of high school, working, and lacking any sense of direction. The few remaining friends I had were off living life, and the visits with them became less and less. My relationships weren’t healthy, and I foresaw a life based
in regret and addiction slowly becoming a reality if I chose to stay in Palestine any longer. So, I decided that I needed to leave. I needed to be kept from home as much as possible until I grew stronger mentally. The military had all the answers. It would take me away, provide me with a job, and maybe even give a skill set that I could use once I
finished my contract. But which branch? Well, I was already doing something completely out of character so why not go big. So I raised my right hand and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. All I knew about the Marines was that they were bad asses and that they were superior to all fighting forces around the world. When I told my family that I had enlisted in the Corps, I was immediately asked “why? Why the Corps? You should have gone to the Air Force. You aren’t built for the Marines.” “Now your brother on the other hand, he could be a Marine.” So there I was, Stan-the-Man again, lacking in any quality that would allow me to be successful in the Marine Corps.

Now fast forward four months. I’m graduating boot camp, my mother is present, and I was a changed man. Out of the 525 recruits that graduated in my company, 12 were meritoriously promoted. I was one of them. Stan-the-Man stood apart from other recruits and was moved up in rank. Could this be true? Was there more to me than I had thought? Or was it a fluke? Shortly after boot camp I was meritoriously promoted again. I had found something in me that I never imagined: confidence. In regards to the Marine Corps, you could not out-shoot me, your uniform would not be superior to mine, and you would not beat me in PT. I was a new man. I now had faith in myself. Then I came to the end of my contract. What now? Get out and go home? Stay in California? What would I do back in Texs? Well I did the one thing I swore I would never do. I went home. How do I face everything that sent me away? Am I failure because I came back? Great, Stan-the-Man was back. What to do? What job do I pursue that would allow my training and USMC skillset be relevant?

Palestine Police Department was the answer.  Again I was succeeding. I was thought highly of within the department and was around like-minded people, for the most part. I was sent to various schools for training in crisis situations as well as a sniper school in Oklahoma. Stan-the Man was now on a Crisis Response Team. Cool. Over the next couple of years, the realization that being a Police Officer in your hometown became more and more of an issue for me. Every call I responded to became complicated because I knew the offender. Calls to vehicle accidents scared the hell out of me because the chances were high that I knew the victim. This town I thought I knew so well began to show me a side of it that I didn’t know existed. I was becoming a cynic. There is a saying that truly defines what it means to be a police officer. “You deal with 5% of the population 90% of the time.” That fact began making me question everyone–their motives as well their intentions.

Time for a change. Now what? The men in my family at some point had chosen to make a living in the oilfield. My father and brother were already working in the industry. They made great money. I told myself “I don’t mind hard work and the influx of cash would be awesome. Hell yeah, I’m gonna do it.” The years flew by. I was no closer to happiness and self-fulfillment than when I left to join the Service. I began searching for answers. I had proven to myself that I could succeed and excel in stressful situations. I was making good money. I gotten into working out in the gym and was in good shape. But something was missing.

Then it hit me. It was there all along, yet I overlooked it every time it was present:  service to others. During my time in the Corps, it was when I helped junior Marines achieve their goals that I was happiest. While I was a Police Officer, it was the times I was able to rescue someone from a vehicle or help someone out in a time of need that I was happiest. While in the Oilfield, it was when I was training new employees in work practices, teaching them a “trick” to make their job easier, which made me the happiest.  While working out in a gym and guiding someone to achieving their goals in weight loss or getting stronger it was then I was the happiest. Boom, it hit me. Hard. The last time I turned a blind eye to someone and left them to their own devices was when my best friend shot himself. That was it. I swore that I would never let that happen to someone again and there I was fulfilling that promise to him as well as myself.

Realizing this and deciding to incorporate it into my life has made all the difference. I am going to help as many people as I can as often as I can. Be it as a personal trainer to someone, being seen doing positive acts to help others, or just talking and saying something that someone needs to hear. Since I’ve decided to live this way, so many doors have been opened. A friend that I had been training for some time introduced me to an author. The author then in turn asked that I be photographed and to have the pictured featured on her books. I was asked to play the lead in a music video for a nationally known rock band. The list continues to grow.  So here I am, Stan-the-Man, doing things that I never would have imagined and ultimately gave me all the confidence I needed in launching ManMade.

ManMade is an idea I had toyed with for some time but never had the guts to put it out there. ManMade is a brand I guess you could say, as well as an idea. It’s the ideology that anything you do, any accomplishment of yours, was done by YOU. YOU did it. YOU made it. There are certain aspects that you can accredit for your success: God, Family, Friends, etc… But in the end, it was YOU that did it. Your accomplishment therefore is ManMade. ManMade is based in positivity, motivation, and empathy. It encourages you to step forth and be the difference in someone’s life. Be the example. Set the standard.

When I finally realized and embraced the idea of positivity, I saw the world
differently. I saw the power it held. In 2016, I set out to earn my Trifecta in the Spartan Race series. It was beyond eye opening. With thousands of participants there, the mood in the air was almost tangible. Strangers helping strangers, old and young, men and women all just helping each other accomplish the common goal of just finishing the race.

So here I am present day, Stan-the-Man, trying to figure out a way to draw out as
many people as possible and raise the most money possible for the Paint Palestine Pink event as well as teaching myself the screen printing process for an apparel line to further spread my message. It’s as I sit here typing this that I can’t help but smile. The one time butt of jokes, awkward, shy, strange young man is alive and doing well. I did it. I survived to tell the tale. And so can you. Nothing is so bad that you can’t give it a go. Try one day. Because I promise you this, it gets better. It may not be tomorrow or the next day, but it gets better. Your calling will find you, and when it does, everything will make sense. Those around you may not understand why or what is it you are doing, but in due time they will see, as will you. Just do you. After all as quoted by Jean Paul Sartre “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.”

So I leave you with these little sayings I tell myself to get through my days:
It’s all a matter of perspective.

Everything is relative.

It can’t rain all the time.

Light and Love,
Stan-the-Man

Please click here to follow Man Made on Facebook.

 

The Heart of a Servant

When I joined the police force I was 21 years old.  I have been a police officer for over 3 years now.  My career path, life, and really my faith in Jesus Christ just led me into this profession.  Little did I know but I was being bred for this line of work my whole life.

Straight out of high school I was exposed to a lot of opportunities that helped me gain experience and allowed me to use my personal skills.  All of that paired with my walk with the Lord, and the Lord using me, really led to my career in law enforcement.  Joining a law enforcement agency is different from agency to agency, but most municipalities have a civil service exam you must pass before being considered a candidate.  That can be followed by multiple interviews, a background check, polygraph/psychological tests, and a medical exam.  Most agencies tend to stick to a similar process, but not every agency is a civil service agency.  Civil service meaning you have to pass the civil service exam.

My first day was very interesting to say the least.  But, it wasn’t like what you see on TV.  You’re not chasing people every time you turn a corner.  It was mostly being a civil servant, helping people through issues, and then also protecting people as well.  The first call I ever went to was actually a reported shooting.  I arrived on scene with my training officer, and we found two guys that were shot by someone inside a nearby residence.  It was pretty intense and eye opening!  Thankfully, I have not used my weapon, and I pray that I never have to use it.

The most absurd call I have ever been on was a traffic hazard call where I showed up, and two citizens were stopped in the turn lane in front of each other.  Both citizens were yelling at each other to get out of the way, and both needed to get past each other in order to turn into the respective business they were trying to get to.

The most rewarding part of my job is really, truly being a part of the profession.  Being a part of a group of men and women who deal with the hardship and task of community issues.  Being a part of a group of men and women who carry that load and say, “not on my watch will the evil of this world triumph over the innocent people in this community” is truly an amazing blessing.

At first, my family was probably on uneasy grounds about me joining law enforcement.  Of course, what loving and caring family wouldn’t be?  This is a dangerous profession, and I think still to this day they are worried constantly.  But, they definitely support my decision and career choice.

I am not married yet, but I’m looking forward to marrying my fiancé in the coming year.  She is proud of who I am and what I do.  She supports me and my career, but I know every day when I put the bullet proof vest, badge, and gun on, she is a nervous wreck. My (future) brother-in-law is also involved in law enforcement.

There have been times I have been disrespected.  Unfortunately, it comes with the profession.  You deal with it with thick skin and forgiveness.  I have to realize that sometimes I deal with people when they are having a bad day or at the lowest point in their life.  So, these people are upset and angry along with their other feelings and emotions.  Now they are being talked to or stopped by law enforcement, which doesn’t help their situation.  So, I can not blame people for being upset.  Whenever they are disrespectful to me, I try my best to be professional and not only solve the issue at hand, but also provide direction and steadiness to whatever personal issue the individual is going through.

Some days are different than others.  Some days, I’m looking forward to helping the next citizen, and then some days I’m so tired and drained from working 5 or 6 days straight that I just want to stay home and sleep.  But regardless, every day I step out the door with a sense of pride.  I’m blessed to be able to serve my community and to do it repeatedly throughout the day.  But, to be honest, when I clock out and start heading home, I feel relieved.  At the end of the day, I’m tired, drained, exhausted, and just ready to get out of my dirty uniform, ready to see my family and enjoy a late evening show on television while having dinner.  I think most people feel the same whenever they get off from work.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hurt and disappointed by the increased negative attitudes some of the public has towards police officers.  I feel the increase of negativity towards the police is unsettling but if viewed right can be an outcry from the community.  Luckily, we don’t deal with too much negativity in our local community, but it exists, and there is no excuse for why this negative view is there.  It is our job as police to address the negative perception  and to make it a better one.  If we fail to humble ourselves and realize that we are not perfect, then we will not be exalted and reach that level of professionalism that the community deserves.  I believe our department is very humbled and willing to become a premier agency in our area. I’ve been blessed that, thankfully, I haven’t been put in any situations that I would say are truly scary, but I have been a part of some intense situations.

I believe our community reacts very positive to our police department.  You are always going to have a few individuals who disapprove of law enforcement, and that’s just part of the job.  Without a doubt, our department is blessed to have such a loving and supporting community to stand with us.

If you go to our city’s website, you can look and see what all programs/organizations our police department participates in and with.  Our department has a strong emphasis on community policing, so we try to be involved with as many organizations as we can be, whether that means sending an officer to their events or just being a part of the organization.

I’d like to see our community continue to grow.  Growth means progress, and I really would like to see our community continue to progress through the years.  I’d also love to see our relationship with the community as a department grow stronger with our community watch programs and youth programs as well.  The one thing I would like to tell people about police officers is that we are public servants.  Not only are we servants to the public, but also realize that we are human beings.  We have feelings, we have families, we have hobbies, etc.  We are just like the average working man and woman of this great nation.  I think people often forget this about us, and I feel that we as police officers often forget the same.

In ten years I really hope to be in a position to where I can be an effective leader for our community police department and also the community itself.  I’m here to serve God’s people, and I have been blessed with the opportunity to do that within the church and also on the streets of our community.  Be it God’s will, I’ll be still patrolling the streets and also ministering at my church, but whatever God has planned, I’m sure it prosperous and righteous.

For anyone considering joining the Police Department, I would say that this is not just another job.  If it is truly on your heart to be a servant, then go after it.  I often feel like people get into this profession for the wrong reasons, and when you come into this line of work you have to have a servant’s heart.  Also you have to be humbled enough to realize that your going to make mistakes, and that its not about you.  It’s about the people you serve.

To read his fiance’s/wife’s story on being married to a Police officer  please follow the link below. https://theinnerviewweb.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/im-more-proud-of-him-than-any-other-man-i-know/

To see what programs and organizations the department  participates in, please follow the link to the cities website.:

http://www.cityofpalestinetx.com/default.aspx?name=police.home

 

 

 

The Longest Ride of My Life

He was diagnosed at eight years old.  He had stayed home from school that day complaining of a headache to the point that he was in tears.  I thought it was his allergies or maybe a sinus infection.  Diabetes was the furthest thing from my mind.  I left him with my mother-in-law, and she noticed that he was drinking and going to the restroom A LOT.  She had a meter and decided to test his blood sugar.  She thought the meter was broken, because it just said ‘HIGH’.  (I know now that at that point, his blood sugar was 600 or above.)

When I got home later in the evening, she pulled me aside and told me what had been going on.  I asked my son if we could test his blood sugar one more time.  He protested and said that he didn’t want to play doctor anymore.  The number I got from the meter was 422.  So, off to the hospital we went.  We were admitted to the ER, and NONE of their meters worked.  The nurse informed us that they would have to perform a blood gas to get his correct blood sugar.  It was 935.  At this point, I knew what was going on.  They informed us that we would be transported to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.  He had yet to cry or anything and was taking it all like a champ.  We were freaking out.  That ride to Dallas was the longest ride of my life.  My husband and mother-in-law actually beat us to the hospital.

My son tests his blood sugar 6-10 times a day.  So, 6-10 finger pricks daily, depending on his blood sugar.  When we first came home, he was on two insulins:  Novolog (short acting insulin) and Lantus (long lasting insulin).  He would get three injections of Novolog and one injection of Lantus daily.  We had to learn very quickly about administrating his meds.  We had two days to learn about diabetes, its treatment, what can happen if blood sugars are too high or too low, and the long-term effects of diabetes if not controlled.  He hasn’t been hospitalized since his diagnosis.

He is on a pump now.  I wish we had decided sooner on the pump, but we didn’t.  He has had his pump since January.  A lot of sleepless nights and work goes into transitioning to a pump.  We started with classes at the hospital in Dallas to educate us about the pump, and we were sent home with it and saline to practice with.  Two days later, we went back to Dallas to “go live”.  For the next month, he and I would test his blood sugar every two hours to monitor it and make sure his basal rates were working. We do a site change every three days.  We’re now seven months in with the pump.  And, of course, we literally have ups and downs.

He didn’t cry or get mad until about six months after diagnosis.  I had already gotten mad, cried, all those things.  He wanted to know why he was like this.  He was tired of injections and finger pricks.  He was tired of feeling bad when blood sugars were high.  He wanted to eat anything he wanted without having to check his blood sugar.  Now, he is almost thirteen, and we take things number-by-number and day-by-day.  In 2016, we found a group for diabetics.  It was in a town about an hour away, but we decided we would go.  As we walk into this meeting, very nervously I might add, this lady asks our name and where we are from.  I told her, and the lady behind her goes nuts!  She had just started a group for diabetic families in our home town!  So, now we meet with our group Type One PALS the first Thursday of each month.

Diabetes does effect his school attendance.  We go to Dallas every three months to meet with his endocrinologist to test his A1C, etc.  And, sometimes he misses a lesson due to a low blood sugar or having to use the restroom.  An A1C is an average of his blood sugar in a three-month period.  His last A1C was 6.1!  That is a great number to be at.  Before that pump, his A1C was 8.0.  That is not a good number to be at.  He has had some scary lows and highs at school, but we have made it through.

We do not have anything to monitor his blood sugar at night except for me.  There are  service dogs for diabetics that help monitor blood sugar levels.  That in itself is hard work.  But, hopefully one day we will be fortunate enough to get him one.

My hopes for his future is that he NEVER lets diabetes control him.  It’s just a diagnosis.  It doesn’t define who you are.  He likes to play games on the Play Station, ride his skateboard, watch YouTube videos, and go hunting and fishing.  He does good in school and has learned to speak up for himself and his diabetes because people are not educated about diabetes.  His brother worries about him, but still treats him like a little brother.  And, his brother does get aggravated when his blood sugars are high and he is irritable.  But, we are reminded that we can’t take it personally.

My advice for any parent is to take it number by number and not to get overwhelmed, because it is overwhelming.  Educate people about your child.  If you don’t, then who will?

I’m very thankful that my mother-in-law decided to check his blood sugar that day.  If she hadn’t, I’m not sure where he would be today.

 For more information on juvenile diabetes, please visit http://www.jdrf.org/.

It Takes a Special Person

My name is Amanda Hinojosa, and I am a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN).  I have been a nurse going on 13 years.  I graduated October 18, 2005.  I initially joined the medical field in 2000 when I received my Certified Nurse’s Aide (CNA) certification from Cartmell Home.  In 2002, I decided to become a nurse.  I was so intrigued watching the nurses do their wound care, give injections, and save lives.  It took me about 2 years to complete my schooling.  The first year, I took my prerequisites which were Medical terminology, nutrition, and psychology.  The nursing program itself was a year.  I am the only person in my immediate family that is in the medical field and has graduated from college.  Since then, I have also graduated with my Associates degree and am now working towards my Bachelor’s degree.

Currently, I am working at Palestine Healthcare.  I have been in long-term care my entire career and specialize in Geriatric Nursing.  I did work at the prison for 2 1/2 years, and that was a very interesting and exciting experience.  However, I started taking classes at TVCC, and they didn’t want to work with my schedule, so I decided to return to the nursing home setting.  There are so many different areas of nursing, but long-term care is very unique.  Our patient load is heavier.  We usually have about 25 to 30 patients we are responsible for.  We do not have a doctor on-site, so when we have an emergency situation, we make our own nursing judgments and hope for the best until EMS arrives.

A typical day is pretty routine.  We have the same patients for the most part, with occasional admits here and there.  The majority of our patients are elderly, but we do have a lot of younger patients, and a lot of them have psychiatric issues.  I have seen a lot of things in my 12 years–some things you would never imagine.  So very seldom am I surprised anymore.  Normally we give meds, injections, wound care, assist with basic patient care, check labs, and document.  If there are any accidents or changes to the patient, we notify the physician and follow thru with any orders he may give.  Most days it’s pretty much smooth sailing, but occasionally we have an emergency or behavioral issue that we need to address.  Typically, I work anywhere from 40 to even 80 hours a week.  It mainly depends on if we are short-staffed.  I take call regularly, so I end up having to work extra hours.

Nursing overall can be very stressful.  It is a highly unpredictable career.  You never know what you will be getting into each work day until you get there.  And, the stress level really fluctuates.  Each time I work, my mind is moving a million miles an hour, thinking of what I need to do, what I might be missing, etc.  And even when I’m all caught up, I still feel like I’m missing something.  I try my very best to keep it all together during work.  The best part is knowing that you made a difference in someone’s life like when you hear that a resident told someone that you were their favorite nurse or a family member acknowledges your hard work.  A simple smile on their face is rewarding enough.  The worst part is feeling like you could have done more to save someone or those times when we are verbally and physically abused by the residents.  It’s hard to stay professional in those moments, but we have to realize that a lot of times they don’t know any better.  We bite our tongues and turn the other cheek on a daily basis.

I love being a nurse and sometimes I’m reminded why I became one.  One memory I have is when I was a fairly new nurse.  I had a patient who was in her late forties, and she had end-stage cancer.  Her dying wish was to see her only child, who was in prison in Oklahoma.  His furlough was denied to come see her, so another nurse and I volunteered to drive her there ourselves.  It was a long drive–about 5 hours.  She had a hard time making the trip and got sick several times, but we made it!  She got to visit him for 2 hours.  She was so thankful and so happy.  A few weeks later, she passed away.  Knowing that I got to help make that moment possible was the most rewarding feeling in the world, and I will always be grateful for that.

To someone who is thinking about becoming a nurse, I would say:  When it comes to nursing, you have to do what feels right to you.  Every career has its ups and downs.  You’re going to find out what your strengths and weaknesses are fairly quickly.  Don’t get discouraged, and always treat your patients the way you would want your loved ones treated.  I love being a nurse, and I can’t see myself in any other profession.  I have to admit that I do have days when I wonder, “why?”  The gratification doesn’t come from pay, or however many years of schooling, or even what position or title you hold.  It’s the patients and what you may receive from one out of a thousand of them.  That’s what makes the difference and keeps me going.  It takes a special person to be a nurse, and I believe most nurses know that they possess that special quality before they make their decision to follow a nursing career.

Away From Home

I am 19 years old and am about to start my second year of college as a second semester junior.  Last year was my first time living away from home.

In high school, I was an athlete and top student.  I kept a small close-knit group of friends and was not one to stay out super late and go to parties.  It’s not that I wasn’t allowed to do those things, I just chose not to.  College introduced a world where there was something to do and a party to go to every night of the week.  During the first semester I found myself enjoying a party lifestyle.

Honestly, I have handled the freedom of being on my own really well, which surprised a lot of people.  Maybe a little too well!  I stayed motivated to go to class and study despite partying, because I know that I am there for one reason, and that is to get an education.  I knew that if I got all my school work done, I could reward myself with partying.  I busted my butt Monday through Thursday to finish all my work so I could start my weekend festivities.  But, I also knew my mom would not be happy with me if she found out my grades started slipping.  One of my close friends from school couldn’t keep up with the work load because of going out all the time.

I am in a sorority now.  Being a part of a sorority has opened a new door to friendships.  It is nice to connect to a group of girls who are there to support me in every aspect of my college life.  My sorority is faith-based, and it has brought me a stronger relationship with God.  It has also provided me an outlet to connect to people other than through the party lifestyle I was previously living.  My best friend and I had looked for different Christian-based organizations that we could get involved with on campus.  We ran across the sorority’s Instagram and decided to attend an interest meeting to see what it was about.  When we walked into the room, it immediately felt like family.  So, that’s why I chose this sorority!

Since we are a faith-based sorority, we do not believe in any type of hazing.  There is also not a ritual or anything like that for someone to be initiated.  We have service events throughout the semester, and it’s usually doing different things around the city.  We’ve done a downtown clean-up garden project to help get ready for a big event and painted houses for those who needed help.  Our philanthropy is World Vision, and we raise money to support villages in different countries that need it.  This past semester, we were raising money to build a well in a village that needed clean water.

I also made some friends before I moved for school.  We have this camp for incoming freshman to attend and make friends.  We also have a week before classes start where freshman go and do all these courses to get us ready for college.  So, all of these things helped with making friends. 

I had a roommate my first year.  It was great at the beginning of the year, but then it became not so good towards the end when she got a boyfriend.  That experience prompted me to move to an off-campus apartment this year, where I will live by myself.

I am an Exercise and Sports Science major with a minor in Special Education.  I am supposed to graduate in about a year and a half, which is two years earlier than expected.  My favorite class so far is a tie between Motor Learning or Soccer/Softball.  So far all of my professors have been really awesome.

My favorite thing about college is probably being out on my own.  The things I miss most about home are home cooked meals every night and my family.  The first thing I do when I come home is ask my nana to make something for dinner I haven’t had in forever because I don’t have a recipe.  I also text my high school best friend so she and I can get together.

The Freshman Fifteen is so real, but I didn’t experience it thankfully.  My mom taught me how to cook growing up.  I cooked almost every night except when I had evening classes or meetings.  I rarely ate fast food, because I didn’t want to spend my money that way.  And, I walk everywhere on a campus full of hills, workout during my classes, and workout in my free time after classes or meetings when I can.

I do not currently have a job to pay for school.  I received a ton of scholarships last year that helped me pay for everything.  However, this year will be a lot different because I don’t have the scholarships, so I may get a job.  We will see how it all plays out though.

The advice that I have for someone heading off to college for the first time is remember why you’re there (to get an education), but at the same time don’t isolate yourself and not enjoy the experience.  College has a lot of fun things to offer.  GET INVOLVED!!  Colleges have so many organizations to choose from, and it’s a great way to network.    

Allergic to Myself

I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 17.  Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease of the intestines, especially the colon and ileum.  It can lead to severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, and malnutrition.  Inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease can involve different areas of the digestive track in different people.
For the longest time, it was in remission, and I had no flare-ups.  I had even forgotten I had it.  When I was in college, at about 20 years old, I had gone to El Paso to visit some people.  While there, I became very ill.  I had to suffer through the pain until we finally made it back home.  I still wasn’t sure what was going on.  I just knew I was sick with a stomach ache.  It would pass if I took antacid, but then I began losing weight.  My doctors were doing everything they could to figure out what was causing all of these problems but were having no success.  The stress of not knowing what was wrong, along with the active Crohn’s flare-up, caused me to be allergic to everything.  Everything would cause nausea–the smell of food cooking, the smell of perfume, drinking water, even my surroundings.  I was basically allergic to myself.
I was hospitalized for over 150 days while they tried to figure out what was wrong.  I was there from April to September the first time.  I’ve been to a few different hospitals:  Baylor University in Dallas, TX, The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and John Sealy in Galveston, TX.  I guess I was just hoping that one of these renowned hospitals would have a cure for this disease and that they would find out why my body was attacking and living off of itself.
The Crohn’s was taking all of the nutrients from my body and living off of my fat cells.  Once, I was hospitalized for 75 days and during that time, lost 105 pounds.  By the time they stopped the downward spiral, I weighed 99 pounds.  I had an extreme case.  I lost my father while I was in the hospital.  That was the toughest part of those 75 days.  That was the only time I ever questioned God and wanted to give up.  It was an emotional drain with the loss of my dad, and it prolonged my hospital stay.   The nurses become your extended family, but when you spend your holidays with them, it can drag you down emotionally as well.
My Crohn’s is located where the large intestine and small intestine connect and also in the lower part of the throat.  I have had five colon surgeries.  I have been fed through a central line in my chest.  I was placed on steroids, which eventually attacked my joints due to prolonged steroid use.  This is called AVN (Avascular Necrosis).  It attacks the blood supply to the joints and basically kills that area of the joint.  It eventually causes the joint to collapse due to bone fatigue and every day wear and tear.  It has attacked my shoulders, knees, ankles, jaw, hands, and now my back.  Some people are allergic to sulphur-based medications, and that’s what caused mine.  All of my joints have been replaced several times.  My bones are so fragile now.  My joint surgeries started in 1989.  I have to go back every 2 years, maybe 4, if I’m lucky.  My doctors have said that by the time I am 52, I will be totally dependent on a wheelchair.
After my diagnosis, I returned to college.  I received my license to be a Medication Aide and went to work with the state MHMR [Mental Health Mental Retardation] in private group homes.  I also became a history researcher, professional volunteer, helped people get their SSI and social security, and have acted as a victim’s advocate for cases being argued before administrative judges.  I have worked as a clerical tech and PBX operator and have spent the last five years with the Texas Department of Human Services.  I travel when time permits.  Stress, different types of food, and seasonal changes are all factors that contribute to my flare-ups.  My diet is pretty normal but somewhat bland.  I still cheat sometimes.  I can live with a taco from Little Mexico and food from the Hamburger Bar (both local favorites).
I want to give some recognition to my mother.  She had to be so strong for me after my father died–having to deal with her husband’s death and watching her child slowly dying and not be able to do anything.  She is a strong woman, and she is very important to me.  My illness drew my mom, my sisters, and I closer together.  There had been a lot of hurt feelings before my illness, and it gave us a chance to talk and clear things up.  You never know when you are possibly facing death or if you will wake up after surgery.  I wanted every “I” dotted and every “T” crossed to make sure everything was okay with everyone in case God made that call and I was to die.  My mother took the lead on that.  She held us all together.
My mother has passed away now.  She went to be with the Lord in 2005.  Her doctor had told us not to make any long-term plans with her because she wouldn’t make it that long.  When we were growing up she would always say, “Children, you all are not going to have a momma forever.  When you are prepared for that, it makes saying goodbye a little easier.”  We got to say everything we needed to say to one another.  I slept in a chair beside her hospital bed most nights.  Being prepared WAS easier.  It could have sent me into another flare up, but it didn’t.  That reaffirmed my faith, and I resolved never to give up.
As for now, I live life one day at a time, letting God be in control, and never, ever, ever giving up.  I just keep going and keep focused on having a positive attitude.  I’m just trying to miss Hell and get to Heaven without having to sweet-talk Saint Peter to get in.  I have a wonderful, beautiful, wise-beyond-his-years, intelligent great-nephew, who makes my life worth living and claims 100% of my energy.
If you are suffering from Crohn’s, keep your faith.  It will see you through anything that comes your way.
For more information on Crohn’s disease, please visit

What Happens In This House, Stays In This House.

Growing up, I was always taught, “what happens in this house, stays in this house.”  Our family always tried to paint this perfect picture.  With fake smiles in the family photos that we took every holiday, we always hid the misery and the pain that we endured year after year.  Living in a small town, you want your family to have a good reputation in that community.  We always put on our fake smiles when leaving the house, dressed nice, and acted as if we were a totally different family.  Nobody ever knew about the darkness and evil that lay behind the doors of our home.

When my parents were still married, I was just a young child in primary school.  Even then, as young as I was, I could tell they were struggling to keep the family together.  Hearing them fight most nights and trying to hide it from me and my brothers, my dad having an affair, and seeing how miserable and depressed my mom was, I watched my family tear apart right before my eyes.  I witnessed a lot more than what a  child should.  I was exposed to a lot of violence, drugs, and alcohol.  I always envied my friends’ lives–how happy they were, how perfect their lives seemed.  At times, I would try to bring up how crazy my family was and how my parents fought, but it seemed like none of my friends could relate or understand how I felt.  They would just brush it off like I was being dramatic and continue bragging about their oh-so-perfect lives.  So, I always kept everything to myself.

My parents would always fight, and I never understood why they couldn’t be happy together.  I watched my mom be thrown through a glass door like she was nothing to him. I watched my dad physically beat her, throw beer cans at her, and destroy the house in the process–throwing whatever was in reach and aiming at her head, throwing her around by her hair, slapping her in the face, yelling at her, and trying to control her. Being as young as I was, I knew how wrong my dad was.  Watching my father beat my mother, someone who did nothing but show unconditional love, devastated me and all I could do was cry.

The last time my mom dealt with my dad’s abuse and infidelity, I was 6 years old.  I remember sitting in my room and my dad walking in crying and hugging me, telling me that he and my mom were no longer going to be together and he was moving to a new home away from us.  I didn’t bat an eye.  I just sat there in silence while he had his arms wrapped around me.  Afterwards, we all had to pack and move.  My mom, my two brothers and I ended up moving into my grandparents’ home temporarily.  And everyone knows what comes after–divorce court. I was called into a judge’s office to be questioned.  I remember seeing all the animal heads hanging on the walls, the bear rug on the floor, and the glass jars with dead insects inside.  Although all of that was very fascinating to me, I knew what I was there for.  He asked me who I wanted to live with and how it was living in the home with both of my parents.  I said everything that came to my mind.  Then, I was sent out to go sit outside of a court room with some of my family to wait on the court’s decision.  My dad somehow got custody of both me and my brother.  I remember seeing my mom walking down the steps of the court house crying with my oldest brother by her side.  All I wanted was to be with my mom.  I didn’t want to be with my dad at all.

Living with my dad was a nightmare.  Although he bought us lots of toys and computers, and we had freedom, we were exposed to drugs, alcohol, pornography, and even ephebophilia (adults having sexual relationships with underage teenagers).  We ended up having CPS called on us.  I was at school when the principal pulled me out of class to go talk to a lady from CPS.  Nothing was resolved.  My dad hid everything very well and got away with a lot.

About a year later, my oldest brother got into a street bike accident and did not survive.  I remember my mom banging on my dad’s front door and yelling that somebody had hit him in an intersection and he was having CPR done on him. We ended up going home with my mom that night and our lives would be forever changed.  My dad pretty much gave us back to her.  She got custody of us again, and we basically spent the next couple of years trying to adapt to the change and not having my oldest brother with us anymore.  My mom started dating someone new after she left my dad.  She ended up marrying him a year later.  Things seemed great.  Although we still struggled with my brothers death, I was thinking I would no longer have to live that miserable life.

Just a couple of years into their marriage, I noticed my step dad’s attitude and his demeanor was starting to change.  I was thinking, “here we go again.”  He drank alcohol every single day–from the time he woke up until he would pass out on the couch from being so drunk.  He always had a cigarette in his hand and would sometimes fall asleep still holding one.  He smoked in the house and filled it with that horrible smell, smoking one after another, not caring how it affected anyone else.  Because it was his house.  He and my mom began fighting and arguing about money and little things.  He worked in the oilfield and made good money.  To him, money was everything.  The fights escalated very quickly.  And at times, we would lay awake all night on school nights because of the fights and arguments.  The next day, he would buy us things to make up for what had happened the night before.  The calm after the storm.  It got so bad that in ways, it reminded me of my childhood.  Seeing that as a teenager, I would almost have flashbacks.  I would try to do everything I could to protect my mom.  I would try to intervene, but she always told me to stay out of it.  I would sneak the phone in my room at times and call the police just to make the fighting stop.  It would escalate so quickly because he was so drunk and violent.

Eventually, he caught on to me calling the law. Some nights he would bust in my room and yank the phone out of my hands and yell at me.  He’s destroyed our home countless times–breaking windows and knocking holes in every wall and throwing beer cans.  Sound familiar?  He even knocked over and stomped on my mom’s sentimental things that she kept of my oldest brother and grandmother, who had passed away.  I dealt with the fighting over and over for years.

During that time, my dad was with a new woman who was into drugs really bad, and he ended up getting into drugs as well–almost every drug you could think of.  The main one was meth.  There were times he would pick us up for the weekend. He would drink and drive while arguing with his girlfriend with us in the car, witnessing all of it.  That’s pretty scary.  One particular evening, when my dad had dropped me and my brother off to my mom’s, I was hugging him to say bye, and he slipped his hand down my pants. I jerked back and asked him what he was doing, and he said he can do that because he made me and he’s my dad.  I knew then he was sick in the head.  After that, he didn’t really come around much.  He’s the type of father that would pop up randomly in our lives and try making up for the time when he was away.  He ended up losing everything and becoming homeless and a bad drug addict.  And, the only person he had in his life was his girlfriend.

Fast forward to my early twenties.  I still lived with my mom and stepdad.  Because of the abuse and everything that was going on, it had me so messed up in the head and worried about my mom that I couldn’t leave her alone with him for one night.  I was basically giving up my life to make sure my mom was okay and that he wouldn’t hurt her.  Because of everything that I had gone through, I ended up becoming very depressed and struggled with severe anxiety.  I isolated myself and cut off most of my friends because of it.  I was very lonely and witnessed the fights and abuse every night so I spent most of my days with my mom.

I met someone and I ended up getting pregnant when I was 20.  The abuse and fighting and alcohol was still going on all the time.  He was still smoking in the house everyday, all day, and I was thinking, “how am I going to raise my baby boy in a home like this?”  I remember being about 9 months pregnant. It was summer and very hot inside the house. We only had air units in the house because my stepdad wouldn’t pay to fix the central unit.  My mom put a small air unit in my window in my room to help keep me cool. One night, when he was arguing with my mom, he shut the door and locked her out of their room. She had to sleep with me.  Later that night, he opened the door and cut the cord to my air unit. My mom knew at this point she had to do something for her grand baby.  So, we both secretly planned to move out of the house that month and into a rent home so my son could be born into a clean, smoke-free, and peaceful home.

After moving out the abuse stopped, the nightmares stopped, the depression stopped, the anxiety and tension eased, my mom ended up divorcing my stepdad, and I was able to be around friends and not worry if my mom was okay or not.  It was like a brand new life.  Having my son changed everything about our lives.  And, I knew I would never go back to a life like that again.  And, I definitely would never let my children live a life like I did.

As far as my dad, we don’t really speak anymore.  He still randomly tries to pop up in my life, but only because I have a son now.  Other than that, he doesn’t really care about me.  He’s too sucked into a world of drugs with his girlfriend.  I basically don’t have a father in my life.

I’ve seen what alcohol can do to someone.  I’ve seen what drugs do to people we love.  I’ve seen people become selfish and evil.  Or, should I say, I’ve seen them show their true colors.  I’ve dealt with deep depression and anxiety and learned how much your childhood and what happens in your life can affect you long term in the future.  Never ignore someone that is going through depression, because it is real.  You never know what someone has gone through in their lives.  So, if someone is choosing you to open up to, sit down and listen to what they have to say.  You just never know what’s really going on.

My advice to the mothers who are going through domestic violence is to stop and think about how much it will impact your child’s lives in the future. No matter how much you love the person you’re with, think about the bad memories your child will have to remember. You want the best for your kids so you want to make sure they have a happy and peaceful childhood. Exposing them to domestic violence affects them too.

As for a teen who’s going through a similar situation, do whatever you can to protect your loved ones and yourself but make wise decisions about trying to help. Don’t always think that things will get better and the violence will stop. It doesn’t. You only get one life and one family.

The Call

I met the father of my two oldest children when we were teenagers, around age 15.  We ended up in a very long, very difficult relationship.  If I had to pick 3 words to describe it, they would be:  abusive, toxic, and unstable.  When we were 17, we found out we were pregnant, and we were forced to marry.  Our families decided that was what you did in that type of situation.  Both of us knew it wasn’t the best idea up until the minute we said “I do”, but we figured they knew best, and we were scared teenagers.
Austin arrived in July 1995 after a very long and stressful pregnancy, but he was healthy and happy, as were we.  As an 18-year-old new and still very naïve mom, I thought the baby would make everything better–that dad would become the husband and father of my dreams over night.  I was wrong.  Things only got worse, and now I didn’t just have myself to think of, but a baby as well.  Throughout this time, the word “suicide” was brought up quite frequently.  Should I try to leave, he would threaten to harm himself.  Should I do anything he didn’t approve of, it would always lead to a threat of suicide.  I was still very much a child myself.  I never had any special training to deal with this.  I’d never found myself in any place like this before, so I believed him.  It was only after years of doing this on an almost daily basis that I realized I was being manipulated.
Two years later, we welcomed the arrival of our second son, Alex–the one who would end up saving me.  Had I not had Alex, I’m not sure if I would have ever gotten the strength to walk away and stay away.  It was only after having him that something clicked inside me telling me I had no other choice.  They didn’t deserve this hell they were living in.  So, after 7 years, 2 babies, and lots of turmoil, I gathered my strength and I left, in search of a “normal” life for my boys.
Three years later I met my current husband of 16 years-my rock and a very important part of our story because he has loved us through it all.  And, by “us,” I mean my boys as well as myself.  He took them in and raised them as his own.
In March 2004, we had moved our family to California for a job opportunity my husband couldn’t pass up, but more importantly we looked at it as fresh start and a chance to take the boys away from the chaos they had seen with their dad, who was now seeing them very little, and who had gotten into some not-so-great things.  This day in March was like any other.  The kids were riding bikes outside with the neighbor kids, and I was sitting in a chair watching them and the phone rings.  I still remember this day like it just happened.

THE CALL.

Chad has taken an overdose and was not going to make it through the night.  My mind couldn’t even process what I had just been told.  No way!  This has to be another one of his “stunts”.  He won’t really die.  I mean, how could he after all the unstable years we had together?  He never actually tried to do it then.  I just couldn’t accept it.  I took myself into the bathroom, away from the kids and I cried, begged, bargained, cursed, prayed, anything I could think of to somehow convince God not to do this to my boys.  It didn’t work.  Just before midnight, I got the call.  He was gone.  Now I had no choice but to tell my kids.  What would I say?  How would I say it?  I went over it in my head all night long.  I thought I found the perfect words to soften the blow so to speak.  Then, morning came.  There they were.  Happy, “normal” kids ready for school.  I said, “sit down.  We aren’t going to school today.”  This was where I should have said all those words I planned during the night, but I couldn’t.  I froze.  No words would come out.  Only tears.  So, my husband said the words I couldn’t.
And he held them, and he cried with them, and there I was frozen in time, watching the children’s innocence leave their little bodies, never to be seen again.  And, that is why I can’t forget this day.  It started our nightmare.  They were 6 and 8 years old, and from this day forward, they carried an enormous burden.  The burden of suicide.  It was clear from the very start that Austin was going to suffer quite a bit more than Alex.  He was a bit older.  He had memories of his dad, and he couldn’t understand why.  Alex, on the other hand, was a little more resilient.  He didn’t remember much about his dad and had come to love Jeremy as his dad.  I believe it was their bond that helped Alex to move forward without as many issues as Austin.  He is our hero.  He stood beside us when we went through the loss of their father.  He was there for Austin as he had his own walk with suicide later.
From the start, Austin had an unbelievably hard time.  His little mind just couldn’t figure out why someone he thought of as a super hero could do this to him.  We started doing everything we could to help him through his grief:  counseling, medication, doctors, and eventually even a few hospital stays, all without much success.  Looking back now, I can see how the legacy of suicide really took hold of our family.  It was as if Austin believed his dad’s fate was also his fate, and nothing we did could convince him otherwise.  During these extremely tough years, I had many ups and downs.  I had lots of anger towards Chad.  I blamed him for selfishly checking out and leaving this all to me.  After walking through this with Austin, I now understand mental health, addiction, and even genetics so much more and have been able to let go of the anger and solely focus on the here and now.  The credit for this change goes to God.  I had come to realize it was only He that could guide me through this, and I had to start trusting him and stop bargaining with him.

FEBRUARY 12th.  THE SECOND CALL.

And the absolute worst day of my life.  Austin, who had been at his grandparents, his real dad’s parents, had hit a new low.  He decided he wanted to join his dad and picked up a loaded shotgun, put it to his mouth, and pulled the trigger.  He was critical.  I needed to get there now!  As disturbing as this feels to write, it was like all the years after his dad’s death, all the years of trying to help him, were a dress rehearsal, and this was the moment we had been building up to.  Every doctor we ever saw told me he would do this.  Just based on family history alone, he was a greater risk.  And, with his own inner turmoil over his dad’s suicide, it was almost guaranteed he would do it as well.  “Prepare yourself,” they said.  But, how can any mother ever just accept that and give up?  You don’t.  But, here we were.  This time, I didn’t bargain with God.  This time, I trusted him.  Don’t get me wrong, I was still a complete basket case and a mess, in shock, and not able to stop the crying for one single second.  But, I also had a huge wave of peace come over me.  This was God.  He had us.  I trusted Him.  I knew that no matter what happened we were going to get through it.  We were given a chaplain the moment we arrived at the hospital, who immediately took us to a private room where he  tried to prepare me for what I was about to see.  There was absolutely no way to prepare anyone for what was ahead, but he tried.  My husband, myself, and Alex were taken in to see Austin before they took him back for emergency surgery to try and save his life.
This would end up being another moment that feels frozen in time.  A moment I saw in my dreams for years.  A moment I never, ever, ever wish upon anyone.  The moment responsible for my telling of this story.  My child laying on a bed with half of his face missing, swollen huge, unrecognizable, and suffering.  My knees went weak and buckled, and I let out a cry that I didn’t even know I was capable of.  On one side of me, my husband held me up, and on the other the chaplain, so I wouldn’t hit the floor.  The encounter was brief because he needed surgery ASAP.  That moment didn’t look survivable.  Still, there was a sense of peace in my heart.  God was with him.  I just couldn’t believe any thing other than “His will would be done.”
He made it through surgery.  As a matter of fact, he made it through many surgeries–many grueling, torturous days in the hospital, and many months of recovery after the hospital.  He’s here, and he’s alive.  God worked a miracle right in front of our very eyes.  There is no other reason for Austin to still be here other than God’s mercy.  God’s plan for him is so much bigger than he ever even imagined.  I personally believe part of that plan is to break this legacy of suicide that he was left.
As for my plan, it has taken me years to even come to terms with what has happened in my 40 years on earth–years to accept that my son attempted to take his own life.  That’s a hard thing to admit–even harder to say out loud.  But, writing about it has been just what I needed.  It has made me realize that all those moments frozen in time in my head are there to use to help others, not to torture me.  I would love to know that just one person reads this and changes their mind about taking their life, or even that one person would read this and change their view on others who have tried taking their own lives.  People are complex and carry baggage that not everyone is privy to.  Be kind.  Be compassionate.  You never know when you could find yourself in a similar situation with someone you know and love.
Make no mistake. We do not have a storybook ending.  Everyone is not perfect and living happily ever after, but we ARE living.  We have a different outlook on life.  We have more positive attitudes, but most of all we have a stronger faith.  Austin still struggles, both medically with his injuries and mentally with his choices.  I still worry every single day that there will be another call, but I live today like there is no tomorrow, and I know that God will see us through anything that comes our way. No one could ever convince me otherwise.
In closing, I’d like to give out some non-expert advice from a mom who has walked through Hell to find peace.  Suicide is not the answer.  What suicide does is take your earthly struggles and gives them to the ones you leave behind:  your child, your spouse, your parents, etc.  Whatever you are going through right now, you can make it.  There have been moments in my life that I thought I just couldn’t endure, but I dug deep and I trusted God.  There is peace out there.  Seek it through God.
Please think of the legacy you leave when you choose to take your own life.  Choose to live.  Seek help.