Why do we think that we have to have someone else’s approval for our lives to matter? I have been looking for someone’s approval for most of my 54 years. I had a great childhood by all standards. We were the average American family. I lived with my parents and younger brother. My parents were your typical middle-American family. We took family vacations, spent time with my grandparents and were involved in the community. You could say I had a good life.
Early on in my teenaged years I began to feel that I did not measure up. I always wanted that “seal of approval”. Maybe it was because I lived in the same town that my parents grew up in. I went to the same high school that my parents graduated from. My dad was captain of the football team and my mother was a cheerleader and Miss York County. Some of their friends were now my teachers. I did not follow in their path; I was into theater and public speaking. My brother followed in my dad’s footsteps and was also captain of the football team. I guess somewhere during that time I felt that I fell short of their expectations. Looking back, I realize that they did not make me feel that way, it was completely on me. This was the beginning of me feeling that I did not add up. I felt like I did not have the self-worth that my brother had.
The years following high school were full of disappointment at least in my eyes. I became pregnant and then got married. That had never happened in my family before. I can remember the look of disappointment in my dad’s eyes the night I told him. He did get over it and loved David-Scott to the moon and back when he was born. My Grandfather had a heart attack shortly after I found out that I was pregnant. Of course, I blamed myself. In my mind it was the added stress of me being the first one in my family get pregnant without being married. I know now that it was probably the half a pound of bacon or sausage, eggs, and toast with butter that he had every morning that played a bigger part than me disappointing him.
The next few years were full of more disappointments. I ended up on WIC and food stamps, something that my family never did. I can remember going grocery shopping in the next county over because I did not want anyone who knew my family to see me using government assistance. My marriage ended about a year after my second son was born. I can remember going to the church for counseling, because divorces just did not happen in my family. It was the preacher that told me my husband was not the man I married and that no woman should have to live with physical and mental abuse, not to mention his drug addiction. Again, I felt like a failure. I was sitting in the preacher’s office at the church I grew up in and that my children were baptized in.
Single motherhood brought more disappointments in my mind. Here I was working in a daycare for minimum wage. I blew off college when I had a family. Now here I am changing diapers and wiping runny noses. I could not just be a good daycare worker, I felt like I needed to be more. I became lead teacher and was looking at ways to open another center. I had to basically run the place, but without the money that came along with it. I had to become the employee that my boss bragged about.
My dad helped me get a job in the shipyard. Good job with insurance and good pay. The perfect job. What he did not tell me was I was going to be working in a warehouse cleaning up bird poop. Me cleaning up bird poop. Now I knew I was going to be judged. I knew that I did not add up. I did not stay in that warehouse long before I was doing material and supply for a much bigger project. Sometimes you just need a little humility. I did not see it that way, I saw it as yet another failure.
Fast forward a few years, and things were good. I was a Navy wife, and we had a good life. I worked for the Navy Family Service Center. One of my dearest friends was the XO’s wife, it might be a good time to mention that I was the wife of an E-3. Can I just say the Navy frowns on that. I became president of the enlisted wives club, people appreciated me. I taught classes on how to get through deployments, and how to deal with them when they came back from deployment. In my mind people needed me, and I was happy.
After the Navy we moved to Georgia to live near my husband’s family. That was the wort time of my life. We were freshly out of the Navy with two kids, no insurance and no job. We moved in with my in-laws for the first few weeks and I just could not take it. We moved from dump to dump, each time hoping we were upgrading. We were not.
We joined the volunteer fire department. It made sense since my dad was a volunteer firefighter, and I knew how important they were. Our first fire department meeting showed just how bad things were there. They did not even have the basic equipment needed to fight a fire. I stepped up and made it my mission to make things better. We raised money. I became in instructor. We got our people certified and I signed a note for $20,000 for turn out gear. It did not take long before we were the fastest growing fire department in the county. I finally had that seal of approval. I was not earning a dime, but in my mind, I was the one that made things happen. Just as fast as we grew, we fell apart. Jealousy and power struggles tore us apart. Instantly I became a failure again.
Over the next few years, I had some rewarding jobs. I would take companies that were running in the red and turn them around. I could quickly assess a situation and make improvements. People relied on me to make things better and I did. Each success turned into a failure in my mind. Once I got the companies back in the black, I was no longer needed. All the letters that I had received from company owners and investors expressing their thanks and gratitude were worthless when it came time to feed my family.
Finally, I made the decision to follow my passion and I became a paramedic. I loved my job. I loved caring for people and helping others. Each thank you, seemed to give me the validation that I was looking for. I finally got the seal of approval. I was good at what I did, and it did not take long for me to learn the ins and outs of the business of EMS. I started a division for the company I worked for and ran it for 11 years. Our division never lost money; I was making someone else rich. I learned that no matter how hard I worked I could not make some people happy. I did not feel compensated fairly for all of my work and my suggestions would often become someone else’s ideas.
I was sought out in the EMS circles to run their businesses or to help generate revenue for them. I left the company I had been with for 12 years to pursue other avenues. Let me just tell you if the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence you need to be careful. It is easy to have that seal of approval that you are looking for as long as things are going well and you do not step on toes or make others look bad because what you are doing is working. That lead me to changing jobs and going to work for one of the busiest 911 services in the state. I loved it. I was doing what I loved and putting my skills to the test. I found myself being a mentor to those with less experience. It was not long, and I was a training officer. I guess I needed that seal of approval again.
Just when you think you matter and are important things change. January 1st my life forever changed. I worked my last shift in EMS. I had no idea at the time that it would be my last shift. Three days later I had a pulmonary embolism. One of those things that take people out, but not me. I found myself not being able to do anything for myself. I felt like a failure. I was recently divorced after 28 years; I had no job and now no health insurance.
I thank God everyday for Carl, my veteran. He was there with me every step of the way. He took me to doctor appointments, did laundry and cleaned the house. The things that I had always done. I felt like such a failure. He kept telling me that I was a smart and strong woman. He said that repeatedly on days that I did not feel strong. I would try to push myself and not let anyone know how broken I felt. I would go places and do things even when I was too tired to, because I did not want to be a failure. I needed that seal of approval.
I was sitting in my doctor’s office and my doctor and long-time friend said, “Stacy you are too sick to ever work again.” He said some other stuff too, but I cannot remember anything else. He might as well have said that my life was over. After 20 years in EMS what was I going to do? I was now officially jobless, insurance less and cannot even qualify for any government assistance. Going to see a specialist took a $15,000 cash deposit. I felt like someone took a big red rubber stamp and stamped “her life does not matter” on my file. I fully expected that every time we passed one of those electronic signs on the highway that it would flash FAILURE in big letters. I wanted to know what seal of approval I had now.
To me my life was measured by all my failures. I never saw my successes. I never saw the good in me. I had two failed marriages. I could not work at the one job that I thought defined me. I was unemployed. I did not have insurance. In my mind I had nothing. I could no longer buy others approval. The depression that followed was unimaginable. I did not see a reason to go on. Everything I was no longer existed. My life did not seem to matter. I did not want to be a burden on Carl or my children. On three occasions within about 6 weeks I attempted to take my own life. The last time ended with Carl sitting on top of me in the yard, holding me down and yelling at me that I mattered.
We had already started Loving My Veteran by then, and I was doing something that I thought would make a difference. The problem was that I was not focused, and it became my outlet rather than my purpose. Shortly after my last attempt we were asked to do a public service announcement about suicide for the PREVENTS initiative. It was while taping that PSA with the rest of Loving My Veteran that I stated publicly that I had tried to commit suicide. That thirty second clip changed me and my life. It made me realize that I had something to live for.
My best stamp of approval came from a man that I love with all my heart and soul, sitting on top of me in the front year of our house, telling me that my life mattered. I have looked back at my life and instead of looking at all my failures, I began to see my successes. They are not monumental success, but they are mine. I may not be able to change the world, but I can change me or at least the way I view me. I do make a difference in my own way, just like we all do.