The Long and Winding Road

Occasionally, I still have the nightmare. It is very brief: I hear someone pounding loudly on my front door and I awake in a panic, thinking, “Was that real or a dream?”

After the fire

Although the flames didn’t reach my apartment, the ceiling had caved in and there was extensive water damage.

At about 2 a.m. in September of 2009, it wasn’t a dream. A police officer was banging on my door and yelling, “FIRE!” I jumped out of bed, threw on some clothes and ran outside. For the next few hours I watched as the building in which I’d been renting an apartment burned. Five hours later, I was put into a taxi and taken to a hotel where I would live for the next few days while my landlord found me another apartment.

Over the following few months I lived in a fog, unable to concentrate for long and was very jumpy. It may sound cliché but as I sorted through my belongings, deciding what could be salvaged and what had to be discarded, I associated that with my life and wondered what would be worth keeping when I reached the end. I reflected on the many experiences I’d had and what I had learned in my more than forty years; it was time to get serious about making a contribution and share the knowledge I had gained. That was when I decided to start my business.

Having grown up deeply shy and afraid of everything, as an adult I didn’t like myself and believed no one else ever would. Then, in my early twenties I had what can only be described as a vision.

open doorI was sitting in a church service and something the minister said caused the vision to begin. My surroundings faded away and I saw an open door before me. As I stepped through the doorway, I suddenly understood what had caused my low self-esteem, lack of confidence and feelings of inadequacy. Another door appeared and as I walked through, I then understood how I could change those beliefs about myself; I knew the thoughts I had were things and I could decide whether to believe them or not.

This had all happened in seconds but would completely change my life. Over the following weeks I began using affirmations, although it would be many years before I heard that term or realized other people knew what I had learned that day. I had gained the understanding that my beliefs about myself had been learned from a young age through what I’d heard and seen, so the way to change those beliefs was to change what I was hearing and seeing. I immersed myself in this technique, saying affirmations out loud for hours a day. I gained the courage to leave an abusive marriage, began talking with people, volunteered to run groups and speak in front of them. The changes were remarkable and others noticed, asking what had happened to cause my new-found confidence.

A few months later, as part of my volunteer work, I sat at a computer for the first time in my life and it was love at first type. I discovered a natural ability for all things techy and learned quickly, never doubting my ability to figure it out if I didn’t know how to do something.

More than ten years later, I was still working as an administrative assistant but was becoming bored with the routine — there were no more challenges. I decided to do something radical and left my job to work with a tourist railway that was getting started. I quickly discovered a love for public speaking as I did the on-train commentary to our passengers; I was also managing the office and a staff of about twenty people. However, the operation was quickly losing money and I knew it wouldn’t survive.

freight trainOne of the locomotive engineers told me a major Canadian railway was hiring freight conductors so, although I had never done a physically demanding job like it, I applied and was hired.

This new position required a move to a new city, so I relocated and began this new chapter of my life. I loved the job but, unknown to me, it was having an impact that would devastate my life and almost end it. More about that in a minute 🙂

While at this new job, I began a relationship that would develop quickly into us buying a house together and planning a marriage. I finally had everything I’d ever wanted: a great relationship, a very comfortable income and a home. Then a traumatic event plunged me into deep depression but I didn’t know it was happening at the time. In August of 2002, I was standing in my living room and blinked. It felt as if I woke up from a deep sleep and recognized the previous months of depression in an instant. I felt unable to breathe and I had to get out of there. I threw some clothes into my car, wrote a quick note and began to drive. Two days later I was hundreds of miles away, standing on a beach — I was never going back.

underwaterLater, when trying to describe that experience, I would say it was like I had finally surfaced after living my entire life under the water. I could finally feel the air, see clearly and touch life. Upon returning to my home city, I rented an apartment and ended the relationship, never once doubting I was doing the right thing. I knew it was time to get to know myself and my purpose in life.

Meanwhile, I was still working as a freight train conductor but, as mentioned, it was having a hidden impact on me. For months the back pain had been increasing but I didn’t pay it much attention, thinking it was a normal result of the physically demanding work I was doing. As the pain increased, my doctor told me the same thing and I believed him.

On May 8, 2003, I woke up in excruciating pain and was unable to move. I would be diagnosed with degenerative disc disease and spent the next three months in bed. It was during these months, when all I could do was play with the computer beside my bed, that I discovered the world of personal development. I realized many, many people knew what I had learned all those years ago in a church service. I would read for hour after hour about affirmations, positive thinking, acting “as if” and more.

depressed womanIn the latter months, of 2003, as the pain gradually decreased and I relearned how to function, my attention turned to the remainder of my life. How would I work? I could barely walk. How would I pay the medical bills? Would I, as the doctor said might happen, live in a wheelchair?

No longer able to pay for my apartment, I rented a room in a run-down place that housed mostly transients and applied for government assistance — it was better than being homeless, which was days from being my reality. I sat in that room for the next five years, afraid to do anything since the slightest movement would cause the pain to return. In the deepest depression of my life, I sank lower and lower with no hope of change.

light at the end of a dark tunnelThen one day I heard a voice in my head saying, “You are going to die.” It terrified me even more than the thought of going outside; I knew that voice spoke the truth. I began faltering steps of signing up with an employment agency that helped people with disabilities and, at their urging, looked for volunteer office work to upgrade my skills. In the listings, one opportunity at a non-profit jumped out at me and I began providing them with office support two hours a week. It was the only time I went outside and would be in severe pain by the time I arrived home but that volunteer position started to rebuild my confidence. I was wanted and needed; I knew I was doing something that mattered. That volunteer position became paid employment and I loved the work, helping others with disabilities. As my mindset changed, so did my physical state and the pain steadily grew less and less. (I can now walk without problems, although not for more than a few blocks. I still live with some pain which gets worse with activity but for the most part, I am fine.)

pencil, notebook and coffeeTwo years after starting that job with the non-profit was when the fire took place. It was January 2010 when I began to emerge from the shock and decided to start a business. I had learned so much and come such a long way from the afraid, shy person I had been, I longed to teach others how to do it also. With the help of a program, I rediscovered my love of writing; it was something I had used my entire life for self-discovery and problem solving — I had used it extensively back in 2002 and 2003.

My coaching business officially started in May 2010 but very quickly I realized I didn’t have the slightest idea how to run a business, where to get clients or how to work with them. Although my $15 an hour job made it seem impossible, I decided to find a business coach and so, I wrote a description of the coach I wanted. Even though some of the items on that list seemed unlikely (at best,) within two weeks I found someone who fit everything I had written down. I decided to somehow find a way to pay her and we began working together.

The first year was a struggle — I had very few clients and it seemed no one was interested in what I had to offer. During those months, my coach had observed how good I was with all things techy and eventually suggested I become a virtual assistant. As soon as she said it, my heart jumped and I knew it was the business I was supposed to be in.

globe and keyboardThat first month my income was greater than the entire previous year of trying to be a coach and things have grown steadily since. In April 2012, I left my job to run my business full time.

Someone once told me the Beatles song, “The Long and Winding Road” reminded them of me and it seems to have been the theme song of my life.

There have been many ups and downs, hidden curves and unexpected detours.

If you had known me a few decades ago, you would have never guessed I’d become the person I am now. I have survived abusive relationships, deep poverty, a physical disability and devastating depressions; taught myself confidence, self-esteem and fell in love with computers.

successI like the person I have become and enjoy every second of my work. Whether I am creating an ezine, doing WordPress installation or maintenance, helping a client with an ebook or some other task, I really do wake up each morning eager to begin my work (and I was a night person all my life!)