My story

If you met me today, you wouldn’t believe I was once suicidal from secondary post-traumatic stress (PTS), nor would you know my husband John is a disabled veteran. You’d have no idea because today, his disabilities don’t stop us from living lives we love, and living them to the fullest.

How’s this possible? Art.

In 2014 I left my job as a communications director to pursue fine art full-time. I enrolled in a masters of fine art program at American University and traded my office for a studio. I began a two-year process of completely ruining my life and building it back up again.

Art ruined my life before it saved my life.

I knew I had hit rock bottom after my first year at American University. I found myself on a school trip to Venice, Italy, staring into the gorgeous, romantic waters, and thinking about letting myself fall in and drown. John’s 10-year battle with post-traumatic stress disorder and other invisible injuries had taken their toll on me. I had developed secondary PTS which meant I too was overtaken by depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Fortunately, I had spent the previous year at school exploring that struggle through art and research. I painted and I started an Instagram project for veteran caregivers. I attended workshops for caregivers and read voraciously. My exploration taught me we weren’t alone in our struggle – there are 5.5 million other veteran caregivers in the US. There are also names for everything John and I had been through since his return from Iraq in 2005 – post-traumatic stress, grief, trauma, secondary PTS, and many more.

Naming helped, but wanting to throw myself off a boat in Venice is what forced me to realize John and I had to make dramatic changes – immediately. After counseling, tough conversations, and nearly divorcing, we picked up the pieces of our life that had fallen apart, and built a new one together. During that time, art gave me a way to express what I was going through and heal from it at the same time.

Once we dug our way out, we both began to feel alive like we hadn’t in years. Things felt new and hopeful, and we didn’t want to waste a minute. In my last semester of graduate school, I began to pursue acting. It’s something I had always wanted to do but never believed in myself enough to do it. After recovering from my life falling apart, I never felt stronger. Failure no longer scared me. I had already faced the worst thing that could happen to me – losing my life – so something as small as failing an audition would not stop me.

Today, I’m proud to be the woman I described above – a true renaissance woman full of life and energy. I spend my time creating through photography, filmmaking, acting, painting, writing, performing, building, and advocating.

I’ve been given a second chance at life and I’m not going to waste another minute.

I now use my creative skills to continue healing and to help other military families find healing as well. I believe it is my responsibility, honor and privilege to give back to my community of fellow military families who are still hurting and struggling.

That’s what it means to be part of the world-wide US military family – we leave no one behind.

A few more facts just for fun…

I work from my studio at home, surrounded by an acre of woods, where my head is the clearest and I get the best ideas.

My parents, also artists, live nearby so sometimes we collaborate on projects together at their studio.

I love playing Settlers of Catan (yep, I just admitted that).

I’ve wanted to be a ballerina my whole life but never had the opportunity. I finally started taking classes when I was 26. It’s never too late!

I have the wanderlust bug. I’ve been to 17 countries, but that feels like nothing because I want to see them all.

I used to play soccer (the real football) so I love watching games. So much so that I went to the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 (where they interviewed me on TV, as usually happens when I travel…no, not really).

I’m over 30 years old and I have two unicorns in my office. This might be turning into a collection. I’m really ok with that.

My top goals in life are to win a MacArthur Genius Award, a Nobel Peace Prize and build a family foundation. And maybe go to space. We’ll see how the commercial sector develops over time.

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