“I had been an artist my whole life – spending much of my childhood imagining, drawing and creating art with whatever tools presented themselves to me. But art was not a viable career when I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. Especially not in my small rural town and especially not for a young woman. The only real choices in my world were to be a wife right out of high school, a teacher or a nurse. I chose nursing. Graduating at the top of my class, it meant a lot to me to be a good nurse. I loved my patients dearly and for many years I loved nursing – feeling fulfilled, useful and competent. There is nothing like the magic of meaningful work.
Through the nearly two decades while I was a nurse, I created a life which included all those things that every life contains: joys, successes, failures, mistakes, heartache, learning, growing, changing, wrong-turns, mis-steps and missed opportunities. The universal rhythmic dance of life: two steps forward and one step back. It would not be until I was in my mid-thirties that the voices I had missed for so long became too loud to ignore: You are on the wrong path. Let’s go this way.
Like many others before me trying to fulfill a dream, I worked very hard to change careers: classes Monday through Friday, staggering loads of homework and then work as a hospital night nurse every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. Then back to school every Monday morning. Two solid years without a day off – even fitting knee surgery in there at one point without missing either work or school. All to get through in record time. I don’t deserve nor call for any medals here. People all around the globe work this hard – if not harder – to make their dreams come true. Or to simply put a meal on the table every night. I begin with these early steps of my journey so that you will have some understanding of how hard I worked to reach this goal. Only then can you understand how painful it was to lose it all.
It wasn’t until the inevitable physical and mental letdown after graduating with honors that I began to think about who might hire me. “A day late and a dollar short” it struck me that here I was with an art degree and no experience – other than eighteen years of nursing – to offer up as my qualifications. The universe clearly had other plans for me as right at that moment a healthcare advertising agency was looking for an artist with a medical background. Within three weeks of graduating I was living my dream. I was being paid to do what I loved: create art. Thus began nearly four years of exciting, challenging creative work on a national level. I was working with amazing people on amazing projects. I had made it! Imagine my astonishment when it all vanished after one brief storm.
It started with dizziness, really. Simple light-headedness. But it would not go away and slowly graduated into full-blown, sloppy-drunk vertigo. Then a little lip twitch. Then a little eyebrow twitch. Shaky hands. Blurred vision. Then my thinking got fuzzy. Being a hypochondriac by nature (in nursing school I was certain I had every illness we studied) I imagined: Brain Tumor, Parkinson’s, Myasthenia Gravis, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, etc., Thank heavens this was long before the Internet or I would have been able to imagine far worse diseases in living color – complete with You Tube commentary – just in case I was not terrified enough from simply reading and looking at still photos. I imagined everything. Well, almost everything. I had not imagined Multiple Sclerosis. Nope. Didn’t see that one coming.
Since my last nursing position had been in Rehabilitation, you would think MS should have been on my shortlist. But it was not. So the shock of finding that I had MS in January 1991 was blunt and powerful – knocking me to the ground like the blow from a club. And keeping me there as many seasons passed by my window unnoticed. I had to leave my dream job. I was an artist with poor vision and shaky hands. I would be a returning nurse with poor thought processes and the inability to walk without help. Clearly, an all-out pity party was in order. I settled quite naturally into the sloppy, smelly trough of negative thinking, lost dreams, lost income, poor-me, what-did-I-ever-do-to-deserve-this and my life is ruined. Pretty much stayed there, too – wallowing away for nearly six months. My only concession, washing my pajamas once a month whether they needed it or not.
Then, something wonderful happened. The person nearest and dearest to me in the world sent me a card. It was a simple little card by an illustrator whom I much admired: Mary Engelbreit. On the cover there was this small window box just bursting with flowers, vines, and greenery. So alive! So full of potential. A pretty little woman leaned out the small window – happily watering her garden and ever confident that this was the only garden space she needed to grow a riot of colorful flowers to their full potential. The caption read: “Bloom where you are planted.” I was already crying by the time I opened the card and in complete hiccupping, runny-nosed, uncontrolled weeping when I read the note: “I know you don’t know where this will all end right now. But I know you will find your way and I can’t wait to see the fantastic blooms you will grow once you do.” I spent the entire day crying, sobbing – napping off and on – depleted by grief and sorrow. Grieving the loss of who I was, who I dreamed of being.
Just before dawn slipped in under my crooked window shade, I awoke on the other side. My tears had washed away the cloying emotional mud from that well-worn trough. I was no longer ruined – I was changed – but I was not ruined. I stepped up and out of that hell and never returned. I was determined to find a way to bloom where I was planted. And bloom, I did. If blurry vision and shaky hands were a problem with the fine illustrative work I had been doing, then I would find another way to be an artist. Another medium, another format, another way. There is always another way. If I worked large enough then neither of those physical limitations mattered. Thus, I began my journey to find other ways to express myself – and make a living in the process – which would serve me well for the next twenty years and to this very day.
Had it not been for MS, and the challenges it presented me with, I would never have built my business, Big3D Productions, Inc., which focuses on large dimensional work. Negating the need for fine motor skills by working large, I added hi-tech machines and computers to help me so that fatigue, dizziness and an unsteady gait were no longer issues either. Without this test to my will I would never have discovered the sculptor in me. Which means I would never have created the amazing Hope Tree sculpture for the Martin O’Neil Cancer Center in St. Helena, CA, in 2009. I can trace the inspiration for this evocative sculpture directly back to my nursing roots and that bump in the road called MS – which led me to the cornerstone on which I now firmly stand: hope. I find myself coming full-circle back to offering help to those in pain through another pathway. And this pathway is through the science of hope, the compassion of hope and the creation of hope through skills which are teachable.
Deciding to “bloom where you are planted” – to find a way to make a meaningful life no matter what your circumstances – is the very essence of hope. This takes a delicate combination of simultaneous courage and surrender. But the world changes right before our eyes once we decide to make the most of what we have before us. Donna Sales and I share a passion to spread the word about the transformational qualities awaiting us all when we actively choose hope. I am so grateful to have this article included on her HopeCafe.net web site.
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Carol Jeanotilla is busy spreading the word about the science of hope via encouragement and inspiration on her web site, www.TheHopeTree.com, an award-winning monthly newsletter, workshops about creating hope and an international radio show. Her popular radio show, The Hope Journal Show, explores the very nature of hope from every conceivable angle while interviewing fascinating guests from around the world. Join her every Thursday at 9 AM MT on www.CastleRockRadio.com for an hour of LIVE inspiration.
Be sure to hear the show LIVE on May 17, 2012 for Carol’s on air conversation with Hope Cafe’s own Donna Sales. Or listen at your leisure a few days later when the show will be the station’s archives at www.CastleRockRadio.com/archives.
Carol Jeanotilla was a Registered Nurse with nearly 20 years experience when she changed careers to become a commercial artist. Her art career has now spanned 25 years with dozens of ground-breaking, large-scale commercial and public art projects across the USA. The 2009 Hope Tree sculpture for the Martin O’Neil Cancer Center in St. Helena, CA USA, has brought her full circle back to her nursing roots in a very unique way.