For the first half of my life, I became well acquainted with the feeling of powerlessness. It was all I knew and I accepted it as normal. I had no power, or worth, which was beaten into me almost daily, physically and emotionally by an abusive, cruel mother.

I loved animals, especially dogs, from the moment I was born, I am sure of it. We didn’t have any pets and my mother hated animals, but I was drawn to them, obsessed by them, compelled to learn about them. That has held true through 64 years now.

And it was my love of dogs that began to show me that I did, indeed, have power. I did not know how to defend myself, or if I was even allowed to, but I have a fierce fire in my heart to defend animals. And first, I learned to defend them from my mother. This did not bode well for me, but nonetheless, I fought her as hard as I could, damned how much harm came to me. She did, eventually, end up killing three dogs of mine (they were always mine-of six siblings and her, I was the only one with the affinity for them),
until, at almost thirteen, I finally simply fled to my father’s house with the last one.

After that, I married at sixteen to get out of that house, even though it was not abusive there. But several other siblings went there, too, and with two step siblings from a new wife, well, it was not peaceful. I was spiraling into a clinical depression that wanted to take my life.

After seven years, the marriage ended, but it had been a wonderful time of my life until then, even though, the last couple of years my bi-polar disorder took over with determination. I was twenty three and had nowhere to turn. In a small town where my entire “family” lived, I lived in my car off and on for over two years and in-between couch surfing with friends. Of course, I had had to give up my dogs, and my home in the country, so my mental condition kept spiraling down.

I felt like a burden on everyone. I was! I tried to keep a job. I tried to keep an apartment. I tried not to kill myself, but I almost did twice.

No one understood what was wrong with me. In the early eighties, mental health was still not a priority or something that “respectable” people talked about. I was adrift and saw no future at all for me.

Before Reagan, in his callus disregard for human suffering, shut down what little bit of mental health treatment states could offer to people like me, I managed to get some counseling in my late twenties. I went through several male psychologists and many different drugs and nothing was working. Every MMPI test they gave me came back worse than the one before.

Then, I found the person who would actually help me. Really help me. She was Dr. Pamela Olsen and she was working for the state and suddenly I became aware that it wasn’t ME that was the problem, it was having the wrong therapists. They were not BAD therapists, they were simply not a good fit for me. This is something I try hard to make others realize-you can’t give up. You will find the right one. Don’t let seeming failure stop you, even though carrying on is the last thing you want to do when your brain is ill.

Pam helped me see that not everything was my fault. She showed me how, by trying to fix every situation, I was being controlling because of my fear of chaos. She taught me that other people have been through hardship, pain, and grief and come out the other side, and I could, too. She made me believe in myself. That I was a survivor, not a burden, because, after all, I was still there, wasn’t I?

We became friends after the office was shut down by Reagan. She would talk to me for free. When, a few years later, I had my daughter and a total loser of a father for her, she pulled me back from the brink once more. He left us when my girl was fifteen months old and unbeknownst to me, he hadn’t paid the rent or utilities for several months. Exactly the several months that he had insisted on taking over paying the bills from me.

Pam gave me a job. It was part time, in her office, and office work was like a hostile foreign country to me. I tried hard, though. I learned how to use the Mac and keep records and take payments. She taught me all of that. Of course, I was extremely grateful and bored out of my mind in that little upstairs office with one window. A window I stared out of constantly, wanting to be out there.

Six months later, I got a job as a dog groomer at a veterinary office, also part time. Or so they said. Two weeks later, the other groomer moved away and I was on my own. Now, I knew how to brush out a dog, bathe it and trim it a bit. I had had Shelties when I was married and showed them a bit. I had to learn how to use a clipper, shears and other grooming tools that I had never had to use for my dogs, which were never matted. I did it. I learned fast and on my own. Dogs had saved me again. My daughter had been the inspiration I needed to see the light-that I was strong; I was worthy; I had done something incredible in bringing her into the world.

Before a month went by, it became clear that the grooming was, indeed, full time, as I was the only one doing it. So, I reluctantly had to tell Pam I couldn’t do both anymore and she was very supportive, of course.

I actually bought a house after a few years because I wanted my daughter to have the stability that I had never had. I loved her so overwhelmingly. I bought a new car-cheap and stripped down, but new, because I worried about break downs when she was with me.

I was a mother bear. But I was fair and taught her how her actions can affect others early on. I taught her that everyone is important – even vital – to someone and that she was the best thing that ever happened to me. I taught her, that no matter what, at the end of the day, I was always going to be on her side. I would always defend her. I would die for her and if so, she must never feel bad about it.

My mother never met her, as I refused to let her do any harm to MY child, as she had done to me. I hadn’t spoken to her for years before my daughter was born and never after. I was free of that toxic environment. I was seeing clearly. There was no way I would let that woman hurt me ever again.

All of this, I came to realize, was the power I had always had in me, but was afraid to use. Once I found it, my life was the complete opposite of the first half of it. I no longer let toxic people have a second chance. I no longer let anyone else tell me who I should be or what I should be doing. I never again let another tell me that my feelings were illegitimate. I hope I taught my daughter these things, as well. She is a wonderful, secure, intelligent and successful woman now and I still love her desperately. But now, I know she can take care of herself. She is smarter, stronger, and more powerful at her age than I ever dreamed was possible when I was that young.

I will still fight injustice and cruelty whenever I encounter it. But now, I will fight for myself as well as others. We all need help sometimes, we all need love and we all need to know that someone else cares. That is the power I want to have and to share.