Turning Obstacles into Opportunities!
The Never-Ending Divorce
My ex-husband was abusive shortly after we married in 1988. I never thought abuse happened to women like me; well educated, living on the upper East Side of New York City, married to a professionally and financially successful man. At the time, I only knew one other woman this happened to, but I was afraid to confide in her. I had nowhere to turn.
The issues in my marriage were further stressed when our daughter was diagnosed with hearing loss at two and half years old. It brought us into a world we knew nothing about. By 2007, we began divorce proceedings that, 13 years later are still not completely resolved! Little did I know that the mental exhaustion and oppressiveness that existed in my marriage would continue throughout its dissolution.
My ex-husband’s control extended to our divorce. In what I believe was his drive to dissipate my assets, it’s been relentless; with over 90 motions and many appeals filed. Divorce is an expensive business, with each appeal costing approximately $100,000 plus other ancillary costs. During the divorce insanity, the judge provided minimal attorney’s fees and, post-decision, decided I had to pay for my divorce attorney. Without employment income, I had no way to pay my attorneys except to dissipate my divorce award.
Without an income stream to pay attorney fees, I fired them five years ago and have been representing myself. My background is that of an attorney, but I only practiced for about a year and a half. I had the training, but not the day to day practical experience and not in the matrimonial field. Had I not let my attorneys go, by my estimate, I would have spent over $800,000 in fees by now! When I settled amounts with my attorneys and had a clear understanding of what I owed them, one attorney would only take cash but the other agreed to payment by credit card. I opened multiple credit cards to pay my legal fees once I had saved the money to be able to pay off the balance. The one benefit of my divorce was I was able to maximize credit card bonus points!
At this point, we have a divorce decree, but the finances are not finalized. My ex is focused on running down my resources, run down my energy and, figuratively, pummel me to death. Even though we are divorced, he is still controlling me.
An Advocate for Hearing Loss
Before our daughter was born, I had a son who died at 41 weeks. My instincts told me something was wrong, but my doctor treated me as a neurotic, first-time expectant mother. When my son died, the experience changed me and my perception of how I value experts.
Fast forward, to my daughter as a toddler. At 18 months, she wasn’t speaking and my instincts, again, told me something was wrong. It was evident she wasn’t progressing at the same rate as my friends’ children. Dismissed by the doctor as a competitive mother, rather than a concerned parent, I was unwilling to accept his conclusion. I educated myself, researching and attending lectures to understand what was happening. Our entire lives were transformed when our new pediatrician confirmed a diagnosis of hearing loss. Her next words were, “don’t worry, there are special schools for her.” I was not willing to accept that future for my daughter.
As I started to learn more about the world my daughter would inhabit as a person with hearing loss, things didn’t make sense. People in the hearing loss world kept doing things the same way and always got the same results. Since my concerns were being dismissed, I wasn’t going to listen to any more opinions. For six months, I buried myself in research, reaching out to the top people in the field to figure out how to make the world more accessible for people with hearing loss. Slowly, the successes came. It began with Temple Emanu-El, where my daughter attended religious school. The temple added hearing access and it became a model of success. That success was leveraged as I worked with theaters and museums to add access for people with a full spectrum of hearing loss. Our momentum picked up and hearing access was added to NYC taxis and subways. Once the best practice model for NYC was established, I used it to expand hearing access standards across the country and internationally!
I also worked on closed captioning standards that were adopted essentially by the Federal Communications Commission for broadcast television. My work with the Department of Transportation resulted in captioning standards for inflight programming. Working with Delta airlines, hearing access technology is also being included as airports are being built or renovated, across the country.
I was fortunate to meet Senator Elizabeth Warren at a lecture and I spoke with her about the hearing aid monopoly. As a result of our conversation, she introduced the Over the Counter Hearing Aid bill with Senator Grassley. The bill, signed into law by President Trump, makes access to hearing aids easier and less expensive.
We have come so far! To accomplish all of this, I worked with a large group of people who were like a giant brain trust. Building upon what many had already accomplished, I became insightful because I had the most brilliant people working with me. All the anger and abuse I suffered in my marriage and divorce, became the energy I channeled into fighting for hearing access. In the end, I’m not sure who benefitted more . . . because the work ended up building my self-esteem and resulting in successes where I had none.
In April 2014, I came home to a broken pipe in my home, leaving me without any running water. The silver lining was, since we had great insurance, I was put up in a beautiful hotel on the Upper East Side of New York for four months. Even better, I was told I could eat my meals anywhere I wanted. The hotel had a Michelin restaurant, so I could eat there or in any equivalent. During those four months, I ate over 90 meals in Michelin or Michelin equivalent restaurants! At the end of all that, I had gained only five pounds. Once again, my instincts told me something was wrong.
After I moved back into my home, I saw my doctor and he confirmed I had thyroid cancer. I was devastated, but just as important, the diagnosis came right at the time my COBRA insurance coverage was ending. In order to have coverage for the procedures required; it was imperative I quickly go for treatment. Within a two-week window, I had six surgeries and procedures. The last procedure was done on the last day of COBRA coverage!
After the surgery, I had an immobile vocal cord and I couldn’t speak for five months. At first, it wasn’t known if I would recover at all. Eventually, I recovered fully, but it took a year. The experience changed me in a way that all the other traumas didn’t. I felt I had been silenced, yet again. I’m a talker, my voice is my power and I couldn’t function without it. It took a while to find the right doctor, get appointments and navigate insurance. When missing half your thyroid, and on medication, tired and sleepy becomes your world. Thank goodness for friends that helped me navigate my situation.
The next calamity happened when my home’s boiler pipes, and wiring became mysteriously damaged. From the end of January, to when I moved April 2017, I had no heat or hot water. My bathing was to use Biore wipes and I had my hair blown out. What choice did I have but to deal with it?
The house had been sold and I was forced to make critical decisions . . .where would I move to, what could I afford, what do I do with my accumulations of the 20 years I lived in this home, where do I begin?
My daughter helped me search for a new home. When faced with an overwhelming task, you aim for the low hanging fruit. Since I was going from a 5-story townhouse in NYC, to a 600 square foot apartment in Brooklyn, I started by going through closets. I packed the essentials and sold the rest online.
When I first got sick, I had the realization that I had a golden opportunity. My house had sold, and I would be making a radical change from how I was living. Moving to a small apartment in the same neighborhood would feel like a defeat. But, if I did something completely different, it would be more of an adventure. Still, it was hard. When I moved into my new one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, I cried. Then, I began to think. If I died tomorrow, what would I most regret not doing? It was always my dream to visit every country in the world. In a way, I had already been moving towards that goal.
The United Nations identifies 193 countries in the world. When territories and disputed nations are included, there are 329 “places” in the world. Over my years of traveling, I had already been to 100 places.
My mind was set, and I had a goal. I knew if I sold a lot of my belongings and tapped into a small inheritance left to me by my mother, I could fund my trips. I leaned on the stash of points I was still accumulating on my credit cards. This was my window of opportunity. I could take this horrible experience with divorce, and cancer and turn it into an amazing adventure, funding primarily with the points accumulated paying for my divorce!
The plan was two years of traveling, for four to six weeks at a time, to visit all 193 UN countries. There is no “must accomplish by date”, I have zero interest in racing around the world. My goal is to really see and experience the countries I’m visiting. I knew if I was prudent about how I spent my money and points, I could do this.
I began as I usually do with most things, by researching. I had to figure out every trick in the book of traveling, so I read all the blogs I could find on maximizing points and how to save money. As I did with the advocacy work for hearing access, I learned from other people who were smarter than me. Why reinvent the wheel? I’m willing to work hard but I’m lazy about re-doing things when it’s not necessary.
Of the 193 UN countries, I’ve visited 138. While in the area of the territories and disputed nations, I visited those as well, taking the total to 193. The two-year time I planned for travel is coming up and I’m not sure if I will continue to travel at this same pace. There’s something special about traveling when you’re working, and you have a trip coming versus when you are traveling regularly. It does lose some of the specialness and I miss that.
My journey has taught me a lot. It wasn’t all difficult times, there were many good memories as well. But navigating through the tough times has made me clearer about how to live life.
I would encourage anyone reading my story to follow their passion. Everyone knows deep down inside what makes them happy, but they tend to ignore it. I realized at a low point in my life I had a window of opportunity and I didn’t want to miss it. You get to a point where you must ask yourself, what are you waiting for?
Second, get rid of the haters. I had to do a serious amount of pruning of people who were not supportive, and it was very painful. We don’t need a lot of friends; we need a small of group of people who support us in our endeavors, and we support them in theirs. That was a hard thing for me to grasp but it was pivotal.
When things are tough, I go to lectures, sometimes, on the most bizarre topics. It pulls me up, to hear smart and inspiring people speak, even if it’s a topic I know nothing about. I’m interested in hearing how people accomplish their endeavors. I’m lucky because I live in New York City so there’s a glut of availability. But in every town, there are opportunities to attend lectures through universities, clubs or libraries. Some are a nominal charge, some are free. I have been inspired by some of the most unbelievable people. That’s how I connected with Senator Warren; I went to a lecture about credit cards! I find this especially helpful to do when I feel like there is no way out of a situation.
One of the best pieces of advice I received from a woman, was something I heard Secretary Madeline Albright say. A while back, I was part of Hillary Clinton’s Tri-PAC in NY and was able to attend events with amazing women. At one of the events, Secretary Albright spoke her famous quote, “never waste a crisis.” Those words are a mantra of how I’ve lived my life, turning obstacles into opportunities.
For more about Janice, visit her website.
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some inspiration for these unprecedented times.