This is my story, and the first part of my journey. I’m 61, and grew up in a mid sized town in Southern New Jersey. When I was 18, I joined the Navy. I had already attended a year of college, and didn’t like what I was studying. I also didn’t like the fact that my parents were paying for my college. I didn’t have any marketable skills, so I joined the Navy to learn a trade. I chose to become a Navy Air Traffic Controller, a very wise decision on my part. I loved that job.
After boot camp, I went to Millington, TN, which is where the Navy’s Aviation schools were located at the time. About 2 weeks after I arrived, I received a Traumatic Brain Injury (they just called it a concussion back then). I was in the hospital for 3 weeks. When I left the hospital, I was still having dizzy spells, and I was getting headaches daily. The dizzy spells gradually subsided, although I still get dizzy spells on occasion. It’s 42 1/2 years later, and I still get headaches every day.
I transferred to my first duty station, Naval Air Station Key West, Florida in July 1975. It was shortly after that I began to have thoughts of suicide. I didn’t worry about it, because I knew I would never do it, I didn’t believe in suicide. This was also the first time that I came up with a plan to kill myself.
Diagnosed with Depression
Jump ahead to 1992. I’m married, with 3 children. I’m still in the Navy, as the Course Supervisor for the Navy’s Air Traffic Control School in Millington, TN. The dizzy spells had happened infrequently, but this year I had continuous dizzy spells for 4 months straight. I finally went to the emergency room at the base, and the doctor diagnosed me with depression, and gave me a 30 day supply of medication. Toward the end of the 30 days I go back, and this time I see another doctor. He tells me I don’t have depression, it’s just stress, so he won’t refill the prescription (you’re supposed to be weaned off of depression meds, but I guess he thought it was all right to just have me stop cold turkey).
In 1994 I retired from the Navy as a Senior Chief Air Traffic Controller, and went to work at the casinos in Tunica, MS. I worked as a Pit Boss at the Horseshoe Casino for almost 12 years. It was a great job, and a great casino. The casino took care of us, and we took care of the customers. It was the best casino in Tunica, always packed. After working there 10 years, Horseshoe sold out to Harrahs. Harrahs didn’t want to learn how to keep people coming back, they just wanted to pinch every penny they could. It was no longer a great job, so I bought 3 sub sandwich shops in the Nashville, TN area in 2005, and left the casinos in 2006 to run them full time.
It was a struggle at first, they really weren’t making much money, but in 6 months I turned them around where all 3 were showing a profit. Things were looking good, and then 2008 rolled around and the recession hit. Business dried up. I had no choice but to close the shops and file for Bankruptcy in 2009. I lost everything, including the house I owned in Florida that was paid for.
You would have thought I would be devastated, but I wasn’t. I saw the bankruptcy coming, and I was ready for it. I had started at the bottom before, and I knew I could do it again. What I was not ready for was the job market. Between the military, the casino, and owning the sub shops I had 35 years of management experience, but I didn’t have a college degree. I quickly found out that without a degree, the companies that had decent paying jobs available wouldn’t even talk to me. That, and my age, I was 53 at the time, were working against me.
Back to School
I was able to get two low paying jobs, the first was as an Assistant Technician repairing cell phones. The second was as a work at home Customer Service Representative for HSN, The Home Shopping Network. A word of advice here, don’t ever accept a Certified As New Refurbished cell phone. My quota was, I had to repair 24 phones per hour. That means I had to strip a phone down to it’s Motherboard and Screen, then rebuild it with new plastic parts so it looked brand new. THEN, I had to test it to make sure everything was working, all in 2 1/2 minutes. Granted, after I was finished with a phone it did go through Quality Assurance, but they also had a quota of how many phones they had to QA each hour.
I finally decided that I needed to go back to school and get my degree. I’m a Disabled Veteran, at that time rated at 50% disabled, so in 2013 I applied to the Veteran’s Administration Vocational Rehabilitation program, and was accepted. They paid for me to go back to school at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). I have always loved computers, so I wanted to get a degree in something that involved computers and technology. In January, 2014, I entered MTSU full time to work on my Bachelor of Business Administration, Computer Information Systems degree.
I was 58 at the time. I wanted to complete the program as fast as possible, so that first semester I took 6 classes, 18 credit hours, the maximum I was allowed to take. I soon found out that I might have over extended myself! It was hard, but I was determined to do the best I could possibly do. I got an A in all 6 classes. That was when I set the goal of a 4.0 GPA for all of my coursework at MTSU. I did cut back to only 15 credit hours a semester, and 6 credit hours for each of the two summer semesters. I got an A in every class I took, except for one. It was an elective, and MUCH harder than I thought it would be. When it came time for the final for that class, the best grade I could possible get for the class was a D, so I skipped that final to study for my other finals. I failed the class, but the next semester I took a different elective and got an A in that class. In May, 2016, I graduated, at age 60, with a 3.84 GPA for my MTSU coursework.
Now it was time to find a job. I don’t go to church, but I have a strong belief in God. He has given me too many signs over the years that he is there for me for me to doubt him. In one of my classes, the professor told the class about a company in Nashville that was looking for a Project Manager. I e-mailed the company my resume, and received a call from them. I still had one semester to go, and they were looking for someone right then. One week after I graduated they called me again and asked if I was still interested in the job. Of course I said yes. We set up an interview. I was extremely nervous, but tried to act like I was calm. I didn’t need to be nervous, they made me feel at ease right away. Even though I had never done that type of work before, they took a huge leap of faith and hired this 60 year old new college graduate.
In my next post I will describe the next leg of my journey, and how I was diagnosed with depression.