Former Army servicewoman, Erika Navarrete is candid about the various hardships that she experienced in her life. Last year, when her mother left without a goodbye, Navarrete was forced to manage full — time work and studies while raising her son as a single mom. Despite the challenges, she was able to apply the discipline that she learned in the military and navigate her way to success.
HA : What would you say is the key to coping with life challenges ?
Plan first then execute. I developed discipline when I joined the army after high school (summer 2006). In the army, I developed a strict sense of focus and the ability to withstand any physical and mental hardship. I completed boot camp and was selected as the Soldier of the Cycle. Overall, I had the best score in areas of physical fitness, shooting, and knowledge. I competed with the best soldier in each company to earn this title. I was the best amongst 300 soldiers.
After boot camp, I worked in the Military Intelligence Unit which involved intense investigation and briefing to those in higher command. While on active duty in Michigan, I had a mental breakdown. My work hours changed; I was working the graveyard shift. After this incident, I was involuntarily placed in a hospital and forced to take medication.
After the incident, I was honourably discharged for being deemed mentally unfit. I was devastated because it was my dream to serve my country and be in the military.
Shortly after, I returned to Texas, my home state. I started working and a month after my son , James Jay Neira , was born I started going to school. Education for me has been my way to escape the way I lived as a child. I knew that I needed higher education to have a more stable home for my son.
It wasn’t until I found The Sweatshop (gym based in Dallas, Texas), that I was re-introduced to the disciplined that I learned in the army. The owner of the gym is a Navy veteran that leads military style boot camp classes. Being able to continue my civilian life with this class has “sky-rocketed” my ability to withstand all of my daily stresses.
I finally graduate this semester and Jay is so proud of his mommy. I also joined Kappa Delta Chi Inc. at the University of North Texas at Dallas. This has helped me strive for higher grades and gave me a platform to be an advocate for my community. Managing school, gym, and my son is easier when you create the environment for it.
HA : What has helped you be confident in who you are?
Being confident has been a journey. I have a skin condition, called vitiligo that produces white spots on the body and I wasn’t always confident about it. My best friend helped me to see the beauty that I didn’t see in myself.
Also, when I was in the Army, I was forced to wear shorts in public. It’s weird, but I noticed when I was insecure about my condition, I would become shy and always looked around to see who was staring at my white spots. Now, I don’t even see anyone noticing my condition because I don’t care.
There are other things that have contributed to my confidence such as becoming a mother, leaving a belittling relationship and getting stronger physically and mentally.
I learned that you have to be your own best friend in order to truly feel confident in your own skin. That voice in your head has to be kind, encouraging, and understanding. Even when I am “dead” tired from all of my daily activities and have my hair in a bun, my voice says, “ Don’t be hard on yourself, you did so much today. ” It’s all about balance. If I feel the need to, I will take some time the next day to get some rest and also do my makeup or hair.
HA : What was your biggest trial in life so far?
My mom , Maria Navarrete , is my main supporter and has helped raise my son while I worked full-time and attended school at night. My mom left us on Sunday, February 21st, 2016. I thought that my mom left early for work. She worked as a waiter for banquets , so her days could start early or end late. At 1: OO A.M., I realized that she was missing.
My mother has been a single mother with three kids since I was in the third grade and never dated or remarried. I actually thought that my mom enjoyed staying at home and not working so much. I never considered that my mom would abandon us.
The night my mom left, I lost it. I assumed the worse. I called the police and made a missing person report that night. I even drove around the usual places she would go to like DD’s Discount Clothing store, a grocery store, church, and Starbucks. I even went to the hospitals. Nothing. I cried so much. On my way home, between 5:30 –6:00 A.M., I saw her car parked outside a shopping center which has a Mexican bus line. — Erika Navarrete
A couple of days later, my grandmother got a call from family members in Mexico. My mom was actually staying with them. After this revelation, I was a bit upset with her, but I also understood what she was going through.
I thought to myself, “I don’t blame her. She probably needs a break.” My mother did everything for my son and I. She took Jay to school, picked him up, helped him with homework, gave him baths, and put him to sleep. Also, my brother, Carlos Navarrete, has a mental illness called Paranoia Schizophrenia. With medicine my brother, was able to get out of the hospital and come home. However, my brother would also take advantage of my mom. All of this put a huge strain on my mother !
After the first week , my grandmother got a call from the family in Mexico to tell her that my mother left their house early in the morning with all her things. I thought that she went to visit my aunt that was with family in Mazatlán, Mexico. Days went by and she didn’t make it to my aunt’s. My whole family , which consists of 12 aunts and uncles and over 2 dozen cousins , began to worry.
At home, I had to figure out things real quick. I only had a few semesters left, so quitting school was not an option. I continued to work full-time, started and finished the KDChi sorority new member process, working out, and taking 9 credit classes. My boy-friend helped with my son’s school arrangements. There was nothing I could do to help find my mom.
My grandparents probably visited Mexico 5 times to look for her during the 7 months she was gone. My family’s visits to Mexico consisted of visiting police stations, bus stations, news stations, and posting missing person reports. We got a lot of calls and many of them were fake or requested money.
In Mexico, it isn’t uncommon for people to get abducted for ransom. My grandparents still followed any leads. It was very stressful for them but like any parent, they didn’t give up.
The last call we got was from Haret Marget, a student, in Mexico City. My grandparents and sister flew out there and I saw it all on my “snap” ( Erika’s personal account on the social media application SnapChat ) through my sister’s account. I was at work at the time.
My mom survived living 7 months on the streets of Mexico City. My mom talks about it openly now, saying that she felt like she was on a cloud the whole time.
I left the Science And Humanities College Campus Vallejo (CCH Vallejo) to go to the Northern Truck Center, to buy bottles of water to give to homeless people. This is something I do everyday, since I started school. I found a lady (Maria) outside of entrance “3” of the campus. This is a public transport stop. I talked to Maria and she told me of her family and how she missed them. I informed my family of the situation. I immediately started to investigate on the internet in each of the States of the Republic (Mexico) to see if they were looking for Maria. Suddenly, I found a photo of Maria in all the newspapers and newscasts of Durango….it was a very extensive process. — Haret Marget on finding Maria and reuniting Maria with her family in Texas
Apparently, my mom experienced a mental breakdown and was out of it. She said she wasn’t even hungry until the last few weeks ( before she was found ). She lost over 100 pounds.
I do talk to Jay about how hard it was for my mother and the differences of my childhood versus his. This helps him to be grateful and also gives him a willingness to help others in need.
If you ever see Maria, make sure to get her a cup of coffee !
This story appeared first at thepavlovictoday.com.
Originally published at medium.com