Editor’s note: This first person account was submitted by Michelle Armstrong, who worked through our JourneyHome Rapid Re-housing program to gain stability through a challenging time in her life.
Several years ago, my son, Micah became chronically ill with an unknown disease (diagnosed two years later as Crohn’s with Perianal Disease). As a single mother, I was facing a lot of unknowns and had a frightened child to comfort.
I made a lot of mistakes during the first year of his illness. I had graduated from college with a B.A. and changed jobs a few months prior. His dad was not in the picture, nor had he been since Micah was a toddler. Suddenly, I not only had a student loan, mortgage payment and larger utility bills, but also looming medical bills.
I had to make choices that were very difficult, and those choices always caused an inner conflict. I wanted to be there for my son 24/7 but couldn’t, because I had to make a living as well.
My supervisor was such a warmhearted person, having gone through severe medical issues himself. He allowed me to work extra long days so I could do Micah’s treatments. But his boss said this was unproductive, so eventually I was laid off.
I had already fallen behind on our mortgage payments in order to purchase medical supplies and pay high deductibles out of my pocket. We eventually lost our home and, still without a diagnosis and now without medical insurance, I had to make some fast decisions.
I researched hospitals and found one two states away. I sold everything, including the wooden fence around our yard, so we could afford to move. I found a job in Nashville, Tennessee. But, still facing the same demands to respond to Micah’s condition, it was difficult to maintain steady employment. However, the blessing was a diagnosis and new treatments for Micah.
Michelle continued to prioritize Mikah’s care over everything else, which led to a number of moves. In 2010, they came to Seattle Children’s Hospital for treatment.
As soon as we arrived in Seattle, Catholic Community Services was so attentive and gracious to help us. They then placed us in the hands of one of the most wonderful people I have ever met, Merri Ann Osborne with Solid Ground.
When I met Merri Ann, we were homeless. I still needed a job and Micah was still being seen at Children’s. Merri Ann was such a ray of sunshine. She helped us believe in hope again.
We were able to move into an apartment of our own. She then connected me with an amazing program to help people in need of employment.
During the summer, Micah had a successful surgery. Micah’s health improved so much in such a short time. Micah felt like he had a new lease on life. He had friends. I was meeting people and networking. It seemed things were heading towards “normal” again.
However late last fall, circumstances changed in our lives, and I made a decision that I have learned from but still regret. I had not found a job, and discovering problems at the apartment complex where we were living, my old fears returned.
We decided to move to Kansas City where there were job prospects. There were other determining factors, such as family being somewhat closer, but even my mother was not keen on the idea of us moving away from Seattle.
In any case, Merri Ann and Solid Ground advocated for us to terminate our lease early because of the problems with our apartment. The property management company had not been clear about some issues. They agreed to let us out of the lease early without penalty.
I remember crying as we drove out of Seattle, feeling like I was making the biggest mistake in my life. However, we left Seattle with something that we did not bring: a new lease on life.
Merri Ann, Solid Ground and Brigid Cabellon (with King County Career Connections) showed us that there was hope. They helped me rediscover myself, believe I was valuable as a human being, know that I was intelligent and – despite all of the odds we had faced – know that I was still sane.
When you live in constant fear that your child could die, you make decisions that seem rational to you but irrational to others. You are falsely judged. It impacts you emotionally. You begin to doubt your sanity. You have mood swings and panic attacks and wonder if life will ever get better. Merri Ann never judged me for the decisions I made. As a matter of fact, she was the first person to tell me that I was strong and brave.
Solid Ground was such a lifesaving program for us, but that fear of being homeless again was a scary thing. Hindsight tells me we would not have been homeless and I am certain I would have found work, even if it was two or more part-time jobs. At that time, though, I still had a lot of emotional healing to do from the years of fight or flight reactions.
So now, one year later, I am in Kansas City working as a self-storage manager. I have just started a marketing and writing consulting business on the side and have hopes of gaining new clients so I can eventually be a self-employed freelance writer. I now have the confidence that I can successfully run a business.
But Micah is the true miracle story here. There are still no physical signs of Crohn’s disease. He graduated from high school last May with a 3.5 GPA. He has started writing articles and plans to write for magazines and sitcoms, and eventually start his own magazine. He also is studying comedy and created a web site to market himself as a comedian and writer.
He is still in the physical healing process from the adverse affects of the disease but has what he needs to treat it, due to Seattle Children’s Hospital supplying us with all of our needs even after leaving the state.
He is learning to get past a lot of the experiences from the past that have caused him emotional, mental and physical trauma and is focusing on using positive methods such as Zen, yoga, prayer and meditation to heal.
That being said, we are homesick. Micah’s closest friends are back in Seattle, and our goal is to return “home” to Seattle as quickly as possible.
Micah already has an itinerary lined up for our return, people to see, and familiar places to visit. First on my list to see is Merri Ann Osborne: the woman who helped me believe in myself again, and who opened a much larger door for us than has ever been opened before.