My path to finding my calling: winding past pain, law, the FBI & a higher power's plans

I was raised in a conservative, religious household.  “God has great things planned for you,” my mother would encourage me in her warm, sweet voice.  As I grew older, it became more stick and less carrot-like.  As a rebellious teenager, that phrase was sometimes wheeled out in futile attempts to control me, with the undercurrent being the suggestion that I was thwarting said plan.

Years later, I was in the applicant process to become an FBI Special Agent.  I had made it past the early stages and then through the Phase I written testing; I had an interview and a physical fitness test remaining.  It likely goes without saying that it’s really competitive to get to that point, and I had a near-spitting chance of packing my bags for Quantico.  And then I met my husband and fell in love, and we decided to attend law school together.  I had wanted to be in the FBI since the ripe age of 12, but I decided that I wanted to follow a different course with my life.  When I told my mother of my decision to attend law school rather than join the FBI, she didn’t try to hide her disappointment.  In that moment, “God had great things planned” for me – the operative word being the past-tense had.  Oy, was I devastated – not because of a higher power’s dissatisfaction but because of hers.  My parents thought I had “enough degrees” already; it was a weird response.

Then, law school happened.  I simultaneously (1) hated every second of law school and (2) graduated as the top-ranked student in my class. I haven’t the slightest idea why I performed so well in a program I so disdained, but the irony isn’t lost on me.  After I graduated, I was forced to withdraw from a fancy job with a federal judge as my pelvic pain became unmanageable.  On the day that I also had to withdraw from taking the bar exam, I solemnly swore that I would never ever practice law in my life. I hated the unforgiving nature of the profession, I resented that my illness and the job I had earned were incompatible, and I was loathe to spend another second in the competitive social spheres of lawyers.  I was done.

Except… by that point, I had married that guy who was special enough to warrant my resignation from the FBI’s agent process.  And since he graduated law school the same day as me, I wasn’t done with lawyers – I was now married to one! 

And then, my pain got worse, prompting us to move across the country so I could get treatment. Life was really hard for a long while, and I swore that when I recovered, I wouldn’t give law a second glance.  I’d written enough tear-stained resignation letters and felt overwhelmed by defeat from my illness for the last time.  But then, I recovered. And I took the bar exam and a high-brow law firm job downtown Chicago.  I didn’t last long before I quit to work at a dog daycare.  I’d worked too hard to be healthy, and I had zero tolerance for when my supervising partner gave me the stink-eye for visiting my physical therapist. Being healthy was delightfully fun; practicing law was not.

Fast-forward through my time at the doggie daycare, when I also began taking on small legal projects for physical therapists.  To my surprise, I really enjoyed the work of helping providers become more patient-centered by improving their compliance.  I then spoke at the American Physical Therapy Association’s annual conference about my experience as a patient, and I received an incredibly warm reception. I started to feel like what I was doing made a difference, and my early clients became repeat clients when their practices flourished.  The business grew naturally, and my workload became regular and substantial enough that my husband could leave his job and become my law partner.  Jackson LLP was born.

My work as a healthcare attorney, and as owner of this glorious little law firm of ours, has also exposed me to dozens of physical therapists who’re doing incredible work.  After speaking about my patient experience in 2016, I was asked to join the advisory board of a girls’ health nonprofit, I recorded a PSA about pelvic pain… and then I was invited to speak at a flurry of healthcare conferences in 2017 and 2018. Somewhere along the way, I founded my own nonprofit, Inspire Santé, to broaden awareness of pelvic pain issues.  My blog has had several thousands of visitors in just its few months of existence, and I’ve been contacted by its readers from Los Angeles to Brisbane – all echoing that they could hear their own story in mine.  Many have felt compelled just to share with me: their stories, their heartache from their journey, their triumphs.  I’ve connected with many women around Chicago, holding hands across the table with them at Starbucks while we shed tears of sheer gratitude for the unique empathy and understanding we can offer to each other.  I’ve giggled with them through mascara-stained cheeks as we wonder what nearby customers think of all this emotional vulva talk.

I can finally say that I’ve found my life’s work.  Urging providers to be more empathetic and focused upon their relationships with patients is my calling.  Instilling hope in women who have languished in pain so long that they’ve forgotten what “good” feels like is my calling.  I have found the “great things” that I’ve been called to do – called by whom, I don’t know – but the peaks and valleys of my experiences have meaning now (that’s not to be confused with saying these hardships were “worth it” or were the universe’s “plan” for me).  They have meaning because, as a healthy woman, I’m empowered to give them meaning.  For those who aren’t yet empowered to even lift themselves from bed in the morning, and who so desperately need providers like those who’ve carried me through dark days, I do what I do.

And I love it.