The year that was

For most people, December 31 is a time to reflect on the events in their lives and look forward to what lies ahead. Some participate in making New Year’s resolutions and make goals to do better and be better in the new year. I’ve never participated in these events. I believe if you discover a change in life is needed, do it in that moment rather than wait until some apportioned time set by society.

Since 2017, my new year has been set to November 9. On that day, everything changed. It was the day something broke inside of me, but I do not view it as a bad thing. Over the past year, I have made significant changes in my life, which have helped me to grow as a person and allowed me to start down a path I have chosen rather than settling for the circumstances life threw at me.

I think most of the changes were for the better. In December 2018, I transitioned to a new therapist. I hesitated to make the change, but my friends Bas and Charissa spent the better part of thirty-six hours talking, emailing, and texting me to calm me down and explained to me why I needed to accept the transition, keep going to therapy, and give my new therapist a chance. I decided to accept and trust their opinion because I could not think rationally at the time.

I could write a dozen adjectives describing the amount of progress I’ve made since making that decision. There is still so much more to do. I have fucked things up from time to time, but, overall, there have been more ups than downs in 2019. I have found more people who have been supportive of this weirdo from New York than those who wish to put me down.

January through May was an extremely difficult time for me professionally. I worked on a major project in addition to my regular work for which I received little recognition from my colleagues. It hurt me deeply at the time, but I cannot dwell on other people’s actions. It only creates sadness and bitterness and I’m trying not to be that kind of person anymore. I am forever grateful to my two colleagues who helped me with the project and supported me during those tough times.

On March 1, we had to say goodbye to the best girl kitty in the world. Cinders had kidney failure and Paul and I had to make the decision to let her go. I have written a few times about her, including her passing and how much she soothed my soul in troubled times. I really missed her in October.

In March, my publisher completed suicide. It was eleven days before the first anniversary of death of a friend who had also completed suicide. The day after he died, a coworker came up to me and said, “Irene please don’t ever go out like he did.” I assured her that would never happen. His death was a third hint in 2019 that my life at the Star-Herald was nearing its end.

From left to right, Irene North, Lori Potter, and LuAnn Schindler.

At the annual Nebraska Press Women Communications Contest I won nineteen awards. I was also awarded third place in the Marianne Beel sweepstakes award. That’s third best in the state. I was freaking ecstatic.

Writing has always been more than a passion for me. It is a part of me. When you read something I write, you are seeing a part of my soul. There is a piece of me in each story, article, and poem. To be recognized for such a high honor from women who have been toiling away at the same thing for decades meant the world to me.

I tried to play it cool when I accepted the award, like it was no big deal, but inside I was screaming, “This is fucking awesome.”

Those same two colleagues congratulated me. I posted the picture of myself and the second and first place recipients. Folks who follow me thought it was awesome, too. The press release never ran.

I had a health scare in May, which provided me with the results I already knew. My life was filled with too much stress. I knew where it was coming from. In an editorial meeting, we were told our workload was going to increase considerably. I was already doing three times the work I was hired to do and had expressed my concerns to my editor, noting the workload was already impossible to meet. My career as a reporter and photographer was, literally, killing me. Still, I trudged on, hoping things could get better.

Over the next five weeks, a series of other events, which I still hesitate to discuss publicly, led me to the conclusion a major change was needed in my life.

Writing is the only things I have ever felt comfortable with in my life. It doesn’t matter if I was writing story about zoo animals, a city council meeting, or something personal like a dumb poem or thought-provoking story. The words flow easily and wrap around me like a protective blanket warming my soul. The words are me.

To walk away from that was almost as difficult as enduring the years of childhood sexual and physical abuse. I knew when I walked away from the Star-Herald I may never have the opportunity to write professionally again. I also knew if I stayed, I would never be able to change, to heal, to manage my mental illness, or to grow as a person. I would, most likely, die on the job.

I was still hesitant to go. I knew the truth. I knew what needed to be done. In the back of my head, little me, who never had a choice in deciding what happened in her life, told me, I needed to go.

In June, as Paul was about to power down his computer so we could leave for our vacation to Prague, he received a message: his mother had passed away about twenty minutes before. Instead of the Czech Republic, we headed to Preston, Lancashire, England.

I was offered a position at the Community Action Partnership of Western Nebraska Youth Shelter while we were in England. I had to give them my decision within twenty-four hours. Unfortunately, I had to turn in my resignation at the Star-Herald via email. I don’t regret doing it. I just would have preferred to do it in person.

Although I have only been at the youth shelter for five months, I still think it was the best decision. I work the night shift, which is ideal for my PTSD. Even on the days when things don’t go as planned, I am one hundred percent calmer than I have been in the last three years.

At some point during the summer, Paul and I decided we needed to declutter our home. Both of us grew up poor and we fell into the trap of buying stuff because we didn’t have stuff when we were children.

This has been our frame of mind for most of our married life. We have spent the past three months sifting through items. A friend graciously offered to sell them for us, which was a major overwhelming obstacle in the process for us. Paul and I still have too much stuff and we are continuing to work through it all. Our spare bedroom is the last place to tackle and it is overwhelming to us at the moment. It will be our home office. The plan is to have it all sorted out by January.

We have also replaced several large items in our home. We have a new stove, refrigerator, and dishwasher. After nearly twenty-one years, we have a new bed and dresser. The sofa and love seat arrived November 6. They came with pillows, so we’re all fancy now.

My physician took me off Humalog – a fast-acting insulin – in September. My A1C has hovered around 6.1 for the past couple of years. My doctor was concerned I was having too many daily lows. I will see in January how well it has worked out.

I haven’t read as many books as I wanted to this year, but I did write some reviews of the books that had a big impact on me. I read three books about Crazy Horse, but one still lingers with me. I think it painted a genuine picture of a man who was not so different from me. “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius still makes me think. I’m not a Stoic, but the philosophy does have some valid points that I’ve taken away and made my own.

I also enjoyed “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America,” by Colin Woodard and “Permanent Record” by Edward Snowden.

One a more personal note, my therapist and I worked out a plan to get through the worst day of my life, the day after Labor Day. It was the first time in thirty-five years I didn’t suffer from debilitating flashbacks. While that was a positive step in my healing, October hit me hard.

The day after Labor Day is the worst day of the year for me. October is the worst month. October is full of a series of memories of smaller events that lead to a memory of a large, traumatic event at the end of the month. The flashbacks make it difficult to accomplish anything. I didn’t have a plan. As a friend pointed out, I also didn’t have a place to direct that anger, fear, and sadness toward this year because I changed jobs.

I had to face October head-on and I didn’t know how to. I collapsed instead. I now have an entire year to work on these issues and hopefully make next October a little better.

I promised myself this year I wouldn’t look at the photographs I took on November 9, 2017. I already know what happened. I don’t need to mire myself in the details or how I broke that day. Instead, I’m going to lunch with Paul and try to muster up the courage to mail out a few more query letters in the hopes my memoir will one day be published.

I am also considering trying to get a book of my crappy poetry published, but I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m in the process of gathering ghost stories of Fort Robinson and Crawford. I may have a freelance story in that – we’re negotiating – and I think there are enough stories to write a chapbook.

There have been a lot of housecleaning changes this year. More importantly, there have been many more internal changes. I’m taking Tuesdays for myself as often as possible (I plan to hike around the Panhandle, so suggestions are welcome).

I’ve made a lot of progress in my journey toward bettering my mental health. I’m not sure that would have been possible without the guidance of my therapist and I’m grateful for where I’m at right now.

I’m going to fall down again. I’ve got a lot of work still to do, but I’m doing what I need to keep getting better no matter how terrifying that feels sometimes.




Flashback 57


  1. Mary

    Irene, you are one of the strong ones. I cheer for you. I so so enjoy your writing. I can feel you in the words-I wish you every success and personal peace.

  2. Jerry Lewis

    my heart is deeply touched by my hero…you’ve always been one I looked up to…you are a serious, thrilling individual. I feel for you, I keep asking a mutual friend how you are doing. Keep on keepin’ on, Irene. I enjoy your writing and will happily host a book signing when you’re published…how fun that will be. Thanks for sharing your soul. I am deeply touched. Jerry Lewis

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