Every one of us dreams of going off to college after high school, having the greatest college experience then landing our dream careers.
But what do you do when, out of nowhere, your entire life gets turned upside down?
You keep going. Join me on today’s episode where Corey Peterson talks about her journey after being diagnosed with lupus, being a survivor or voyeurism and how both of these things wreaked absolute havoc with her life.
Full Transcript Below
Dee: Today, I am excited to have an amazing guest with me to share her very own journey from mess to message with all of you amazing people listening. Now, who is this young woman? Well, I’ll let her tell you guys the story. Hi Corey, welcome to the show.
Corey: Hi, thank you for having me. I am so excited.
Dee: Why don’t you introduce yourself and tell everyone what your favourite colour is and why?
Corey: Well I’m Corey and right now I am a licensed psychotherapist and PhD student. I also have two kids, and a husband, and I believe that pets are people too because they are fantastic. My favourite colour is orange because I think it’s hardest to match, but also when you match it, it looks amazing. So, like for example, I can rarely wear orange with my skin tone, but like when I can, I feel like I look amazing. So I just feel like it’s a surprise colour all the time.
Dee: That is awesome. My favourite colour is yellow and now I can understand why I like you so much because yellow and red make orange so you’re a real kindred spirit in that sense. I met you a couple of weeks ago, and I heard your story and I was like this story is one that people need to listen to. So I just want to ask you, so where did you grow up? And what was your childhood like?
Corey: I grew up all over the US and right now I’m living in my sixth state. So my childhood was non-traditional, to say the least, and at risk of sharing other people’s stories without their consent, I will only share what I can. I don’t share siblings with the same parents so I have half-siblings either on my mom’s side and I have one half-sibling on my dad’s side that I grew up with. My father and my mom married several times growing up, so I didn’t have a stable father figure.
I started working when I was 14 years old and never stopped. At that point, I was in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, and I actually moved there when I was in middle school, so I always say that I am from Iowa. I feel like you’re middle school, high school experiences are where you’re from, and I had some of my best experiences there and I was in a town of 6000-8000 really kind people. But I certainly didn’t have it easy. I just luckily had really good friends along the way.
Dee: Oh wow. So, not having a stable father figure in your life, how hard was that for you?
Corey: Oh gosh, I think it depends. At this point in my life, I think I was in high school. It was certainly the hardest time for me and it was particularly hard when I saw my friends have really close relationships with their fathers, and just wanting that, I don’t think as a kid, you ever shake that feeling off.
Dee: Oh, yes I can understand that because even right now as a teacher, I’ve seen so many students of mine who don’t have fathers. You can tell that there’s something missing in their eyes when they look at you. They want to have that male figure, that somebody they can ask some questions, stuff like that. I mean I grew up with a father, bless God, but I can understand, I can empathize with not having somebody around, and really needing that extra support.
I know that there are many women who are single moms and it’s amazing and God bless you. You are awesome. But I do understand that there really is a need for a dad figure, and I’m just really, inspired by the fact that even though you didn’t have a father, you are still here and you are still going through life and that is just amazing.
Corey: Thank you.
Dee: So, one of the reasons I wanted to share your story was because you were diagnosed with lupus at 19. Do you remember what was going through your head when you were diagnosed?
Corey: Yeah, well I was sick as a kid off and on. I got diagnosed with Raynaud’s disease when I was in high school, and I ended up having one of the worst cases that doctors in my area had ever seen. In fact, I even had to go to speciality doctors and get all these tests done on me and they thought I might have one of the worst cases in America. Raynaud’s disease is not really complicated.
It’s like your fingertips your nose and your toes lose circulation when it’s cold. I just happened to have it really severely and even having it on other areas of my body. So that was really painful. They were testing my hands and they were saying that it looks like I will be getting lupus at one point. I was transferred during my sophomore year of college from Iowa to Southern Utah University, and that first year was awful.
Come to think of it, it was my first year when I got diagnosed. I was 19, and that was my sophomore year there. I originally went to the doctor because I got shingles after an event that I’ll talk about soon. But I just started getting more and more sick like more and more often and it didn’t really make sense. It felt like I was getting the flu. My hair was falling out. I felt really weak, really nauseous; just pain throughout my body that didn’t make sense and I went to the doctor, did tests again and they’re like guess you have lupus. Finally, things started making a lot of sense.
Dee: Oh wow, I’ve heard of many people having lupus you know like Selena Gomez has lupus. I’ve heard of other celebrities and models having lupus. I’ve heard of people losing their hair, losing lots of weight, their skin getting weird. They’re basically experiencing a whole bunch of complications from having lupus. So, for you, what was your biggest struggle having lupus, besides getting sick?
Corey: Very often I deal with feelings of weakness all over. I experience hair loss. I cannot tell you how many times I have been in and out of the ER throughout the past five years. Usually, my kidneys are okay but right now I have early signs of kidney disease from that.
Lupus comes and goes in flares, so you could be totally fine for weeks, or even months, and then out of nowhere wake up and just me near death. It’s like describing this feeling of being completely hollow and heavy at the same time. This last winter, my husband had to pick me off the floor one day. He had to dry my hair for me. It’s just this extreme fatigue and full-body ache, headache-like fogginess where I can’t think straight.
And then there are days where I get morning sickness. I get the symptoms of pregnancy without pregnancy.
Dee: Oh boy I cannot imagine what that’s like. I pee a lot already and I’m not pregnant. Only God knows what’s going to happen when I actually I’m pregnant. So I can’t imagine having the morning sickness and not having a pregnancy to back that up. You are one strong human being and I must say you even as talking to you, I’m like wow, I don’t know if I could go through this. You are strong. Has anybody told you that recently that you’re a very strong person?
Corey: Probably not recently, but I definitely feel it sometimes.
Dee: You mentioned getting shingles from something happening to you. What led to that event?
Corey: So, when I was 19 I moved away from home for school. I’m trying to think how far I was into the school year. I think it might have been the second semester but I was living in the dorms and I actually had a dorm on my own because roommates are just hard for me. They had no boundaries with anything. I didn’t want people taking my food and stuff like that, and any issues with being clean. So I got a dorm to myself.
In our dorm building, on every floor, there was an RA or resident assistant. Residents assistants lived on the same floor as their dorms. My dorm building was coed, but men and women were on different wings. Few of my friends were friends with several guys on another floor and I had some really good friends on the floor because the RA was a man.
One day, the male RA came into my room using his master key and turned my peephole around so that people could watch me from the outside. It stayed like that for two weeks and I had no idea what was going on. Of course, all these other guys knew that you could come to my room and look at me through this peephole. I only found out because my friend was walking down the hall, coming to my dorm to say hi to me and she told me that she could see a light coming from my peephole.
She looked in, freaked out, and knocked on my door to tell me that she could see me and that other people could see into my room from outside the door. Someone ended up giving us a tip and so we found out who was. Unfortunately, my representative at the time was friends with him. She didn’t want to report him because she felt really bad, but thankfully, she did end up reporting him. He was kind of seen as like the hot popular guy. Everyone loved his stories. So once he was reported he was immediately fired.
What happened next is that a bunch of guys from his floor building were so mad they lost the popular guy and blamed me even though I did nothing wrong. I started getting death threats so the university had to move me to another building for my safety temporarily for three weeks or a month. I was so afraid to leave that room and be on campus. I didn’t want to see any of these guys so I stopped going to classes. I was on academic probation and I got shingles from the stress, which prompted me to go to the doctor and it just really spiralled from there.
To make things even worse, after a few months, I was moved back to my dorm room. About a month later, the university came to me. This was before the#MeToo movement. They came to me and asked me if he (the guy who had assaulted me) could get his job back. They told me that he was really sorry, that he was a great guy and this was his first time doing something like this and they (the university) didn’t want to lose them him. So they just wanted to check with me first to see if it’d be cool if he got his job back.
Dee: So, hold on. He was a Peeping Tom and basically disregarded your privacy, your feelings as a human being. He was this real dirtbag, and they’re going to ask if he can get his job back because he was sorry and this was his first time? What was that like for you?
Corey: Oh, awful, and back then I was only 19 years old, new to the states and to the whole area so I went there blind because I had never been there before. Plus at this point, I had already lost a bunch of friends because not only did the guys get mad but some of the girls who had crushes on him also got mad at me. So I lost girlfriends as well because of all of this. I remember at the time barely saying anything back but I essentially was just like, okay, because I just had no idea at that age what to say. I didn’t have the kind of strength, backbone or assertiveness I have today.
Dee: Oh that’s so bad.
Corey: It is. Looking back I’m just shocked. They never reported it to campus police and they just really did everything they could to make it seem like it didn’t happen and they didn’t have an issue with it because he was also very acclaimed in his church activities, and things like that so I think they really wanted to protect his reputation.
Dee: So, when you’re going through all this, how did you keep positive during this obviously overwhelming time in your life?
Corey: Oh, I don’t know. I mean, I was 19 and completely alone. Eventually, I started going back to class and I appealed to my department, was put on academic probation. So I had to write a letter to the school telling them what happened and go teacher after teacher and get them to sign something saying that they would take the unofficial withdraw off my transcript. That took time to do. It was 10 years ago but it took awhile for me to really get back into the swing of things because I was just genuinely afraid.
People were telling me they wanted to kill me. So I think it was just survival mode- fight, flight or freeze and all I could do was freeze, which is totally valid. But hey, I got through it.
Dee: So if that were me, I’d be like you know what, I’m going home. It’s not worth it. I just don’t have time for this. I need my life back and I am scared. I will not go back. But how did you make it through university? I mean you’re earning your first PhD which meant you graduated, you went on to do amazing things. How did you make it through the rest of the time at university, after this happened?
Corey: I mean University went well. Later that year, I think I got it together and got to know who my friends would be for the remaining time in university. There were people who weren’t on his side, and I chose, instead of isolating myself, to reach out to these people and eventually formed friendships. Also, that was my home. I didn’t have any bedroom anywhere. I didn’t have a family home to go back to. That was my option and my only option was to keep going.
I was a first-generation graduate, and I wasn’t going to not finish school because of this guy. So I was able to keep in mind focused on what was really, really important.
Dee: So, I’ve heard what you had to say and I’ve listened to everything that happened, and I realized that you share something in common with other people who have defied the odds. It was the fact that you didn’t have a choice. You didn’t have a backup. There was no one to go home to. It was either do this or do this.
It must have been difficult for you to keep doing this, even though you knew it was hurting.How did you manage to keep pushing? I know there are times when you must have been like, you know what, I can’t do this, but what kept you going?
Corey: There’s a Bob Marley quote that I think I’m going to butcher a little bit, but it goes something like this. You don’t know how strong you are until that’s the only choice you have.
And I mean after that, when I was 19, that was the first and only time I’ve ever felt like ending my life. I remember being in that place of fear, feeling like there was no escape. And I remember thinking of how I would do it and having a really dark night.
I didn’t think I would actually go out and do anything that I was planning, but that night I had a real, and I’m not a very religious person today or by nature, but I had a genuine moment where I felt hugged by God. It was just a full-body experience. When I was at my lowest that there was a still small voice that spoke to me and held me in a way that really brought me out of that state of mind.
So when it comes to getting through hard times, sometimes all you do is get through it, and that’s honestly my story during that part of my life. I got through it because I had to. That was it. I didn’t have any coping skills or any like big warrior moments. It was genuinely me getting through it because that’s all I could do. It was either that or not be here, and so, by the grace of God, a spirit of resilience was born inside me.
I got through to the end of the semester. At the end of the school year, it was my first time on academic probation. It happened again later but even though I wish I had a more inspiring moment it was just literally survival.
Dee: You know what, sometimes survival is all you need even if it’s not inspirational enough. Sometimes I find that when we have too many options, we tend to take the easy way out because it’s easy for us to quit. It’s easy for us to move on. It’s easy for us to not continue. But like I said, sometimes having only one option, and that option is to keep going, is all the inspiration, all the motivation you need to keep going.
And I just love that you said that you had that one moment where you felt hugged by God. I can tell you that, coming from someone who has wanted to commit suicide two, three times, that it really was a hug from God that prevented me from going through with it. And I know that when you’re in that state of irrationality, everything that you would not normally even think about doing, you end up thinking those very things.
Sometimes the thoughts don’t vanish and you really do need that hug to keep moving, to keep going. Anybody out there who is thinking of committing suicide or thinking that it isn’t worth it, trust me that it really is. Even if you don’t think that there’s somebody out there who loves you, just know that God does love you. I also like that, even though you weren’t super religious, God still hugged you.
He still broke through all that super non-religiousness, and still managed to give you a hug, and I love that. So, what are the most important lessons you have learned from this experience, and the many others that you’ve had that have really helped to move higher in your life?
Corey: Oh, I mean just everything after that. I learned that the worst parts of our life are temporary. When they’re over, they’re done, and I fully believe that.
So it took me five years to get my first bachelor’s degree because I was on academic probation once or twice because of more lupus- related stuff. I changed my major five times because I didn’t know what I wanted to do and the biggest lesson is that the worst thing you have ever thought about, the worst things you’ve ever been through, you can always get through. Do not make permanent decisions based on temporary feelings because the worst of it is actually the most temporary part.
Dee: Amen. The worst of it is the most temporary part. So I have a question because I am super curious. If you would hold on to one memory from any point in your life forever, what would that memory be and why would you hold on to it?
Corey: If I could hold on to one memory from any point in my life I’d hold on to one that is more recent. I’ve been married for almost eight and a half years and genuinely my favourite thing ever is just snuggling in bed with my husband. He’s one of those people that just makes other people better for being around them because they’re that good of a person. Marry someone one day because I married that guy.
It’s crazy and when I think about it, when I’m stressed at school or something like that I just bring back all the feelings of hugging him under the covers, hanging out in bed watching TV, and it’s my favourite memory that luckily I get to keep doing. It just feels really good.
Dee: Oh, I’m literally smiling through my teeth right now as I’m hearing that. I love hearing when women talk about their husbands and know big them up as we would say in Jamaica. I love when women how amazing they are and big ups to your husband if he is listening. You, my friend, are one blessed guy and Corey, you are one blessed chick. I’m so, so happy to hear you talk about him that way. I love you hearing things like that and though I’m not married yet, I know that guy is coming and I would love to have even a snippet of the kind of person that you have in your life. That’s awesome and I love that. That’s so awesome.
Corey: Thanks. He’s definitely amazing.
Dee: He does sound that way. So let’s fast forward a little bit to the present. You are now earning your first PhD and your fifth college degree, fifth. That’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Wow. You also run a thriving psychotherapy business. Girlfriend, how did you do it? How did you go from there to here?
Corey: It was hard, because again like I didn’t have any family members to go to, and say how do I college so I had to really figure out on my own. During my sophomore year, I transferred out of state. I wanted to get to my high school town and then all of that craziness happened so I’ve had to really learn how to take care of myself. I got my first bachelor’s degree in communication. That’s what I started with and I ended up going back to because that was my first love.
Communication is everything and I love the field. After that, I met my husband and we got married right before I finished my bachelors while he still had two years left. A teacher came up to me one day and said, have you ever thought about getting a master’s degree? I said no. They told me that I could send in an application by the end of the month and I was like, all right.
So I did. I got everything in on the last day, at the last possible chance. Then I got in on academic probation essentially because GPA GPA was so low from the stuff that happened with the voyeurism and the lupus diagnosis and shingles.
I had to make some stuff up again but grad school fit really well with me. I found out I was only nine credits away or nine classes away from getting a Bachelor’s in psychology. So I was like, well, I’m here for two years anyways might as well finish another bachelor’s degree. I was doing my second bachelor’s, my first master’s and I was working three jobs at the time.
I was teaching for the university and did multi-level marketing, sales kind of thing for a bit and then I tutored at the service centre for students with disabilities. I probably did other jobs there, but I graduate school fit me really well. I’ve always been someone who’s loved school, loved learning and loved cats. That’s all you need to know about me.
I got my master’s and second bachelor’s but then I had a gut feeling that I wasn’t done. While I was finishing my master’s degree I was in one of those psych 101 classes and I just realized that I have all of this communication knowledge. I was taking interpersonal communication classes, learning step and family communication and I was like if people knew this, it would make their lives a lot easier. If I just continue to teach at college it’s going to just be me teaching a lot of people who can already afford college.
So I thought that I would become a therapist where I can actually teach people stuff. I talked to a teacher and he told me what steps to take. I applied to several schools outside of the state. I got into all of them but my gut said, don’t go to any of them. So I actually had to turn all of them down before I applied to the school I eventually went to. I of course applied last second and I got everything on the last day but they luckily interviewed me. My husband told me to look for places and states that I would never live in, and I ended up living in Kansas.
I was afraid of Kansas because I was afraid of tornadoes because I didn’t know what they really were and I thought there were tornadoes everywhere in Kansas because of the movie twister.
Dee: I have no idea what they are either.
Corey: But I applied, I got in and we moved to Kansa. One day, one of my professors asked if I had ever thought about getting a PhD. I said no and they told me that maybe I should. I was like okay. So then I went and got my second master’s. While finishing that, I applied for my PhD. I applied to one, the last day I could possibly apply and in fact emailed the director and said, my application was garbage because I did it last minute, can I redo it and send it to you and somehow got it.
So, I finished my second master’s degree in marriage and family therapy studies and became a licensed psychotherapist in two weeks. Later this summer I’m starting my PhD and this Monday I go into my 11th year of college. I have not had a summer off because I’ve done school all the way through the summers since 2009. This is the first summer I didn’t take a class because I was teaching but I have literally been in school for over 10 years straight.
Dee: Wow, is all I can say. Wow. Just the fact that you’ve been in school for 10 years. Wow. I am blown away by all that you’ve just told me. You went from having a low GPA, having lupus and being a survivor of voyeurism, having all these negative things happen to you to having multiple degrees, getting into all these amazing colleges, moving away from your comfort zone and being able to accomplish more than most people in their lifetime ever have the chance to accomplish.
Even though you’ve done all of this. What are you proudest of?
Corey: Right now, I’m proudest of my psychotherapy practice. I just accepted six other clinicians so now I’m a group practice owner and I’m extremely proud of the group that I’ve put together. I am so lucky that my husband and I really pinpointed the best and I want the best therapists that are coming out of school right now.
I talked to each of them, and every single one, but one, chose our practice to join. I built this for a couple of years to get it ready for them and the fact that they chose me felt amazing. I’m already so proud of them and being a psychotherapist is the best job in the world. Getting to teach there has also just been beyond amazing.
I like to constantly look at my life, and just wonder how I ended up here and the truth is that people saw something in me that I didn’t see myself. I only got these degrees because someone came up to me and said, hey Corey, have you ever thought about this? My family, the women, they don’t go to college, they graduate, and they get a husband and they get pregnant and that’s that.
College wasn’t discouraged, but it was never talked about because it’s not a priority. So to have other people in my life, come to me and say, hey I see something in you was all it took to change my life completely.
Dee: You know, sometimes that’s all you need. All you need sometimes is someone to say you know what, hey, I believe in you. Hey here’s a push. I have been in your shoes where I’ve had people who have seen things in me that I never saw in myself, and again, sometimes that’s all the push you need.
Thank God for those people in our lives, for those people who see things in us that we can’t see for us. Thank God for people who are able to push us when we can’t push ourselves. Thank God for people who are there to really catapult us into the next level of our journey. So Corey for all the women listening to this show now or years from now. Is there any, wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
Corey: I’d want to pass on that overconfidence is only a thing if you fail, because if you don’t fail, you have exactly the right amount of confidence you need to succeed. Through all these degrees one thing I have been accused of is being overconfident and I think that’s because I’m a woman, too and I look like I’m 12.
But I don’t think that anybody should need to have a stacked resume in order to be allowed to feel really good about themselves because feeling good about yourself will never hurt you. And so this humility complex that women sometimes get stuck in that if someone gives us a compliment or gives us praise we have to say oh well no. Absolutely not. Take that in because you’ve earned it.
We all feel like impostors walking around sometimes. But I also feel really good. Like if knowledge is power I feel pretty damn powerful. Getting these degrees is so fulfilling and it’s something I do because I want to. Wanting something is reason enough for anything so you don’t have to find all these logical hoops to go through. You can just want it and do it. Sometimes change is really easy, but you just have to start somewhere. We always start in the middle; it’s never truly a beginning.
I think that’s why sometimes it’s hard to pick ourselves up because we’re waiting for that moment for it to feel like a fresh start, but it’s never the start, it’s just the continuation and it’s never too late to do something different that gets that future version of yourself closer to where they want to be.
Dee: So for anyone listening, it is never ever ever too late to continue on your path. You might have been stuck at one point. You might have felt like this is the end, but no-no-no. Continue. Keep going. It’s okay to feel good about yourself. It’s actually encouraged to feel good about yourself. Even if you have failed 99 times just succeeding 1 time is something to be proud of. Be proud of that one thing, and keep going. Never ever ever stop because no matter what it is never too late. Thank you so much, Corey. Where can our listeners connect with you online?
Corey: If you want to connect with me I’m not much on social media due to my job and everything but you can contact me on my website which is communicationandconnection.com. I am the owner of Communication and Connection Therapy, but if you just it up, you’ll see my face and my information. Please feel welcome to reach out with any questions, comments, concerns, jokes or anything.
Dee: Alright so communicationandconnection.com. If you really just want to say hi, if you have a joke, please feel free to type that in and see her beautiful face because if you see her face, you will smile like I am smiling right now.
Thank you so much, Corey, for coming on. I’m pretty sure people listening have been inspired and motivated. I’m so happy and blessed to have had this time to talk with you. And I just want to say again for anybody out there listening, just start where you are. Use what you have and do what you can because you can do it.
This is Dee, and you have been listening to She Is A Mess.