I came to the United States from the Czech Republic when I was 13, speaking very little English and without the knowledge that this was to become my new home.
I spent my youth and adolescence playing tennis at a high level. My sister and I were elite tennis players and trained to one day go pro. If you didn’t know, the Czech Republic is not only known for its delicious beer, but also its fierce tennis players. ?
Our family moved to the Boston area, but I spent my freshman year of high school at a tennis academy/boarding school in Arizona and that’s when I started to have doubts about professional tennis. I decided that using tennis to get a college education might lead to more options later on. I returned to Boston, finished high school and headed down to Charlottesville to attend the University of Virginia.
Having spent much of my youth absorbed by a single sport, I had no clue what I wanted to do in the real world, nor did I really know what I was good at. Tennis gave me an incredible work ethic, drive and independence, but I still needed to figure myself out.
I double majored in Foreign Affairs and Spanish, thinking that maybe law school was going to be in my future. Having grown up in a Communist country in a politically dissenting family and having participated in a revolution at a young age made me very socio-politically aware. Václav Havel, the first democratically elected President of Czechoslovakia after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 is one of my heroes. He was a dissident playwright who spent many years as a political prisoner. I read his plays and understood and valued freedom and human rights from an early age and had first hand experience of the danger and consequences of a totalitarian or authoritarian style government. I also had a talent for languages, since Czech is a ridiculously difficult one and we also grew up speaking some German thanks to our dad and grandma.
My fourth year at UVA threw a curve ball at me. On October 10, 2000, I was in a car accident that in reality nobody should have survived. After being pinned in the passenger’s seat under the car, I was airlifted to UVA Medical Center where it was determined that I had head trauma, a broken cheekbone and a hematoma on my neck from hanging by my seatbelt. With a pocket full of pills, they sent me home the next day.
Back then, I had no idea that this accident would affect me for the rest of my life. It would first become my curse and eventually my blessing.
After graduating from UVA, I got myself a job as a legal assistant at a small law firm in downtown Boston, but lasted less than a year. The law was clearly not my calling.
I packed my tiny little car up with everything I owned and drove back down to Charlottesville, Virginia where I went to college. I went back to teaching tennis and waiting tables and rejoined a community of friends I had made there over the years. I wanted to take some time to figure out what was next.
Back then, Grant was a regular at the local Outback I worked at because it was close to his office and he was busy building a house on nights and weekends. He’d sit at the bar and order a tall Fosters and a double steamed veg with no butter. He’s always been a well-balanced human.
One day, he decided to take a tennis lesson from me, then took me mountain biking. After that, he asked me to dinner. Halfway through that dinner, we knew and three months later, we were married.
A year and a half later, on New Year’s Eve 2004, our son Jack came along. While we were thrilled, I came crashing down with postpartum depression. I had been excited to have babies my entire life and suddenly found myself in the most confusing state: I had a baby that I loved with every fiber of my being and at the same time I felt like my brain had been invaded by aliens.
As time passed things got easier and soon, we were ready for baby#2. When Jack was 7 or 8 months old, I found out that I was pregnant again. We wanted our kids to be close in age and were so grateful to be able to get pregnant right away.
Baby Stella arrived exactly 17 months after Jack on May 31, 2006. She was 10 days late and weighed in at 10 lbs. To this day, she jokes that we evicted her, but I’m grateful that all 10 lbs of her were able to come out without a c-section. All thanks to our awesome doctor, who is a friend and an amazing human.
Postpartum depression hit again, though at the same time I was thrilled to have Jack and Ellie. They were amazing happy babies who slept, ate and pooped well and I was glad that I was the one with the issues and not them.
We always say that we’ve been incredibly blessed with two wonderful, healthy kids and we feel so lucky that they picked us.
However, this tough chapter held a silver lining for me: I finally figured out what I was good at. Because we suddenly found ourselves owning a handful of businesses with no operating capital, I started to do our marketing and design work myself. I quickly discovered that I had a talent and an affinity for design, branding and marketing. I started Stella Jackson Creative in 2009 and never looked back.
We moved back to the U.S. in 2012 and our stress lowered. In spite of losing a lot of material things, Grant and I achieved a lot together in those four years. Luckily, the kids say that they were blissfully unaware of any stress and have very fond memories of Australia. In fact, they’d both love to live there again.
Four years of constant stress turned out to have serious health consequences for me. Since the accident, I experienced occasional headaches and migraines, but suddenly the pain came and wouldn’t leave. It would relentlessly stay with me for six years.
Among the constant pain were severe migraine episodes that felt increasingly unbearable. I went through daily life in constant pain and after a while, I stopped telling anyone unless I absolutely had to. The depression that comes with chronic pain is vicious. It’s a cycle of denial, anger, frustration, grief, guilt and self-loathing that feeds on itself. On top of that, it blinds you and strips you of your true sense of self.
First, I took the conventional Western alopathic route. I kept being told that there was nothing wrong with me and to try this drug or that drug and to use these painkillers in the meantime. One neurologist actually laughed at me when I told him that I got regular acupuncture treatments, yet didn’t offer any insights into what whas going on with me or how to make it better. Instead, he told me that I was not only wasting my time and money with these alternative therapies, I was also probably exacerbating my problem by paying it so much attention. I have a name for doctors like him: “Wanker.”
Intuitively, none of it sat well with me and I worried about developing an opioid dependency. I took the drugs as little as I could, but as any medicated person with chronic pain will tell you, the stuff stops working really fast and then makes things worse.
While in Napa Valley in 2016, I suffered a severe episode. I was in so much pain that I was scared that something was seriously wrong. I was so desperate I even asked Grant to call an ambulance at one point. Every time I ended up in the hospital or doctor’s office with an episode, I’d get shot up with a cocktail of narcotics. Not only was this not always effective, but it would throw me into detox several days later, which made me feel suicidal and terrified. It was a debilitating and demoralizing experience each time, sending me deeper and deeper into a hole of despair.
Instead, Grant went with Option B that day. We were in California and so he took me to a doctor who prescribed medical cannabis. At the dispensary, I felt and looked like I was near death and was recommended a tea and some other edibles. I drank some tea, went to sleep and like in a magic spell, woke up pain free. It was unbelievable. The next morning, I was up with my family enjoying Yosemite National Park. No rebound migraine, no hangover headache, no awful side-effects, I couldn’t believe it.
I will categorically tell you that medical marijuana was one of the things that saved my life. I continued to use it for severe pain, careful to maintain its efficacy by using it as little as possible and it worked like a charm. After a few months, I was completely off of all pharmaceuticals.
Apart from medical marijuana and Grant’s constant quest to find a way to help me, the third thing that saved my life was me. One time, I found myself in such a severe episode, I viscerally knew that unless something dramatically changed, I was going to die. At that point, I silently asked for help. I think that maybe that was the very first time ever I prayed without even realizing it.
What followed is an incredible and ongoing journey of healing. You could say that a series of miracles happened and I was presented with all the things I needed to heal myself. I stopped looking for answers outside of myself and dove deep into my traumas, my patterns and slowly started undoing all of it. I started reading and listening to material that fed that transformation, all the while following my own instincts and intuition as to what I needed at each particular point. For the first time in five years, I had days without pain. I was getting better. Of course there were setbacks, but I’d always find my way back.
Eventually, I developed a daily breathing and meditation practice which was the turningpoint that ended the pain once and for all. I incorporated gratitude practice into my daily life. I live much more mindfully and see things through a new, wider perspective. I also listen to my intuition and pay attention to the signs and guidance all around me.
This story simplified. I wish more of us “regular people” shared our suffering, our challenges and our vulnerabilities in today’s world of curated social media posts and unrealistic TV shows. My journey was at times tough and ugly and I think it’s important to share the bad parts too, because they make the end result much more realistic and attainable for others.
There are the people that also endured the terrible years: Grant, Jack and Stellie. Living with a person who is in constant pain is no walk in the park. On many occasions, they endured with me and put up with a mom and wife who was far less than pleasant to be around. The guilt and shame of this deep darkness feeds the pain and is one of the challenges that needs to be overcome in order for long-term healing to take place.
Another silver lining emerged from my healing: I discovered an artist within me and a whole new passion that feeds my soul. Leena, one of my healers and teachers, once told me that I needed to paint. I looked at her like she had three heads and asked if she meant paint walls, because I had zero experience, training or talent in any kind of art apart from graphic design.
Nevertheless, one day I picked up a canvas and some paint and discovered that creative expression can be one of the most powerful healers of our Self. From that day on, I never stopped painting. I became a passionate artist and my healing accelerated and deepened. Eventually, people started asking to buy my art and now I’ve been shown in galleries and sell my work regularly. Art has turned out to be one of the greatest gifts of my life.
Above all, the single most important thing in my life is my family. 2020 threw COVID-19 at us and over the summer I lost both of my sweet grandparents within a month of each other (not to COVID). They both meant the world to me and this is a tremendous loss. Our family has endured a lot of loss and even betrayal over the last few years. Like migraines, grief can be excruciatingly debilitating and also stunningly illuminating. It can take your breath away and it can also be your greatest teacher if you let it in and remain patient with it. One of my biggest lessons has been that all pain always has a deeper purpose if we listen to it.
Our decision to sell our home, live on a bus and travel full time with two teenagers and three dogs has no doubt been influenced by all the loss and healing. But it’s a very intentional, deliberate choice made carefully and collectively by all four human members of this family.
Every day, I am so very grateful for this opportunity and so glad that we get to share it as a family. Jack and Stellie regularly express unsolicited gratitude for this crazy adventure and that makes my heart sing.
Learn More About the Rest of the Family
Learn More About the Rest of the Family