My name is Debbie Eckardt. I was born in Los Angeles, California and moved a lot and no, I was not a “military brat”. I moved to Fairbanks, Alaska when I was 10 years old because my father took a job there. I lived there for 4 years until my father took a job in Juneau. I lived there until after I graduated high school.
I tried to go to college right out of high school, but I wound up having to drop out because my grades were not good enough to do what I wanted to (study nursing). My father really wanted me to study business, and I was good with numbers, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to be able to help people which is why I was trying for nursing.
After two and a half years at Seattle University, I returned to Juneau and went to work for the state. I was really restless and only lasted about two years as an accounting clerk before I burned out and had to move on. I did various things just trying to make ends meet and I also did some volunteer work. I finally decided that what I was doing wasn’t working so I stayed with my parents for a while and returned to Alaska. This covered a period of over 10 years.
When I returned to Alaska in 1990, I took a job delivering pizzas. I was surprised how easy it was for me to drive up there, even though I had only heard other people talk about how to drive on ice. I was very much at ease with driving in general by that time since I had delivered pizzas in California for over two years and I had driven to Alaska by myself in about 5 days (3500 miles). For some reason people thought I was crazy for doing so and feeling comfortable with it, but that is the way I am. After a year or so doing that, I moved to Anchorage (1992) where I continued doing pizza delivery as well as picking up a newspaper route.
In 1993, my father died and I thought my life was going to fall apart. I took a lot of time off work until after the funeral in Oregon. I tried to get back into school and work after that but I wasn’t able to do either. That summer, I moved down to Oregon to stay with my mother and two brothers.
I returned to college after an absence of about 15 years and decided I was going to try for a science degree. I knew by this point in my life that I couldn’t deal with emergency situations well so working in direct patient care was not an ideal situation for me. I did pretty well when I attended Lane Community College, but when I tried to transfer to the University of Oregon (GO DUCKS!) things fell apart again. I was not able to complete all the second year biology courses (got a D in one so I would either have to wait a year to try again or go a different route). It was decided that I would go for general science since all I needed for that was four more classes (assuming I was able to pass organic chemistry third quarter during the summer session…which I did somehow). During the spring term 1996 I was diagnosed with ADHD and Tourette Syndrome so for the fall term I was given accommodations including note takers and extra time for tests to be done in a quiet area. This made all the difference for me and I was able to graduate in December 1996.
After graduating, I moved to Sacramento, California to take care of my mother. I was there until after she died (February 1997). I moved into an apartment near where I was attending classes to become a lab tech. During that time I worked a couple of different jobs including inventory auditing and test evaluation and occasionally as a teacher’s aid for a school district in the area. I actually learned a few things about myself during this time:
- I did like working as a teacher’s aid, but I had difficulty with a lot of noise
- I preferred working with small groups rather than large classes
- I liked having a lot of variety in my life and always had to be busy doing something.
I eventually had to stop working for the school district because of a problem I had there, but I was able to do the other two jobs until I decided to move to North Carolina when my brother and his wife moved there in Fall 1998. It was a long trip, but the three of us shared the driving of two vehicles. We dropped my beagle off (inherited from my mother) with my sister-in-law’s mother and continued our journey. The first week or so we were there we stayed with my sister-in-law’s grandmother and looked for a rental house.
Not long after moving into the house, I started looking for work. I found a job at a drugstore not too far from home. I filled out the application before noon and was working that night since my availability fit their need. I worked at least two jobs almost the entire time I lived in that area. I moved into the YWCA residence hall soon thereafter and things seemed to be going pretty well for me. It was at this time (early 1999) that I became involved with the Red Cross.
I still hadn’t figured out “what I wanted to be when I grew up” (even though I was close to 40 by this time). I started working for the state in the mailroom along with the cashier position and it was difficult for me to find time to volunteer although I knew that is what I wanted to do. I the cashier position took care of my need to help people, but I was not able to do very much volunteer work.
By 2003, I thought my life was going well. I had moved in with my brother and his wife when they bought a new house (2001) and I was starting to get things in order. I had cut back to just one job for a while but found it was not enough to keep me happy so I went back to work for the grocery store. In early 2003, I had been tested for and diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (high functioning autism). Six months later (Sept 2003) I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, had surgery and chemo. During my treatments my doctor didn’t allow me to work, but he didn’t say I couldn’t volunteer so any time I was feeling well enough I would go down to the Red Cross office and get some of the backlogged case work entered into the computer. I had finally found a niche that made me feel good about myself.
After finishing with chemo in February 2004, I returned to work (the first month I only worked 4 hours per day, but since I worked both jobs I worked 7 days per week). I don’t think the doctor would have approved of that, but I didn’t care. I knew I could handle it and if I couldn’t I would have backed off on something.
I decided I needed to do something more so I returned to school doing an online Master of Education (Instructional Design) finishing that in 2005. I thought I might try to teach in a local school district, but I found that to be harder to accomplish than I could handle. I knew that I didn’t want to teach elementary, but I didn’t have enough classes with good grades to teach at the high school level. I decided to go a different route, based on the suggestion of my brother.
I got burned out with the mailroom by 2006 and took a job teaching English in China. I got my passport and made the move in September 2006. I went to Zhuhai (right next to Macau is Guangdong Province) and spent a year teaching non-English majors at a university. The next year I went to Meizhou (northern Guangdong Province) where I was teaching English majors. That was a very rewarding job. I went back to the states in 2008 and tried to get back into the Red Cross. I was in Arizona for about six months, but by the time my paperwork had been transferred from North Carolina, I had moved to Missouri.
I tried for over a year to get into the Missouri chapter, but it was in total chaos so nothing came of it. While living in Columbia, I worked one season as a test evaluator and tried to complete teacher certification education through Columbia College, but in 2010 I took a job in the Census Bureau office and wound up not doing well enough to be allowed to continue. I thought I was going to crash and burn when my job ended after only two months or so. I was able to get unemployment and food stamps, but things were really falling apart for me. I got into another online graduate degree program (Master of Arts Education emphasis on English Language Learners) and took another job in China.
I was in Yan Cheng (about 5 hours east of Shanghai) and had planned to be there as long as they would keep me. I really liked my students and they liked me. But my body had other ideas. After being cancer free for over 6 years, I had medical issues by December 2010 (about half way through my contract). I returned to Missouri for treatment, but that is another story (see http://ovariancancerlife.blogspot.com/). One good thing did come of the return: I stopped by the Red Cross office in March or April 2011 after starting treatments again and they put me to work right away instead of waiting for my paperwork to arrive. I was pretty active while I was there. I moved to Anchorage, Alaska to stay with my sister in July 2013 and by mid-September had started the transfer process to be considered a member of this chapter.