September 22, 2015 - Merri Golightly
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the next feature in a regular series honoring women who have overcome emotional and physical obstacles and still come back fighting.
Tanya Hermansen came into this world weighing just two pounds. She and her twin sister were born prematurely in the fifth month of pregnancy to a single mother; their father left home when he found out about the pregnancy. Tonya has faced adversity from day one.
Her mother remarried a few years later and Tanya and her sister were adopted by the husband. About four years into the marriage, her mother began a pattern of infidelity and addiction that would lead to the dissolution of that marriage and a string of unstable and short-lived relationships. “I walked in on her cheating on my father and told her,’you have to tell Dad or I will.’”
“More than anything I was her parent...that role of me taking care of her at a young age was probably established when my dad left.” By the time she was 10, Tanya and her family had moved 42 times, sometimes right across town and sometimes across a state. Bartending jobs helped pay the bills. They also provide opportunities for Tanya’s mother to meet men and enter many abusive relationships. “She was always looking for a quick fix and never really found it.” Many of the moves were a last resort out of those volatile relationships.
Eventually Tanya and her sister were forced to leave home or be put in foster care. They went to live with their half-sister, who they mostly knew through letters. “We never realized how dysfunctional it was.”
This move took them to Thatcher, Arizona. Tanya found faith and new friends. Friends she could look up to. “It was more than that they just seemed different, happier… it was the choices they were making. But I didn’t want to just join another church, I wanted to do it for me and I wanted to be very committed in it, it took me a while.”
Tanya joined the LDS church and later moved to Virginia right out of high school. She worked as a nanny and met her husband through church. “He immediately knew, he called me and said ‘I think there’s more here. But I was only 18!’” It took Tanya a little longer to warm up to the idea of a serious relationship, but they married within a year. Hermansen’s mother was married about a dozen times, or at least Tanya stopped counting around then. Eighteen years into her marriage, Tanya can reflect on the contrast between her mother’s choices and her own. “I think from a very young age I knew I didn’t want that, I would tell my mom that she wouldn’t find joy in those things.”
In the midst of her new life with increased stability--she'd escaped the hazards or her mother’s habits and avoided addiction-- Tonya was struggling deeply and personally. Taking care of three small children and eventually reached a breaking point. She and her husband moved their family to Arizona for a fresh start, but it was her diagnosis of bipolar disorder that marked a true turning point. She met with her new bishop there because she had reached a breaking point. “I told him I can’t do this anymore. I proceeded to tell him I can’t not give into the voices in my head… lucky for us he was a counselor by trade.” He referred Tanya to a counselor where she was finally given an accurate diagnosis. Together with her husband, who left work and stayed home with her for two years, she began to recover and receive treatment. “We ended up losing the house… but in the process I got healthy and we looked around and realized everything that meant something to us was what we still had--our family.”
“I’m not embarrassed of it, I’m not ashamed of it. I want people to realize that the stigma is ridiculous. Some of the behaviors can be embarrassing, but still It’s nothing that we chose.”
She found a treatment that “I can say that luckily it was the right treatment for me, I’m now symptom-free.” Nine years later with seven kids (three of them adopted) she has maintained the treatment and even feels some survivor’s guilt. “I just want people to have hope and to keep searching for things that work for them. ”
How does Hermansen see her trials impact her life? She never views herself as a victim, never lets others or situations control how she sees herself. When a trial comes along she does what she can to identify the root problem and then pushes forward. “I just always say, ‘okay, I know what it is now what can we do about it. I don’t think there’s any one answer for everyone. You just do what you’ve got to do and keep going.”
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