The Story Behind My Smile

I smile, I smile in pictures, on the runway,throughout the day and throughout my life. In fact I have been smiling since as early as I could remember because my mom was always shooting pictures of me. However, Behind My Smile is a Story. A story where you would think smiling would be extremely hard. I am sharing my story because it is my goal to empower, raise awareness, encourage and provide hope to those who may have gone through everything I have, maybe something similar or even have a completely different struggle to overcome. I am being open about everything in my life I've gone through including being vulnerable and opening up about my health, of which I've been scared to do. But I'm opening up to raise awareness and hopefully inspire someone to power through not only their disease, but their past and/or present.

12 Years of Child Abuse: On February 19th, 1995 the police and CPS wrote this in my file, "Evidence of physical abuse was substantial and included bruises on both of Karista's legs, 'rear' and her left arm and included puncture marks above her left knee where her mother stuck her with a safety pin." My life for almost 12 years was filled with daily physical, emotional and mental abuse.What I am sharing with you here is just a glimpse into just a small part of my abusive world. My first memory ever was the first time I remember my mother beating me. We were at church and I was extremely sick with a cold and even running a fever. I kept crying just wanting to go to bed and instead my mother spent several hours spanking me, and during her breaks I would have to stand in a corner behind the door. Until I was 12 that became my life every day of the year. There were just a few miraculous days off from the beatings. Over the years I was pulled by my hair and slammed into the walls of our house. No part of my body, even the soles of my feet, except for my face was safe and even then she sometimes lost control and my face was hit and left to bruise. In between beatings that almost always caused bleeding, while she rested, I would either do my homeschooling or stand in the corner until it was time for more beatings. When I was a little bit older there was one episode where she shoved me against the wall, went into the kitchen, grabbed a butcher knife and came back holding the knife to my throat and said I'm going to kill you because you are a child of the devil (my mother was extremely religious and considers herself a Branahmite). Thankfully she stopped with the knife, but from that moment I truly believed my life would end before I even became an adult. After the first time I remember her beating me and the rule became if I screamed or tried to protect myself with my arms the beating would last longer until I no longer screamed or protected myself and just lay there while she used a belt and a 2x4. 

You ask how did no one notice the bruises or hear the screams for over 11 years? The bruises were covered by the almost Amish like clothing I was required to wear. The screams were masked by 4 radios and the passing of trains as my mother timed her beatings to the trains passing. As far as school I was home schooled so questions would be avoided. One day I waived to a neighbor and my mother felt it was inappropriate so as punishment, after a beating she stuck me in a closet in the bathroom for 3 days. Size wise it was about 3ft by 4 or 5 ft and no light. I was only allowed out for beatings as part of my punishment and if i needed to use the restroom I had to wait while she thought about it. That seemed like the longest, darkest 3 days of my childhood. When I was younger we didn't have a water heater so we only had cold water. I cried whenever taking a bath from the cold and my mother did not like hearing me cry, so she would hold my head underwater while I tried to fight for air, that happened more than once and once again only stopped happening when I learned to stop crying. Over the years she would take in strangers who needed food and a place to stay. Two of those men molested me, which to me I did not understand what was happening and is forever imprinted on my mind.

Shortly after I turned 12 I felt that anything would be better than living a life in constant fear of beatings.After nights of crying in my sleep asking God to please kill me and take me away from my mother, I tried to commit suicide for the first time. Even though I knew it was a sin I asked God for forgiveness and swallowed a whole bottle of aspirin. Instead of dying I became very sick for several days and my mother refused to take me in to see why I was so sick. Several months later I tried again this time with a knife, but i couldn't do it. After that I knew I needed to find a way to escape my mother or I wouldn't live much longer as her beatings and assaults were getting worse. In June of 1984, November of 1985 and June of 1986 I was taken away from my mother due to her mental instability and reports of abuse. Each time she got me back. In February of 1997 I was finally permanently removed from my mom. I am forever grateful to my neighbor's daughter and her son for getting me free and making sure I would never be placed with her again with taped evidence of her physically and verbally abusing me. I am grateful to the police and CPS worker that came to rescue me. That day in 1997 as my mother watched about 10 police and plain cars pull in front of our house she tried to tell me to go hide. That moment the fear that I had, had for my entire childhood just fell away. My words were "Mom, I'm sorry, it's over" and walked past her, out the door and down our steps just as an officer was walking up. He told me, "Just keep walking." I did and didn't look back until I was safely in the CPS car.My mother was convicted of multiple felonies and spent time in prison. A song that holds meaning to me and sums up that period of my life is by Leann Rimes, One Way Ticket. As for me I entered the world of CPS and foster care.

Foster Care: While foster care saved me from my abusive mother it was a very rough 6 years. Socially I was way behind due to being secluded and home-schooled. But I worked hard to catch up socially. Over my high school years I was a member of the drama club, even becoming an official Thespian, honors choir, journalism club, peer mediation, Rural Metro explorer(training as a junior paramedic/firefighter), biology club, reading club and various other clubs and sports. Academically I excelled, even being in honors classes. Making friends however was hard. My foster brothers and sisters, well some were nice others were bullies towards me making living with them in the foster home difficult. One of the foster homes actually became abusive. I couldn't eat at the table with the rest of the family, I was not allowed out of my room, and all I was allowed to eat was peanut butter sandwiches. Not to mention if I did one thing wrong the foster mom would push and shove me into the wall and yell at me. I ended up running away to my lawyer's office begging for a new foster home. Over the 6 years even though I had great foster parenys I was a troubled teen and I ended up in 14 different placements. One was a group home in Phoenix that I was put in to deal with my bulimia disorder. There were times where the flashbacks of the abuse were too painful so I would cut my wrist, which let me tell you does not get rid of the pain it only causes more. As I became closer to 18 I had to learn to become responsible for myself, earning my GED, starting working and finding a place to live when I turned 18. At 18 I said goodbye to CPS and moved to Utah as a live in nanny. However that was short lived as my boyfriend asked me to move down here to Phoenix, which I did. Over the next 16 years I could have never imagined what my future held, but I do know that I belonged here in the Phoenix area.

Domestic violence: About 6 months after turning 18 I met someone who I thought was the one. We got engaged and I became pregnant. We married on New Years Eve. Shortly before our wedding day his attitude become aggressive towards me getting physical than apologizing. I felt that he was sincere with the apology and continued with the marriage. Over the next month the fights, the physical assaults became worse. Finally on the day of our one month anniversary we got into an altercation where I was shoved into the wall bruising my arm and then he whipped my pregnant stomach bump. Afraid for my life I called the police and left that part of my life. I moved to the other side of town, got a job as a Sonic carhop working over 40 hours a week and going to college while pregnant, not to mention several weeks as homeless, crashing on kind strangers couches. I graduated from technical college in 2003.  I wanted to make sure my son had a better life than I did which is why I fought so hard to graduate. Shortly after my son was born I tried to work it out with his father. The same patterns returned, assault, apology, then start all over again. I finally left for good and started my life. However, for the next 10 years while my ex and I shared custody I feared for my life and was grateful to have my new husband there to protect me. Over that time period I had items thrown at me, holes punched in walls, porch lights broken and finally after discovering he had been abusing my son he physically assaulted me putting me in the hospital. At that point we pushed to end contact with him of any kind and it was granted, I and my son were finally safe and free.

Health, mental and physical: Over the years I have striven and continue to strive to exercise, eat healthy and live a healthy lifestyle. Of course one's body just breaks down. This section is particularly difficult for me to discuss because I dont want whoever reads this to not think I can't keep up with life, events or activities. I have over the years and I can. When I was in my early 20s, I was diagnosed with PTSD, depression and anxiety. In my early 20s, the PTSD was the hardest as I literally had flashbacks that felt like I was relieving the moments. I spent several years in therapy and let me tell you dont be afraid to seek help of any kind mentally, you will have a more fulfilling life. Health wise I struggle with migraines, tachycardia and hypothyroidism with a complete removal of my thyroid due to cancer concerns which thankfully came back negative. 

About 6 years ago however, my whole life would change. My perspective on my daily life would change. I went into what is called a myxdema coma, 4 days of my life were taken from me. I spent a week recovering and went home thinking that would be it. Two days later I became very sick again. This time they discovered my adrenals had been damaged with the belief that the coma triggered my adrenal glands to stop functioning. Over the course of a year and multiple tests later it was determined that my adrenals will not recover and I was diagnosed with the chronic rare disease Adrenal Insufficiency. This diagnosis changed my life. Those diagnosed with AI in the U.S. is approximately 40-110 people per million and in those people life expectancy is expected to be shorter. There is about 6 million undiagnosed people in America. Adrenal Crisis can also occur if your replacement steroid isn't enough due to a spike in activity or stress levels or if you are sick. In an Adrenal crisis people can lose their memory, have lethargy or confusion. Being in an Adrenal crisis depending on the severity, a person can mimic actions similar to being drunk or overdosing on medications. In our current healthcare system Drs. and  nurses are barely trained to recognize and differentiate symptoms of an Adrenal crisis vs. alcohol or drug intoxication. The majority of time this causes a misdiagnosis putting the patient in danger. In these cases an emergency steroid injection has to be given within 30 minutes or there is a possibility of a coma or even death. And yes, I have experienced crisis many times over the years. Now though I am more aware and better prepared to prevent a crisis, but it took a huge learning curve over 2 years. Having Adrenal Insufficiency comes with being on steroids. These steroids cause major weight gain and make weight loss extremely difficult, not to say I am not trying. So over the years I have gained weight and had to come to terms with my new figure and accept myself, which I will discuss in the next section.

Beauty: Beauty is Diverse. In the community and world, size 0 is not what everyone wears. I have been competing in pageants since I was 18. Over the years my body has changed, even more recently due to my chronic disease and weight gain caused by my life saving steroids. Several years ago I also started modeling and no matter what my size, those in my community supported and encouraged me. This year after entering into a local modeling competition with the goal of becoming their 1st plus size model, I received tons of support, but also loads of comments from my haters. I let those comments and those peoples opinions just roll of my skin and I focused on the positive. You can not let people deter you from your dreams or goals. You have to stay determined! You see true beauty comes from within and reflects on the outside. So no matter what shape or size you are, you can be beautiful, believe in yourself, that you are beautiful. I am plus size, I own my shape and size. I am beautiful!

The Story Behind My Smile. I can smile because I know I have made it through some very dark times. I smile because although I have a chronic disease I wake up every day and am alive. I have a super supportive family and supportive friends (you know who you are). I have and am continually Defying the Odds. I survived and got out of 2 abusive situations, I survived foster care, health issues and the stereotypical world of beauty. And I am fighting for our plus sized people to be better accepted in the community and fashion world. Over the years I've competed and won several pageants. I've danced for the Suns and Mercury. I've coached little league and been a part of my local community. I've spent 13 years volunteering, giving speeches and I have done so much over 16 years that I am so grateful for each opportunity that came and comes my way.  I am Defying the Odds and I am doing it with a smile. Now I am not the only one that can smile and defy the odds, you can too. Whatever has happened to you in the past, whatever you are going through now, you will survive and eventually thrive. You may have to pull deep down and find your inner strength but trust me its there and there is hope. You will make it. You will learn to accept yourself as beautiful, even though it may take some time. If you have a chronic disease or illness look for a Facebook support group, they are a wonderful support. But please suicide is not the answer, neither is staying in an abusive relationship. Reach out for help, its there. I'm here. I hope my story has brought awareness to several issues that people deal with besides me and given hope and encouragement to at least one person, hopefully more. Remember you too can Defy the Odds whatever they may be. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL and SMILE! 

Yours Truly


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