Today we raise our fists high and put our hands together in celebration of our Feature Girl Warrior, the extraordinary and inspiring Beckie Maki, affectionately called the Rainbow Unicorn. With her signature colorful hair, inspired by the legendary and magical creature, Beckie’s uplifting story is a profile in bravery, survival in the face of adversity and courage under fire. Through all of life’s challenges and mountains to climb she always finds a reason to smile and stay positive. To some this may be a mythical concept, but spend five minutes with Beckie and you will be a believer. Beckie says that we are all in charge of our own “fairytale” and the idea that if we believe in something/anything, we can find our own happiness. And to this magical idea, we say big beautiful YES!
What makes you a Girl Warrior?
If I’m honest, I don’t see myself as a Girl Warrior at all. The word warrior, in my opinion is someone who demands great respect and confidence. I’ve always lacked in the confidence department. I have overcome many challenges in my 41 years, but no matter the challenge I’ve been faced with, I’ve always found a way to survive and surpass. Life doesn’t always work out the way we want but I believe it works out the way it is meant to be. My ability to hang onto my “positive” no matter the situation has been my mantra. I guess that does make me a Girl Warrior!
When did you first realize there was a double standard regarding boys and girls and what did you do about it?
I was quite young when I started to understand there was an unwritten set of rules for girls, different than for boys. I was very close with my cousin growing up. I was just over two when he was born and I loved him like a brother. When I would question why my younger cousin was allowed to do certain things and I wasn’t, the response was always “because he’s a boy.” This was an acceptable answer in those days, and I was raised not to question the response. This applied to simple chores assigned all the way to curfews.
What stands out most during your years as an Alter Server?
Hands down Father Cano. I grew up Roman Catholic. Father Cano was the first to challenge the church and allow girls to be altar servers. Boys have always filled this role. He saw no reason for a girl who was willing to serve the church be denied the opportunity simply because she was a girl. I was so proud. At nine, I didn’t understand the enormity of what Father Cano had done for me. He had stood up to the church in a time when that simply didn’t happen.
How did the Catholic Church shape the woman you would become?
After Father Cano retired, I continued to be an altar server until I was 13. My parents divorced around that time, and I turned to the church to help me get through it. Just before I turned 14, an adult male who I did not know raped me. Experiencing this trauma is what made me leave the church and abandon my faith. I was taught to save myself for marriage, that right was taken from me and I blamed myself for the rape. I didn’t know how to move forward, no longer a virgin, in a world where I was taught that was my most sacred gift. “Good girls” saved themselves for marriage and I was no longer a good girl by that definition. It would take years for me to forgive myself for taking on blame that was not mine.
Why was it important to you to not be seen as a “victim” after you survived a brutal rape when you were a young teenager?
The rape was my first sexual experience. I had only ever held hands with a boy, as well as one awkward first kiss. I felt like being raped was my fault. Going through the court system I was assigned a worker and given counseling. The term “survivor” was often used in place of victim. It’s just one word but it made all the difference in my recovery. Using the word survivor gave me back my power, and much needed control over a situation I felt I had none. I was in therapy on and off through high school. I don’t think I ever fully healed and I took that “baggage” with me into my relationships. I have gone to therapy numerous times as an adult to work on new strategies, every time the current ones in place are no longer effective. I’ve learned to recognize when an update is needed.
You got your first job when you were ten. What did earning your own money symbolize and why was it so significant?
100% the ability to buy things! My parents were hardworking people, and of course everything a preteen wants has a cost. The deal they made was that they would pay half if I came up with the rest and I so very much wanted a Club Monaco sweatshirt! Babysitting became my life.
How did you deal with the PTSD you suffered after being held up at gunpoint at the store where you were working?
I didn’t deal well in the beginning. I replayed the actual robbery in my head over and over. I was working night shift and as a security feature there was a button to unlock the door and let the customer in. I let him in. He only got about 60 dollars. He made me kneel down and pointed the sawed off shot gun at my head and had me beg not to die. I don’t know why he didn’t pull the trigger. I tried to help the police investigation by looking at mug shots and so forth. The hardest part was watching the security video and reliving the moment I thought I would die. I didn’t leave my apartment for six months. I went completely backwards in my day, unable to sleep at night with nightmares and only during the day when I wasn’t alone. I tried a few medications but didn’t feel like they helped at all. I saw a psychiatrist and again, was making a lot of progress. What finally helped was a drastic move to Alberta and changing to another therapy. EDMR therapy reminds me of hypnosis, however not an accurate description. My new therapist took a light and quickly shines it back and forth in a dark room. You decide on a *safe word* prior to the therapy. My word was my cat’s name. You go through the trauma, while having this light go back and forth into your eyes in a dark room. The idea is to reprogram your reaction to the trauma. I’m describing this technique and I’m sure I’m confusing, but this process worked for me, along with the relocation. I was finally able to function outside of an apartment and get back to working.
Why do you call your daughter Ella your miracle?
Ella was born September 18, 2006 and changed my life for the better at 9:22pm. I was diagnosed with thyroid disease as well as PCOS when I was 20. I was always told that conceiving a child would be an issue. My husband and I had already survived one miscarriage our first year of marriage, and at this point we had been married for six years. I got pregnant New years Eve 2005, 2 months after he returned from Afghanistan for work. In January 2006, I was in a very bad car accident that resulted in me going to the hospital. They ran the standard tests and discharged me. I followed up with my doctor two weeks later. It was then that I found out I was pregnant. I was shocked and advised not to tell people about my pregnancy. I had just been in a major accident on top of my previous complications so my doctor advised it was probable I’d also lose this baby. Each week would pass and I would get my hope up a little bit more. After months of complications, bed rest, and simply praying, she came two weeks early. The day she was born, we both almost died trying to get her here. I had read books, and cared for children most of my life. I’ve been in love and had people love me back. Nothing prepared me for that *instant* overwhelming love the moment she got here. There really are no words to describe it. My whole purpose changed. I live for that little girl, although she’s 14 now, with every breath I take. She is my hero, and I’m so proud of the strength she has. The world I grew up in has changed and it’s even harder to be a teenager these days with social media. I talked with Ella, on her level based on her age, about everything. Nothing is off limits. This summer I talked with her about my rape. I used my experience as a teaching moment for her rather than a never talked about memory.
What happened when you turned thirty that changed your life?
I believe everything happens for a reason, there is always a greater purpose. The year I turned 30 was ten years after I got married and my daughter was four. My marriage was going through a rough period and I blamed our problems on myself, specifically my weight. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism a few months prior to getting married. I was always a healthy weight, however during the diagnosis stage I gained 88 pounds in six months and was never able to lose it. My heaviest was 286 pounds. During the weight gain and the years afterward my husband was very supportive. Every time I had a melt down because nothing fit again, I was gaining about 20 pounds a month that first year; he would go to the store and buy whatever was needed. Mentally I could not get past gaining the weight. It wasn’t something I could control but I definitely hated what I saw when I looked in the mirror. Back to turning 30… because I blamed my weight for our issues, I hit the gym – hard! It took me 3 years of sweat, pain and pure hell but I lost 175 pounds on my own. No quick fix or gimmicks. Once I lost the weight, reality set in. Our problems had nothing to do with my weight! I’m laughing at myself now saying it out loud, but at the time that was the mindset I had and I was blind to our real issues. We separated off and on several times, trying to fix “us.” In the end, our issues could not be fixed and I could not forgive again. We were both spending more time hurting than loving one another. We went our separate ways. Divorce is not how I imagined it would end. We were separated almost a year when I got together with my current partner. He was my best friend since I was 16. He was the reason I was able to be a single mom working five jobs. I definitely couldn’t afford daycare on top of the huge amount of debt I assumed to leave my husband. Between my Mom, a few friends and my partner, they all provided free childcare for Ella to get me through. We got married earlier this year on 02/02/2020. I was in hospital at the time.
Why is it important to “show up” regardless of life’s circumstances, especially during difficult times?
For me, that is the only way to be. It is something each person has to decide every day when they get out of bed. I always choose to be the person that always sees the positive in every situation. Now, I’m not saying I am always a bundle of joy to be around… especially in the morning! No matter what, the people I have chosen to love and be a part of my life know they can always call on me and I will be there. The same can be said by any of my employers. Deciding to show up makes it easy to look in that mirror and not hate what I see. Helping others is the way we all should be. Imagine a world with nothing but kindness and caring for others, sounds pretty perfect to me! I could use my life experiences as an excuse to be negative and repeat several patterns, but that is not me. Each experience in my life, the good and the bad has shaped who I am today. Accepting both parts and the role they each played makes me the human I am today.
What’s the biggest decision you’ve ever made?
I’ve thought about this response a lot. I can’t state one decision that is more important than another. My first thought was choosing to end my marriage. That decision went against everything I was brought up with and my core values. If I’m being completely honest, it was an important event on my journey but all events are relevant. Recently, the biggest decision I’ve made was to go back to work in a wheelchair. In January, a week before I was to get married, my health took a decline and I lost the use of my legs. I spent a few weeks in hospital having multiple tests with no answers. I went to Toronto for a week for a second opinion, this happened just prior to Covid-19. Twice I didn’t think I’d make it through the night. My legs are mottled on the backs of my thighs. In my field of work, we see this as part of the dying process. The times that I thought my number was up, the mottling had gone waist high. I made my arrangements, wrote my letters and had the hardest conversations of my life with Ella and my now husband. My only regrets were about the people I care about being left alone. And I’m still here! A lot of people had a hard time with the isolation during the Covid-19 shut down. I especially did. All of my testing and treatment options got delayed until July when I was reclassified as urgent. It’s been ten months since this new road on my life journey and I still don’t have full use of my legs. The depression I was slipping into was coming fast. With limited options due to restrictions, I wasn’t making any progress physically. I woke up one day and decided that I couldn’t mentally wait for an explanation aka miracle any longer. I had been getting more depressed with the frustration of my body not letting me go back to work, so I made the decision to work WITH my body. I was able to find an employer to accommodate my many limitations. Part of the issue with my legs is they spasm – a lot. Depending on how bad the spasm is at the time, I get scant incontinence. I’m only 41 and my pride refuses to use a product or medication to aide this. My solution is to bladder train my body and void every hour, regardless of urge. I also require an extra break. Being new to a wheelchair and back in the workforce after months of being in bed has been a challenge. My pain is still not managed well and I developed a pressure sore but I pushed on and love my job! I only work a few hours a week as a Greeter at a local store but my mental health has improved 100%.
I’d like to bring up the word “survivor” again. To continue to stay at home and wait made me feel like a victim to whatever illness I have. Accepting what is happening to me is like giving up hope that I will get my legs back. Waiting gives me no control. I get treatment at the hospital currently and I am waiting to go to Winnipeg for more tests. I am choosing to survive this illness while still trying to beat it. I have set up community supports, if in fact, I don’t get the use of my legs back; I will have people in place to emotionally help me through that process. Making sure I have self-care in place is a priority for me. I know myself well enough to be able to say that if the time comes to accept that this illness is not going away, and the lack of use of my legs will be permanent, I will need to grieve the loss before I move onto my next challenge. I am confident that with support in place, I will be able to survive that unwanted truth.
What do we need to know “for sure” about being a survivor?
I think the most important thing is to be self-aware. Knowing your own limits and needs is the hardest part of getting through any high stress situation. The second is forgiveness. Not only to the person or persons that caused the hurt, but being able to forgive yourself. I’m not sure if it’s a “Beckie” thing or something others can relate to, but I’m hardest on myself. I can very easily forgive another for hurting me, but I have a hard time forgiving myself for my mistakes. I’d like to say it gets easier the more you survive, but it’s a constant process for me. One of the most meaningful quotes I’ve read is by Rose Kennedy, “It has been said “time heals all wounds”, I do not agree. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” My personal addition to her quote, “it’s ok to have scars, wear them proudly but don’t let them define you; let them be a reminder of how far you’ve come.”
What do Unicorns represent to you?
A mythical creature of happiness. The idea that if we believe in something/anything, we can find our own happiness is a magical idea. Let me clarify by saying I know they aren’t real! As a child I read books as fast as I could check them out at the library. I’d get lost in the fairytale. I haven’t outgrown fairytales but my mindset now is that WE as individuals make our dreams come true if we believe we can. I’ve been called a Rainbow Unicorn often, and not just because of my hair! It is because I can always find a reason to smile and stay positive, to some that is a mythical concept. Understanding we are in charge of our own “fairytale” makes us all unicorns.
What would you say to your younger Girl Warrior?
To my younger self, you’ve been through hell! It will not be easy; you will get hurt again in your life many times. You are loved always and you may feel alone, but you are definitely not alone. This didn’t happen to you because you deserved it, but you do deserve happiness. You have the strength to survive any challenge. Learn to forgive yourself and others. I’d also slip a note to remind myself that I need to remember to love myself more.
What would you say to future Girl Warriors looking for inspiration?
To be a Warrior, you have to be strong inside and out, and you have to be able to recognize when to ask for help. It is not weakness or wrong to reach out when you are struggling. The only thing wrong, is not asking. If you do not feel comfortable asking family and friends then there are community supports, online supports and a lot of self-help resources available. I’ve used them all! The decision is with you. As hard as whatever it is you are going through right now is – do not be a victim. Take back your own power and be a survivor! It sounds so easy, but it is a constant work in progress as well as a constant choice. On the days that I struggle to find my own rainbow, I take the day to allow myself to feel whatever I need to feel. Maybe I cry in frustration or just play Homescapes on my phone all day and forget the world. Whatever it is, I’ve learned it’s okay to have those days because “tomorrow is a brand new day with no mistakes in it yet” (compliments of Anne of Green Gables). So tomorrow, I will start fresh, and Girl Warrior the shit out of this world!
Who is/are your Girl Warrior hero(s) and why?
I have been fortunate enough in my life to surround myself with Girl Warriors from all walks of life. When I think of the women in my life as a whole, they are all my heroes. I can’t limit myself to just one name. They are all women I respect either as individuals or because the have a quality I admire or lack in myself that I aspire to. From friends and family, to coworkers, employers and direct supervisors I’ve met some amazing women. During these past few months with my unexplained illness, most of these women have “shown up” for me. My wedding in February is a prime example. A lot of these ladies made sure the day went well. These are the same women who later that evening helped me toilet without making me feel awkward. Came to the hospital in different shifts so I wouldn’t be alone, regardless of their own lives and situations. These are the people I wrote letters to when I thought it was goodbye. All of them are Girl Warriors; I can’t risk missing a name by listing them all.
Blue sky it. No boundaries here, just limitless opportunities. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Given my current health situation this is a hard one to be specific about. Five years from now, I hope to be alive and walking. I have always been obsessed with shoes, specifically high heels, and I always rocked them! I want to rock them again. I’d also like to be driving again. No matter what my physical state is in five years, I can tell you that mentally I will survive. I will make the best out of whatever my future holds because I’m grateful to still have a future to be positive about. I’m not ready to give up. I want to see my daughter grow up and look forward to all that she brings. I want to grow old with my husband. I want to make sure all of the people in my life go to sleep each night knowing how much I love and appreciate them. And I really want to go to Montana! I have a love for rocks and apparently they have a beach littered with beach glass! This life is my life to live. No matter the obstacles that get tossed in my way, I will always find a way to let my inner rainbow shine.
If a song were written about your life, what would it be called?
Shout out to 3 Doors Down for the song Inside of Me.
Connect with Beckie on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/beckie.merciermaki
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Or Snap chat at: kizmitty