Transcript: This is David Brower with Your 20 Minute Podcast. Our special guest today is Jenny Maher from Richmond, Virginia. Did I pronounce your last name right?
Jenny Maher: Close enough.
David Brower: Close enough. What is it exactly?
Jenny Maher: Maher.
David Brower: Maher, oh, well that wasn’t close enough, that wasn’t even close. All right, we’re here with Jenny Maher from Richmond, Virginia. Great to have you here today as I’m a current Coloradoan and you’re a former Coloradoan, so I guess we’ve got a little something in spirit, huh?
Jenny Maher: Yeah, if you want to admit to that, that’s fine.
David Brower: Ouch, oh, ah, oh! You probably are really happy that North Carolina won the NCAA championship too, right?
Jenny Maher: I’m not a big basketball fan.
David Brower: Oh, good girl, good girl. Hey, I’m intrigued by your book, it’s called Never Give Up: How Determination And God Gave Me A Better Look At Life. You’ve got some amazing reviews, Jenny Brewster in a Barnes & Noble review said, “One of the most interesting and jaw-dropping and addicting memoirs, biography books …” she’s ever read. You have obviously touched a ton of people with your book. How’s that experience been for you? I know to get from ground zero to the book is a whole other conversation, which we’ll get into in a moment. But how does it feel having this book touch so many people in so many ways?
Jenny Maher: There’s no words to mention it. I mean, I meant for it to help others, but I didn’t expect so many positive reviews. Like you said, there were reviews that I got, I guess I didn’t think my story was that touching. But I’m glad that it hopefully is helping a lot of people.
David Brower: Absolutely. I mean, from everything I’ve read, it certainly is. Let’s talk about your story as much as you would like to. I know you were in the Air Force. Thank you for your service, by the way.
Jenny Maher: You’re welcome.
David Brower: And grew up in a challenging family. Tell me about that and how your life kind of progressed over time.
Jenny Maher: Well, my mom had bipolar disorder, so that in itself left it challenging because she would go into psychotic breakdowns which would put her into the hospital, and that meant me and my brother would have to go into foster care, kind of a spur of the moment, so it was one of those, one you never really knew when it was going to happen, and also the foster homes weren’t the best care. This was in Los Angeles, California, so that.
Jenny Maher: Then as they got older, it was just more of, I always say it was kind of like walking on egg shells, you never knew when something was going to set her off to start screaming and yelling or whatever. There was no bondage, there was no loving, there was no attention, there was no talking to her about my problems or anything. So I held a lot of my feelings and my problems and my everything in. So I dealt with a lot of physical issues with migraines and stomach problems and ulcers as a young age, and affected me as I got older because I had no one to talk to about the problems or just about being a woman, you know, everyday things.
David Brower: Just everyday stuff, yeah.
Jenny Maher: Right, as you get older, and just getting close to somebody. So I mean, I had some friends, but that was about it. So as I got older I didn’t know how to talk to people about the stress that I was dealing with. After I got out of the Air Force, my mom was my only family, so I still was with her and she lived with me for a while, and I just kind of accepted it, and that was my life. I didn’t know really much of a difference. But I ended up being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and PTSD and depression, and so I was dealing with that. Then her problems were causing me to just …
David Brower: Over the top, over the top.
Jenny Maher: Yes.
David Brower: And your father passed away when you were young, or you were like three, right?
Jenny Maher: Yes, he got hit by a hit and run driver.
David Brower: Oh my god! What about your brother?
Jenny Maher: My brother is four years older than me and he was sent to foster home when he was 12, so I was 7, he was four years older than me, so I really didn’t know him at all, so it was just basically me and my mom.
David Brower: Got you, got you. Then at some point along the line you were struggling for help and the police instead of helping you obviously misunderstood the circumstance, and I’m being polite about that, and they shot you, right?
Jenny Maher: Right, they shot me in the mouth with a 45 hollow point at about five feet distance away.
David Brower: Wow! Any sense of … I mean, you’re asking for help and they pulled the trigger, any idea why? What happened?
Jenny Maher: Like you said, it was miscommunication. I still don’t know exactly what went on there, but I was calling to just talk to somebody, I was calling 911 mostly to talk to somebody, I wasn’t suicidal or anything. I don’t know, they went and tried to say that I said I was going to kill a cop, and I never said that.
David Brower: Oh my gosh!
Jenny Maher: When I ended up being charged, they charged me with attempted murder and assault of a police officer, and I was in jail for six months because I wasn’t able to and by the time right before it came to trial they dropped it because they said they lost the tape that said that.
David Brower: Well of course they did, because it never existed.
Jenny Maher: Yeah. I mean, the police, I was living in Aurora at the time, the police in Aurora were really not very … They were really deceiving kind of police that go the wrong direction.
David Brower: Oh my gosh! Then what happened? Now you’re a quadriplegic, right? So how did you get to that stage in your life, what happened?
Jenny Maher: Well, I attempted suicide. I took pills and overdosed after my mom basically didn’t want anything to do with me and then she sent me really hurtful emails for a few weeks and I just felt alone and hopeless, and that with her being the only family I was really in contact with, I felt that there’s no reason for me … I felt I was hurting so much inside, and I just felt that there was no reason to live anymore. So I overdosed.
David Brower: The overdose is what caused the paralysis?
Jenny Maher: Well, it was kind of not positive exactly, but he said it was because I was hiding in the closet because I thought I heard police and I was leaning against the closet wall with my knees up to my chest and I had my head forward, and because I was like that for days unconscious, they said that it cut of blood flow in my neck to that part of my spinal cord, which basically killed the spinal cord right at C5/C6, that left me paralyzed.
David Brower: So you went right into a fetal position, didn’t you?
Jenny Maher: Right.
David Brower: Yet, you survived in that way for several days?
Jenny Maher: Yeah, I guess. Because it was days before I was found and was taken to the ER.
David Brower: Who found you? That had to be …
Jenny Maher: Yeah, my neighbors, because I lived alone I knew my neighbors and they knew kind of my routine, so they knew I was in and out every day and they hadn’t seen me for a few days, so they asked the police to do a welfare check. I don’t know exactly what happened after that, because next thing I woke up in the ER.
David Brower: Got you. Wow! How are you doing now? I mean, obviously I know you’re a quadriplegic and you’ve got this great book. But how’s your head and your heart? You in a pretty good place?
Jenny Maher: Oh, great. I mean, compared to then and even after dealing with my paralysis and dealing with the abuse and neglect I’d dealt with in the nursing homes at the VA and the care that I was given, I mean, my heart and my spirit is just alive. I’ve found God and I’ve got new faith and hope and it’s like a 180.
David Brower: Wow, I could hear the joy in your voice. I just got goosebumps on that. I’m a man of faith myself, and I attempted suicide in November of 2013.
Jenny Maher: Wow.
David Brower: So I know of that place a little bit.
Jenny Maher: Yeah, it’s tough.
David Brower: It’s tough, and I know that faith and God has saved me in more ways than I can tell, and that has obviously been your experience. So now you get to touch people and share your faith and share your story, and your joy just comes through your voice now, it’s just cool, man, it’s cool.
Jenny Maher: Yeah, I mean, I was in a dark place before I attempted suicide, I had tried multiple other times, but I ended up getting scared and calling someone. So I mean, I had been in a dark place for a long time feeling hurtful and everything, and at that moment I just didn’t even call for help, I didn’t do anything, I just was ready. Even when I woke up in the emergency room, and I knew that God saved me for a reason, even though I did not believe or understand religion or spirituality or anything, because of the amount of pills I took, there is no way a person could have easily survived that. So I knew there was a reason and I knew that I had to fight.
David Brower: And fight you did.
Jenny Maher: Yeah, I try.
David Brower: Yeah. Well, you’re fighting every day. My sense is you’re fighting every day but you’re getting a pay off every day, right?
Jenny Maher: Oh yes, I mean, every day I get stronger spiritually and physically. I still have my ups and downs just like anyone else, but now I know that God is there for me. Before I was always worried that something was going to go wrong, and I’d be worried all the time and not trusting and everything. Now it’s just, when something’s not right I just pray and I just trust that it’s going to be taken care of, and it always is.
David Brower: It always is.
Jenny Maher: I’ve never been let down or forgotten.
David Brower: I love that.
Jenny Maher: You get this feeling that you don’t have to worry, it takes that lift off your shoulders.
David Brower: Oh my gosh, answered prayer is one of the greatest things ever. People get to experience that, they know what you and I are talking about. For those who don’t, man, I don’t care what your place is in life, I don’t care where your head and your heart is, just pray to yourself and pray to God and see what happens, because it works every time for me, you know.
Jenny Maher: It does, and people think that it’s supposed to happen automatically. You know, you pray that night and it’s supposed to be answered the next day. God has his plans, and we don’t always understand which direction he’s going in, that’s where faith comes in. You know, because I’ve had car accidents, and I get upset because I get in a car accident, but I’m glad that I’m alive and I know that he took care of me, and there’s a reason for what’s going on, and that I just have to trust in him and leave it up to him.
David Brower: There is a reason you’re here and one of those reasons is your amazing book, I can’t wait to order it myself. Now you’re painting, right?
Jenny Maher: Yes, I started painting two years ago.
David Brower: Just what brought you to that? What gave you the motivation to be creative like that?
Jenny Maher: Well, growing up I’d always drawn, pencil drawings, and I never really took on painting. After I got paralyzed it got hard to hold a pencil to do drawings and stuff, so I tried a little bit and then I wasn’t able to. Then one of my caregivers wanted me to paint a picture for the wall in my house, because there was an area that needed a painting, so I finally was like, “Okay.” So I finally did, and I loved it, and I’ve been painting ever since.
David Brower: That’s awesome!
Jenny Maher: Yeah, and a lot of my paintings are inspired by God. I pray about what … And he just brings it to mind and then I just put it on palette.
David Brower: Wow. Are you selling your paintings now too?
Jenny Maher: Yes. I would love to put them in a studio. I mean, that’s my ultimate goal, is to have it in a studio.
David Brower: Absolutely. So people can find your book and your paintings, I assume, on your website, perfect website name: themindbodyandspirit.net, and can learn more about your book, your paintings, and you. So tell me, a friend of mine paints, he’s a quadriplegic, and he paints with a brush in his mouth, how do you do that?
Jenny Maher: With the paintbrush in my hand. Yeah, my hands are fists.
David Brower: Oh, got you, okay.
Jenny Maher: Yeah, and as I progress, it helps therapy, because it keeps my arms moving and my hands. I’ve gotten a really steady hand now from painting so much, so it helps me all around.
David Brower: How cool is that. So do you paint with one hand and then paint with the other. Or you just stick with one?
Jenny Maher: No. Just with one.
David Brower: You’re not ambidextrous yet?
Jenny Maher: No. I need to use the other hand to hold my body up.
David Brower: Oh man, that’s funny. I am so proud of you, and just a thrill for me to talk with you and to hear your story and to hear how God is in your life and has touched your life and continues to do so. I can’t wait to get your book. I want to check out your paintings, and I hope everybody else does too. Themindbodyandspirit.net is the website. The book is, Never Give Up: How Determination And God Gave Me A Better Look At Life. It’s a 144 page memoir, it’s easy to read, it’s honest and heartfelt, and it’s medically informative too, right?
Jenny Maher: Yes, it’s for multiple different people, for caregivers or families that have loved ones who are dealing with mental or physical disabilities, and people who are so they can understand it better. So it’s all around.
David Brower: Wow, good for you. Well, keep the smile up and keep painting. That’s good living right there, man.
Jenny Maher: Oh yes, thank you.
David Brower: Jenny, I’m going to say it wrong again, aren’t I? Jenny Maher.
Jenny Maher: Oh, you really messed it up that time!
David Brower: Jenny Maher.
Jenny Maher: There you go.
David Brower: Jenny Maher. Oh my gosh! Where are you are? In Richmond, Virginia now?
Jenny Maher: Yes.
David Brower: Okay. Well, good for you, good for you. Keep up God’s work and keep smiling, because you’ve got a lot of joy that I can hear and I know you’re touching people that you don’t even know yet, so keep it up.
Jenny Maher: You too.
David Brower: All right. What a thrill. You’ve been listening to Your 20 Minute Podcast with David Brower and our special guest, Jenny Maher, author of Never Give Up, and a wonderful painter as well. So check out her website: themindbodyandspirit.net. Thanks for listening. Be sure to follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Your20MinutePodcast.