Helen Bell

Slowly, Slowly Rekindling Her Relationship with Self

October 2023 IssueHelenBell

by Mary Hope Roseneau
Photography by Cassidy Dunn Photography

Helen had just finished a full day of teaching school, and after meeting up with the Pink Magazine photographer at the Waterfront Park, she sat down with me with an iced tea. She looked fresh as a daisy, with a pretty matching necklace and earrings set, long Jennifer Anniston blonde hair, and a royal blue blouse.

Helen teaches 4th and 5th grade Special Ed students at nearby Beaufort Elementary. This is her second year there, after transferring down to the coast from the Upstate. She is an independent woman, not married, but has two grown children, Jonathan Watson and Victoria Johns-Paradise and two granddaughters. She is energetic and passionate about teaching, and it comes through in other areas of her life as well.

After a traumatic experience with someone she met online, she is rebuilding her trust in others, as well as with herself. She has even gone on two treks up Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. The beautiful snow-capped peaks rise 19,340 feet above sea level in Tanzania. Compare that number to the highest peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains: Grandfather Mountain at 5,946 feet.

One thing she loved about the long, arduous hike was that it was deliberately slow— four days up, two days down. Others who went at a faster pace sometimes experienced altitude sickness, had to be carried down, and did not complete the trip. The hikers who were successful followed the guides’ expert advice: “Pole, pole,” which means “Slowly, slowly” in the local dialect. The walkers were quiet, no talking, just step, step, step, and there was a lot of time to meditate. At night the stars were the clearest, most brilliant things she’d ever seen. At a certain height, you literally walk above the clouds. This journey was in many ways as spiritual, as well it was physical.

Helen had a string of years in which several of her closest family members passed away: her mother, father, brother and nephew, and on top of that, a divorce. Her son had cancer and she had major colon surgery. A difficult situation at work added to the stress. She stated to feel uncertainty about herself and her emotions were raw.

Enter a charming man online, texting her encouragement. He lived across the country, but they met in person, and he swept her off her feet. Quickly they were engaged to be married and started building a new home together.

It wasn’t long until she realized he wasn’t all he claimed to be. He started treating her differently; he became uncomfortably controlling, isolating her from family and friends. He would disappear for weeks at a time, supposedly “taking care of businesses” on the West Coast. To her horror, she found out he had another woman out there who was hearing all his same promises. He was even building a new house with her, too.

Helen extricated herself from this situation, thankfully before marrying him. But her self-esteem and confidence as an attractive, intelligent woman had been destroyed. It took a long time between professional counseling and the support of her children and friends for her to quit feeling foolish, embarrassed, and stupid. Unfortunately, her story is not unique.

One way she found to get out of the state of mind she was in was to travel to the Philippines, where her son lives, to do missionary work. In addition, she began to foster pregnant dogs from the local animal shelter. All of these were ways which helped her heal and move forward.

Her relocation to Beaufort is another example of the way she’s turned her life around. She loves that Beaufort moves at a slower pace, which reminds her of the “Slowly, slowly” instruction up Mt. Kilimanjaro. She learned many lessons in therapy, but she reminds others, “You are your own best therapist.”

She has empathy and advice for those who may find themselves in an abusive relationship with a narcissist or sociopath. Mainly, she emphasizes: “Don’t stay there in your embarrassment, hurt, and regret! Get back up, and find another way! This is what she has done through her healing journeys, both here at home and across the world, and with the joy she finds in her students every day.

Up Close:
More advice for women who are in a dangerous situation:
• Don’t ignore red flags!
• Trust your gut!
• SAD (Seasonable Affective Disorder) is real! Especially for women. Find a doctor who understands the condition and will listen to you to help.
• Don’t be judgmental of others or yourself. Forgive.
• Sometimes you just need to “Be Still.”