In July 2009, Rita K. Garnto was home with her two daughters and felt edgy and anxious, she says.
So she decided to take a “mommy moment” and went outside on the deck.
She started to cry.
Her 2-year-old daughter saw her and summoned her 4-year-old sister, and the two girls walked out on the deck.
Garnto’s youngest daughter stared and said, “Mommy’s sad. Mommy’s sad.”
“I think it was stress,” said Garnto, 52, a self-care specialist and licensed massage therapist. “I was so overwhelmed with life.”
Garnto went to see the doctor after her husband, Neal, returned home.
The doctor prescribed Prozac and said, “OK, this is going to help you. But what are you going to do to change your life?”
Garnto said she was puzzled; the green-and-white pill the doctor prescribed was supposed to make all of this go away, she thought. Then she realized he was empowering her to take better care of herself.
Growing up in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada, Garnto loved helping people. She’d always wanted to be a paramedic, so in 1984, she embarked on a mission to become a respiratory therapist.
In 1989, she landed a position in the intensive care unit at King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Four years later, Garnto and her then-husband, a U.S. Marine sergeant, moved to Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C. He left the Marines the following year, and the couple moved to Concord.
Garnto began working as a respiratory therapist at Carolinas Medical Center on the flight team, and in 1998 transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit.
A year later, her marriage ended.
Though she still enjoyed helping people, she said, the daily grind was starting to wear on her. Garnto was ready for a change.
“I was getting close to 40, and I was really tired of death, dying and sickness at the hospital,” said the south Charlotte resident, a naturalized U.S. citizen since 2006.
“So I looked for alternatives. I had a very good friend who was a massage therapist, whom I was getting a regular massage from, and I saw the healing.”
In 2001, Garnto enrolled in a part-time program at the Therapeutic Massage Training Institute in Charlotte. The following year, she started working as an independent massage therapist.
In 2003, she married Neal and immediately became pregnant; however, six and a half weeks later, she miscarried. She was devastated.
Six months later, her dog was diagnosed with lymphosarcoma, her mother suffered a splenic artery aneurysm and her brother was diagnosed with two brain tumors; all this in the same week.
“I remember after talking to my brother, I was just standing, sobbing,” she said. “I couldn’t believe this was the third huge thing that had happened.
“It was a struggle. I just didn’t enjoy it anymore. And I want to be happy. Life needs to be full of joy, and I just was losing that.”
In 2004, she quit both her jobs.
A series of events followed later that year, and continued for the next seven: her mother’s aneurysm surgery; her brother’s brain-tumor surgery; a second miscarriage; the start of the adoption process; the death of her dog; the launch of her massage therapy practice; a third miscarriage; a fourth miscarriage; two failed adoption attempts; a third attempt and subsequent adoption of two girls, 4 and 18 months old; her mother’s unexpected death from a massive heart attack; and finally, in 2011, a ruptured disc in her neck.
“To me, that was God’s brick wall,” she said of the neck injury, which she attributed to mounting stress. “You missed all of these warning signs and signals. Now, you got to stop.
“And I realized I was killing myself.”
That year, Garnto underwent neck surgery. After eight weeks of recovery, she started to make a change – without Prozac.
She reduced her work schedule to half-days. She wrote regularly in her journal. She took leisure walks.
She focused more on her happiness and well-being.
Garnto knew through her experience that there were other women struggling with work and family or dealing with unexpected trials.
This year she officially started a monthly two-and-a-half-hour workshop for women that includes interaction, self-discovery and light stretching.
“I try to make it a very loving, safe environment,” she said. “I encourage the women to share only if they want to.
“There’s no judgment – only support and love.”
Natasha Morris is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Natasha? Email her at email@example.com.
Mini Making YOU the Priority workshop will be 9:30 a.m.-noon July 17 and Sept. 11 at Woodfield Corporate Center, 8008 Corporate Center Drive in Charlotte. The cost is $49.