Photo credit: Marcus Owens

Former Army servicewoman, Erika Navarrete opens up to the Pavlovic Today about challenges she experienced in her life. Last year, when her mother left without a goodbye, Navarrete was forced to manage full — time work and studies while raising her son as a single mom. Despite the challenges, she was able to apply military discipline and navigate the course to success.

PT: What would you say is the key to coping with life challenges?

Plan first then execute. I developed discipline when I joined the army after high school (summer 2006). In the army, I developed a sense of strict focus and the ability to withstand any physical and mental hardship. I completed boot camp and was selected as the Soldier of the Cycle. Overall, I had the best score in areas of physical fitness, shooting, and knowledge. I competed with the best soldier in each “company” to earn this title. I was the best amongst 300 soldiers.


After boot camp, I worked in the Military Intelligence Unit which comprises of intense investigation and briefing to those in higher command.

While in active duty in Michigan, I had a mental breakdown. This was due to my change in my work hours, I was now working the graveyard shift. I was involuntarily placed in a hospital and forced to take medication. After the incident, I was honorably discharged for being deemed mentally unfit. I was devastated because it was my dream to serve my country and be in the military.

Shortly after, I returned to Texas, my home state. I started working and a month after my son (James Jay Neira) was born I started going to school.

Education for me has been my way to escape the way I lived as a child. I knew I needed higher education to have a more stable home for my son.

It wasn’t until I found the Sweatshop (gym based in Dallas, Texas), that I was re-introduced to the disciplined that I learned in the army.  The owner of the gym is a Navy veteran that leads military style boot camp classes.

Being able to continue my civilian life with this class has “sky-rocketed” my ability to withstand all of my daily stresses.

I finally graduate this semester and Jay is so proud of his mommy. I also joined Kappa Delta Chi Inc. at the University of North Texas, Dallas. This has helped me strive for higher grades and gave me a platform to be an advocate for my community. Managing school, gym, and my son is easier when you create the environment for it.

PT: What has helped you be confident in who you are?

Being confident has been a journey. I have a skin condition, called vitiligo that produces white spots on the body and I wasn’t always confident about it. My best friend helped me to see the beauty that I didn’t see in myself.

Also, when I was in the Army, I was forced to wear shorts in public. It’s weird, but I noticed when I was insecure about my condition, I would become shy and always looked around to see who was staring at my white spots. Now, I don’t even see anyone noticing my condition because I don’t care.

There are other things that have contributed to my confidence such as becoming a mother, leaving a belittling relationship, getting stronger physically and mentally.

I learned that you have to be your own best friend in order to truly feel confident in your own skin. That voice in your head has to be kind, encouraging, and understanding. Even when I am “dead” tired from all of my daily activities and have my hair in a bun my voice says, “ Don’t be hard on yourself, you did so much today.” It’s all about balance. If I feel the need to, I will take some time the next day to get some rest and also do my makeup or hair.

PT: What was your biggest trial in life so far?

My mom had always been my main supporter and has helped raise my son while I worked full-time and attended school at night. It was Sunday, February 21st, 2016 when mom left for work early.  At 1: OO A.M., I realized that she was missing.

My mother has been a single mother with three kids since I was in the third grade and never dated or remarried. So I actually thought that my mom would enjoy staying at home and not work as much. I never considered that my mom would abandon us.

The night my mom left, I lost it. I assumed the worse.  I called the police and made a missing person report that night. I even drove around the usual places she would go to like DD’s Discount Clothing store, a grocery store, church, and  Starbucks. She was nowhere to be found. I even went to the hospitals. Nothing. I cried so much.

A couple of days later, my grandmother got a call from family members in Mexico. My mom was actually staying with them. After this revelation, I was a bit upset with her, but I also understood what she was going through.

I thought to myself, “I don’t blame her.  She probably needs a break.” My mother did everything for my son and me.  She took Jay to school, picked him up, helped him with homework, gave him baths, and put him to sleep.

I only had a few semesters left, so quitting school was not an option. At home, I had to figure out things real quick. I continued to work full-time, started and finished the KDChi sorority new member process, working out, and taking 9 credit classes. There was nothing I could do to help find my mom.


My grandparents probably visited Mexico 5 times to go find her during the 7 months she was gone. My family’s visits to Mexico consisted of talking to the police, bus stations, news stations, and posting missing person reports. We got a lot of calls and many of them were fake or requested money.

In Mexico, it isn’t uncommon for people to get abducted for ransom. My grandparent still followed any leads. It was very stressful for them but like any parent, they didn’t give up.

The last call we got was from Haret Marget, a student, in Mexico City. My grandparents and sister flew out there and I saw it all on my “snap” ( Erika’s personal account on the social media application SnapChat ) through my sister’s account. I was at work at that time.

My mom survived living 7 months on the streets of Mexico City. She talks about it openly now, saying she felt like she was on a cloud the whole time.

Apparently, my mom experienced a mental breakdown and was out of it. She said she wasn’t even hungry until the last few weeks before she was found. She lost over 100 pounds.

I do talk to Jay about how hard it was for my mother and the differences of my childhood versus his. This helps him to be grateful and also gives him a willingness to help others in need.

Read also: The True Story Of A Long Road To Recovery From Eating Disorder

Habiba is a writer and photographer based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She writes on a variety of topics including, relationships, lifestyle and world affairs.

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