Pain, Passion and Purpose

Karah Joyner

Pain, Passion and Purpose


Karah Joyner is a freshman at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. She is majoring in Psychology with plans of becoming a PTSD therapist who works with Veterans. She is also minoring in Leadership and Communication to become a motivational speaker to tell her story so others know they are not alone. She currently works in the Big Red Resilience and Well-Being office on campus and assists with the suicide prevention and well-being program. She wants to be there to communicate hope for the hopeless.

 Karah is very passionate about music and playing Instruments. She play eight instruments including the trumpet and tuba. “Music has gotten me through so much and I do not know what I would do without it. Normally I listen to classic rock; Fleetwood Mac is my favorite!” - Karah Joyner

Karah’s Story

As a girl who grew up with aspirations to be one of the happy popular girls in school, I turned out to be different than I expected. I grew up in Kinston, North Carolina with my family. My life was going great until my parents divorced, which flipped my world upside down. I loved both of them, but traveling between their houses was challenging. I was bullied constantly at school as others viewed me as imperfect because of the divorce. This was the beginning of my downward spiral.

By the end of sixth grade I was already going to court with the hopes of moving to Nebraska with my mom. My dad won that battle and got custody of my brother, sister and I and I blamed him for so many things that I viewed as unfair. During all of the family drama, my step-brother, Hunter Hogan, was deployed to Afghanistan, where he would be for the next six months. I went on a vacation that summer with my cousins to escape from reality. Although that was just too good to be true.


I was dropped off at my Aunt’s house that evening and was told to go into her bedroom and sit down on the bed because we had to call my mom. They started the conversation and my mom started talking to me. She said, “I have to tell you something. Something happened to Hunter. He’s not coming home.” My heart shattered into a million pieces and I couldn’t breathe; all I wanted was him. Hunter Dalton Hogan was killed in Afghanistan on June 23, 2012. At 12 years old, I had the worst heartbreak I will ever experience.

I stopped eating and taking care of myself. His wife, Brittney, and I became a unit. She took care of me and I took care of her. She would force feed me until I got the strength to get up. About a year later I began harming myself, and when I opened up to my mom about it we sought help. I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I really didn’t want to be with my dad after everything that happened, so my mom fought for primary custody, but the judge ruled against her. That night I had to pack up all of my belongings and take them to my dad’s house. My dad and I are both headstrong and never got along. There was constant fighting, screaming and hitting in our house, and after many therapy visits, I got worse. I planned to end my life by suicide more than once, but there was something that kept pulling me away from it. Since growing older, I have realized that it was the thought of Hunter and how that affected my family. I just couldn’t go through with it. The pain and suffering of losing yet another child would be too much for them to handle.


As the therapy and counseling continued, I was admitted into a facility in Jacksonville, NC to figure out a treatment plan. During my stay I was put on so many different medications, everything was a blur. I was in such a bad state when I left, they knew which medications to keep me on.

My mom called my dad to let him know that she had me and we were on the way to her  house when he told her that I was on medication and needed to come back and stay with him. I refused to talk to him or see him -- I knew that staying with my mom would be best for me, and ultimately he agreed. However, the pills made me sleep most of the day, even through my classes. In the eighth grade I felt like a drug addict. I just wasn’t myself anymore. There were more therapy visits when they decided to switch my medications again. Thankfully, this time, there was only one pill. As we revisited medications, my parents came to the conclusion that moving to Nebraska would be the best thing for me. My mom and I packed up our lives and started the 24 hour drive to Nebraska, leaving my brother and sister with my dad.  

Finally, I got a fresh start. I started High School in a small town called Henderson where everyone knew each other and I was known as the “new kid.” Sadly, there was no one there who was willing to be my true friend. I didn’t grow up with them, as it is a K-12 school, and it felt like they didn’t want to have an outsider in their cliques. Most of my freshman year, I was alone. I would go home crying because this new start was beginning to look like a failure. At the beginning of my sophomore year,  I realized that there were kids who looked like they didn’t belong as well. Others were warning me to stay away from them and not to be their friend. I was not about to let them change who I was, so I walked over and introduced myself to them and told them that if they needed anything to let me know. That’s when I met my best friend, Carmen. She was very smiley and happy. She welcomed me with open arms and ever since, we were inseparable. We were on the volleyball team together, and I would walk her back to her place when practice was over. She was one of the most amazing people I have met in my entire life. I was so happy to call her my best friend. She left Henderson at the end of that semester and moved all the way across the state. Luckily, we were able to keep in touch and check in with each other via Skype and Snapchat. Even the distance didn’t challenge our friendship.


When Carmen left, I was alone again and I was getting left out of everything. My grades were being affected by my mental state and I was no longer taking medication. Realizing that Henderson wasn’t a great fit, I made the decision to attend Aurora High School for the last half of my senior year. I felt like I belonged at Aurora immediately. I was instantly included and had more friends than I have had in my entire life, including the foreign exchange students! I graduated with people who supported me and still do now!

I started college in August of 2018 and I am studying psychology to become a PTSD therapist and help prevent soldier suicide. I have this passion to give back to those who gave up their freedom and were willing to give up their lives for people they don’t know. I feel like it is my duty to try and save them from the demons that were created when they were deployed. During the fall I was doing so well and my grades were outstanding! I was making new friends and life was going great. Everything was looking up until I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a post that made my heart drop to my stomach. I was in denial. “No, this isn’t right.” I thought. My friend Carmen, had passed away. She had lost the battle against her demons. In total shock, I called my mom. When it was confirmed, I was in the basement of my dorm on the way to get lunch. My knees buckled and I fell to the ground. I could not get up. A couple of strangers walked through the basement and found me in the corner, helped me up and got me to the bathroom. They stood there and held my hair when I got sick and helped me back to my room. This was the worst I had been since I lost Hunter. I wasn’t eating, I was sleeping way too much, I wasn’t going to class, and my grades started dropping. I just could not make myself get up. I had people call me and I wouldn’t answer. I was so low. I went home that weekend and stayed with my mom. I decided to stay that Sunday night because my classes started later in the day on Monday. Again, I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw the obituary of another friend of mine. We met through FFA my sophomore year at the national convention in Kentucky. We always checked up on each other and I am so proud to have had him as a friend.


I started counseling at the University Health Center. After being through all of this before, I knew what I needed to do to help get myself get back on my feet. One morning, I got a call from a woman who wanted me to come in and tell her what had happened so she could contact my professors to see if there was anything I could do to make a change in my grades. That is when I was introduced to the Big Red Resilience and Well-being office. I fell in love instantly with their openness to help others in need. I was offered a job, and of course, I took it. Since then, I have had a major support system there for me when I don’t feel myself.

With that, I would like to end on a positive note. My dad and I have been working to repair our relationship. I still go and visit a few times a year. I live in Nebraska with my mom and step-dad, Steve. I go to California and see Brittney whenever I get the chance. I would like to thank my friends who have been there for me these past few months -- I cannot thank you enough. No matter what you are going through in life, it may take more time than you would expect, but it does get better. I go and visit Hunter’s grave when I feel down because in the end, he is always the one who brings me back up.