Jeni Booker Senter grew up very poor. She can recount periods of time where there was no running water and no electricity. Her life has been affected by having bipolar disorder and fibromyalgia, a pain disorder.
Senter expressed her tragic story in a book of poetry released last week on Amazon. “Every Pen Stroke is a Heartbeat: A Collection of Poetry,” is a book filled with her writing and deepest thoughts.
“My poetry is very personal,” Senter said. “It took me four years to get up the guts to put it out there.”
She says that she has been inspired by the ups-and-downs of her life. She finds she is inspired to write by the “difficulties of life,” as well as the simple things one can enjoy. The tone of her poetry ranges from simple joy---one poem about watching her adopted son eat fruit---to the sadness of dealing with depression and witnessing her brother succumb to schizophrenia.
When Senter was 13-years-old, her father went to prison for possession of drugs and firearms. She and her younger brother went to go live with her grandparents in Baker.
Senter was married at age 17, left her grandparents in Baker and moved to Winter Haven with her first husband. They had three children, Sarah Orsa, 21, Patrick Orsa, 20 and Allyson Orsa, 19.
In 1994, Senter's grandfather mysteriously disappeared while she was in Winter Haven. An investigation was conducted resulting in no leads, according to Senter. The file is still open as a cold case.
"It was terrible," Jeni said speaking about the disappearance. "I still don't have closure. We didn't find any trace of him. We couldn't say bye."
Senter's brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 19, shortly after the mysterious disappearance of their grandfather, Walter Booker. She speculated that the disappearance may have been the trigger, or catalyst for his spiral into schizophrenia.
"He didn't recognize anyone for years," Senter said. "With schizophrenia, you grieve like you lost someone."
He is 38-years-old now and doing much better, she said. She says that she wrote to deal with the gradual loss of her brother's psyche.
Senter says she has struggled with her own psyche over the years with her bi-polar disorder and fibromyalgia.
"It's very stigmatized as a disorder," Senter said, referring to bipolar disorder. "In many ways, its a curse, with its highs and lows."
But she said, after being medicated, "everything fell into place." Senter has been stable for the past 10 years. She does have the occasional breakthrough, but said proper medication helps to control the highs and lows of mania and depression.
After years of running away from her childhood home of Munson, a "home that had bad memories," she moved back in 2005. She married David Senter the next year, who supported her through her while she pursued her degree at Northwest State Community College and then at the University of West Florida.
"He said he doesn't understand the disorder," Senter said of her husband. "But he does understand me."
She is currently on medical leave from teaching at Newpoint Academy, but is staying productive. She is writing three novels at the moment, editing a couple of novels for others and pursuing a master's degree in English and Creative Writing. She has received accolades for her writing in the CM Duque Wilson Essay Contest and the James and Christian LaRoche Memorial Poetry Contest.
She pays a lot of credit to her elementary school teacher, Janice Parker. The Munson Elementary School teacher piqued Senter's interest in academics and kept her in school. She said she learned that writing can be therapeutic and cathartic.
"With anything personal, it's very difficult to bare your soul," Senter said. "It's difficult to see your demons."
But Senter says she has faced her demons and recognized her roots. She has used writing as a method of facing the difficult and dark times of her life and facing introspection.
"There's a lot of people in pain and suffering," Senter said. "For those people who are suffering, I just want to say 'you can make it.'"