85. Becoming What I Might Have Been

85. Becoming What I Might Have Been

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Becoming What I Might Have Been

We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.

~Winston Churchill

I was enjoying the summer before entering a master’s program in a neighboring town. I was working towards my dream job. I had always wanted to become a licensed psychotherapist. Near the end of August I got some terrible news. “Linda, you have a brain tumor on the underside of your brain.”

The neurosurgeon spoke softly, as if attempting to lessen the blow. She held a plastic model of a skull in her hand and poked into the eye sockets and nostrils with a pencil. “Where would we go in? We can’t go in here . . . or here. This is the worst place you could have possibly gotten a tumor. It’s growing very quickly. I’m sorry. It’s inoperable.”

I walked out the doors of her office and through the large medical building, not daring a glance at anyone. I headed towards the elevator. The doors opened and I walked in. I was alone. My body felt numb. I gripped the handrail in the elevator and tried to catch my breath. By the time I met my husband in the parking structure my chest hurt. “It’s inoperable!” As I choked out the doctor’s words, I fell trembling into his arms, sobs wracking my body. My dream of becoming a therapist and helping others dissolved into my tears.

I had waited until my children were grown, with families of their own, before starting my own work on a college degree. By then I was fifty-one years old. It had been a dream of mine for almost as long as I could remember. But so many things had gotten in my way.

After being kicked out of high school in my junior year, I married my boyfriend. I was running away from a neglectful, alcoholic home. Six months later I was pregnant with our son. My husband abandoned both of us within the year. I struggled as a single mother and seemed bent on a path of self-destruction. Then, when I was eighteen years old, I was gang-raped. I lived on the streets for a year after that, attempting to lose my shame in the world of drugs.

A few years later I lost my brother to suicide. My heartbroken father took his own life three years later. By then I was suffering from serious mental illness myself, but with God’s grace and a lot of help I eventually recovered. My past prompted me to want to help teens that found themselves in similar situations.

Through the years I dreamed of going back to school and becoming a psychotherapist. I earned my GED when I was thirty-four years old. I attempted some night classes at a local community college, but working full-time and raising three children on my own made this extremely difficult.

I finally married a wonderful, loving and caring man. I was forty-two years old. We left California to start life over in the beautiful big sky state of Montana. We enjoyed hiking together and fly-fishing for trout in the summer months. Winter found us cross-country skiing or snowshoeing through the vast Montana wilderness. For the first time I was enjoying my life.

Then, six years into our marriage, a quick fall down some slick wooden stairs in our Victorian cottage put an end to most outdoor activities for me. I had broken my neck! During the lengthy recovery, I thought again about my dream of becoming a therapist. I decided it was now or never. With my husband’s total support, I went back to school full-time.

Four years later I graduated with a B.A. in Psychology. My three grown children flew to Helena, Montana to proudly watch me receive my diploma. I graduated maxima cum laude. As I walked towards the stage with students less than half my age, my children cheered loudly from the stands. It was a moment I would never forget. I had gotten my “do-over.” But now it seemed all was for naught. I would never have the chance to earn my master’s degree.

Several days went by as I grappled with the diagnosis. I came to believe God had another plan. I hadn’t come this far to go down without a fight. I began to do online research to see if someone else could help me. I was afraid to hope, but within a week I received a call from a neurosurgeon in Los Angeles, California. “I can help you,” he began. Those were the words I needed to hear.

I underwent a very risky brain surgery on a sunny fall day in October 2006. At one point in the middle of surgery, my neurosurgeon, Dr. Shahinian, stopped everything and called my husband Tom to a consultation room right outside the operating theater. “All of the nerves are wrapped up in the tumor,” he told Tom. “It is much larger than I thought. If I take it all, there is a possibility she will not be able to walk, or smile. She may not hear and perhaps she will be blind. If I leave half of it, she will be back here in five years to do this all again.”

My husband conferred with my daughter. Together they made the hard decision to allow Dr. Shahinian to attempt to remove the entire tumor in this one operation.

The recovery was horrendous. I woke to a Noah’s ark world of double vision. My optic nerve was damaged in surgery. I completely lost the hearing in my left ear. I heard what sounded like the roaring of a waterfall in my head. My balance was terrible, and it seemed as if the floor wanted to come up and punch me in the face.

But I didn’t want to live just for the sake of remaining alive. I still wanted to help other people. So after six months of lying in bed I decided to take action. I applied for my master’s degree through a fully accredited online university.

It took three years, not only to complete the courses, but also to regain enough strength to attend out-of-state residencies and work to complete the 3,000 hours I needed to become a licensed psychotherapist with the state of Montana. Each step was a challenge. Eventually my eye righted itself and my balance improved. The roaring in my head quieted, and I continued to get stronger. When the going got tough, I held onto the belief that there was a purpose to my life.

It’s been seven years since I awoke from brain surgery. I am now a psychotherapist in private practice. I work with teenagers and adults who suffer from many of the things I suffered from myself. And I am writing my memoir, another lifelong dream.

I kept a quote above my desk as I worked my way through both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. A writer named Mary Ann Evans used the pseudonym George Eliot when she wrote her books. Women writers were not well received in the mid-1800s. She said, “It’s never too late to become what you might have been.” It is my message; not only for me, but also for everybody I meet. It’s never too late.

~Linda Lochridge

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