My brother, sister, and I were raised alongside a Chihuahua, a hamster, and a lizard in Los Angeles, California. The lizard’s name was Fluffy. The hamster and Fluffy were eventually buried in the backyard alongside various goldfish. I considered them lucky. My parent’s raging alcoholism did not affect them at all.
My sister and I reacted to our upbringing by landing ourselves in juvenile hall. My brother lied about his age and took off for Viet Nam soon afterwards.
The background of our lives paved the way for each of us, the entire family, to experience mental illness first hand. My mother’s anxiety caused her to quit leaving the house for much more than food or drink by the time I entered my twenties. I was on my way to serious panic disorder by then. I never left my apartment at all, preferring instead to feel like I was having a heart attack from the comfort of my own home. My brother, suffering from major depression, took his own life when I was twenty-four, and three years later, my father followed suit.
But I was determined to make it in this world, and with three children in tow, I worked hard to build a life for us. It worked for quite awhile, although it had that “by the skin of my teeth” feel to it.
As I encountered life, death and unrelenting grief, divorce, and single motherhood, I tried to remember just one thing: “Love your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27).” No matter what I experienced, I made sure my children knew I loved them more than life itself.
I held various jobs over these years. I talked a dentist into training me to be his assistant. This worked out well until, losing a husband to divorce and a mother to cancer, I began to forget when to hand him the rubber dam and when he wanted the root elevator. Then I worked at Superior Court of Santa Barbara County as a commissioner of civil marriages. One sunny Saturday morning I waited for the happy couple to arrive at the courthouse. When they arrived naked and wrapped in nothing but sheets I almost called the police. Then I noticed the grape-leaf garlands on their heads and a small sign with an arrow pointing to my office: “Toga wedding this way.”
But there was one job I really wanted and couldn’t have. I wanted to become a psychotherapist and help other hurting people who had also lost their way. The trouble was, something like that took many years of college, and I had gotten kicked out right after the tenth grade, right along with my 1.0 grade point average.
Then something happened that would change my life forever. Right before my fiftieth birthday, I fell down an entire flight of stairs. Instead of tumbling, like you see in the movies, I bounced down the stairs upright and kept landing on my feet. It may have worked out all right if I hadn’t been going 40 miles per hour. About four steps from the bottom, I pitched forward and broke my neck on a doorframe. I lay in a heap at the bottom of the stairs, alone in the house. Perfect, no more sitting behind a computer or answering phones.
So, after a year of recovery, I started college, using my injury as a catalyst for fulfilling my dreams. Four years later I graduated Maxima cum Laude at one of the top private colleges in the Western United States. I also got accepted into a competitive masters program the following Fall semester. Unfortunately, there was a slight delay.
Late that summer I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Two neurosurgeons apologetically told me it was inoperable because it was situated at the base of my skull. I had about a year to live. I decided to use the research skills I had just developed and got onto an online forum, which led me to a famous neurosurgeon in Los Angeles. He agreed to help.
After a six-hour extremely risky brain surgery, I was sent home in a wheelchair. I couldn’t walk; I had double vision; I lost half my hearing, and my perception was off. I also had a loud buzzing sound in my head that woke me between ten to fifteen times a night and I suffered terrible fatigue. But lying in bed again, I hatched a plan. What would it hurt if I got my masters degree anyway? Possibly, I would recover enough to use it, and if not, no harm, no foul. My wonderful husband backed me all the way.
Soon I was reading textbooks by holding them a few inches from my face and writing papers on a laptop I placed on a pillow on my legs. By the end of the first year, I had enough energy to attend a weeklong residency out of state by using an electric scooter to get around. By the end of the second year I attended my second residency without using the scooter at all. Soon I was able to do a 10-hour-a-week practicum, then a 30-hour-a-week internship. Finally, I pushed myself to work a full time job at an agency serving abused and neglected children in order to fulfill my licensure requirements.
I am now a psychotherapist in a thriving private practice. I work with teenagers and adults who are hurting, scared, and stuck. I teach them skills to navigate life. And I’m not done yet. I’m a writer, a speaker, a grandmother of ten and a great-grandmother of a sweet little boy. A great-granddaughter is soon to arrive. I’ve become the matriarch of a large, happy family. My favorite quote is “It’s never too late to become what you might have been,” by George Eliot.
Linda Lochridge Hoenisberg Bio: Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg is a writer, speaker, and a psychotherapist in private practice. She is a strong believer in the fact that no matter what life has handed us, it’s never too late to become what we might have been. She is married and the mother of three, grandmother of ten, and great-grandmother to one, with her second great-grandchild arriving soon. She lives in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains with her husband and their golden doodle, Emma.
Sonia Marsh Says: Linda, you have conquered so many obstacles in your life and all I can say is how you deserve a medal for your courage and determination, and for not giving up. What a message for all of us to read.
Do you have a “My Gutsy Story®” you’d like to share?
NOW is the time to submit your “My Gutsy Story®.” Please see guidelines below and contact Sonia Marsh at: firstname.lastname@example.org for details.