Before I was Nine I wanted to be a Harlem Globe Trotter. Funny how I had it all figured out at age 7 or eight. I could almost, well I thought I could or imagined I would play as well as the Globe Trotters. No, I never understood how incredibly special they really were; you know coming from Harlem and being poor and rising to the top of their game through silly and masterful antics on the basketball court. The only thing I knew was that I could whistle their tune and shoot hoops really well. Gordy and I even had some of their moves down, or as I said, we believed it. We had a dirt basketball court in our back yard until mom made it a concrete patio before I was nine and then we were talking; there were the best games played on that court for years to come.
After 1973 and my TBI I wanted to be a Neuro Surgeon, to even be able to think that I may have an inkling of what that job entailed was a huge leap. Being surrounded by medical people for years and intensive training on words like sphygmomanometer simply put blood pressure cuff/ machine; yes I wanted to know what everything was called and how it worked. I knew that word and struggled to learn it after my TBI. These people in white coats and stethoscopes hanging around their necks amazed me. They were like Gods and Angels. They had big and unusual names like Dr. Rangaswami, who wore a red dot on her beautifully tan skin and Dr. Yanez who had dark black hair that streaked back on his head, and their importance was evident, so much so that their names were called over a loud speaker every day many times a day. They were needed by someone somewhere immediately. They changed my idea of what it was that I wanted to be.
For many years after the hospital, my toys would get wounds and I would prescribe and give them treatments. I think playing doctor; even though it sounds creepy, helped me physically and mentally overcome the trauma of being in a hospital for two months and going through Physical Therapy for years. The things kids do to heal are pretty amazing. Yes I knew I’d be a doctor or at least thought I would.
Then as the years passed I became disinterested in Neurosurgery as my hands twitched and I continued to have seizures. I was not at all academia material either I quit school in 10th grade but went back to Adult Night School to get my diploma a month later and graduated in 1981, not behind my class as it was foretold but two years before them. I then never imagined I’d ever get to college it wasn’t anything I dreamed of doing or thought about for any significant amount of time. I fell out of love with those ideas and thought about writing a book. This idea has been with me for a very long time and it grew on me to the point where I began to KNOW that one day I would write a book. I just didn’t know where to begin and I knew deep inside that I had not accomplished enough to be taken seriously.
As I got older and in my twenties I fell out of love because of boredom with Lewes, Delaware and the lack of potential success I would find there, since I didn’t drive and I had tried every profession that I thought would interest me. We didn’t have money so noone was going to send me to school and how the hell would I get there I rode a bicycle everywhere. The nearest college was in my back yard the University of Delaware, College of Marine Studies but it wasn’t enough to interest me. I think back and wonder why? I am fascinated with the water and fish and ecology and geography and the ocean, but then it just wasn’t it.
So I literally fell into college with no real plan except the idea that I was working with people and I was absolutely fascinated by developmental disabilities and mental health. The people I worked with were dually diagnosed. So Psychology was my major from the day I walked in the door. I seemed to know that very well although I had never taken a psychology course. I was just living it everyday mine and others.
My route to any success I have had has always been the road less traveled, so to speak, I did everything backwards and my school schedule is a testament to that. I took all the core courses in the beginning and all the English, Science, and History in the middle and the end. I knew something about myself; I had to keep myself interested in school because it was so very difficult to get through. I flunked so many courses and had to retake them. I had a hell of a time reading all the material and there was so much to read and learn. On top of that I worked some of the most stressful jobs one can work full time and take college courses. There were group homes, crisis hotlines, and psychiatric facilities. I was burnt every day. Just exhausted so it took me 9 years to get my degree. These were some of the most amazing years in my life. I scraped for every cent to get to two to three classes every semester. A reminder of these times came to me tonight.
Tonight a dear friend wrote me an email about her daughter Amy whom she named after me. She was explaining to her what I went through to accomplish my goals because my namesake is also struggling to get through school. Here’s what she wrote and it moved me because you tend to forget what you had to go through to get where you are now or sometimes I do.
From Mary Tim Hare:
It’s been a long time since we’ve spoken but Amy keeps me updated on your Facebook doings & occasional contact. You’d be proud of your namesake Amy. She has lots of challenges but she keeps plowing on. She’s been accepted into a special Ontario apprenticeship program for hairdressing that will earn her license shortly after graduation. At the same time she’s pursuing academic math & sciences. The hope is that she’ll have the necessary high school courses for admission to veterinary school & with her hair dressing license, be able to earn the money for books & tuition.
Recently we had a talk about you & why I named her after you. She’s been very discouraged lately, in part because despite her desire to be a vet, she’s failing this semester’s round of advanced chemistry & math. Academics are not her long suit & every inch she gains is a struggle. I told her about your determination to earn your degree & become a psychologist; the repeated classes, finding money for tuition & seeking it out for books & living expenses; coping with the unremitting seizure disorder, the challenges that posed in academics & life; bicycling through every weather, the accidents & sometimes fear; the loss of your mother. It’s hard to get through to a teenager, especially one as oppositional as Amy can sometimes be, but I wanted her to really understand that I named her after you because I’d hoped my daughter would be like you. If she has to re take a class until she passes, do it. If she has to battle her own brain, body & sometimes despair, do it. You did & it was that example I wanted for her. I wish we had a copy of your book Amy. There’s only so much I can tell her about the determination to survive & live well despite obstacles. I’d like her to read your book (heck, I’ve always wanted to) & hear your voice, rather than mine.”
This email came to me with the subject line: Seizure Advice- and that was not about Amy but Mary Tim’s other daughter. But it got me thinking once again about, What I Dreamed I’d Be. It also took me back to a time that somehow I thought I seemingly breezed through as if unaware how difficult it was all the time and just kept plugging along. There was little time to worry about whether it would really happen because I knew I HAD to accomplish this. In my mind I would have been a failure if I didn’t get my degree. Because I felt an obligation to THE ME that I knew I could be!
That thinking has been a common theme throughout my life since I was beaten and received a TBI, “I HAVE TO” and “I Can DO!”, I actually use as mantras for my life, because there’s a ME in there, a person that Dreams of doing Something bigger than I am doing now. This feeling continues to give me an incredible sense of determination. A steadfast idea of believing that just because I had wanted to be a Harlem Globe Trotter and didn’t accomplish that. I didn’t just stop Dreaming of bigger and better. There are new things to do and accomplish.
What also interests me is that you never know what others see in you until you get a moving letter like. I know that my namesake, my wonderful Amy will get through whatever she needs on her own will and determination; Not because she is my namesake but because she is a strong young woman with dreams and a woman of her own determined resilience and inner strength. I believe in her and her mother does too. She also comes from a family who has suffered hard knocks and stuck together by the glue of love. This a is always a good foundation.
People with TBI understand very well that they dreamed of being one thing or were actually doing their dream and now they must Dream of being something else. It’s important to recognize that just because you didn’t get what you wanted the first time you can’t give up. It’s also crucial to understand that wanting something so badly is the fuel to a Fire within you. So hold on for the ride it’s a long one and there are hurdles to jump.
Go out there and Dream of who you want to BE, Again!