This is the speech I gave as the student speaker and my University of the Fraser Valley 2017 convocation ceremony on Tuesday June 6
Honoured guests faculty, staff, volunteers, and fellow graduates, family and friends, thank you for this opportunity to share a little of my story with you – and thank you for sharing UFV with me!
The bottom line of what I want to tell you is this – Be the author of your own story. Hold onto that pen with all your might and make sure that YOU’RE the one who decides what happens next. Be the author and write yourself a legend.
First a very brief history – with a lot of interesting bits missing
In 2010, I had the opportunity to go and work with children in the Middle East! The Gaza Strip, to be exact. I went for it. Over there I became very ill – I was hit with encephalitis which is a brain infection and sepsis, which caused multi organ failure because of the infection. I was in a coma for almost a month - my brain sustained serious damage. My prognosis was grave. I was told later that I’d been given a 5% chance of survival and zero chance of making a meaningful recovery.
My neurologist told me the damage to my brain left it more like she sees in her elderly Alzheimer’s patients. I was devastated.
I worked hard to rehabilitate. I began learning to walk again by using one of those “old lady” walkers. I’d keep falling over. I fell over when I’d try to sit up in bed. I fell over a lot. I didn’t know how long my recovery would take, but I just knew I could never give up. Plus, my kids needed me to recover.
And here I am! Eventually, I was ready to get back to work but the job market had changed. I couldn’t rely on my good looks and charming personality to get a decent job anymore. I struggled from one job to another until finally facing the reality that I had to go back to school.
One of my daughters, Emily, attends UFV as a kinesiology student and she had so many great things to say about UFV. With my background in working as an administrative assistant, plus my lifelong interest in all things medical, I decided to apply to the Medical Office Assistant program. The wonderful people in the Continuing Education office helped me through the registration process. It was all so new to me!
Now, I’m done and I achieved a final grade of 96%! Hmmm…Interesting numbers: a 5% chance of survival plus a 96% grade – that makes me 101% grateful!
I loved the challenge of school, the wonderful instructors, the staff, my classmates – and the fact that I finally get to enjoy an honest to goodness university graduation ceremony! UFV has given me so much more than my doctors could ever promise!
I’m motivated to reach higher. I’ve taken a course that has landed me a great job, absolutely, and now, I want to go after my dream. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. Until now it just never seemed to be “my turn”.
I’ve applied to enter the BA in Adult Education program here at UFV. It may look like I’m about 33 years late for my turn at university but I am right on time! I’ve been an “accidental teacher” for as long as I can remember. Soon I’ll get to become a real one!
Remember - Nothing is permanent. Not the highs and not the lows – no matter how they may feel in the moment. Take that next step – whether it is a big leap or a small baby step, it’s still progress! I love the words of Sir Winston Churchill, when he said, “Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts”
Our time here at UFV was not permanent, although there were days when it certainly felt like it. Life is full of ups and downs, twists and turns. I urge you to meet them all with hope and courage. The future is unknown, even though some of you probably have a very clear idea of where you want to go. Life has a way of surprising us. Making us work harder, think more creatively, be bolder – than we ever thought possible. But I am here to tell you that it’s worth whatever it takes to keep going.
Whatever happens, be the author of your own story. Be the one who decides how this chapter will end and how the next will begin.
Remember: the ONLY true failure is to give up. If plan A doesn’t work, there are 25 more letters in the alphabet!” Start writing your story over. Be creative. And flexible. Plan M or Plan W might be the real breakthrough!
Every morning when you wake up and feel your heart beating in your chest and your lungs filling with air, know that that is a day full of possibility! Be proud of yourselves and of what you have done – and of what you will continue to do.
I am extremely grateful to have the honour of addressing you today – my classmates, family and friends, my fellow UFV graduates, honoured guests, faculty, staff and volunteers – and especially my kids who are my biggest encouragement, motivation and inspiration, my parents who always believed I could do this and my wonderful Steve who always has my back - this combined abundance of love, hope, and expectation is what makes me excited for what will happen next.
Hold your pen tightly and go write your next chapter!!
Linda Todd is a medical office assistant with a keen interest in health and education. She is a recent graduate of the University of the Fraser Valley’s (UFV) Continuing Education Medical Office Assistant program. She also holds an Occupational First Aid level 3 certificate, her most recent in a long line of first aid certifications earned since her first in 1979.
Linda has worked extensively as a volunteer educator which has included: tutoring her classmates in school, being a parent volunteer when her own children were in school, serving as the VP Ed in her Toastmasters club, teaching English fluency to school children in grades pre-K to 12 in Gaza City, the Gaza Strip, being a return guest speaker at a local high school, and co-teaching computer classes to seniors locally.
In her spare time she loves to create in the form of writing, sewing, cooking, sculpting, crafting – whatever it takes to make something new.
The next phase of her educational journey will be to earn her B.A. in adult education, also at the University of the Fraser Valley.
Linda’s greatest joy is to be with her partner and her growing family including her children, children in law and grandchildren as well as Max, her cat.
:After a busy few months, I have successfully completed the medical office assistant's course at UFV (University of the Fraser Valley) and I have been offered a job at an amazing hearing aid clinic locally. More on that to come.
Going to school opened the door for me to give a short speech to the UFV Board of Governors! Of course, I said yes right away when I was invited to go and speak.
Always say yes when a door is opened! You never know what else will open up for you later but only once you step through that door.
During my two weeks of practicum, I had the opportunity to work for a business whose owners have true vision for their future. It excites me to know that now I'm a part of seeing that vision become reality. Talk about being in the right place at the right time!
As if everything wasn't already working out perfectly, my new position will also give me enough time to work on my own vision for my future.
As I wrap up classes this week and fully plunge into the next phase of my life, I know that great things will continue to happen!
And be sure to check back to my page:
to see what ends up trickling out of my mind and off my fingers. I can't wait to see what I'll find on that page!
It has been much too long since my last post but here I am! And you won't believe what has happened! I'm going to school now!
I was accepted into the Medical Office Assistant program at UFV (University of the Fraser Valley) so I'm officially a university student - finally!!
I first planned to attend college right after I graduated from high school - 33 years ago.
Life took some twists and turns and threw me on my face a few times but I always hoped that someday it would be my turn to further my education.
In 2010, when I got sick with encephalitis and sepsis, I thought this dream would be over. My brain had sustained significant damage. My neurologist showed me my MRI that showed that my brain looked more like the brain of an elderly Alzheimer's patient and not that of a woman who still was going to accomplish so much in life.
I broke down and cried uncontrollably for a few minutes when I got that news but soon started asking questions, grasping for any shred of hope.
"What counts is what I am actually capable of, right? Not just what's on the screen"
My doctor agreed.
"The only thing that matters is that I CAN do stuff, right?"
I could barely speak through my tears but I needed to clarify a few things.
Again, my doctor agreed.
"So, it doesn't matter what's on the screen, right??? It only matters what I am doing?"
I was frantic and desperate.
"Yes, that's true", she said. "There is so much about the brain that we don't know. Whatever you are able to do is what's important"
I nodded my head, dried my tears and was determined to be capable of everything I'd been capable of before my brain took such a beating.
It took some time to recover. It didn't happen overnight. I would accept my progress and think I had come back all the way, but then I'd remember what else I wanted to do.
I took belly dancing classes as well as Hebrew classes because I had been told that dancing and learning a new language worked both sides of the brain so if I could accomplish both, then I knew that both sides of my brain were functioning well.
I would be kidding myself - and you - if I said that it was easy for me but I stuck with it. I took Hebrew because I thought that Latin based languages wouldn't be enough of a challenge and I wanted to push myself! Plus I was planning to take a trip to Israel so why not learn to say a few things?
I thought I had proven that I was fully recovered.
I had returned to work as an administrative assistant and was getting on with my life.
Then a few months ago I remembered that I had wanted to go back to school for real, not just to take interesting courses here and there.
At this point in time though, I thought I couldn't afford to dream of such things.
I took a deep breath and went to my local employment centre and explained my plight. I was not satisfied with my level of employment and frustrated that I didn't have the education to make a significant change.
I completed their long and involved application, almost giving up a few times. Each time I would remind myself that I need to go to school, I deserve to go to school, it has to finally be my turn to go to school.
I persevered with the application for funding and handed it in.......and waited.
I got inspired as I wondered about whether or not I'd get funded and I got more determined that I would be going to school - one way or another.
So I also applied for a student loan - not sure if I'd get it but also not sure if I'd get funded but I had to increase my odds of getting the funds needed for school. I was more determined than ever that come September, I would be in school.
I applied for the MOA program, got accepted and then had to do a couple of tests to see if my skills were up to the level required for the program. One test was a "Composition Placement Test" and the other was a typing test.
I have since learned that not only did I pass the tests, but my mark for the Composition Placement Test was actually outstanding!
My brain was definitely back! I qualified to take university courses!
Now I'm working through the second and third modules of the program. Medical Terminology is tough but I'm sticking to it, doing my homework diligently and reminding myself that I can do this
I have wonderful support from my family and friends. I am in a class of girls who are the ages of my children and I love it! It feels like the most normal place I could possibly be!
I just got my mark back for the first module of the program and I got 98%!
Yes, my brain is definitely back.
I keep saying this but I can't say it enough - YOU decide how your story goes. Don't let anyone else set your expectations for you.
It's not too late, you're not too old, you aren't too broken to get up and keep going to where you want to be.
I am living my dream - and I'm nowhere near done yet!
You were created to glorify your Creator. Yes. You.
You were created to fill a place in this world that was made just for you! You were created on purpose, not just to hold your breath and wait for the end, but to revel in your life, to bring a smile to your Creator as you find meaning and joy in the journey He laid out for you.
Feel like you're banging your head against the wall? Feel suffocated and squeezed?
Pause. Calm down. And look up.
My favourite book says, "I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from where my help comes."
Help is standing by. When you feel overwhelmed, look up. When you feel bogged down, look up. When it feels like you're going under, look up!
You were created to reflect awesome beauty; to live in a state of peace. That doesn't mean that everything around you will always be peaceful and beautiful. We do get those perfect moments, but even better than that is that the same One who made us has also made it possible for His beauty and peace to be reflected in and through us.
We weren't put here just to grind out our days in frustration and misery.
Take a breath, look up, Help is there. And get ready to bask in the joy that you were made to reflect.
It has been said that the social structure among animals which most closely resembles human is that of horses. Since humans can be swayed by pride, peer pressure and unrealistic social expectations it makes sense to look closely at horses to get a basic understanding of our social needs. Horses do what they need to do.
Horses do change their role in the herd but not because of outside pressure. They see a need and fill it if they are in a position to do so. This is very different from humans who quite often change roles based on selfish reasons and not necessarily for the benefit of the herd.
So let's look at horses and see what we can learn. Horses group themselves in a few different ways, by family group, by bachelor group or by a group of assorted singles. Every group has its own hierarchy and works for the benefit of the herd.
The primary kind of herd is the family group. Within the family, there is a lead stallion and a lead mare who take on the parental roles for the safety of the herd. Horses do not operate within a democracy. When the lead horse "speaks", the others must listen and respond immediately. Their lives depend on this type of relationship.
Much like a human family, a democracy doesn't work when raising our young. The lead "stallion" and "mare" have the knowledge and experience to know what dangers lurk around the herd and the other members of the herd must simply act as instructed when orders are given at times when their well being is at risk. Horses operate with a chain of command structure. This is what also works best in human families, especially with young offspring.
Horses rely on each other even to the point of where they will switch up their roles if needed. Horses pay attention and act quickly.
For some reason, humans favour working alone and if our social structure and needs most closely resembles that of horses, then we need to sound the alarm on this social anomaly. When isolated from the herd, a horse becomes nervous, apprehensive and irritable; he simply can't function normally. So it is with humans. We tell ourselves it is desirable to operate beyond our instincts when there is substantive evidence to the contrary.
A horse has two basic responses to danger - Either attack or run away. Running away is his best option as he has limited ability to fight. Humans have convinced themselves of the opposite, that we should fight every danger rather than removing ourselves from the situation, as quickly as possible.
We suppress our natural, life saving instincts and force ourselves to stand and fight. We also teach our young this very damaging approach to danger.
For humans, unlike horses, those dangers take on many forms. In the wild, a horse's danger comes from predators. For humans, our dangers are much more complex but the principle is the same. Why do we insist on standing and fighting when the damage we sustain will be greater than any benefit of fighting?
A horse knows his security is found in staying within the safety of his herd. Humans think we are smarter and so often reject our herd in favour of solitude, and thereby reap the hazards that come with that choice.
Horses instinctively make choices based on what benefits the herd because this is also what benefits the individual. Humans often get this turned around and first seek to benefit themselves and then try to convince themselves that their choice will also benefit the herd, if they are even part of a herd.
Horses find their mental health is best served within the herd. We have already mentioned what happens to a horse who is isolated - nervous, apprehensive and irritable, to the point of not even being able to function normally. If we are most similar to horses, then we need to take notice of this.
Mental health issues in humans are rampant and not to be taken lightly. But what can we learn from horses, whose social needs and structure are so close to our own?
Horses suffer serious mental health issues from being separated from a herd, from being kept alone. And it's not just about being kept from other horses. A horse can thrive mentally by being with other prey animals. It doesn't even have to be other horses.
To put this in human terms, we don't have to be with our family herd to thrive but we need, NEED, to be with some kind of herd. Physical and social isolation is very damaging. Sadly, humans keep telling themselves that this is a favourable position to be in, even a sign of strength, and yet we only have to look at one isolated horse to see how wrong this is.
When the horse is returned to a herd, he can find his security and his place and again function normally.
When humans suffer from mental health issues, our balance, our security, our return to sanity can most often be found when we return to a herd.
I have heard it said that it has been found most beneficial when humans can share their painful experiences in a group...and that this is strange but I would submit the only thing that is strange about it is that we would ever think that this is a strange place to heal.
Horses know that their sense of security is within their herd and the most common type of herd is the family herd.
As humans, we have alienated ourselves from our family groups in favour of so called independence. Horses give us an alternative in either the form of a stallion group, which we see very commonly in humans, as well as in a herd of assorted singles, something we also do as humans. Where we humans fall apart is that we also give ourselves the option of being in no herd, which horses know is the most dangerous place of all.
We structure our work and life to keep us apart from each other as much as possible and then when mental health issues appear, the affected person is looked upon like they are weak or broken when all they need is to be integrated into a herd (any herd) for balance to return.
Of course, I am not addressing serious health issues that have gone well beyond the healing that is facilitated by a herd but I certainly suggest that many, if not all issues would be remedied or at least profoundly mitigated by simply returning the individual to a herd.
If indeed human social structure most closely resembles that of horses, then we must look closely and learn everything we can from horses. Their social structure is based on the horses' knowledge of each other and of their surroundings. Their decisions are made in the herd's best interests. Their optimum mental health is achieved when they remain as part of a herd, even though that changes over the lifetime of the horse.
A horse herd is based on each animal participating for the good of the group, roles changing as needed and a chain of command to facilitate immediate decisions being made for the safety and protection of the herd and each horse being secure in finding their place, albeit changing, within the security of their herd.
Why then should it be suspect if a human finds mental and emotional healing by returning to their herd? This is exactly where we need to go, especially in times of stress.
We are urged to further isolate ourselves from our primary herd and force ourselves to seek a herd of assorted individuals to find healing. Even horses know that the primary herd is the family herd.
A personal example of this is from when I was a child, approximately 7 years old. My mother was attending classes and working. My dad worked and I was attending school full time. My social structure was thrown out of balance because of the prolonged absence of my mother in the evenings. At that young age, my primary herd was my family of origin.
I began to struggle, becoming nervous, apprehensive and irritable. I wasn't able to function normally. For me, my primary herd was disrupted.
I struggled to the point of getting the attention of the school counsellor who decided that I needed to be removed from my family, from my herd. My mother had the wisdom to challenge this outrageous decision, convincing the counsellor to let her have spring break with me. If I wasn't better after spring break, she would have no choice but to accept their intervention. Of course, she proposed this knowing full well what she had planned and the expected outcome.
During spring break, my mom took me to classes with her by day and to work with her by night. I would sleep in her office while she carried out her duties.
What was accomplished? I was returned to my herd and therefore was balanced mentally and emotionally again. When spring break ended, I returned to school as a happy, well adjusted child. The school counsellor was mystified. How could my mother achieve this without the help of "professionals"?
I needed to be returned to my herd. Period. This is what strengthened and balanced me. I shudder to think of the devastation that could have been caused had I been removed from my herd altogether and forced to survive outside that structure of optimum security and safety.
We should never be surprised to see mental and emotional healing in someone who is able to reconnect with their herd, after all, that is how we are designed.
It seems that the "mental health profession" is largely in place to "help" humans learn to resist our natural instincts which hold the source of true healing of mind and spirit and develop ways to cope that we were never meant to learn. How often we see individuals in counselling for years so they can keep trying to learn to function alone, apart from any herd when we have clear evidence that such a life will never give us anything but nervousness, apprehension and irritability and leave us completely unable to cope?
Is it any wonder that severe mental health issues are rampant in our individualistic society? We keep trying to force ourselves into a frame that we are not designed for. If it is well known that humans are akin to horses in our social structure and social needs, why is the source of our disease such a mystery?
The answer is so simple that we refuse to accept it. We want prescriptions that have known devastating risks. We want clinical diagnoses that make us frightened to even think we can cope without the established medical industry.
We have been given the tools for our healing, but they have been frowned upon or even outlawed by a society that prefers the sanitary world of the doctor's office to the messy natural world of real life.
Those who know how to heal themselves without the prescribed methods given by the medical profession are looked upon as suspect, loose canons and not at all reliable when in fact it is these very people who are the most healthy and "normal", who have learned to assess their own risks and needs and reconnect with their herd to reestablish mental and emotional balance.
It seems our society would prefer that we simply learn how to shut off our instincts and learn to cope with living outside of our herd. This is, by far, a more dangerous proposition for the health and wellbeing of a society already putting itself under so much pressure to perform outside of our natural state of being.
If indeed the social structure of a horse herd is what most closely resembles the human instinctive social structure, then that needs to be looked at carefully. The secrets to our well being are right there for us to learn.
In my own present situation, following my instinct to remove myself from danger rather than standing and fighting was definitely the right thing thing to do. It's the only thing that makes sense. The next part of that plan needs to be to connect with a "surrogate herd" while I have to be separated from my primary herd, although, with the modern miracle of the internet, a good wifi connection is all that is needed to stay involved with one's primary family herd.
Being human is messy and complicated, but that is the only way it is real. If we would just set aside our ideas of "higher intelligence" and learn from our peers in the animal world we would find that the answers we seek are not nearly as complicated as we think they should be.
It's been much too long since my last blog post but I'm back.
So much has been happening but the exciting thing that I want to tell you is that I'm working on a new book!
The working title is From Life to Death and Back Again.
In this book I will be telling the story of when I got encephalitis while in the middle east in 2010 and my amazing journey back from the brink of death to full recovery.
The secret to bringing my brain and body back to full use was about 2 years of 2 cannabis cookies every night before I went to bed. I learned how to make the cookies myself.
I was given no hope of a full recovery and at first, not even any hope of a meaningful recovery but I couldn't and wouldn't accept that prognosis.
It's time for me to tell that whole story.
Wherever I meet people who are struggling with health issues, I tell them my story and encourage them to do their own research to make sure they find the answers they need and may not be getting.
My own doctors gave me no hope and when I tried pot and went back to my neurologist with my news of how thoroughly it helped with my pain and mobility, she still wasn't willing to sign off on allowing me to obtain pot medicinally. She preferred to test medications on me to see what else might work. I refused.
All I wanted was my life back.....and I got it!
Watch this page for updates about the book and please feel free to share this with anyone you know would be interested or is facing their own health challenges.
I'm excited to see this book come together. This message needs to be told and now is the perfect time to tell it.
I'll check back in with you soon!
It has been much too long since my last post here!! It has been quite a wild ride since then.
Due to some harrowing things going on around me I decided to jump at the chance to go up north and work as a medic with the oil and gas industry. Imagine! There I am up north in the bush where I saw bears, moose, deer, coyotes, wolves and ravens!!
It was an amazing experience! I can tell you enthusiastically - when life presents you with a great opportunity, don't hold back! Shout YES! as loud as you can and go for it!
I have since returned to civilization and am working on the next leg of my adventure. Good things are happening and I'll share more later.......
We all have choices. We can choose to stay where we are or we can choose to take a leap of faith and reach for something more, something better.
Go for it!!!
If you don't already know of Les Brown, then take a moment and read this post from him. If you do already know him, then you know you're in for a treat!
Follow your heart and go after your dream! There will be people in your life who will tell you that you’re wasting your time. Ignore them. There are things that will happen that will catch you on the blind side and drop you to your knees. Pull yourself together and move past them. Above all, don't take it personally. It's called life.
Life is full of disappointments, failures and setbacks. None of those things can permanently stop you. You have the power in you to overcome anything that life throws at you. There is nothing as powerful as a made up mind. Surround yourself with people who remind you that you matter and support you in the ways that matter most to you. No person, situation, or circumstance can define who you are. Don't give up, cave in, or stop believing that it's possible. It's not over until you win! You have GREATNESS within you!
by Les Brown - http://lesbrown.com
Expect to be pleasantly surprised! Too often, people seem to think that life will inevitably bring them a negative result. This just isn't true. If we are only open to negativity, then we will only see the negative side of things.
Be open to the miraculous! Be open to "Yes"! When we keep our hearts and minds focused on positive things, we will find ourselves being pleasantly surprised over and over again.
Recently, my friend and I had a meeting with a local restaurant owner. The original plan was simply to discuss a one time comedy event that he wanted to hire us for.
I wanted more but was happy and grateful to be discussing a one time event.
Very quickly the conversation turned from us planning his one time event to us planning our own ongoing show! What a welcome surprise!
I had thought that this conversation would come at a later date; perhaps even a much later date but I went in to the meeting overflowing with gratitude for what I knew we had already while planning for more.
I find that as I go from day to day, I am often surprised by seeing more of my dream coming true!
Move forward confidently and with joy. No matter what today holds, expect good things! Look for them and walk towards them.
We limit ourselves by our unbelief. Why do that? More often than not, it is due to our fear of success. We are so accustomed to things not working out that it feels more comfortable than facing success. This mindset will always hold us back.
Take a chance and expect success! When I started in comedy in 2005, my youngest son was only 6. I was getting great feedback every time I performed. You would think this would be a great thing! Well, it was, but instead of getting more and more excited, I became more and more fearful. Of what? I was fearful of how I could handle success. My son was too young for me to leave him night after night to go out and perform.
Instead of moving forward as doors were waiting to open for me, I shrunk back, eventually stopping completely.
That dream never left my heart and mind but I could not figure out how to manage a successful outcome.
Now, 8 years later, I have dusted off that dream, thanks to the inspiration of some wonderfully dear friends, and have found the doors still ready to open and the happy surprises still waiting to jump out at me!
And it's not just about comedy. It's about everything in my life right now. I have finally allowed myself to be open to success instead of being afraid of it.
As I move forward, one step at a time, I find more joy, more happy surprises and more success coming my way.
I am truly deeply grateful.
Success is not something that we can measure for each other. It's something that only you can define for yourself as it looks different for each of us.
Be joyful. Be grateful. Be surprised!
Linda blends warmth, wisdom and humour into every presentation. Enjoy the ride!