COLUMBIA — Linda D. Mitchell has lost some hair but not her hope.
"I used to have long, beautiful hair," Mitchell said. Hair loss is a side-effect of the medicine she takes, so she keeps the little she has left concealed under a four-toned camouflage headwrap.
First as caregiver and then as patient, Mitchell, 56, has spent more than two decades in nursing homes and medical facilities.
After years of medical issues that left her unable to walk, she now lives on her own at Oak Towers. Although her balance still isn't the best, through therapy and medication, she can now move around on her own for short distances, usually clinging to railings or staying near walls.
"I came from a nursing home. I worked in a nursing home, so I know what it's about," Mitchell said. "Here, I have freedom. I can wake up when I want to and go to bed when I want to. When I was at the nursing home, you had to be at breakfast at 7:30."
In her time working at and eventually living in a nursing facility, she witnessed residents being molested, robbed and abused.
"I’ve had a lot of trials and tribulations," she said in May while sitting in a patch of shade outside her residence. "It can depress you so bad."
She's struggled with her limbs for years and, at one point, was taking 25 pills a day for her medical conditions. Now she's down to about five pills a day and, after extensive therapy sessions, can walk on her own without the need of a walker or wheelchair.
Mitchell accepts this as one her hardships and is determined to move on.
For Mitchell, moving on wasn't just a mental challenge, it also included a change of address. She now lives on her own at Oak Towers, a self-styled affordable senior living complex at 700 N. Garth Ave.
Her apartment is one of 146 in the eight-floor complex, which is operated by the Columbia Housing Authority for occupants ages 50 and up. Tenants pay 30 percent of their adjusted household income as rent, according to Columbia Housing Authority’s website.
Mitchell enjoys her life at Oak Towers better than the "rat hole" where she lived as a patient but hasn't completely purged the memories of her life there.
She fondly recalls some of her fellow residents, such as "Granny," who lived to be 103.
"She’s the sweetest woman you could ever have," Mitchell said.
Mitchell's memories are also reflected on her walls. Pictures of her with the smiling faces of other residents brighten her tidy apartment and bring warmth to the off-white walls.
There are radios, cassette tapes and two decorated Christmas trees, too.
She works hard to take care of herself and remain independent. The fear of returning to a nursing home motivates her, she said.
Taking a puff from her pack of Virginia Slims, Mitchell said she tries to stay optimistic about the future.
"I wake up every morning and I thank the Lord because you don't know what tomorrow will bring."
Supervising editor is Brian Kratzer.