A key idea in religions is the idea of finding yourself by losing yourself. Christ said it. I think the Buddha hinted at it. Even Jimmy Buffet makes light of it with Zac Brown in the reggae-ish jam “Knee Deep”. This paradoxical enigma is one theme i have encountered in my life multiple times.
I grew up an athletic and scholarly nerd who finished at the top of his class in high school with a ton of varsity letters, plenty of friends, a chip on his shoulder and big fat silver spoon in his mouth. See, I was an only child with a dad who was a college professor and a mom who was an operating room nurse. We had a decent amount of money, a house in town and a ski chalet a half hour away where we spent winter weekends.
I never wanted to go to college. Instead, I wanted to continue my climbing and snowboarding somewhere out west because I grew up in small hills of Pennsyl-tucky. I fondly call it that because i lived on the Appalachian trail. Never too far from the sound of banjos as joked about in the movie Deliverance. Having a father who was an academic, I was strongly encouraged to attend a university. In fact, I was pretty much bribed to pursue a bachelor’s degree by being given a fat bank account, a credit card and a brand new car. My only stipulation was that since i grew up inland, I wanted to go the ocean so i could learn to surf and dive. I chose the University of Rhode Island. In fact, that school picked me. Because i had a pretty good GPA, I received an academic scholarship in the school of ocean engineering. I liked ocean engineering because it was challenging. Lots of math, physics, laboratories on boats…. and I figured I might be the next Robert Ballard or Jacque Cousteau. The next great adventurer to find another Titanic or Lusitana.
College life was great in the beginning. I got accepted onto the crew team. I became a founding father of a fraternity. I was on the deans list. I went to tons of raves during the early techno scene and I became a whitewater boater traveling every weekend between regattas to paddle class V rivers.
Then BAM!!! I joined a religous group at school. I don’t know why really. Maybe because i was feeling empty. Perhaps I was looking for the meaning of life. Anyhoo, this decision changed the course of my life for years. The group turned out to be a cult and I went from being a super duper happy and fun person to someone who felt he was alway wrong in the eyes of God. I felt like a constant sinner and disappointment.
Long story short, I declined in mental health for the next four years. My genes expressed themselves in a way where i became bipolar. I was in and out of mental institutions for years. It took a psychiatric cocktail of mood stabilizers, antipsychotics and antidepressants to get me back. Two years after hospitalization and seventy pounds heavier i got my life back. It was me. Just a new me. I little more compassionate with a lot more understanding of what people go through in life and a shit ton of stretch marks.
Five years after recovering i dropped my 46 inch waist back to a 32. I was training for triathlons and was in great spirits. I decided to leave the corporate world as an engineer to help a friend open a snowboard shop. It was uber successful and we had a great season. In the spring, I embarked on a sixth month road trip to visit all of our lower 48 states. I decked out my Subaru to live out of and bought a one man tent to sleep in when i didn’t feel like crashing in the car.
My expedition went well. I dove, climbed, snowboarded, ran, biked, camped and everything you can imagine from Maine to Oregon. Unfortunately however, i also picked up six parasites, Lyme disease and an intense reaction to steroids used to suppress a wicked case of poison oak i contracted in Glacier National Park.
When i returned to Pennsylvania, I planned to sell my car and move to Asia to teach english. Instead, I fell bedridden. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. For the next 19 months I was chained to my mattress. The infections I sustained caused my body to shut down. My hormones plummeted. I couldn’t sleep. I was constantly in a state of fight or flight with panic attacks daily. For nearly the next two years I was a guinea pig. Bioidentical thyroid, adrenal, and testosterone hormones. Months of different antiparasitic drugs like Yodoxin and Flagyl. Six months of Azithromycin, 30 days of Doxycyline. I took Klonopin for anxiety. Xyrem, Soma, Lunesta, Ambien, Trazodone, Doxepine, and a million other drugs for sleep. None worked. Instead, I went from being an athlete and adventurer to a raving addict.
I craved alcohol and drugs instead of sports. I got three DUIs in a short period of time. I lost my driver’s license for 13 years. I was sentenced to 2 years in prison with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. I’m not talking county jail. This was big boy prison. By the end, I would be housed in Five of PA’s state correctional facilities.
In the duration between being charged with 3 DUI’s and going to the Big House, I recovered from Fibromyalgia. I found the drug Seroquel. It was an antipsychotic medication with a heavy sedation that helped me finally get sleep. I also found the drug Lyrica. It was a nerve pain killing godsend which allowed me to move. Six months after these drugs came on board I was finishing Ironman triathlons. I was also maintaining a blog and a Facebook presence where I was helping people like me and giving them hope for recovery.
You see, Fibromyalgia was my second loss. Bipolar was my first. Bipolar robbed me of my mind. I lost it. Fully and completely. I always said going “crazy” is like going behind a waterfall. You finally reach a place of peace with everything mentally crashing down around you. You can hear the “crazy”, but you’re behind it. One with it. No longer resisting the intrusive and painful thoughts sinking daggers into your stomach 10 times per minute.
Fibromyalgia was losing my body. I could no longer do. No longer train. No longer walk. No longer be mobile. Everything I prided myself on being able to accomplish up to that point…the ability to be mentally sharp. The ability to move my body quickly, for long durations with lots of skill…..it was all gone. I had nothing left to establish my ego on.
The very last thing i lost was my freedom. I was imprisoned. Sometimes in a box so small I could reach across it’s dimensions with both hands and touch its cold gray walls. Walls filled with the grafitti of other inmates before me who struggled to make sense of what they had done and how they would spend the rest of their lives.
I was petrified of being cattle in a stall, a pig in a pen, or chicken in a coup. I went from spreading my wings over 3000 miles of our beautiful American landscape to being confined to a twin mattress for two years to conquering 140.6 miles of swimming, biking and running to eventually landing in the Department of Corrections.
As frightening as my anticipation of being incarcerated was, it taught me a lot. I will be ever grateful for it. Many of my cellmates will never be able to walk the ground i do now as a free man. They will forever be bound and confined. It makes me sad. Some of these men had big hearts, but unfortunately got caught up in the web after injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan. Other men deserve their fates for what they have done to other innocent people. For me, I walked out a different person. An individual grateful for every breath he can take in the free world.
I came to Colorado because this state offered me a new life. It is the only state in the nation which will look at a persons criminal record and loss of license and evaluate if they believe someone is worthy of having their drivers license reinstated early. Colorado ruled in my favor. The DMV reinstated my license 6 years early. The state also provided me with medical and food assistance so that i could get back on my feet and and have a second chance.
…and isn’t that what this whole blog post and all of the lessons we read in our in our religious texts about. A second chance. What is that second chance? It’s the opportunity of receiving back and incorporating what we have once lost in a way that our Egos no longer measure itself by. For me it is using my mind, my body and my freedom in a way that i will be eternally grateful for what i have; never forgetting where i’ve come from. Also, it means to not forget all those who are still stuck in those holes I have been lucky enough to climb out of. To shine a light back down into that darkness for them to see and extend them a hand or ladder to help them climb out themselves.
The cherry on the top of my loss was that within a few month of moving to Colorado I met Mare. The love of my life and my sexy little hippy monkey. If I had never gone through the hell that i did, I would never have been in the right place at the right time to meet her. She is one precious gift i have no intention of losing.