When I was young, I had asthma. There were no inhalers—I just had to tough it out. It was miserable.
My father thought running might help, so I began to run with him. I had an attack every time I ran: an eighth mile, a quarter mile, a half mile, but when I got to three miles, my asthma vanished. It seemed nothing could stop me then; I ran five, ten, fifteen, even twenty miles. I even ran to the top of Pike’s Peak—over 14,000 feet, and ultimately, because I conquered asthma, I ran with an Olympic torch.
I was afraid of heights.
I decided I’d had enough of that fear and took up climbing, repelling and then hot air ballooning. I finally crushed my fear completely by learning to hang glide. I’ll never forget soaring a thousand feet above the Colorado Rockies, and watching my shadow skitter across the pine trees and granite ridges beneath me, or how the earth would spin at my wing tip as I cored a thermal. By facing my fear of heights, I was able to soar with eagles.
I was afraid that I’d lose my job.
Then, during the worst economic downturn since the great depression, I lost four jobs in five years. Surprisingly, each time I was able to find another job in a short time. Not only did I learn that I’d be okay if I lost my job, I landed the best job I’ve ever had because of people I met during those trying times.
I worried about death, and then fell victim to a disease which perforated my bowel. I became massively infected and suffered the most horrific pain of my life. I was starved for eight days, lost twenty-five pounds, and underwent surgery to remove ten inches of my large intestine. Even worse, I contracted a hospital super bug and nearly drowned from fluid in my lungs. I learned from that experience that there are worse things than death, and that thinking of it distracts from life.
I returned to good health after that—or so I thought. Life had a few more tricks up its sleeve.
The starvation, surgery and twenty seven different medications given while I was in the hospital began an unstoppable reaction in my body. Each day, my energy increased until soon, I was unable to sleep. After seven straight days without sleep, I began having mysterious paralyzing seizures. I would literally collapse while talking to someone. I could see and hear, but could not speak or move.
I sought medical help, but doctors mistook my paralysis for anxiety attacks, and shipped me to a psychiatric hospital. There, medications given by people unfamiliar with my medical history worsened my condition, and before I knew it, I became manic.
My changes deeply concerned my family, and in desperation, they called a crisis counselor. To ensure that I couldn’t escape or check myself out of a facility, the counselor lied, stating in her petition that I had physically assaulted my wife. The police took me to a high security psychiatric ward filled with people who were considered a danger to themselves or others.
I spent the next several weeks with drug addicts, alcoholics, schizophrenics and people who I didn’t know what was wrong with them. Determined that medications had landed me in that predicament, I took a stand, and refused them entirely. Although I was later court ordered to comply with the psychiatrist’s treatment plan, those few weeks free of medication while manic changed my life forever.
I’d been stripped of everything: my life, my home, my family. I had nothing to call my own but the few clothes on my back, and no identity aside from my name scrawled on a piece of masking tape on my room door. But, being manic allowed me to feel strangely calm in the face of ultimate adversity.
I was living an authentic life for the first time: a life free of worry, fear, guilt, expectations, and attachments—a life in the present. Although that is what made me seem crazy to those who knew and loved me, it was the greatest gift of my life. I finally learned the truth: that what we believe about ourselves is a fabrication, and that the only thing real is this very moment of our existence.
After a court order forced me to take medication, I finished my journey into madness.
As soon as daily blood tests confirmed the proper therapeutic dosage, I was freed to return home. But, I never forgot what happened, and was determined to prevent others from suffering the same fate.
I began to write a book about my experiences. Seven months after my release, the medications I was legally bound to take caused bradycardia, nearly killing me. I was taken off them, and as I recovered in the hospital bed of a telemetry unit, I asked for a pen and paper, and wrote the last chapter of my story. My book was published on December 12th, 2013. Writing and publishing it has been the most rewarding experience of my life, and has opened more doors than I could ever imagine.
I can’t tell you what lies ahead for me or anyone else, but I can tell you that I no longer worry about that kind of thing. I’ve realized that we will always face sickness, adversity or fearful situations, but we don’t have to be a victim. Instead, we can focus on living in the present, and turn our misfortunes into opportunities.
(Photo by MTSOfan)