Wandering the streets of my neighborhood, everyone was asleep and I was alone. I had always heard that **** would be crowded. It's not. It is a lonely place filled with despair and a sense of loss. That night, I knew that who I was had ceased to exist, and what remained on Earth was a dry husk.
They say that it is not the fall that kills you, but the sudden stop. My crash was the end of a downward spiral comprised of years worth of over-working, over-indulgence, and over-doing. I had been burning the midnight oil for years leading up to it. At one point, I had three jobs, one full-time employment as a project engineer, one as an adjunct professor teaching four nights per week at a local community college, and one as a free-lance textbook writer and editor for educational publishing companies. In addition to this, I was actively involved in supporting both with my time and my money the numerous activities in which my five children were engaged. I was simultaneously a stage hand in a local community theater group, the executive director of a new community orchestra, and a driver to all of the lessons and activities. Add all of this to the normal weekly routines of home, school, and church life, and what I had was a personal perfect storm. My boat was taking on water, and I was in danger of being capsized by the next big wave.
That big wave came on Friday, June 3, 2005. I was on a field trip with my oldest son. His band had a competition, after which we were all heading to an amusement park, me being one of the chaperones. Two days earlier, I had an MRI of my brain to look for any possible causes of why I was having some minor but strange nerve twinges. Coming out of the MRI, my neck started to hurt. I figured it was just from lying in a constrained position for an hour. Later that evening, while at a band concert, I started having the very odd sensations of a lump in my throat and an inability to get a full breath of air. Just the weekend before, my oldest son and I had lifted a very heavy refrigerator out of my truck and carried it about twenty feet. Upon setting down the fridge, I figured my back was going to make me pay later for it. Was the muscle tightness I was feeling at the concert caused by my lifting of that refrigerator? Just a month before that, I had been on an antibiotic for a chronic sinus infection, and had a bad muscle reaction to the antibiotic. What was going on with my muscles and nerves?
There I was, at an amusement park with a bunch of rowdy kids, a challenge in its own right. During the bus ride, I had been reading an article in a church magazine about unfortunate souls who have chronic diseases and how such people can live positive lives in such circumstances. Suddenly, the anxiety started. It is difficult to explain abnormal anxiety to someone who has never experienced it. It is not like the kind of anxiety you have before a final exam. It is not even like the anxiety you have on the day you are getting married. It is a feeling that something life-threatening is about to happen and you have absolutely no control over it. I managed to make it through the rest of the day without falling completely to pieces and without losing anyone at the amusement park, thanks to my wife on the other end of the cell phone who had to keep talking me through each surge of anxiety.
Following the band field trip, I did my best to keep it together over the weekend. I had a lot of difficulty sleeping. I had started considering that all of the odd symptoms must have something to do with whatever the doctor was going to find in that MRI. I woke up Monday morning in horrible pain. However, I was not scheduled to see the doctor until Wednesday. I did not want to wait. So I had the MRI results emailed to another doctor friend of my mine. The radiologist had written multiple sclerosis in the MRI analysis. That was all I needed to hear to make my entire world shatter. I normally would have been a lot more under control, but at that moment, I just didn't handle it well. Good thing I was in the office of a friend. My doctor friend told me that he thought something was wrong with the radiologists analysis and that I should not assume anything at that point. He was right. However, it was not me he was talking to. Who I was died in that moment. Someone else was in this malfunctioning body, but it was not me.
Almost two-and-a-half years later, there I was, out wandering the streets of my neighborhood late at night. In addition to my ongoing worsening health, three of my kids were also having health challenges. One had been having arm and back muscle pain that was getting worse. Another couldn't eat anything without feeling nausea. A third had a benign tumor in her left tibia that was causing a lot of pain. How could I possibly help them, when I didn't know how to help myself? We were quickly going back into debt with all of the medical bills, after having completely paid off all of our student loans, car loans, and credit cards through the sale of our house at the peak of the housing bubble three months after my health crashed and just before I became disabled from work. My oldest son was in his junior year, and starting to take on the unhealthy traits of burning the candle at both ends, like I had previously done. My career was stagnated because of my constant pain and fatigue, as well as lack of purpose on my part. My wife and I were struggling in our marriage under the sheer number of problems, our poor family communication, and lousy interpersonal skills. A negative mood had permeated our household and settled on my children. On top of all of this, our landlord decided he wanted to renovate the house we were living in, and so found an excuse to try and force us to leave. And these were only some of the worst and most urgent problems. I was back to work after having gone into deep debt from lack of income with ongoing medical bills and living expenses for a family of seven, no longer being able to afford being out of work, no matter how sick I felt. I was miserable, I couldn't sleep, I needed a way to regain my sanity.
I had been doing a lot of reading of self-help books, desperately looking for any insight. Books about stress reduction. I had put out a large effort in trying to reduce the number of stresses in my life, as well as learning to respond in a more healthy fashion to stress. Books about learning how to be happy. Making headway. Books on healthy eating. Check. However, everything I ate gave me severe pain, regardless of how healthy it was. Books on organization and productivity. Got it. Books on becoming a better husband and father. Great stuff! Books on positive thinking. My efforts on being positive were being overwhelmed by the sheer number and severity of the problems I was confronting.
I am writing my story as a book blog. Read the rest of this chapter and my book at sane-book.blogspot.com .
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