...I woke up each morning groggy wishing so strongly that I was dead ...
I've received many positive comments of the stories on this website. People get the impression that I'm this outgoing, adventurous "go-getter" person who has his life altogether. That the circumstances in my life are wonderful and rosy. Let's be real. This is website isn't about bragging about doing great deeds or achieving great accomplishments. This is more about the essence of life. This is about the question that people will face in their darkest hours when they wish they were dead.
I met my partner, my wife, Virginia over 10 years ago. We started out as close friends and soon became best friends, and we grew ever closer. Then around 1995 things started to fall apart in our lives. Virginia suffered some knee injuries and over the months seemed to get slowly worse. We started seeing different doctors and physical therapists, with limited success. As we went from one doctor to another we found many different opinions ranging from nothing be wrong, to actual test results showing something wrong. Some doctors said that our prior doctor's were wrong. And then yet even more doctors disagreed with those doctors. We'd read articles about some expert doctor achieving "miraculous results", or we'd listen to a highly renowned physical therapist talking on the radio, or we'd get recommendations from friends and families. We saw them all! We went out of our way to do what it took to see the best of the best. Forget about 2nd, 3rd or 4th opinions. The harder we tried the more frustrated we got. As we tried newer things based upon newer theories on what was causing Virginia's physical suffering, we'd get very short term results followed by even greater pain and discomfort.
We eventually stopped seeing Western medical practitioners and moved into Alternative medicine. Initially, we got good results. But in the end we started to encounter much of the same frustration. Virginia's condition grew worse as she could barely walk from the bed to the bathroom. She grew into deep depression and my spirits followed downward. We saw the best of the best. And we'd even get referrals from the best of the best to others practitioners. One of the big things to keep in mind in with Alternative medicine is that usually there is little to no medical insurance coverage. We visited people with no degrees who were well known as "healers" They had long waiting lists of people willing to travel great distances and willing to pay a lot of money to get well. When we heard about the best of the best in "healers" we did what we had to do to see them. I'd say that in our heyday of trying to get help we were spending an average of $100 a day in out of pocket medical expense. We made a full-time job out of researching "healers," scheduling appoints and driving to different locations.
If $100 a day in medical expenses sounds like a lot to you, it is! It was total insanity, it was total desperation. I had a modest middle-class salary capable of supporting two people in an average sized apartment with maybe $200 a month to put away in savings. We tightened our belts and put ourselves on a very strict budget of spending on absolute necessities. However, at $100 a day in medical expenses, our savings quickly evaporated. But I had some small mutual fund investments and stock options. One by one I sold them all. And then when they were gone. I started borrowing against my 401K-retirement account. And then when I maxed-out on my loans, I took out personal loans. I then started applying for more credit cards, taking advantage of introductory special offer interest rates and floating balances from one card to another.
After a few months of spending money like crazy, I started growing less concerned about our money. If you promised a cure that might work for $10,000 in cash, I'd get you $10,000 in cash, somehow. And if it didn't work, I'd do it again if you promised again. If I had to sell my body, my soul to the Devil I was ready! In those times the biggest thing about me that changed was that the picture that my parents painted for me about saving money, getting a house, getting married and having kids became a remote fantasy. All my peers who I'd once talked to about things like a new house, a new car, a new stereo, TV, clothes, eating out, going to movies, taking vacations were total strangers. I did none of those things. I hadn't the time, the money, or the will. I once was quite materialistic, but now there was no thrill to having things.
It was difficult to socialize, except very superficially. Or talk about the latest movie or TV show. Everyone else would talk about politics, sports or world events. For the most part I grew out of touch. They would ask how I was and I could only answer "ok". In our culture "how are you?" is not a question but just a polite thing to say. Occasionally, someone would be genuinely interested and say, "No really how are things" and then I'd open up, but then I'd be at a lack of words to say what was the problem. I'd get some awkward sympathy, but that's about it. I found that the awkwardness of people's sympathy often seemed worse than indifferent smiles of people saying "hi, how are you?" ... "Oh, I'm fine, how are you?" Ultimately investing energy in telling people how bad things are is an act of negative thinking. And I needed to be as positive as possible. And so I decided to be Mr. "I'm fine".
My day-to-day life was work, eat, and help take care of my Mom, take care of Virginia. I became "superman" I earned the money, cooked the food, washed the clothes, and cleaned the apartment. Each day I grew ever more exhausted. Virginia would spend many nights asking me about the best ways to die and I'd start to lose out on arguments on why she should live. Virginia complained she was unable to move, talk, see or listen without things effecting her. She could see fewer and fewer people because their mere presence would make her more ill. Our conversations grew stale, few and more superficial. I woke up each morning groggy wishing so strongly that I was dead. I'd push myself out of bed feeling so defeated, I felt like throwing up, I sat on the toilet with my face in my hands for about 30 minutes and slowly I'd wake up and somehow I'd no longer felt like dying and I went to work. I'd repeated this exercise every morning for so many days. Even what you are now reading about my day-to-day circumstances is a watered-down version of how bad things really were. But for so many reasons that can only be expressed in thousands of words I don't mention the things that were even worse.
And then one day, I took a lot of sleeping pills. I experienced the terrifying sensation of feeling like was a living zombie with my body twitching uncontrollably as I lied unable to move for hours. I was terrified, as things grew dark. It was like waking up and finding that you've been buried in a coffin alive, only your body is the coffin. You can't talk and you can't move. Virginia was unable to appreciate my terror because she was so depressed and numb. She just thought that I was just sleeping. I did wake up the next day still feeling so weak. The effects took days to slowly wear off.
Years later, even to this day the effects still are with me. Just the memory makes me weak. To anyone considering suicide, I'll tell you there is no escape. It's the greatest terror that will draw no comparisons. I knew then that I had to change. You see I had invested so much time in caring for others that I neglected myself. I didn't know how to love myself. I was extremely selfless. I drew no pleasure in taking care of myself. Spending money on myself was a waste of money. Just enough to keep me working efficiently was all I spent.
A friend one time suggested that once in a while I consider treating myself out to lunch or to see a movie. I thought that sounded so corny. "Treat myself?, that's silly" Who goes out to eat by himself or watches a movie by himself? Besides I couldn't afford to do that because then I'd be selfish by spending money and time on me, when it was needed for others. Every time I tried to just enjoy myself I felt so guilty and lonely that I became miserable.
Well, after my experience with sleeping pills, things had to change. I saw a therapist and told her my experience and she really scared me by how seriously she took my story. She said that I had to promise not to try anything stupid or she would not let me leave the office. She was considering having me placed somewhere for my safety. And when I told my story to a few others, they shocked me by how seriously they took my story. I became embarrassed. The thought of being committed to a clinic was the kick-in-the-pants that let me know that I needed to start taking care of myself. If I didn't there were people that were going to check up on me and if they felt convinced I was in danger would not hesitate in calling someone to drag me away. I started putting on my best behavior of being ok.
I needed to change. I needed to learn the concept of loving myself, to start acting a bit more "selfish". Because I knew that I could give no more of myself to help Virginia. That now every breath more I took for Virginia was a breath I took away from Virginia.
That was when I started to reach out by joining a church congregation for some spiritual support. Then I started to look for some volunteer work and started as a Big Brother's mentor. Then I started teaching classes in an evening night school program. I took self-improvement seminars. I listened to self-help tapes. I became very spiritual. I joined up with the Leukemia Society of America to run a marathon, and raise money. That trip for the marathon was the first time in about 5 years I took a vacation.
This is the journey that brought me here today. I can say that today I can see life so much clearer than I ever have. I have learned so much more of how to be happy. I feel so much more empowered and more positive about life. In fact at times I've experienced inexplicable ecstasy by simply being. At times it was like I was going to suffer a massive heart attack because my heart felt so good and my smile was so great! I could sit in a chair and be in total awe of the warming sunlight and marvel at the breathtaking clouds in the blue sky. I felt so grateful and lucky! And you know what? It seemed that as a side-effect great and lucky things started to happen to me, and actually Virginia started to get better, got a job and was probably happier than ever.
In recent months Virginia is again not well. But, I have not given hope. In fact I feel like things are actually getting better. There is no choice but to become ever more positive. I have no free will but to continue to grow, to love myself more, to find ways to fully express my heart. There are many of my peers who have the luxury to just be comfortable being married, having kids, a house and then working for greater financial success and greater social status. For me being comfortable is pure agony, it's like being numb, apathetic and lifeless. I can't afford the luxury of being negative; so I canŐt afford just being comfortable. So this is my quest. This word "WakundaMa" is very much a symbol of my life, my purpose.
I feel like I am on the precipice of achieving total greatness. But, it's really sort of an all or nothing state. Because I'm also not that far away from total collapse, I don't know for sure of the future. I spend much more of my time in the present. I submit my will to God, because I've learned in the quest for true eternal happiness there is no such thing as free will. Yes it is true that you have free will in life. But it's only the free will to be materialistic; to do things, to be temporarily comfortable, and to be unhappy. However, when you hunger for overflowing passion and happiness in your life there is only one narrow path to achieve this. There are many paths to achieve temporary happiness and unhappiness. But there is only one path for eternal happiness. You always have a free will to avoid this one path at the expense of your happiness. But otherwise there is no free will.