Years ago, I was bedridden with a bad case of depression. I could hardly move, as though moving would quicken the death I was certain would come. Yet death would have been welcomed considering the dark space I was in, if not for my fears that everything I was feeling at that moment would be intensified before death would embrace me into nothingness. The paradox I faced was that I was in so much pain that I was hoping to die, but in order for death to come I’d have to be in still greater pain.
All very morose, to be sure. But every day, millions of people go through the very same thoughts I went through that day. Stuck between the fear of existing and the fear of dying, many people are confined to a dull existence consisting of only passing the time. Even without physical death, they are dying on a spiritual level – struggling to control, fix and manage the scarcity they perceive in life, in a race against time, believing that if they didn’t succeed they’d be diminished to a tiny speck of insignificant, inconsequential thing.
For the last seven years I have devoted all of my time and energy to reclaiming my health after totally losing it to Lyme Disease: a systemic bacterial infection contracted from the bite of a poppy-seed sized tick.
Seven years ago I was a workaholic PhD student, who spent all of her time at the gym, training for the Chicago marathon. I ate cake for dinner or whole French baguettes slathered with peanut butter and butter (yes…a double butter whammy), and I drank copious cups of coffee. I loved my sugary, frantic, social butterfly existence. I had absolutely nothing to worry about. My life was galloping along, and I was embracing every minute of it. And then, like a buff of smoke, my health disappeared. And, my entire life changed.
It took me a long time to realize money would never make me happy.
A trip around the world finally drilled this truth into my brain, and it has dramatically changed my life. I spent my early years on a high-achievement track. I’d always been a go-getter: earning good grades in school, graduating at the top of my class, and moving rapidly up the career ladder. After my wife and I graduated from Harvard, I thought we had it made.
I found a high-powered job. I worked for a major consulting firm, flying around the world to solve tough problems with top executives. Still, something was missing.
Some of my first memories of my mother include her being sad, in some capacity. That is a very sad thing to say, I realize this now. Likely, on some level, I realized it then too. Growing up, I couldn’t understand her sadness, couldn’t access the dark places she must have dwelled. As far as I knew, I came from a family of sound minded people who scoffed at the idea of therapy in any form.
And then, at the home of my grandfather, my mother (by this point, an alcoholic) revealed to me that my great grandmother, a woman I’d never met, had committed suicide when she was a fairly young woman, around thirty. She left behind a few children, and a legacy of secrecy. My mother’s depression had happened around the time that she was thirty and as I grew closer to that age myself, I realized that my feelings of sadness were more than that. They told of a history of women and mental illness and social stigma. They told a story about the ways mental illness can destroy most of the women in a family before they even realize it.
When I signed up for the Cascade Lakes Relay (a 216.6 mile race through central Oregon’s high desert) I was thrilled at the opportunity to experience the outdoors through an activity that I love. On the road I took in the picturesque landscapes, the expanse of trees, the crisp air, and the comfort of knowing that the noise and distractions of Portland were miles away.
At times throughout the course, CLR seems like any other race. As people run their legs, their teammates pass them and cheer from support vans, and I felt like I was part of a magnificent event. But when my own support van passed me in the middle of my legs, I was caught off guard by the unexpected solitude.
In 2006, I had a vague feeling of unease. I felt like something was missing, but I didn’t know what. I was playing poker professionally and making a good living, but I yearned for more. More fulfillment. More excitement. More purpose. More joy.
It’s been over half a decade since, and today I’m making a living doing what I love. I’m absolutely in love with the work I do and my life. But the journey there was filled with stumbling into pitfalls and getting shoved back by walls. That’s why this article is all about the mistakes I made during my path.