How it all……began? (Part 1)
September 24, 2019
Is this a brief peek into how it all began or how it all ended? I came close to dying, so in a way it’s both. For me, after coming dangerously close to death, I understood one fundamental thing: we must communicate more about these critical issues, and the only way to do that is to be more open with one another. While there has no doubt been progress, it’s been nowhere near enough.
Hi. I’m A.E. Stahl. Great to meet you. Now saddle up for the ride…
It has been just over 130 days since I was forced to come out of the (now-more-accepted-but-nowhere-near-enough) mental health closet. Just over 130 days have passed since I woke up at 04:30 in the morning in severe and unmitigated physical pain. Within minutes I was humped over, my fingers and my toes strenuously curled, and my jaw clenched from the agonizing pain. I was unable to find a position that would allow me at least an inkling of reprieve. I refused to vomit, despite my body doing its best to bend me to its will. I soon began sweating profusely from the fever that set in. “I ate something bad,” I kept telling myself, despite the fact that, being completely honest, I knew deep down inside that something was dangerously wrong, and I knew exactly what it was. Nevertheless, I desperately searched for a position in bed, on the couch, and even on the floor in which to find comfort. The pain was so bad that I began yelling into my pillow and punching the mattress. It scared my labrador to the point that she laid down next to me and began to whine, the first time I ever heard her do that.
I continued to search for a painless position for nearly 36 hours before I finally listened to my Jewish mother threatening me over the phone if I didn’t go to the emergency room immediately. Yes, at 44 years of age, a worried-cum-angry Jewish mother, even 7,000 miles away, still scares the shit out of me (especially when she threatens to call my ex – that was a double whammy!).
I don’t know how but I managed to get up and go to the shower (in case of surgery, not to mention being in so much pain, along with a fever, had turned me into a lake of sweat). Humped over at 90 degrees, I went outside and flagged down a taxi. By the time I reached the emergency room – the longest seven-minute taxi ride of my life – the pain was inching towards the unbearable. I went through the typical battery of questions and paperwork, as well as a few tests (BP, EKG, bloodwork, body temperature, then finally an x-ray and an ultrasound, all with very, very bad results). I was 100 percent honest with the doctors about my “habits” (many people are not, which I can totally understand. Denial can be deceivingly comforting, making us feel deludedly safe).
Once the doctors (← plural) heard all of my details, and understood there was no bullshit to my story, coupled with them understanding where the pain was located in my body, and following a quick blood sugar level test (which was way off the charts, as was basically every other test result), they knew exactly what was wrong. The process to fix me was set in motion. By that, I mean within minutes I was in the ICU (thankfully for a short time only), had a tube down my throat, a tube up my ‘little general’, nurses surrounding me for the first 24 hours, and I had to begin a full fast, which lasted a total of just under seven days (36 hours at home + five out of my 13-day stay at the hospital). I was on an IV for fluids but I was not allowed to drink even a sip of water, just a stick wrapped in wet gauze that I could rub inside my desert-dry mouth.
I had a severe case of acute pancreatitis. It was brought on by just over five years of alcohol abuse, which itself was brought on by anxiety, severe depression and other issues from chemical imbalances, arguably a lifetime’s worth. (Any high school friends reading this will remember that I had some pretty serious issues back in the day, and I know that I’m being delicate and liberal with the word ‘serious’.) You might be wondering why it took me so long to get to the hospital if the pain was that bad. Well, at the time when I became sick, my anxiety was so severe that – as I wrote above – it took me around 36 hours to go to the emergency room because I struggled to go beyond about 100 meters from my apartment building, my comfort zone. It turns out that pain can be an amazing motivator.
It may be just over 130 days since things went from rock bottom to quite amazing (which I’ll get to in the next post or two), but that was more than five years that I spent at the bottom of a bottle (or 3 to 4 bottles per day if we’re counting), smoking like a chimney, coupled with an atrocious eating habit, resulting in me gaining at least 50 lbs. of fat. Worst of all, I lost friends, disappointed colleagues, even losing respect from some of them. Of course, they never knew why I cancelled nearly every meeting, and chose to work and communicate via email or on the phone (even the latter was difficult at times). What they didn’t know, what I could not share with them because of the utter shame I felt, was that I could not leave my apartment. I was battling an invisible and powerfully persistent enemy. While I had always suffered from varying levels of anxiety, I had never really struggled with depression, and yet here I was, slowly beginning my descent into the abyss of a deep, dark depression. From there, it wasn’t long before I became agoraphobic. Marry all of that with the fact that I started drinking more and more alcohol, for hours, every. single. day…for years.
My friends didn’t understand why I couldn’t meet for coffee or even just hang outside and chit-chat on a bench– after all, I live in the city center and everything is basically a five-minute walk, including the beach. Many of my friends simply thought I didn’t like them anymore. It wasn’t that at all. Again, despite some fairly sincere efforts on my part, I could not leave my apartment out of crippling fear. Plus, I had been drinking for hours, sometimes as long as 12 hours straight. My parents and other family members knew about my anxiety but not my drinking nor the extent and severity of my depression. And the depression got rock-bottom-bad (that’s for the next post). It’s been nearly 10 years since I’ve been home; that’s ten years that I lost from being able to spend with my parents, my sister, and my niece and nephew.
Functioning or semi-functioning people suffering from depression, anxiety, and even alcoholism learn to hide things very well. It’s a way to survive. There was no way for them to know (especially if you don’t have to see anyone face to face). In essence, I learned how to be a functioning, anxiety-ridden and depressed drinker. So, to family, friends and colleagues reading this, I am genuinely sorry if I caused problems, or if I seemed ungrateful, or if I hurt anyone’s feelings. And I’m also sorry for lying. Oy vey, the lying! How else does a depressed, anxiety-ridden yet semi-functioning alcoholic get by? I could say I ‘withheld the truth’ or ‘decent acting skills’ or ‘failed to be honest’, but let’s be honest: it’s called lying. Flat out, unadulterated lying.
Well, at least now you know what was going on, why it was happening, and most important, you know that it was never personal. I would never intentionally hurt, upset, disrespect, or anger any of you.
Courage? Judgement? Does it matter?
So, does all of this ‘coming out’ take courage? Will I be judged? Will this hurt my professional relationships and ultimately my publishing business? After all, I work with some very serious, and well-respected men and women. What about future professional relations? Will it cause people not to want to work with me? I don’t know. Maybe. Especially after they’ll read my next post. Of course I hope this will not be the case, as I’ve never been more motivated in my entire life, not to mention, clear-minded, comfortable and content. But to be perfectly honest, I’m not overly concerned with any negative reactions that may come my way. My only goals regarding this wellness site – and I want to be very clear about this – are for me and others to open up, to share, no holding back, to show that there is zero shame in dealing with mental health issues. And maybe, just maybe, in some way I can help someone along the way.
Couple of quick but important points…
Please, if you take anything away from the above, I hope it’s that you will not be put off by the first couple of posts. This may seem like a venting session but I assure you the point of the site is far more important and much bigger than my story. The mood will lighten up, and this blog-cum-soon-to-be full-resource website will emerge. But I cannot ask you to trust me without me being 100 percent open and honest with you about everything that I went through (and still go through), no matter how dark certain moments got. I am not a therapist, so I will never play therapist. However, the backstory behind this project is important before getting into all of the future good stuff. So, bear with me, okay?
I really do hope you’ll share the beginnings of my story. It only takes one click on a social-share button in order to help bring more people to the site. The hope? To turn this into a great resource for health and well-being. Ultimately, it can only be with your help that I will be able to connect with others so that the site will see other people join with their stories, as well as having a podcast, videos, photos, information on nutrition, exercise, socializing, travel, sex, and more, all in service of helping people to want to get better. So, the site is a work in progress, and it was meant to be that way. Building slowly. Step by step. All of the above-mentioned features will happen in due time. Similar to the pills that help many of us, think of this as a “controlled release” website.
Next post? The extent and depth of my depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, heavy smoking, unhealthy eating, serious weight gain, alcohol abuse, and worst of all, a suicidal situation that reached a dangerous and frightening point. And I absolutely will share, in depth, my suicide situation. Again, there is zero shame in opening up and sharing about these very intimate and personal experiences. In fact, we must talk about such issues if we want to evolve emotionally and mentally in order to achieve a better life. We are humans, barely out of the jungle, still primitive in so many regards. It should go without saying that such primitiveness includes people who do not suffer from mental health issues yet stand in judgment of those who do.
As all of you know very well, not everything is perfect, beautiful, positive, and choreographed as it often seems in movies, in magazines, and of course on countless social media platforms. Life is messy, and there’s nothing wrong with sharing that messiness with friends or even strangers. So, with that said, welcome to my perfectly beautiful, unchoreographed messiness…
Updated on 15 October 2019