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finding closure

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

The day of my fiance’s final departure left me feeling completely lost and hopeless.  I remember entering the front door and noticing things missing, and then immediately running upstairs in a panic to find that everything of hers was gone.  The pain I felt inside was indescribable.  I called my Mom and Dad just minutes later, and I could barely put the words together to tell them what had happened.  They were completely shocked as well.  How could she have made it into town, from Florida nonetheless, and cleared everything out in a matter of a couple of hours leaving virtually no signs of being there at all?  That’s a question that we all still ponder to this day.  She must have devised quite the covert operation.

It took me a long time to calm myself that day.  Losing her was one thing, but losing her with so many questions remaining and zero closure was another.  It was all so puzzling and shocking.  I searched for answers in my friends and family, but everyone else was just as confused and at a loss for words as I was.  This was going to be something that I’d be forced to surrender to…I wasn’t ever going to understand her reasoning or her motives.  And that was a tough pillow to swallow.  I had fought many tough battles internally, but this one would require a different strategy.  I would need to learn to let go and accept that some things in this world are out of your control.

Nevertheless, from time to time I couldn’t help but attempt to piece together the truth.  I came to the conclusion that her plan to take “Family Medical Leave” had all been orchestrated in an effort to create an excuse to escape to Florida.  Her father did indeed have back surgery, but I remember from speaking to her on the phone that he was out riding his motorcycle in less than a week’s time.  And I’m pretty confident that her last day on the job at the hospital came prior to her departure.  I was able to draw that conclusion with the knowledge that her position had been posted for quite some time prior to her telling me that she quit.  And in addition, I remembered her coming home on her last day of work with a “Goodbye” or “Good Luck” card from one of her patients.  She told me that the woman had given it to her because by the time she returned she would have been done with the treatments in her unit.  But in reality, it was likely given to her as a final farewell.  She had also continually mentioned that she needed to speak to her father’s doctor for information on his surgery so that she could submit some paperwork for her leave, and I never saw her with any of that either.  Again, I’m not denying the fact that her father had the operation, but I don’t believe that it was nearly as severe as she made it out to be, and I believe that she had resigned from her job prior to July 7th.

This means that the entire thing had been in the works for months.  I can’t tell you how sick that makes me feel, even here today as I write this entry.  How could you do that to someone?  I wouldn’t wish that kind of treatment on my worst enemy, let alone the person that I loved and was engaged to marry.  I felt that I deserved much better from that standpoint.  I recognize that I didn’t do everything right in the relationship and that I also played a part in our eventual demise…trust me, I am not a man without faults.  But I truly believed that she cared for me far more as a person than she ultimately demonstrated.  To deceive me in the manner in which she did showed a complete lack of class and character.  I just wish that she would have taken the time to look me in the eyes and say goodbye the right way…to my face.  As much as that would have hurt, I could have respected her for it in the long run.  But instead she cowardly avoided dealing with every aspect of emotion associated with the situation.  She had effectively maintained her distance and separation from me since the moment she hugged me, kissed me, and told me she loved me that day at the airport.

In the end, I would learn to survive without her.  It was initially very hard for me to envision my life without her in it, but I had been preparing for that and adjusting to it for two months prior to her driving the final nail in the coffin.  None of the speculation from above really mattered.  Even if I was able to uncover all of the answers to the questions that I pondered, it still was not going to bring her back or give me peace.  I needed to find my own strength and create my own closure.

One positive about breakups is that you are given the opportunity to learn from your mistakes.  I did that by taking a look at myself and my actions during the course of our time together.  I realized some things quickly…for instance, I was ready to be a married man and a more fully devoted partner, and I knew that I wanted to be more flexible and open-minded with my significant other in the future.  With my next love, I would put less emphasis on my needs and give a stronger consideration to theirs, and I’d do my best not to allow my own personal issues interfere with our relationship.  Those considerations were quite easily made.

But I’ve chosen to use this blog as an opportunity for me to fully disclose my shortcomings and apologize and take responsibility for them…so that’s exactly what I intend on doing now.  I can’t say that I was this honest with myself back then…I wish I had been.

My anxiety was a factor…I’m sure of that.  Although it was never really brought to my attention as being an issue in our relationship, I can tell you that at times it was very destructive.  In many instances, the presence of a disorder like this can bring two people closer together.  You become far more reliant on your partner, and given the right person with a strong, caring demeanor present, it can really create a level on intimacy that most relationships never achieve.  Unfortunately, it can also have the opposite effect.  It can create distance and tension when the afflicted feels that their needs are being ignored or not being fulfilled to their expectations.  And anxiety creates unrealistic expectations at times, leading to inescapable doom.  I’m certain that there were instances when it caused conflict between us.  I should have been more aware of that and toned it back at times.  She was not my caretaker, she was my partner and she deserved to be treated that way.

Coupled with anxiety is often a sense of wanting to control the environment around you.  In the midst of an attack, everything spins wildly out of your grasp.  You want nothing more than to be able to get a hold on the situation and limit any factors that are contributing to the way you feel.  In relationships, I think it’s easier for people like me to find themselves wanting more control.  I can see now how this need negatively impacted our time together.  For instance, I asked her to postpone the wedding planning because we had too much going on (control)…I’d discourage her from buying things for the house or starting new projects because of my financial worries (control)…and I’d be very non-receptive about visiting her family and friends in Florida because I didn’t want them steering her away from our new life together (control).  I’m very sorry that I allowed that to become a dimension of my personality, because it is certainly not the type of person I ever envisioned myself being or becoming.

And finally, my irresponsible gambling habits were undoubtedly a problem our relationship.  My fiance and I were not at a place where we were sharing a bank account, but we were sharing in our bill responsibilities and in our personal expenses.  My propensity for wagering online was not hurting her pocket book, but it was most certainly corrupting the good man that she deserved.  In the midst of one of my runs, I’d be short, edgy, and easily distracted.  I wasn’t concerned with our life together at all…I was only concerned with money and the next big win.  I’d detach from intimacy.  And when I’d lose, I’d tighten up my wallet and convince her to do the same.  Gambling could spark my insecurities like nothing else, and I’d often find myself acting far more anxious and controlling in the relationship.  It was an awful habit, on so many different levels.  I’m truly regretful for its impact on us.

To my ex…if you’re out there and you happen to be following along, I’d like to tell you first that I am sorry for my reckless neglect of our relationship at times.  I acknowledge that I played a part in our downfall as well…I will never deny that.  I remember one day you told me “you can’t change who you are, Matt – it’s just your personality”.  I’m here to tell you now that I can and I am.

And secondly, I’d like to wish you peace and happiness in your life.  You stole my heart like no other.  I found amazing things in you and in spite of our eventual troubles, we still had two plus really great years together…some of the best times of my life.  I don’t agree with the way that you decided to end things between us – that was not characteristic of you as a person.  But I forgive you for that.  I know that you’ve found love and have since taken another man’s hand in marriage.  I hope that you and your husband create a remarkable longstanding bond with one another.  God Bless.

broken and betrayed

For several months leading up to my fiance’s visit to Florida, I felt a growing distance between us as couple.  There were very good reasons for that, many of which I touched upon in my last post.  Every time that it appeared we were able to overcome one dramatic turn of events, another seemed to be waiting just around the corner.  I was having an incredibly difficult time keeping up with her ever-changing moods and emotions and it was wearing me out.  I became quickly accustomed to remaining watchful and on edge at all times, because I never could quite tell when the next irrational reaction would occur.  It was particularly devastating at times when things had remained positive for several days and then unexpectedly in the blink of an eye I’d witness them turn in the complete opposite direction.  I wanted so desperately to save our relationship.  I couldn’t allow myself to lose her.  I needed to find a way to keep us on track.  And I felt that little by little we had been making some progress.  Then she took her leave, and everything spun completely out of control

When she arrived in Florida, she made it very clear to me that she would be quite busy most days taking care of her father.  Of course I understood that, but I was still certainly hopeful that we’d have the opportunity to talk regularly and continue to work on our relationship.  But it didn’t seem as if this was a priority to her at all anymore.  She was cold and short with me when we did speak, and she made me feel as though my calls were irritating and bothersome.  And then, probably a little over a week into her trip, she told me that she really wasn’t sure if she wanted to be in a relationship with me at all anymore, and that she needed time to think.  She asked that we take some time not speaking to one another so that she could clear her head, providing me with no real idea about how long it would take her to sort through things.  I was completely heartbroken.  My relationship had been in limbo for months and now, just as I felt things were progressing in the right direction, my fiance ran 1,500 miles away to tell me that she needed space and time to think.  There was nothing I could do.  I didn’t have the ability to sit her down in front of me, look her in the eyes and have a heart to heart so that I could get a gauge on her true feelings.  No, I just had to sit and wait.

It wasn’t long until I discovered that what I was waiting for was for her to be able to create enough separation and gain enough strength and support back home to say goodbye to me.  And after two weeks of some of the most stressful and panicked days of my life, she made the call to me and did just that.  I’ll never forget how cold she was that day.  It wasn’t a person that I recognized at all.  There was zero compassion in her voice…it was strictly business…take care of this and move on.  I begged and pleaded with her, but nothing was going to change her mind.  This was it.  She had made her decision.

I had a lot of logical questions that I wanted answered…what are you going to do about your job?  Have you put in your resignation?  What about the house and your commitment to our mortgage?  Are you just going to leave this for me to figure out?  When are you going to return to get your things?  It was all so incredibly painful.  She had walked out and left me with all of our belongings, our memories…it was brutal being in that house.  A simple glance around the room could send me bursting into tears.  And I had no idea what her plans were, so I was left to make my own assumptions on a lot of things.  Because I believed so I much in fate, I allowed myself to hold continue to hold onto hope.  And my assumptions centered around my faith in our relationship’s resurrection.

My fiance had told me that she had not yet quit her job, and that she would decide soon how she wanted to handle that issue.  So naturally I made myself believe that if she hadn’t resigned, perhaps she was still questioning her decision.  I told myself that until she quit, there was still a high likelihood that she was not completely forfeiting her life in Pennsylvania.  Plus, I knew that eventually she needed to come home to get her things and that at that time we’d have the chance to talk.  She even mentioned to me in conversations that she’d likely return alone to pack for several days prior to making a move.  If all else failed, at least I’d have that one last shot to attempt to mend things.

She wasn’t going to allow me the opportunity to work on things over the phone.  Most times when we spoke to one another, she carried the same temperament that she had the day she told me we were through.  But then at times I’d catch her in a moment of weakness, and she’d stumble a bit and share her real emotion.  On one afternoon in particular, she broke down and told me that she loved me and missed me, and that “she had “lost 10-15 pounds” since she had come home because she was so sick over the situation that she couldn’t eat or keep the food down.  Another night we had a great conversation, and by the end of it she had decided that she wanted to work on things…she told me she loved me as she said goodbye, and we made plans to speak the next day.  Of course, the next day she was a no show.  And shortly after she retracted all of those comments.  Things were unfolding just as they had in Pennsylvania.  We’d make some headway amidst heartfelt conversation and undeniable emotion, and then she’d slam the door shut on it.

I can’t tell you how often I sat by the phone waiting and hoping that she’d call me and tell me that it had all been a big mistake and that she wanted to come home.  I prayed for that every day, over and over again.  My OCD would not allow my panic over the situation to go to rest, and I became completely distracted by it.  The only way that I could really find any peace was to escape with my Dad to our cabin in the mountains for several days.  There I had no access to my cell phone or email – I didn’t have the ability to check whether or not she had attempted to contact me.  Good thing too..because whenever we’d get into range of reception, I’d quickly see that there were no missed calls, no voicemails… and it hurt more and more every time.

As summer went on however, she and I did have the opportunity to speak a few more times, but most of those conversations led only to more heartache.  She eventually told me that she had resigned from her job.  She made it sound as though she had just spoken to her boss recently, but later on I did research on the internet and found that her position had been posted for quite some time on the hospital’s website…she had just kept it all hidden from me.  Then there were discussions about the house and how we’d handle it.  She expected me to cave and sell, certainly thinking that she’d be able to collect half of the assets.  But I wasn’t sure that I wanted to sell, and I definitely didn’t want to make things easy and convenient for her, so I fought for the home.  I was ultimately able to qualify for my own mortgage, and with her agreement I moved forward and removed her name from the deed.  It was a painful and costly process, but I did it.  And it felt good.  I was even able to recover my engagement ring.  At least she hadn’t been able to take everything from me.

The one true question that remained was when was she going to come and get things?  She had been avoiding it for quite some time and when I’d ask about it she’d just give me a vague answer…”well I’m not sure because I need he/she to help, so maybe in two weeks”.  Her car remained parked out in front our home, there were boxes upon boxes of her personal belongings in our basement, and everything in our living space that was hers remained untouched, including two closets full of clothing.  At this point, I wasn’t extremely confident that we’d be able to work things out upon her return.  But I did look forward to the opportunity to look her in the eyes and see her honest emotion.  I missed her badly, and I just wanted to see her, even on the worst of terms.  I truly felt that it might take her meeting with me in person for things to “click”.  Maybe then she’d realize what she was losing and would decide to make an effort to salvage what remained of a once beautiful partnership…

September 12th, 2007 – it had been over two months since she left for Florida.  It was an overcast and rainy morning as I headed off to work at RTC Direct just miles away from our home.  At just after 11:00 AM, I received a call on my cell phone from my now ex-fiance.  I wasn’t able to answer in time, so moments later I stepped outside of our building to listen to her voicemail.  “Hey Matt just wanted to let you know that I stopped by the house to pick up my things.  Let me know if you need anything, thanks.”  I couldn’t believe it.  Was she really in Pennsylvania?  I left work immediately, racing home as my heart pounded in my chest, hoping that I’d catch her before she left…but it was too late.  All that remained was a house stripped of all of her belongings.

I had never felt so empty and betrayed before in my life.  She was gone…and this time it was forever.

tempting fate

Anxiety and panic had knocked me to knees before, but I’m not sure that anything had prepared me for the emotional and psychological roller coaster that I would find myself on for the next couple months of my life.  My fiance had just delivered a devastating, unexpected blow to our relationship.  I can honestly say that I never saw it coming.  As I mentioned in my previous post, there were some signs of separation, depression, etc but they never felt as serious as this.  I always believed 100% in her and I – NEVER, not once did I allow myself to imagine that we weren’t perfect for each other.  The events of the previous two and a half years had convinced me beyond all doubt that we were meant to be.  And now she had decided to test fate.

My initial reaction was complete shock.  I can’t fully explain the feelings that took over me that morning.  I didn’t know how to begin to speak to her about it.  It didn’t feel as though she was simply testing the waters, it appeared as though she had already come to grips with her new found priorities.  I didn’t feel like I’d be able to reason with her or change her mind in that moment, so I left.  I drove to my parents’ house and had a long conversation with them.  I don’t really even recall what was said, I just know that everyone was completely taken by surprise.  I sat outside their house with my Dad for a long time trying to figure out how I would deal with returning home and confronting the situation.  I felt myself shaking from the inside out.  I was hurt, very badly.  How could this be happening?

I remember returning to our house that evening.  My fiance was laying on the couch in the dark watching TV.  I couldn’t bring myself to speak to her, so I walked right past the living room and headed upstairs without saying a word.  I sat down in our one spare bedroom which for the time being had been converted into a den, and I covered my face and thought about my next conversation with her.  After about five or ten minutes, my fiance appeared in the doorway.  She asked me to give her a hug.  And then she began crying hysterically.  I remember her body shaking as I held her close, and she kept repeating one thing…”I’m so sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking!”.  She kissed me all over my neck, head, and face and reassured me that she had just been speaking foolishly and that she loved me very much and didn’t ever want to lose me.

This was the realest, truest emotion that I had ever seen out of her in the entire time that I knew her.  She had been a pretty reserved person from that standpoint in our relationship.  Don’t get me wrong, she could be very sweet and caring, but addressing her innermost feelings hadn’t ever been her strong suit.  I always felt like she bottled a lot of it up inside.  And now she was showing me a completely vulnerable side of her that I had never reached.  It was real…it was beautiful.  How could I not forgive her?  There was no doubting her sincerity in that moment.  I could feel the love pouring out of her heart.  Later that evening as we made up, she made a comment to me that haunts me to this day…she said “let’s have a baby, it will fix things…”  I remember telling her in that moment that we had a lot of other things to work on before we could consider bringing a baby into our world.  I felt so confused…how could she want to leave me that morning, and then have a baby with me that night?  She was probably just overwhelmed with emotion.  I decided not to read too far into it and instead just simply enjoy the comfort and security of our closeness that night.

The next day I came home from work and as I pulled into the driveway, I noticed something at my car that I wanted to take a closer look at.  I sat outside doing a couple of things for about ten minutes or so before entering the house.  My fiance was already inside, and she must not have realized that I had pulled in or walked through the door.  She was upstairs having a conversation with one of her hometown friends on the phone.  I quickly realized that she was discussing me and our situation from the previous night, and she wasn’t relaying the details in the apologetic manner which she had to me when I had returned that emotional evening.  No, this was a far different person.  I stood at the edge of the stairs and listened quietly for a minute or two…”he didn’t even say hi when he came in last night”….”well I’d have to at least put in my two weeks”….”I can’t just leave”.

I was shocked and more hurt than I had been the day before.  Who was this person posing as the love of my life?  How could she lure me in to accepting her apology the previous night and then viciously bash me and plan her escape the very next day?  I walked up the stairs to confront her and completely startled her.  I quietly whispered to her to please hang up the phone.  We needed to talk.  Of course, she lied to me and denied that she had said anything in the manner in which I had heard it.  I was “crazy”.  And why was I listening to her conversation anyway!?  She instantly flipped the situation around and made me the bad guy.  I couldn’t help but begin questioning everything.  It seemed so real less than 24 hours earlier…how could I have imagined that?  I had felt it in my heart.

During that Spring, my fiance’s father was scheduled to have a supposed major surgery on his back.  He was divorced from her mother and lived alone in Florida and really didn’t have anyone to look after him during his recovery.  So my fiance mentioned to me that she might want to use her Family Medical Leave to go down and spend time with him for about six weeks until he was back on his feet.  She asked if I would support her taking time away…and although it was a very difficult time for her to be gone with the current state of our relationship, I of course said “yes” that I would.  So it was settled, in early July she would leave for Florida.

In the weeks prior to her departure things continued to be completely puzzling and unpredictable for me.  For several days our relationship would feel great and back to normal, and then she’d seemingly make a conscious effort to disengage.  She’d begin hiding out and avoiding emotional attachment.  And then it would cycle back through again.

I remember one Saturday afternoon she mentioned to me that she was going to stop at Barnes and Noble and just spend some time by herself reading and relaxing.  And when she arrived back at home that day, she couldn’t wait to sit me down and talk to me.  It was as though she had just stumbled upon the meaning of life.  She proceeded to hand me several pages of a rant about our relationship and her new priorities in life.  She mentioned several times in it that I was great guy and that I deserved better.  Every sentence contradicted the previous.  It was completely incoherent.  It frightened me, and it angered and upset me as well.  And she seemed so sure of it – as if it was all completely logical.  She could not for one second begin to understand my reaction.  Again at a loss for words, I walked upstairs, put on some shorts, and proceeded to take a long jog across town.  When I arrived back at the house, I laid down on my back in the grass in the front yard.  About five minutes later, she appeared at the edge of the garage.  She came over and picked me up and we went inside and talked through it, and within a day or two we appeared to be back on the right track.

Summer was in full swing.  My fiance would be leaving for Florida on July 7th, so the weekend of the 4th was going to be our last opportunity to spend time with each other for about six weeks.  My friend and coworker was having a picnic, and he invited us to attend.  I was excited for it, and she made a great dish to take with and share with everyone.  It felt like we were getting back to normal, just in time for her departure.  During the early part of that day, I remember thinking that she seemed uncharacteristically quiet with everyone, but as the afternoon turned into evening, she became the girl that I had fallen in love with…she was sweet, conversational, and more than anything a lot of fun to be around.  We had a blast that night.  And she made a real connection with my co-worker’s wife.  I was excited about having the opportunity to spend more time with them in the future.  We left their house at about 1:00 AM.  And when we returned home, her mood immediately changed.  She ran to bed before I had the opportunity to even change, and pulled the covers over her face, exclaiming that she was just exhausted.  It felt to me as if she was doing her best to surrender the positive feelings that had come over her that night.  Watching her forfeit happiness was both sad and disappointing.

As we drove to the Philadelphia airport, I still felt quite a bit of uncertainty about our relationship, but overall I had concluded that things had been moving in the right direction.  We had been making a lot of progress, and I was just wishing that we didn’t now need to say goodbye for six weeks.  I wanted to ensure that we continued to build off the momentum that we had been developing in recent days.  But I told myself  that I’d have her back before I knew it, and that perhaps the time apart would be good for both of us.  The last few months had been extremely draining emotionally…this would give us a chance to recharge the batteries.

I remember standing with her outside of the security gate that day.  I hugged her for a long time and I told her that I’d miss her while she was gone.  Then I kissed her and said goodbye.  I watched her walk towards the terminal with my engagement ring glistening on her finger…

I never would have imagined that day being the last opportunity that I’d ever have to hold her in my arms…

the rise and the fall

By the Spring of 2006, my fiance and I had found ourselves in a very exciting period of transition in our lives.  We were taking some major steps together and we were laying the foundation for our future.  Soon after accepting new offers for employment, we began looking into living options in Berks County, PA.  My parents had made me aware that my grandfather had left both my sister and I with down payment money for our first homes at the time of his passing.  This was an incredible blessing.  My grandfather was never a man of financial wealth..but in life, he held far more riches than most.  He worked hard for everything he had built with God and family close to his heart.  He was always kind and always positive.  And his generosity provided me the opportunity to take the next step in my future with the love of my life.

The cost of living in Berks County was far less than that of Philadelphia and the areas located just outside the city.  Buying a home seemed like a stretch initially, but the more that we investigated our options, the better we felt about our chances.  So we hooked up with a realtor who was a family friend, and we began our search.  One day while having lunch at Liberty Place downtown I received a call from my Dad.  He explained that our realtor had a property that he wanted to show to us, but that he thought we needed to move quickly as there had been quite a bit of interest in the place.  So that evening my fiance and I made the visit after work, and we fell in love with the house immediately.  They always say that if it’s the right house, you’ll know…it will speak to you.  And that was exactly what happened that evening.  It was by far the best fit that we had seen within our price range and it had everything that we were looking for in our first home.  We began developing our offer immediately.

I was alerted early the next morning that our realtor had discovered that the property already had two other offers on it.  After a bit of persuasion, the listing agent agreed to give us until that afternoon to produce and submit our offer to the sellers for final consideration.  We rushed to get our offer in, and with some additional financial backing and support from my father, we made our bid.  Our offer was $2,500 over the asking price, and included other incentives for the seller as well.  We had a one in three shot of getting the house, and we sat in our apartment eagerly awaiting their decision with our fingers crossed.

A few hours later we received the call – the sellers had chosen to accept our offer!  We had just secured our first home.  It felt amazing.  We eventually qualified for our mortgage (which I should mention was no easy task for two 23 year old home buyers with limited credit history) and about a month later we made settlement.  The very first evening we went to the house and began stripping wallpaper.  We couldn’t wait to dive into our new project.  For the next several weekends we’d make the drive to Shoemakersville and work non-stop on our new home – mainly doing a ton of painting and cleaning.  It felt so rewarding to see the finished product of your hard work coming together.  It was really special.  I had never felt closer to her before in my life.

Commuting back and forth from the apartment to the house was becoming exhausting.  We were anxious to move in and start our new lives.  Our lease agreement at the apartment in Philadelphia was fulfilled by May and shortly after we were off on our way.  My company allowed me to use their delivery van so we didn’t even need a UHaul.  Not to imply that it was an easy move by any means…transporting everything from a 10th floor city apartment by winding through the tight halls of our complex to a back loading dock was no small task, but we made it work.  Nothing could discourage us at that point.

Our house was great and we loved it.  My fiance was constantly taking pictures to show off to her friends and family…she was so proud of our investment.  And her brain was bubbling with new ideas…we were continually adding to our furniture and fixtures, making it feel more like “home”.  She was really good at that.  Looking back at it, I should have been more supportive of some of her efforts.  I allowed myself to feel overwhelmed at times, particularly financially, and I’d ask her to slow down or I’d discourage her ideas.  That wasn’t fair of me.

In fact, far too often I allowed my  financial concerns to get the best of me.  Again, this was a result of my anxiety and OCD.  I didn’t like being “in the hole”, and I’d often become completely fixated on debt.  It all really started when I purchased her engagement ring.  I didn’t have the cash at the time to fund it so I put it on a credit card.  I could afford to make regular payments, but that wasn’t good enough for me.  I began to stress constantly over the balance.  I wanted a quick fix – how I could I make it go away immediately?

During my senior year of college I had wagered on sports, primarily college football.  I started with about $200 and I used it over the course of the season to win a couple thousand.  Unfortunately however, I never saw that money because with winning came greed.  My bets grew larger and less well planned as my bank account grew and ultimately I lost my earnings.  The house always wins – lesson learned.

But now with a large debt weighing heavy on my mind, perhaps I’d try it again as a means to get a little further ahead?  I’d bet small and anything that I was able to earn I would add on to my monthly ring payment.  Seemed like a good idea at the time…but in reality it was the worst thing I could have ever done.  Never use gambling as a means for paying off debt – you’ll only fall deeper into the hole.

I began wagering on the internet which meant I was using credit cards to fund my account or that I was doing transfers electronically through my checking account – neither was a good idea.  I developed an addiction, and it became very hard for me to walk away.  If I won, it was never enough, and I’d let it ride until I lost it all.  If I lost, I was convinced I could win it back, and often times I would, but it was rare that I cashed out, so the book always won.    Worst of all, I was no longer just betting on sports…I had begun wagering in the sites’ electronic casinos where the stakes for winning and losing were far greater.  My anxiety and OCD were fueling a powerful addiction.  I could not have chosen a more detrimental, self-abusive hobby.

The reason that I mention this here is because I’m certain that it played a factor in my relationship. I didn’t do it all of the time, it was cyclical/seasonal.  But when I was wrapped up in it, it was all consuming.  Instead of just going to bed with my fiance, certain evenings I’d find myself glued to the computer screen trying accumulate winnings, playing blackjack or analyzing my picks for the next day.  It created a separation between us.  And I’m very, very regretful for that.

In addition, it led to more panic and anxiety related issues.  On nights that I gambled, win or lose, I’d often wake up with nightmares or panic attacks.  Of course this led to inadequate sleep and then as a result further physical setbacks, stronger anxiety, and general irritability.  I didn’t want to admit that it was causing a problem in my life, so I’d place the blame elsewhere.  I’d make a big deal out of my fiance spending $100 on groceries a day after I spent $300 wagering.  The way I acted was shameful.  I began watching every penny…except for those that were involved with supporting my addiction…somehow I made peace with that?  I’m absolutely certain that it wore on my fiance.  Even though it never affected our bill payments or most of the things that we choose to do, she had to have sensed its effects on my well being.  By opening up my insecurities and creating negative thoughts and apprehension, it made me a controlling partner….an image that fills me with disgust today.

When we first got engaged, my fiance was anxious to begin wedding planning immediately.  She went to Barnes and Noble and bought every magazine that you could think of in search of ideas.  Colors, arrangements, place settings, locations…it all seemed a bit over the top to me.  And then we bought our house and began its renovation.  There was so much happening all at once that I felt we needed to take a step back.  I convinced her to hold off on the wedding plans until we were able to get fully settled.  Eventually she agreed that it was best, but I know that I probably completely robbed the wind of her sails when we had that conversation.  I was selfish, and I was diminishing the value of her dream for a perfect wedding.  My anxiety and insecurities were again creating separation.  If only I had recognized it then.

Now, I’ve just painted a very negative picture of our relationship with each other in our new home, but really that wasn’t the case the majority of the time.  For a long time we still really enjoyed each others’ company and we were very much in love.  It was nice having the house and inviting people over for get-togethers.  She and I were both doing well in our new jobs and we were enjoying the more relaxed setting that we had achieved.  We remained active and often times we’d spend the evenings working out together.  We kept the fire burning from a romance standpoint and we still took random, spontaneous vacations to keep things interesting.  For Christmas one year I planned a trip to California for the two of us.  When my fiance unwrapped the gift and saw how much time and effort I put into the presentation of it all, she could not stop crying.  It was very special for me to see her react that way.

But over time I sensed that she was distancing herself from me.  She was living far away from her family on the Gulf Coast of Florida and that was beginning to wear on her.  She had an older sister who had both a young son and daughter, and it was hard for my fiance to miss out on birthdays and special events.  She was given and felt a lot of pressure to visit regularly.  It wasn’t fair to her, and it frustrated me.  But I didn’t understand it as well as I should have likely because I was fortunate to have my family only five minutes away.

In the months that followed it also appeared to me that she was looking for an escape from reality.  The theory of separation anxiety worked in one regard, but in another it made no sense at all.  Because when we visited California that winter, she said to me “why don’t we move out here?”….and she was completely serious.  A move to California would be as far as she could go to distance herself from her family and her known surroundings.

I began to feel very confused about her state of mind.  She started withdrawing from interaction and intimate connection with me.  At night she’d head to bed at around 8:00 or 8:30 certain evenings.  She’d crawl under the covers and put on a boxed set TV series and hide out alone.  It was bizarre.  I thought that she was likely beginning to suffer from depression.

And then one day we woke up, and she dropped the bomb on me.  Out of nowhere she said that she didn’t know if she wanted a house anymore, she wasn’t sure she wanted to be married, and she missed the beach and the sun and all of the things that were characteristic of the life of a Floridian.  She said it as though it was the most well thought out determination she had ever put together in her mind.  It wasn’t as if she was worried about how it would affect me at all – she acted as though it was completely rational thinking, and that I would most certainly understand her position.

My heart dropped.  I literally fell to my knees.  I’ll never forget that day, or those that would follow…

growing up fast

It felt good being engaged.  I had learned from the mistakes of my past and as a result I had a very clear vision of what I wanted in the future.  I allowed myself the time and patience to find my soul mate, and things just fell into place.  It seemed like fate.  Perhaps this was why things didn’t work out with my California sweetheart?  Maybe I was supposed to fail at that relationship so that I’d be better prepared for the most meaningful one of all?  And how could you discredit the fact that I had patiently waited for a year a half to find the opportunity to talk to that striking girl from orientation?  The chances of the two us ending up where we had seemed completely improbable.  It was just meant to be.

My fiance and I were living in a single bedroom apartment on the 10th floor of a high rise complex known as Alden Park, located just outside of Center City next to Philadelphia University.  It was an older building, but the space we had rented was very livable.  We had about 900 square feet and a view of the skyline from our living room window.  For two recent college graduates, it was quite nice.  The grounds of the complex were very well maintained.  It was always landscaped nicely and the property was extremely secure.  It was a good start for us.

As with most first jobs, neither one of us was overpaid.  And our living expenses were fairly significant being that we were so close to the city, so things were relatively tight from a financial standpoint.  I was working in sales with a base salary plus commission structure, and it was taking time for me to get a feel for the position and begin signing accounts.  The base was really nothing more than a survival income, so until things picked up, I wouldn’t have a lot of extra cash.  And I was already trying to figure out how I was going to pay off her engagement ring…that would take me years at the rate I was going.

I would have never thought that I would end up pursuing a career in sales.  In fact, it was about the last thing that I could have ever envisioned myself doing.  My father was a salesman, and I remember always telling him growing up that I never wanted to do what he did.  It appeared too stressful to me, and I had zero interest in it.  I knew that he made a good living doing it, but it would not be my future.  You had to be outgoing to be in sales…fearless, really.  And I was always relatively shy and somewhat intimidated by situations where I needed to present myself to a group.  I wouldn’t survive one day…

I had graduated from North Carolina with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History.  I studied History because I enjoyed it, but I never felt as though I wanted to teach or pursue a future in it.  So my plan had always been to go to graduate school.  I was pretty set on a Master’s degree in either Sports Administration or Sports Management and I spent some time researching both of those options.  I took the GRE my senior year and prepared a list of schools to which I would apply for admission.  But as things progressed, I slowly began to realize that I wasn’t really quite ready to make another commitment to school.  I wanted to experience the world a bit.

Sales jobs are always available.  There is a reason for that.  They carry an extremely high turnover rate.  But I wanted a job in Center City, and as a new graduate with no real world experience, it proved to be my best option for finding a position quickly that also had decent earning potential.  So I momentarily made my peace with it.  And before I knew it I was training for a job that was completely out of my comfort zone.

For someone with anxiety and panic, most would contend that sales is the worst career choice possible.  There are still days when I believe that to be the case myself.  The stress can at times be completely overwhelming, and I as mentioned in previous posts, stress and anxiety are closely linked with one another.  You can find yourself putting your personal well being at risk in this career if you aren’t careful.  The fear of presenting oneself in front of people and facing rejection…those are tough pills to swallow for anyone, let alone someone who suffers from mental health related issues.

But I had learned some things about my disorder over the course of the past several years of my life.  I realized that in order to beat anxiety and panic, you needed to confront it head on.  Sometimes that is far easier said than done, particularly when you are in the grips of a long term down period in your life and your mind has turned completely against you.  But fortunately, I had been free of any major setbacks for quite some time, so I was not afraid to challenge my deepest fears.  And sales gave me the opportunity to do that.

In my position I was asked to make cold calls every day in Center City Philadelphia.  And following a long day of walking the streets knocking on doors, I would be required to head back to the office and make phone calls for the final two hours of the day, attempting to set up meetings with my new prospects.  It sounds miserable, but there could not have been a better experience hand crafted for me at that point in my life.  I was forced acknowledge my insecurities and then leave them at the door.  I learned how to introduce myself and present effectively to decision makers.  And I discovered the secrets to gaining trust and confidence, building mutually beneficial partnerships, and remaining persistent and competitive in the pursuit of success.

I did the opposite of what my anxiety’s recipe had called for, and it worked.  I learned not to be intimidated or fearful of anyone or anything.  If you could knock on doors in Philly for a living, there wasn’t much that you couldn’t do.  God bless the people who live and do business there because they have a work ethic and grittiness that is unmatched, but they aren’t the most welcoming folks in country, that’s for sure.  Dodging building security guards like Vendetta at 121 S. Broad and escaping into elevators to avoid recognition that you were a salesperson was no picnic.  But it got easier in time.  I eventually learned to look at “No Solicitation” signs as an invitation to tour the building.  It was fun.  I was doing something that I knew 99% of the population couldn’t handle and I took pride in that.  I developed confidence in myself and in my ability to overcome stressful and fearful situations and that helped to keep my anxiety at a distance.  I found that often what is best for your well being is what’s least comfortable.

My fiance and I enjoyed the city for awhile, but the “newness” of everything was wearing off pretty quickly.  We both worked downtown and after being there all week long and fighting the congestion, we often found that we didn’t want to venture back in on the weekends.  So a lot of times we’d find a quiet restaurant in the nearby suburbs for dinner, or we’d visit my family about an hour and a half northwest so that we could escape to the small town setting where we were both most comfortable.  For Valentine’s Day that year we headed to the mountains for a long weekend at my family’s cabin in north central PA.  It was nice to just separate ourselves from the madness.  We were finding that a more quiet lifestyle suited us far better.

So in time we talked and soon after we began dreaming of moving to the suburbs.  I wasn’t thrilled with my current position and she was open to a career move as well.  We just needed to find the right opportunity.  Then one day during the winter I decided to send an email to a friend of mine (several years older) who had taken over ownership of his father’s direct mail production business nearby my hometown.  I didn’t receive an immediate response, but one day several weeks later while I was out knocking on doors in Center City, I got a call on my cell phone.  It was him, and he was looking to replace a sales rep who was retiring the following year, and thought that we should talk.  So one Saturday afternoon we met for lunch, and shortly after he offered me the position.  I would be given the opportunity to train with the retiring rep and then ultimately take on and manage his existing book of business and extend the company’s reach with my own direct efforts.  He was providing me with the chance to do far better financially and to support our move to the suburbs.  It was a proposal that I could not refuse.

Shortly after, my fiance also received an offer for employment with a hospital in the Allentown area.  She would be running their facility’s hyperbaric oxygen chamber.  She could not have been more excited.  It was her desire to work in a medical related field, and this gave her a chance to get her foot in the door.

Everything was falling into place.  It was fate, remember?

meeting my match

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Throughout the course of the year that had passed since my ex had left the state of North Carolina and departed from my life altogether, I spent a lot of time by myself coming to grips with who I was and what I wanted out of life.  I faced my personal demons head on and I learned to accept and appreciate the new me. Although there were slight setbacks at times, I had been really enjoying life.  And I didn’t feel compelled to search out a new relationship.  I was actually pretty content with just allowing things to develop in due time, and that felt good.  Perhaps my patience would allow me to find my perfect match.

I’ll never forget the day that I left that note at the front desk of my gym for the girl who had caught my eye at orientation a year and a half earlier.  It was only a couple of days prior to our Thanksgiving break senior year.  I was so incredibly nervous.  My hands were clammy and shaking as I spoke to the woman up front.  It had been quite awhile since I made a real effort to court anyone, so I was definitely not well prepared to make my move.  And after all, this was not just your average girl.  This was the person I had searched out on campus every day when passing through the quad since arriving at UNC.  In my mind, I felt at that moment that she could be my dream girl…my future soul mate.  I now had my opportunity with her.  I’d be devastated if she decided not to take an interest in my advances.

Soon after returning from break, we would finally have the chance to connect with each other.  I was at a bar on one end of Franklin Street with a couple of friends…He’s Not Here, to be specific.  We had been doing some significant damage to the blue cups that evening.  I had anticipated that I might see her that night, so I guess I was seeking out a bit of liquid courage.  It wasn’t long before she called me and asked if I (along with my friends) would want to head down to East End Martini Bar to meet up with her and friends.  We finished our beers and headed off to the opposite end of Franklin.  She greeted me inside with a hug.  And at that very moment, something beautiful began to develop.

I can’t begin to remember all of the details of that night.  Partly because I had been drinking that evening and I had become a bit of a lightweight with alcohol since I didn’t indulge very often.  But the main reason that my memory of that night is clouded is because I was so wrapped up in her.  We had a blast with each other; it was one of the best moments of my life.  I do remember her smile, her big blue eyes, the entire outfit she was wearing down to the finest accessory, and the way that she made me feel inside when we were alone.  I remember her kiss; it had never felt so right with anyone.  We drank, we danced, and we ultimately ended up taking about two hours to say goodnight…we couldn’t stop talking or kissing each other long enough to walk away.

That evening in Chapel Hill marked the beginning of a long romance between the two of us.  We started dating and quickly fell hard for one another.  I had been in serious relationships before, but this was like nothing else I had ever encountered.  We connected on every level in such an intense fashion that we just could not ever get enough of each other.  I was unbelievably attracted to her, to the point of near infatuation.  And she felt the same about me…it was a very passionate and intimate relationship right from the start.

We quickly began spending all of our time with each other.  If there was an opening in the day in between our class schedules, it was a safe bet that we would find ourselves together.  We’d work out with each other at the gym, take afternoon naps at my apartment, and then we’d spend the evenings in each others’ arms as well.  When we first met, she was living in one of the sorority houses on campus, but within a few months she had been spending so much time at my place that we decided to move the majority of her things to my apartment.  And with that closeness our bond continued to grow.

It was great being able to share the college experience with her our senior year.  We both had a passion for athletics, so she and I connected for the bowl game that winter in Charlotte, and we made it to countless UNC basketball games together including our amazing win over Duke at the Smith Center.  We were even able to witness our Heels win the National Championship that season – something I’ll never forget.  And we also met up daily on campus.  During the Spring semester I scheduled an elective course within her major and we took the class together.  We’d walk to class together across campus in the morning and exchange notes with each other the entire period most days…it was slightly immature, but cute, too…like a childhood romance.  And most days we’d coordinate picking each other up when one of us was out of class and the other was in or doing a lab on campus.  We were inseparable.  But there was never a point where it felt like too much.  It only got better with each passing day.

We both shared quite a bit of uncertainty about our plans following graduation.  We knew that we didn’t want our relationship to end, but we weren’t sure where we were headed.  I was hoping to live and work in a big city in the Northeast, and she had very little direction in that regard.  Her family was from Florida and she was a bit of a free spirit at that time, so she was open to any and all ideas.  Ultimately we settled on Philadelphia.  She of course was also a transfer student at UNC and shared the same challenges that I had experienced with credits being lost.  So she would need to take a course during the first summer session to meet her graduation requirement, although we would both walk on May 15th.

I flew to the city to interview for my first job just prior to graduation and was awarded the position.  I would start the week after commencement.  The plan was that she would stay at my apartment in North Carolina until she finished her summer course, and then we’d move in with each other in Philadelphia and begin our working lives next to each other.  I’d be renting an empty space and sleeping on an air mattress until she arrived, but I was completely fine with that.  I could not have been happier about our future together.  I couldn’t wait to see her.

I felt like a kid at Christmas time the day that we began the move.  My father had gone to North Carolina and had worked with my girlfriend at the apartment for several days packing things into boxes and preparing for the trek north.  When I arrived that weekend I was shocked to see that they had done almost all of the hard work.  She and my Dad were pretty close and that was really special to me.  I really found a lot of comfort in her connection with my family. We loaded the cars and the UHaul and headed off on our way.

It was only shortly after our arrival in Philadelphia that my girlfriend accepted a position working downtown as gym manager.  She was an Exercise and Sports Science major at UNC, and her job fit her strengths perfectly.  Aside from the short daily train commute, she really enjoyed her position and working in Philadelphia.  I worked in sales with my territory being Center City so we frequently had the opportunity to meet up for lunch or say “hi” throughout the day.  It was a good time in our lives.  We were sharing in the adventures of the real world, and although we weren’t getting rich, we were happy and in love.  It was exciting.

I knew almost immediately that this was the woman with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life.  I never really had any doubts.  And in going over things and analyzing it in my head, I never once questioned whether or not it was right.  I couldn’t foresee a life without her.  I had met my best friend and my soul mate.  I decided that I wanted to propose.

I did the gentlemanly thing and asked her father’s permission and he gave me his blessing, and then after purchasing the ring I planned my proposal.  We would spend the night at the hotel where we stayed on our first visit to Philadelphia as a couple.  And then we’d walk to dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse on Broad Street.  I coordinated the route so that we would find ourselves crossing into Love park…and next to the sign, just out of reach of the mist from the fountain, I bent down and asked for her hand in marriage.

She began shaking and asking me if I was serious…and then immediately answered, “yes of course!”.

seeing potential

As a sufferer of anxiety and panic disorder you develop incredible senses and awareness.  You become very watchful due to your constant apprehension and you take note of everything going on around you, and you do it to a fault.  Your senses become overwhelming at times because they constantly remind you to worry and they feed generously off of the vulnerability of your negative mindset.  Even most the most positive responses and emotions can find a way to turn themselves against you.  There have been many times in my life when I’ve allowed myself to get too excited or anxious for something and it has led to a setback.  It can absolutely wear you out.

As a result, you learn to truly appreciate the periods in your life when you are able to keep the monster at bay.  Living a “normal” lifestyle feels like Heaven on Earth.  And those keen senses that I had mentioned earlier actually begin to work in your favor.  You see things in a completely different light, and they appear all the more grander than ever before.  The morning sun, the sounds of the outdoors, the smells of the changing seasons…the little things in life become the most meaningful.  In many ways, anxiety is a curse, but in this regard it’s also a blessing.  Though we may often fall far deep into valleys of darkness, we can always appreciate our climb to the top of the mountain because our view will always be the most magnificent.

I’ll always look back on that period in North Carolina as a time when I was most appreciative of life.  Things had fallen apart with my relationship and I had every reason to fall back into a whirlwind of anxiety.  But I stood up, I fought, and I won the battle.  I became thankful for every day, and I developed an independence that I hadn’t reached in several years.  I had a completely new lease on life.

I transferred into UNC as a junior, and that made it somewhat challenging for me to make new acquaintances on campus.  Most upperclassmen had their friendships already well established, and I lived alone and really didn’t know anyone.  In time I was fortunate to meet some really nice underclassmen, and I hung out with those guys every now and then.  But for the most part I kept to myself and went about my business.  And I was completely fine with that.  It wasn’t always ideal, and I did get lonely at times, but I was comfortable with myself and I didn’t have a problem doing things alone.  And I was on a very health conscious kick…running daily, working out, eating right, and rarely mixing in any alcohol – I wasn’t a target companion for most college-age guys.  But I wasn’t going to change who I was for anyone.  After all, I was feeling the best I had in a couple of years and I didn’t want to risk getting off track.

I found a new appreciation for my family.  I realized after all that I had been through that they were always the one constant.  They supported me through the good, the bad, and the ugly.  They didn’t always agree with my choices, and I’m certain that they never fully understood what I was dealing with, but they did do their best to keep an open mind and stand by me.  I found myself beginning to worry about their well being since I knew they were getting older.  I felt like I had wasted opportunities to spend quality time with them at times when I personally lost sight of my priorities, and I began doing my best to hang around the house when I visited on my breaks.  I’d even set my alarm to make sure that I was up with my Dad in the mornings because I knew he was an early riser.  These were good habits to practice.  At least I was learning from my mistakes.

The second half of my junior year went by pretty quickly.  I decided to stay in Chapel Hill over the summer to take several courses to catch up on my requirements for graduation.  When I transferred in, I forfeited 13 total credits due to the fact the UNC would only accept business courses that were taken in their prestigious Kenan Flagler Business School.  This was a full semester’s worth of work.  But it was my priority to graduate in four years so I remained focused and committed to the classroom and completed four courses that summer.  I would head into my senior year on pace to graduate in the Spring of 2005.

Fall was the best time of year in Chapel Hill.  It had always been my favorite season, but now I was living only a couple of miles from Kenan Stadium, the home of my Tar Heels.  As I mentioned in previous posts, my family had season football tickets and they maintained those during my time in school at UNC.  So I got to see them several times that fall for visits and games, and we had a wonderful time together.  That season I witnessed an amazing four down goal line stand as we held off NC State for a wild victory in an intense rivalry game.  And I also saw Connor Barth split the uprights and send a 4th ranked Miami team packing in an improbable upset – we had been projected as 5 or 6 touchdown underdogs.  And on top of that, I was able to visit Virginia, Wisconsin, Utah, Wake Forest, and Duke for road games.  Utah was an amazing trip with my Dad – close second to Colorado on my all-time favorites list.  Beautiful city, breathtaking mountains, and incredibly friendly people.  Our team finished 6-5 and qualified for a bowl for the first time in several years.  It was a lot of fun to be a part of it as a student.

I didn’t spend a whole lot of time at UNC dating or chasing women.  For many months following her departure, my heart remained with my ex.  It took me a long time to come to grips with the situation and accept that fact that she was gone and would not be coming back.  And for a period after I came to that realization, I just felt completely numb.  I dated two girls for short periods of time, but nothing significant developed with either.  I was comfortable with who I was, and I didn’t feel as though I really needed anyone.

In August of 2003 at my summer orientation I remember having seen a girl that caught my attention.  I was there with my girlfriend, but I couldn’t help but notice her presence as we all gathered together forming groups for a tour of the campus.  She was gorgeous, and her beautiful blue eyes reeled me right in.  She was there with her mother and I can still picture clear as day what she was wearing.  I only spent a matter of minutes nearby her that day, but her impression on me would last forever.

I found myself continually looking for her on campus.  And from time to time during my two years in Chapel Hill I would pass her in the quad.  Considering there are nearly 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at Carolina, this was a bit like locating a needle in a haystack.  Was this a sign?  I’d do my best to make eye contact and smile towards her, and every once in awhile I swear that I’d see her do the same.  But there was just really no opportunity to talk in passing, and I felt like I’d always wonder if there was anything to my curiosity about her and I.

Then one day as I was working out at a local fitness center, I saw her wandering about the floor of the club.  I learned through a friend who worked at the gym that she had just started there as a personal trainer.  I couldn’t believe it.  This absolutely had to be fate bringing us together.

For weeks I’d see her on a regular basis, but I couldn’t seem to stir up the courage to talk to her.  But eventually, I learned her name through my friend at the gym, and I decided to give it a go.  I asked her if she had transferred in to UNC, and she said that she had from the University of South Florida.  And then I proceeded to tell her that I remembered her from orientation, and that I had been hoping since that day that I’d have the opportunity to talk to her.  She seemed flattered, but a little uncomfortable about it all as well.  I’m guessing that it probably struck her as a bit odd that I remembered all of those details.

As I drove away that evening, I thought about leaving a message for her at the front desk with my phone number since I hadn’t summoned the courage to take our conversation that far inside.  And before I made it back to my apartment, I wrote the note, called my sister for a pep talk, and headed back to the gym shaking with anxious anticipation…

running for my life

There is a strong correlation between sadness, depression, negative thought, stress, and anxiety. All of them are closely linked to one another, and they feed off each other in almost a cyclical pattern. In fact many people experience their first taste of mental illness as a result of a stressful life event or an emotionally painful situation or loss. No one is immune to this disease. So if you’ve been fortunate enough to have escaped it thus far in your life, consider yourself blessed. And never take for granted the days that you are able to function without it. Make the most of life, and continue to maintain all aspects of your healthy lifestyle. In this case, don’t let your guard down. Because you can’t always be sure what’s lurking beneath the surface, and it could simply be waiting for a window of opportunity to present itself in your life.

I’ve always been aware of this dangerous cycle in my life. And quite honestly, I still haven’t found a way to master minimizing its effects. Here’s an example: I oversleep on a given morning and notice that I’m going to be starting my work day behind schedule. After checking my Blackberry I realize that I’ve already missed several emails, and with the knowledge that I have several files waiting on my desk from the day before, a knot begins to form in my stomach. Then come the negative thoughts. “I hate this job…I’m never going to be able to get everything finished…why are they bothering me this early in the day anyway?…”. One after another keeps rushing in until I begin to feel overwhelmed. By the time I dive into my work I feel like I might burst. Then the phone rings, another email, another phone call…that knot has now moved it’s way to my throat and I’ve begun to feel like someone is standing on my chest. I’m breathing shallow and I’m feeling lightheaded. Then an issue in production, an immediate answer needed, a dissatisfied customer…before you know it, I’m having chest pains and have convinced myself I could have a heart attack from the stress. Ultimately I survive it and the day ends but the chain reaction continues, leading to horrific anxiety. I end up suffering through the night managing to sleep very little, and the next day I wake up looking and feeling worse than I had the the day before. And the cycle continues…

After my ex left the state of North Carolina and headed back home, I was a complete disaster. I was torn apart and overwhelmed by all of the emotions of the events from the previous six months. I missed her, so much. It felt in my heart as if someone close to me had passed away. And I was so angry with myself for taking her for granted. Confused, lost, and lonely – I let the situation get the best of me.

I fell into a depression, and then the cycle began running its course. With depression and sadness came a negative mindset. I couldn’t see anything positive, I just wanted her back in my life and I knew that wasn’t possible. And then the physical symptoms. I had aches and pains all over my body from the stress of the situation. My chest was continually tight and my head often felt like it was going to explode. I was quickly exhausted and it was hard for me to get out of bed in the morning and go forth with my day.

Those physical setbacks opened the door for anxiety and panic to rush back into my life. Once again I would allow for my OCD to play its part as well. I worried about everything that I felt physically. I had convinced myself that there was something seriously wrong with me. And the more that I worried, the more pronounced the symptoms became, leading to more negative thoughts, and more aches and pains. It wasn’t long before it was controlling my mind and my life. I couldn’t seem to move beyond it. Was I going to die? Did I need to check myself into the hospital?

And then one day, I decided to stand up and fight. I remember sitting on the couch in my apartment completely wrapped up in panic and worry, convinced that this might be the day that I really would crumble altogether physically. I revisited in my mind where I had been during the low points of my time in California, and I began to recognize that I had regressed to a point that was very familiar to me. I knew what would happen if I sat around and let the disorder take over my life again. It was a miserable fate…and it was not one that I could envision myself enduring again…

So I made the decision in my mind at that very moment that I would rather die fighting my demons than live letting them beat me. I told myself that if I was going to truly perish as a result of these physical symptoms, then I was going to find out immediately. And I was going to die standing up to the disease, not hiding from it. I changed into shorts, put on my running shoes and headed out the door.

That initial run was very difficult for me. I wrestled with my mind the entire way as it made me fully aware of every pain in my body, tempting me with the urge to quit. But I didn’t allow it to take me to that point. With every stride I just kept repeating over and over “if you’re going to kill me, then do it now”. And as I got closer to my apartment on the loop that I had made, I began finding my strength. The statements that I was making in my mind turned to “you can’t beat me, I’m stronger than this”. I even began to display a confident smile on my face similar to that which I would sometimes share with an opponent on the football field after he delivered a devastating blow that he felt would crush my spirit. You couldn’t beat me. I had become way too familiar with being knocked down, and I would always pick myself back up.

For the next 165 days in a row, I continued to run. It was only when I came down with a severe cold that I chose to finally end that daily streak. I had found the perfect drug for my anxiety, and I latched onto it. In the past I had spent many days allowing my OCD to shift my focus towards negative energy, and now I was turning my disorder in the direction of healthy thoughts and positive outlets. I began eating extremely well…balanced meals with only very mindful snacking. It wasn’t often that I allowed myself to eat out, and I avoided fast food altogether. And only on a very limited basis would I allow myself to eat red meat. I was obsessed with my new healthy lifestyle, and it was working.

I forced myself to be active. The commitment to running daily kept me focused and it allowed me to sort through aches and pains without worry. After all, it was natural to feel a bit stiff or sore when you were pushing yourself like I was, so there was nothing to be afraid of. And I knew my heart and lungs were strong, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to maintain such an active routine. My anxiety was rapidly diminishing.

In addition to running, I spent every evening possible outside. I would shoot basketball at the court within my apartment complex, and every night I’d go for a walk and then treat myself to some kind of snack when I returned – I made it like my reward. I began to live an incredibly satisfying and relaxing lifestyle. I enjoyed my time alone and I didn’t feel the need to seek out comfort in others. For the first time in a long time I had become happy with myself.

At night I would often find myself passing out on the couch before the clock even struck 10. And I was okay with that. I’d head to bed early, and I’d wake up rejuvenated, appreciating the day new day ahead. I remember one night as I laid down to go to sleep, I thought to myself about how terrifying the nights always were when I was in the grips of panic and anxiety. And I actually laughed to myself, because it had become such a foreign feeling to me at that point. I couldn’t have created an anxious feeling inside me if I tried.

I put my hand on my chest and felt the calm of my relaxed and regular heartbeat took a a few deep breaths, thanked God for the progress I had made, and drifted off to sleep…


Over the course of your life you will undoubtedly be blessed to meet a handful of people who will leave a lasting impression upon you. Most of us move about the world shielding our souls with a protective coat of armor. We don’t allow the average passerby or acquaintance to see what’s underneath the surface of our skin. It’s our human nature to be guarded and protective of our well being. This is somewhat unfortunate. For the most meaningful relationships in this life are formed when we allow ourselves to be completely open and vulnerable to another person. When we let down the wall that protects us, we are able to offer so much more. And the other person reciprocates because they sense that we are genuine and of good intentions. It’s a beautiful thing. Once you have connected with someone on that level, you will forever carry their memory and spirit with you. Because they’ve gained access to your world, to the best and worst of you…and they’ve touched your heart.

I had an amazing relationship with my girlfriend from California. We had surpassed even the intimacy that I mentioned above. In fact, it was more of a mutual adoration. And yet shockingly, in the process of my recovery I lost sight of all of that. I got back on my feet and found myself completely wrapped up in being an immature 20 year old, and I sacrificed one of the best things that had ever happened to me.

I won’t lie to you and tell you that the moment she walked out the door I knew that I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I felt shame and sadness, and I was sick over the pain that I had caused her, but I wasn’t immediately aware of the serious consequences of my actions. My mind was ill. I was wrapped up in the fantasy of that summer’s affair. I was embracing my independence and I wasn’t thinking clearly.

My girlfriend had decided that she could not stay with me in the apartment. And while that hurt, I understood her choice to move out. She would end up finding a roommate in an apartment complex only a couple of miles away. I give her enormous credit for her strength. She was not going to leave school, she would continue the semester. That took tremendous courage. I can’t begin to imagine how hard it all must have been for her, particularly because she was so far away from her family.

In the time that I spent alone I quickly began to realize the reality of the situation, and I was completely regretful of my actions. I missed her so much, and I wanted her back in my life more than anything. We would call and talk and we’d see each other on a somewhat regular basis. But it was hard on her, every time. I could see it in her eyes. Many nights she’d stop by and she’d give it her best effort to remain calm and sweet on the surface and then we’d begin conversing and the littlest thing would send her through a whirlwind of emotions. She’d cry hysterically, scream at me, and run out for no real apparent reason. She couldn’t mask the pain that she was feeling inside. I think she truly did want to forgive me and move forward, but her heart just wouldn’t allow her to. And she really did give it every opportunity…

I tried everything that I could to show her I was a changed man and that I had realigned my priorities. I begged and pleaded with her to give us a second chance. I made her all kinds of gifts straight from the heart to show her how much I truly appreciated having her as a part of my life. And I apologized over and over again for my actions and promised her that I would never take her for granted again.

But I had betrayed her trust, and I had broken her heart, and after a couple of months she had settled on the decision that she could not give our relationship another shot. I know she wanted to, but it was far too painful. The memory of my affair that summer would always haunt her. If the day came that she could put the past behind her, perhaps then we’d be able to reconvene. But it wasn’t going to happen any time soon. She was devastated. So just like I had done a year earlier, she decided it was in her best interest to leave North Carolina and head home where she could find the support system and the strength that she needed to get well.

I was shocked. I had convinced myself beyond all doubt that we would find a way to make it through this setback. And now my worst nightmare was becoming a reality. She was leaving. She was not just moving across town, she was moving across the country. I knew what that meant. It would be a far more difficult venture to try to heal our relationship with 3,000 miles separating us. I didn’t want to believe it, but I knew in my heart that I was losing her for good. Was it really possible to say goodbye to someone who had such a profound impact on your life like this? What if I never saw her again?

And then she was gone…out of my life as if she had never been a part of it at all. I was completely devastated and lost. And more than anything, I was disgusted with myself. I fell deep into a pit of sadness and depression. And it wasn’t long before my anxiety began knocking at the door again.

I needed to get my life back in order before it spun completely out of control…

the relapse

It was time to make a life changing decision, one that most 20 year olds are not necessarily prepared to make. There is a lot of uncertainty at that age. We’re new to the ideas of freedom and independence and we move a bit spontaneously. We don’t always think about the consequences of our actions. Instead, we live in the moment and worry about figuring out the details later. Most of us are not ready for marriage, children, or long term commitments. Even if we think that we are in that moment, we are likely to feel foolish later on, as the majority of us have not had enough life experience to define our priorities for the future. We’re kids. And we’re exploring the world alone for the first time without a clue what the good Lord has in store for us.

The state of my relationship challenged me to grow up a bit faster than I was really prepared to do. My girlfriend and I needed to make some choices about our future. The long distance travel was not going to suit either of us for much longer. And I had already made that situation increasingly difficult on her because I was so adamant about not returning to California. I was selfish in that regard. I blamed the place for my disorder. Clearly California wasn’t the cause at all. But it took me years to realize that and accept the fact that the disorder was a part of me and that it would follow no matter where I was in life.

I had decided that I wanted to accept the offer to attend UNC in the fall. It was the best choice that I could make at that stage in my life, and I was blessed to have the opportunity. After all of the setbacks that I had faced…I needed to go. My girlfriend supported me, and we began researching ways for her to be able to continue to pursue her future career in nursing in North Carolina so that we could stay together. She ended up settling on a small school about 15 minutes outside of Chapel Hill – she applied and was accepted. From there we found a single bedroom apartment not far from UNC, and we made our plans to move in together and start a future with one another.

I had made tremendous progress with my anxiety in a relatively short period of time after returning home. If you had seen me in January, you would have never recognized me by May or June. My family’s support had brought me back to life. Regular meals from Mom, good rest, and unconditional love and support…how could I fail?

I began hanging out with my friends again on a regular basis. When college broke for the summer, everyone was back in town and we made it a point to get together as often as we could. We’d meet at the local park and play basketball in the afternoon or evening and then we’d make our plans for that night. Sometimes it was a party. Sometimes it was a club in Philadelphia. And many times when there was nothing else going on, we’d just get together and play cards, shoot pool, or go swimming. And not surprisingly we mixed in some beers here and there. It was a blast. I felt so alive. Every night was like a new experience for me. I had been trapped inside for more than a year, dealing with psychological issues that would have torn lesser men to shreds, and now I was ready embrace the world again. I couldn’t get enough.

While in many ways this was a fun and exciting time in my life, it was also a period where I made some of the most regrettable decisions. I was acting similar to an addict who had hit his bottom, found a way to stay clean and committed on the road to recovery, and then forfeited all of his progress by relapsing. Lost in the whirlwind that surrounded me once I had regained my strength and began living life, I started my way down the path of destruction.

One summer night, my buddies and I went to Philadelphia to a foam party at a club downtown. Later on in the evening, I met an attractive girl and we began dancing with each other. Before I knew it I was doing something shameful and completely out of character…I was cheating on the love of my life. That night in Philadelphia it was just a kiss, but that’s not where it ended. I should have had the decency to let go of things when I left the club that night, but instead I got her phone number and we began talking quite frequently.

It wasn’t long until we were hanging out on a regular basis. She was an attractive girl with a lot to offer, and I was drawn to her on many different levels. But that should not have mattered. Back in California I had the most loyal, trustworthy, and sweet woman a man could have ever asked for in his life. And I was doing everything possible to run her out of my mine when we were only a month or two away from sharing our worlds with one another.

My friends had all agreed to play along with the situation, and they kept completely quiet about my long distance relationship whenever the new girl was around. I grew apart from my girlfriend, and our phone conversations became shorter and less frequent. We hadn’t seen each other in quite some time, and I was okay with that. I broke my commitment to her, and I lost track of what was important. I began to second guess moving in together and I started to push her away.

The way that I acted was self-centered and childish. I was not only being unfair to my girlfriend, but also my new found acquaintance, for she was also falling for me. If only she had known what I was hiding. It would have made her completely sick.

August came quickly. It was time to leave home again and start the second leg of my college experience as a Tar Heel. Both my girlfriend and my family were still completely in the dark about my actions that summer, so we went forward with our plans to start our life together as if nothing had ever happened at all. But I couldn’t hide the damage that was done, no matter how hard I tried. I was no longer feeling ready to take the next step, and I made my girlfriend aware of it. Not by being a man and being honest and communicating with her, but just by being short and cold. Inside I think that I was having a hard time living with what I had done, and her sweet smile and caring demeanor served as constant reminders of how terribly I had acted.

One day shortly after we got settled, I received a package at the apartment. It was from the girl I had met over the summer…complete surprise. She had sent me a gift from Philly. It was a very sweet gesture. Of course I did my best to dispose of it quickly so that I would not get questioned or caught. But for some reason, I chose to hang on to the letter that came with it. I shoved it into a folder and buried it on the shelf in my closet.

Then one day as I was sitting by the computer, my girlfriend came out with the note. She was devastated. I can’t begin to tell you how awful it felt seeing the pain in her eyes. She had sacrificed so much for me, sticking by my side through thick and thin. And she had just moved all the way across the country to be with me, far from any family or friends…now only to learn that I had completely betrayed her.

How could I let my life take such a destructive course so shortly after I put the pieces back together?

To those affected, if either of you are reading, my deepest apologies.