Life

90 Days of Despair

Hopelessness is soul crushing. I knew life was going to get very difficult after I lost access to pain management in March of 2018. I just didn’t have a clue as to how difficult living would get. Background info is at the end of this post.

I reached the end of myself beginning in September 2018. This was the lowest point in my almost 20 year journey. All hope was gone. The decision to continue living was a breath by breath decision for the next three months. I was terrified that I would never feel hope again.

Jennifer started to fear calling home after work because she was afraid I wouldn’t answer the phone. She was afraid to leave me alone because I was fighting severe depression and anxiety. She knew I was considering suicide and started having our kids call me during the day to make sure I wasn’t alone too long.  

My mind could not handle the intensity and duration of this suffering and I had a mental break about 40 days in. I experienced a mental separation of myself from my mind and my spirit. Imagine being inside your own head, sitting at a table with two more versions of yourself. Your eyes are windows, you can see what’s happening in front of you. You can hear things happening around you but the sounds are very distant, like an echo. I watched and listened to a conversation between my mind speaking with my spirit, separated from myself, sitting in front of me, inside of my own head. It was a truly bizarre experience. 

My mind and spirit were having an intense discussion. Both had suffered greatly. One was ready to quit, “This is hopeless!” The other was tired as well but wanted to push on a bit further. He pointed out that things could not get any worse, “what’s the harm of pushing on a bit further if we’re going to die anyway.”   

They were discussing of the pros and cons of self termination and I didn’t get a say in the decision. I was just there to listen, these two were making the call. I realized during their conversation that there was a 50% chance I would not see tomorrow. It was strangely peaceful in my head. I was tired, too, and relieved someone else would make the final decision. 

They discussed the issue for several days then disappeared. I replayed that discussion for weeks afterword trying to work it out. I had been in the valley of suffering for 18 years. Suicide was looking like the best option to me at the time. I was leaning toward self termination because I just could not continue to endure the overwhelming mental strain of trying to survive until tomorrow, every single day, knowing my life would never get better. 

After making me listen to the pros and cons of suicide from a seemingly logical standpoint, they ended up leaving the decision to me after all. I think it was a stall tactic on their part. It worked.  

I had survived the lowest point in my valley of despair. I never heard anything else from the two other versions of myself. Their discussion lasted long enough to prevent me from making a permanent fatal decision while at my low point. Maybe I could make it back. It was the first inkling of hope in what seemed like forever. I put my head down and crawled on for 45 more days. I had to cross my valley of despair again. 

My life was reduced to six second increments for three months. Survival was literally a breath by breath decision every minute, for every hour, for everyday, for 90+ days. Six seconds is a lifetime when you aren’t sure you want to take another breath.    

I was not sure I would be able to claw my way out of that valley. I started seeing glimpses of daylight in mid December. I didn’t know it was possible to reach such depths of despair and return to the land of the living. I am thrilled to have survived.

It is still difficult to process what I was experiencing at the time. Thinking back, I initially thought I was looking into hell. I could even hear sounds of suffering. I finally realized I hadn’t been looking into hell at all, I was looking back at the valley of suffering I had already traveled though for 18 years. The screams I heard were the echos of my own suffering.  

I was told numerous times that my spinal injuries were permanent and that I would not recover. I didn’t quit looking for treatment options and I finally got my life back on Monday, May 27, 2019. It was a Memorial Day miracle!

I know where I end. I honestly cannot believe I survived this journey. I cannot believe I am still here after exploring the boundaries of my existence. The Lord is doing amazing things in my life and I am grateful for it! Things are falling into place that I didn’t think would ever be possible for our family. It is amazing to be alive and feel good! 

I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I survived. I would not trade my suffering for anything now. Our suffering isn’t wasted. I have a new appreciation for life that I could not have obtained any other way. 

Today is bonus day #625 for me since I got my life back. I do actually count the days now, everyday is a bonus day! 

V6 6/29/21, Original 2/10/21

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* My wife read this for the first time March 25,2021.  She said it does not adequately convey how bad things were at the time! 

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Here’s some background info taken from my Everyday is a Bonus Day post:

My odyssey of pain began in September 2000.  Skipping over 13 years of our history – I received the most comprehensive pain management I ever had with a primary care doctor from 2013 through 2015.  In addition to identifying my genetic metabolism issues, he also treated other issues caused by out of control pain!  I was with this doctor for two years.  Those were the best two years I had during the first 15 years of living with constant permanent severe pain. 

The elected representatives of my state decided in 2015 that patients like me need to see a pain specialist.  Because my doctor was only a primary care doctor, he could no longer treat me.  Thanks to the changes in state rules, I lost access to this doctor in September 2015.  Primary care doctors were no longer allowed to treat chronic pain patients.  The state, in their great wisdom, decided I needed to see a pain specialist!  It didn’t matter that I had been seeing an actual medical doctor at every monthly visit, or that he provided better comprehensive pain management than any specialist I had ever seen.  The state said this great doctor wasn’t allowed to treat me anymore! 

It took 7 months to find a pain specialist willing to treat me.  Most weren’t taking new patients.  When I did get in, the visits were with nurse practitioners.  The “specialists” were too busy performing procedures to see new patients.  I saw an actual MD once during this process.  

Regardless of who I saw, they all wanted to decrease my medicine.  They weren’t interested in the genetic test results!  Most didn’t even understand the significance of the genetic testing and some had never heard of it!  They also didn’t care that I was doing well on my medicine.  It just wasn’t politically correct to prescribe as much medicine as I needed!  Uncertainty is the breading ground for anxiety and depression!  I started having full blown panic attacks during that process.  

I finally found a pain specialist willing to treat me in April 2016.  That was another terrible experience.  He wasn’t happy that I refused all invasive procedures like epidurals and radio frequency ablations.  I tried those options numerous times.  Medication management was my best option and he wasn’t happy about it.  He mentioned it every time I saw him, saying the amount of medicine I required made him look bad to government agencies.  

Fear makes you do terrible things, he feared the government and started pushing an unnecessary invasive surgery to implant a pain pump starting in October 2017.  That’s a device the size of a hockey puck surgically implanted into your abdomen with a line running to your spine to constantly dispense pain medication directly to your spinal cord.  It sounds great in theory.  I declined this surgery due to the frequent complications and the incredibly high failure rates for that device. 

He decided he no longer wanted to treat me and dismissed me when I showed up to my March 27, 2018 appointment.  It is just too much of a hassle to treat patients that require high dose opioids.  

Chronic pain patients normally need two types of pain medicine.  Long acting medicine provides continuous relief.  Short acting covers pain that breaks through the long acting medicine.  I didn’t see the treatment environment for chronic pain improving anytime soon, so I made the decision to stop my long acting medicine.  I cut my remaining long acting medicine by 50% the day he dropped me and cut that amount by 50% again two weeks later.  I had used long acting pain medicine successfully for 17 years.  I tapered myself to zero in less than four weeks.  The withdrawal process was horrendous.  My pain returned with a vengeance.  The depression that followed was terrible. 

One of our daughters got married April 21.  I ended my long acting medicine on April 24, 2018 and started decreasing my short acting medicine.  Another daughter got married June 9th.  I stopped using my short acting medicine June 11th.  I didn’t think stopping the short acting medicine would be more difficult than what I experienced when I quit my long acting medicine, but I could not have been more wrong!  

The following 13 months were horrendous!  While I expected the return of my physical pain.  I did not anticipate the depths of despair I would encounter with the mental and emotional pain of stopping the medicine I had used for 17 years and the return of untreated physical pain.  I had a full meltdown at one of our counseling appointments in July.  It literally felt like someone was squeezing my brain!  The depression and anxiety were overwhelming!  

For 90+ days, the anxiety and depression were so bad it was a moment by moment decision to continue living.  It was really bad!  My wife was seriously worried and afraid to leave me alone.  I started to worry the depression and anxiety would never go away!  Death seemed like the only way out.  My wife came home one day in September and was inconsolably upset because I didn’t respond when she was looking for me.  I was in another room in our house and didn’t hear her calling for me.  It nauseates me to think about just how close I was to suicide.  (90 Days of Despair.)

I lasted 5 months trying to go without any pain medicine.  The physical, mental and emotional pain that followed almost killed me.  I had a disaster supply of pain medicine.  I decided getting into my emergency supply was better than the disaster of death, so to get through Christmas I started using a very small amount of pain medicine every day.  It helped my pain, but the biggest surprise was my emotional state stabilized.  The constant depression and anxiety improved almost immediately.  The severe depression and anxiety started lifting.  I would have an episode of depression or anxiety (or both) every other day, then every third day.  Each month was better than the last.  I could make it three more months with my disaster supply.  I still had bad days, but nothing like it was before using the low dose pain medicine.  

Do you remember, from the original Star Trek series, when Spock would lose control of his emotions?  It felt like that!  I assume my emotional issues were caused by the chemical changes in my brain as the pain medicine worked its way out of my system.  I am very thankful that the intensity and frequency of the episodes decreased significantly!  I could usually tell when an episode was coming and prepare.  The depression and anxiety started staying away in May.  

You’ll be amazed at what you’ll consider doing when you reach the end of yourself.  Suicide or illegal treatment were the only options available to me after my doctor dropped me in March 2018.  It took a few months, but I did finally reach the point where I would consider ALL available treatment options… regardless of their legality.   

Trying to find a treatment option outside of our healthcare system was no easy task.  One of my children was a flight attendant for a major airline at the time.  I had the ability to go anywhere in the world for treatment.  I actually considered going to Switzerland to try Heroin.  I’m not joking.  After researching options, Cannabis appeared to be the more convenient option.  

After months of trying different types of cannabis via different delivery methods, I found a combination that has effectively given me my life back!  I started feeling great on Memorial Day 2019!  I no longer require pain medicine.  I was initially more aware of my pain, but it was the most manageable it has ever been.  Currently, I am not aware of any pain remaining from the accident in 2000.  I feel the best I’ve felt in 30 years!

I don’t think people realize how bad depression and anxiety can be.  I know I didn’t!  There is no thinking your way out of deep depression.  Logic is irrelevant.  Hopelessness is a terrible thing!  I have decided that severe anxiety and depression are worse than chronic physical pain.  My physical pain is only 15 inches from my head, but at least I can get away from it mentally.  There is no escape from severe anxiety and depression!  It literally felt like a war happening in my head, a battle between physical me and mental me.  

I told my wife during a really bad depressive episode that I realized I was losing the mental battle and was no longer in control of my emotions.  I did not trust my actions and I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from self terminating during another bad episode.  Very scary experience!  I’ve been talking about it more lately, I’ve been surprised by how many people are struggling.  I wish more people felt comfortable talking about depression and anxiety!  

There were times I asked my wife to hug me and tell me “everything is going to be okay.”  Whether she believed it or not, it helped me to hear her say it!  It helped me to know new options were being developed.  It helped me to know it was okay to focus on surviving the day and to not worry about tomorrow.  Hope is a powerful tool!  Spreading hope is my mission now.

2 Comments

  • Angela Gray

    God finds us, in the dirt and muck (Psalm 40:2). He washes us with Living Water, that which can only be found through Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:26). Then we must be refined further by testing (James 1:2-4), which, in this world feels sometimes like being crushed and bruised. Breaking free from fleshy desires is a rough process, it hurts, it wounds, it feels a bit like being crushed. But this time is when we are being broken down until we are ready to be molded into his image.
    Then comes the tough part. We are put inside the fire (1 Peter 1:7). Sometimes this process can take a long, long time. Honestly, I think that this process lasts for the rest of our lives—although there are times the fire seems a little hotter than others.

    You have been refined ! God has very special plans for you my friend. You and Jen ! I’m so grateful for your love and dedication towards the chronic pain community. And I’m excited to see what God has planned for you.

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