If you've read my story, you got a taste. At the request of fans and followers, you're going to get it all in a series of blog posts. From beginning to end, all the nitty gritty, sometimes not-so-pretty details. This is me, this is real, this is how Mount Inspiration was born.
First off, I think this quote is an entirely appropriate preface to this post:
“The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself...That is the moment, you might be starting to get it right.” - Neil Gaiman
College and Depression
A lot of people get depressed in college. It's your first time away from the safety of the nest, with more free time and more commitment than you've ever had in your life. It's the first time you're able to choose a beer over class. It's the first time you have, largely, complete and total freedom over your own life. For some, that's a lot to handle.
I went off the tracks. After a stellar freshman year with a 3.96 GPA and entering college with 22 AP credits (making my freshman year effectively my sophomore year), I decided it was time to let loose a little. Scratch that, a lot.
My first observation of my first college summer was, "Wow, this is almost twice as long as high school summer. More time to party!" I was lifeguarding by day, making enough money to cover my Natural Light-ridden-nights, and my parents were covering my rent. There were days where I didn't eat, I just drank.
It started slow at first, drinking two or three nights a week. A couple weeks later it was four nights. Then five. Then seven. One night, about two months into the three and a half month college summer, I tried not drinking for a night. My hands began shaking so bad that I had a beer. Then I had ten more.
I wasn't depressed at this point. I spent my days working on my tan and doing pull-ups by the pool. I was also training for triathlons, and winning them. I was trying to be Superman, I guess. I was having a ton of fun at night, making new friends, meeting girls, singing karaoke at dive bars -- as far as I was concerned, I was having the typical college experience.
Then school started again in the fall, and by necessity, I partied less. Sill more than I should have, but I cut back to four (or so) nights a week. That left enough room for anxiety to creep in. That's right, I have diagnosed anxiety and OCD. It's not so bad, with the right amount of exercise, meditation, and proper diet, I live a downright fantastic life. Not the case in college.
Without my crutch (alcohol), I had time to think. My overly busy brain decided to worry about everything under the sun: grades, health, girls, money, you name it. I worried so much that I became overwhelmed and sad. This sadness ate me alive on the inside. What had happened to the super-fun party guy from just a few months prior? Why was I feeling this way? What could I do to escape?
I tried medication. I tried meditation. I had basically stopped exercising and was eating a lot of my worry, having gained about 20 pounds through the semester. I couldn't bear to even look at myself in the mirror. I was utterly dissatisfied with the seeming pointlessness of college, of my relationships, of the life I was living. I knew if something didn't change I might not make it out alive.
A Man, A Plan, A Plane, California
That Christmas break I was flying to New York City to see my dad and stepmom. Just before I left my best friend at the time, Adam, had told me I needed to see this new movie called Into the Wild. I happily obliged.
I sat on the plane thinking about my life's next move. I was hating college, having made the worst grades in my academic career during the depression-semester. I was pretty sure what I needed was a major shift. Something drastic. I would later find out that this "all or nothing" mentality, which still drives much of my thinking today, is entirely characteristic of those with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
I was staring out the plane window when the Ray Lamontagne song "Empty" came on. I definitely felt empty. Maybe I could relate. I decide to pay careful attention to the lyrics.
"I never learned to count my blessings,
I choose instead to dwell in my disasters...
I walk on down the hill,
Through grass grown tall
And brown and still
It's hard somehow,
To let go of my pain
Will I always feel this way?
So empty... So estranged?
Well I looked my demons in the eyes
Lay bare my chest
Said do your best
To destroy me
See I've been to hell and back
So many times
I must admit
You kinda bore me
There's a lot of things
That can kill a man
There's a lot of ways
Yes, and some already did
And walk beside me
There's a lot of things
I don't understand
Why so many people lie
It's the hurt I hide that fuels
The fire inside me
Will I always feel this way
I burst out in tears and knew that I wasn't the only person who had ever felt sad, alone, desperate, hopeless. And it hit me: I will leave. I will go make a new life somewhere I've never been. I will become the person I know I am: a loving, happy, strong, humble, humorous, wonderful person.
I didn't tell my parents when I got to New York. But I did make them watch Into the Wild with me that night. I called my best friend after my parents went to sleep and said, "Hey man, remember how we used to always get drunk and joke about just dropping everything and leaving for California? Yeah? Well, I think we should go."
Adam informed me he had actually done so bad in school that semester that he was supposed to move home, and he would love any excuse he could find not to. I had a compadre.
Upon returning to Florida I drove immediately to Adam's apartment, picked him up, and we spent a few hours fashioning a bed out of old couch pillows in the back of my 1997 Ford Explorer, and loaded up every one of my personal possessions that would fit, along with my dog at the time, Keyster. We had enough baked beans and whiskey for any band of Westward pilgrims to acknowledge as superfluous.
We didn't tell anyone. No friends, no parents, no neighbors for fear that someone would try and stop us. I now know, many years later, that this was an incredibly immature and selfish thing to do. My parents were not pleased to find out that I had simply dropped life and dropped out of college and it put them through a lot of turmoil. If I could do it differently, I would. But I did what I did and I must accept that.
Adam and I got on I-10 West around 4 p.m. on December 31, 2008. We made it to New Orleans that night and had ourselves one heck of a New Year's Celebration. I had $1000 in my bank account and a new life, just like that. We were free to explore, decide where we'd go next, lay on top of my car and watch the stars in the desert until five in the morning. I was invigorated, reborn. I watched my depression disappear practically overnight. I was alive.
Stay tuned for Part Two: Camp Surf, next week.
Adam and I somewhere along our journey
Adam (far left), Keyster and I (second from right) with some world travelers we met in Los Angeles
Our very awesome new British friend, Andy
Two very tired men after a few days in Las Vegas
A hike in Southern California about an hour east of San Diego (I don't remember where)
Visiting "Salvation Mountain," a landmark from the movie Into the Wild
Whiskey. Beans. Rice.
Playing on some rocks at Joshua Tree National Park.
Yosemite in the Winter.
More Yosemite in the Winter.
Adam joking around in the Yosemite gift shop.
Keyster hanging out at Aunt Laura's house in Stockton, CA.