My life both ended and began on August 13th, 2011.
I was 19 years old.
It was 10 pm.
On a warm summer night in Connecticut.
I had organized a party while my parents were out of town.
All my high school friends were there.
Midway through the night, we went to my back porch.
There were 8 of us.
I was already pretty drunk.
One of us had a joint.
He lit it.
It was far from being my first time.
I’d spent the past year in college smoking and drinking on a regular basis.
In fact, I’d spent the last 5 years of my life in party mode.
I had little to no regard for school or self-improvement.
So, naturally, I smoked it.
After a few strong puffs, I stopped.
The effect was instant.
My eyes shot to the back of my head.
My head started spinning.
Noises around me suddenly felt distant.
Convinced I was having a heart attack, I abruptly got up.
I stumbled upstairs to my room.
Slammed the door shut.
Curled up in bed.
Closed my eyes.
I was convinced that my heart would stop.
That I’d never wake up.
But the next morning, I did.
I instantly knew something was off.
Everything around me had changed.
Nothing felt real.
I’d lost any sense of who or what I was.
I stared down at my hands, but they didn’t feel like they belonged to me.
I was sure I had gone insane.
Groggy, I got up to go to the bathroom.
I stepped in front of the mirror.
And couldn’t recognize the face I saw staring back at me.
This was just the beginning.
Things got worse from there.
I was diagnosed with depersonalization.
An acute form of anxiety.
To put it simply, depersonalization is a constant feeling of being detached from your body and thoughts.
Dealing with it became a 24/7 job.
I couldn’t socialize.
I couldn’t look into people’s eyes.
I couldn’t focus.
I felt numb and emotionless.
I forgot how to laugh and how to cry.
The struggle only intensified a few weeks later when I was on vacation with my family.
One morning I woke up to my mom crying downstairs.
She explained that my uncle, living a few blocks away, was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.
No one saw it coming.
Not his wife who’d been with him the day before.
Not any of us who’d had lunch with him a few days earlier.
He seemed happy.
He seemed normal.
And suddenly I became even more scared.
I felt I was headed towards that same fate.
Desperate, I decided to see a therapist.
It didn’t do much.
He’d talk to me about his own anxiety.
And that just made me more anxious.
But it taught me that if I wanted to get better, it’d be up to me.
I had to start taking responsibility for myself.
So, I stopped drinking and smoking.
I started to work out daily.
I began meditating.
But more importantly, I started to attack what I was afraid of.
I introduced myself to strangers.
I asked out a girl I really liked, and she became my girlfriend.
I joined new clubs and groups at school.
I launched websites for ideas I’d been holding onto forever.
I learned to accept that fear would always be there.
But that it was irrational.
That I could still go through with what I wanted deep down, despite the discomfort.
So, in a weird way, I’m so thankful for what happened that night.
I’m thankful for the years of turmoil inside my head.
It’s why I’m here today.
The pain, the discomfort, the struggle.
That was life letting me know it was time for a change.
It was time to grow.
The storm will always come.
In one form or another.
And we have two choices.
Give up and drown or hold on tight and get through it.
And if we decide to go through it.
If we latch ourselves to the mast.
The seas will eventually calm down.
The sun will rise again.
And we’ll feel wounded, yet stronger.
Afraid, but more courageous.
Ready to set sail again.
For new exciting horizons.