The Poor Boy

This week I will discuss two of personal demons of mine, shame and anger. The reason for this topic will become more transparent as we go, so hold on for a very interesting conversation.

Growing up very poor and often ashamed of my financial situation, I often found myself encumbered with jealousy. I was so jealous of others who seemed to have everything come so damn easily to them. To the point I hated them for it. I am referring to individuals that were friends and family members. Because of these negative feelings, I chose to avoid and hide from them. Just so I can spare my own personal feelings.

 

“Because of these negative feelings, I chose to avoid and hide from them. Just so I can spare my own personal feelings.”

 

I chose to hide at my jobs, yes, “jobs” is plural. I often worked one full-time and several part-time jobs at the same time. All I did was go to school then leave early around 2 p.m. to work on the Work Release program for needy students. After, I go straight to my first job and work until midnight. Then I would sleep until 5 a.m. and deliver the local newspaper for my paper route, which consisted of 365 houses. If I was lucky when it snowed. If it snowed, I would get up even earlier and go shovel snow for some neighbors who I had financial agreements with. This consisted of three driveways, three sidewalks and the walkways to their front doors.

Every payday I would deposit my paychecks and withdraw enough money to give to my mother so she could eat and stay warm. Then I would give my grandparents some for my living expenses. With the money I had left, I would buy my school clothes and my lunch ticket for school. During my summer vacation, I would add working in the cornfields in place of my school hours. While I still went to my full-time job and delivered my newspapers.

Prior to working at the age 12, I didn’t have many friends at school. I was often made fun of because I was poor and was labeled as the stinky kid, who was often called pig-pen (Thanks a lot Charles M. Schultz!). Once in elementary school, I was caught eating out of the school cafeteria trash can. Well, I didn’t have lunch money and the kids were throwing away perfectly good food and I was really hungry. I didn’t think anyone would see me do it. I thought that no one would mind, because it was getting thrown out anyway. But man, was I freaking wrong. My teacher and principal singled me out in front of the school and tried to make me feel ashamed of myself. Well, it worked! And boy, the name calling got much worse after that! I have never felt more ashamed at school.

 

“I was often made fun of because I was poor and was labeled as the stinky kid, who was often called pig-pen (Thanks a lot Charles M. Schultz!).”

I wore hand me down clothes that were stained, torn, and lacked proper fit and out of style. My shoes were tight and spotted with many holes and the tread was worn out. This definitely didn’t help me run faster or keep my feet dry or warm. I often felt sick to my stomach every day I went to school. I was always nervous around other people and would sweat profusely, which caused terrible headaches. I couldn’t share my feelings with anyone and it continued to drive me deeper into my dark place.

All of my early childhood experiences made me feel constantly inferior to the other children. I couldn’t explain why my life was so hard in comparison to my classmates. They had their parents, food to eat, a good home, nice warm clothes, cool sneakers and warm boots in the winter. Not to mention that they had many extras and here I was struggling to obtain the basic necessities. I would often lie about stuff that I had to my teachers and classmates, especially during Christmas and birthdays. This was simply an attempt to hide my terrible shame and to shield myself from embarrassment.

 

“All of my early childhood experiences made me feel constantly inferior to the other children.”

All of my shame made me want more for myself. It drove me to work hard. I was determined to show everyone that I was going to have everything and that they would be jealous of me. Most of all, I would show them that I actually belonged. So, at the age of 12, I worked hard and I would work even when physically sick. I pushed myself even harder when I was tired. I always had a constant feeling that someone was watching me. To avoid any criticism, I would work harder. I always felt like people were laughing and making fun of me and that pushed me even more.

During the summer was the only time that I made enough money to the point where I could save it. This routine of mine began at the age 12 and ended when I joined the Marine Corps at the age of 20. Yes, I even worked like this during my one year at the University of Nebraska. I was trying to walk-on the Cornhuskers’ football team as a running back and / or defensive end. This was a short-lived dream that was cut short due to me snapping my left ankle, resulting in me getting kicked off the tryout squad. Six months later, I was attending Marine Corps boot camp at MCRD San Diego.
While I was growing up, I wanted to be stinking rich and powerful. I was so fixated on this that I often would catch myself day dreaming about all the shit that I was going to buy. I was so full of false pride and so naive that I couldn’t appreciate what was really important in life. This was the dragon that I was chasing during the majority of my younger years. What a waste! I was weak and uneducated. I wasn’t loved nor did I love anyone, not even myself. I failed to recognize that the wealthiest people in the world aren’t those with monetary power, but those who are rich in family and love.

 

“I failed to recognize that the wealthiest people in the world aren’t those with monetary power, but those who are rich in family and love.”

That is, until God brought my best friend into my life and I now have someone to love and to be loved by. Now, I finally figured it all out. I was always the wealthiest man on earth. Thank you for the lesson, my lord, thank you for everything.

Until next time my friends.

 

The Past

This week I will try and discuss my depression and how I have chosen to treat it. ALS is my life, but it does not get to control my cognitive well-being, unless I allow it to. Let me explain. Depression has been deflating me for most of my 45 years on this earth, long before my ALS diagnosis in 2010. It probably began around four or five years of age. No I don’t remember everything, but I remember the shocking occurrences of my youth.

My birth mother and biological father would be classified as “unfit” by today’s standards. This part of my family history has many facets and intertwining tragedies for both of my parents. This would, of course, be passed down through genetic materials, known simply as DNA. Now add environmental conditioning, systematic physical and mental abuse, throw in neglect, starvation, filthy living conditions and so much more just for good measure and Walla! My home.

At the age of four, I had open heart surgery that saved my life in more ways than one. During my month-long stay in the hospital, the nursing staff recognized the signs of abuse. My siblings and I would never return to our parents after this. I was already demonstrating severe signs of depression. I felt unloved and rejected by my parents. I would was saved by my grandparents. They raised me to be the man that I am today and I am so grateful for that.

Having been working a full-time job since age 12, I was just busy enough to hide from my depression, or so I thought. I began drinking when I was 14. I would pick up the habit from my adult coworkers and they seemed to have accepted me as one of the guys. Finally, I felt the “acceptance” that I was yearning for at a truck stop in Nebraska. I grew up hard but with the life lessons that I was learning, I was able to make it through my school age years in one piece.

Now that you have the foundation upon which I was raised, I shall continue. At age 20, I joined the Marine Corps and was hoping for a better life or a fresh start at least. I loved the Marine Corps and I loved being a member of the Few and the Proud. I now had the tools and the training to bury my depression deep. So deep that no one was aware that I was privately and slowly slipping into that very dark pit, that I know now is “depression”.

Being a Marine and given a license for destructive behavior, my life was going nowhere very quickly. Burning the candle at both ends since age 12, my mind and body couldn’t take much more.

My life would be saved for a third time and I knew it right away. The day that I met my wife, I knew that I had been saved once again. However, my love was not aware of the demon that I had buried deep inside of me.

Thirteen years of military life, a beautiful wife and three beautiful sons later, I was thrown a curve ball. During my annual routine military physical, the doctor found a large mass in the arch of my left foot. It would turn out to be a tumor that couldn’t be removed. This would prove to be the dagger that would kill my Marine Corps career. I was devastated and I once again felt depression creeping up on me.

Photo Courtesy of Gerald Gabernig.

Before I was to be medically discharged, I had several procedures done to slow down the tumor growth. These treatments made me physically weak. I was having trouble passing my physical fitness tests. But I ignored the symptoms because I was afraid to go to see the Doc, since I didn’t want to be forced out for medical reasons.
Which was bound to happen anyway. Marines are stubborn creatures and I refused to give up.

The Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va. Photo Courtesy of Adrian R. Rowan.

So the Marine Corps dumped my family in the desert. This would be our last duty station. Right into the asshole of the United States of America. It was the final kick in the balls, or so I had thought. The intense heat really took its toll on me physically. I never took off my pack. I kept going to work, school and to the weight room. Ignoring the symptoms. But ALS has a mind of its own and with it comes depression.

One of the last medical issues on the ALS train is depression and for me it’s the most illusive and dangerous trait. You see I already had severe depression and now I had ALS. What I had failed to realize, is that whatever I had been suffering from..so had my family. They were afraid to speak about it themselves. What have I created? I was a ticking time-bomb and if I went off then I would have taken everyone that I love with me. Well, you see I couldn’t have that happen. So I swallowed my pride and I got some help.

First, I had to admit that there was a problem. This still isn’t easy for me to do. Remember I am a Marine and we are super-human. Admitting that we need help means that I am weak and that is simply not in my vocabulary. Are you feeling me? Well the next advice really pissed me off. My doctor recommended that I take medication for my depression.
I wanted to take baby steps and agreed to therapy. Yes, a counselor or a psychologist. I wanted to save me from self-destruction and in turn, save my family.

By this time, I was carrying so much anger and resentment. Yes I was depressed, but I needed to break it all down in order to deal with all this negativity. Remember, I am taking baby steps here. There is no magical cure it will require continuous, hard work for the rest of my life. Which is good because I have so much time to think and that could be dangerous for me. I needed to collect tools for my personal toolbox so I can work through all of my thoughts, emotions and ideas. To constructively work through my depression.

As I was able to make positive changes with my cognitive well-being, I then was able to discover on my own that I was willing to add another tool. I did some research and consulted with all my doctors about taking an SSRI or depression medication. What I discovered is that along with therapy, the medication in small dosage, can make my progress more advanced. I think with more clarity and with better judgment. My thoughts and ideas now have logical and educational substance to back them. I don’t panic as often and I am able to make better decisions with purpose. I can actually sleep at night, stress free and wake-up each day prepared to take on new challenges.

Well, the purpose of this message was to share with you that I am currently in a good place. Yes, I am dying from ALS but I am choosing to die with my boots on. I will not go quietly, nor quickly. I choose to go out just like I came into this world. Kicking and screaming!

 

 

Until next time my friends.

Diagnosis : ALS

welcome_nebraska

Grand Island, Nebraska is where I grew up. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Hello. My name is Chris and I have ALS. I was thinking about starting a blog to help me put together thoughts about anything that might help you and I get through the day. This message may not reach you, but I will send it anyway. First, let me begin by saying hello and welcome to my blog. I was wondering if anyone would like to share any thoughts, suggestions, feelings or whatever. I would like to have a safe environment for us to share what ever we feel.

I was diagnosed with ALS in 2010. Needless to say that was the worst news that a doctor had ever told me. First, I wasn’t sure what ALS was so I asked. After he explained it to me, then I thought surely he was joking. I instantly was filled with anger and that has not changed for me… Having said that, I would like to try and explain the worst day of my life. I don’t know if this is even possible, but here goes. I was thirty-eight years old with a family. A beautiful wife and three wonderful sons.

We had a life filled with school, sports, hunting, fishing, a mortgage, car payments, credit card debt, and two full-time jobs. I was just finishing my MBA and interviewing for serious, life-changing jobs. We were making big plans for our future. I was was so excited about “finally” making all of my promises to my family come true. Thirteen years of military service and five years of college classes later, I was given a freaking death sentence. People often ask me what does ALS feel like? Well, physically it feels like getting kicked in the groin over and over again.

Psychologically, it feels like everything is getting or will become torn away from you. I will stop here for now. I get very tired typing with my eyes. So until next time.