I have kept a personal journal for the past 45 years. This means that I have logged an entry in my journal every day for the past 16,533 days (including leap years) to date. However, there was a four-day period in July 2009 when I did not log an entry; those were my dark days. I have shared about this struggle on a few occasions when I have tried to encourage people who were experiencing emotional or mental turmoil in their lives, but for the most part I have tried to distance myself from those days. This is not something I necessarily want to share with someone who I am trying to build a relationship with.
Some people make it their life’s work after they come out of a crisis to help others caught in the same crisis. A great example of this is Chuck Colson of Watergate fame, who spent seven months in prison for his crimes. After his release, he dedicated the remaining 38 years of his life to performing prisoner rehabilitation, helping families of prisoners, and reforming prison conditions throughout the world. Not me though, I wanted no part of something that was not a problem for me before this crisis, nor has it been a problem since.
However, the time has come for me to complete the missing four days in my journal. What occurred over the 12 months leading up to those four days was a downward spiral into depression, anxiety and delusional thinking. These are the primary factors that contributed to my downward spiral:
Factor 1: We were still living in Phoenix at the beginning of 2008. My wife was going through a stressful time then; I was doing fine (so I thought). Since my racing days were behind me, I started 2008 with a 21-day liquid and supplement fast. This fast went very well and helped prepare me for the major geographical change that was to occur later that year. However, I took fasting way too far and practiced it much too frequently during a 12-month period. This malpractice introduced a physiological and psychological imbalance and vulnerability in my life.
Factor 2: When we moved to Phoenix in 2003, I was fortunate enough to pay cash for our new house. This was the first new house we ever built, and I sunk the lion’s share of my non-retirement assets into it. As 2008 rolled around, the housing crisis hit big time, especially in Phoenix. I had been very responsible managing my finances, and greedy lenders and irresponsible buyers put me in a very vulnerable position. I could not walk away from my house as others did as it was sinking in value; I had to bear the loss. We left Phoenix in November, and I was still the owner of an asset I desperately wanted to unload.
Factor 3: I went through an identity crisis during 2008, and I was not sure what I wanted to do next with my life. I withdrew from some of the relationships I had built in Phoenix, and I took trips to Colorado Springs, Kansas City and Raleigh as well as mental trips to other places envisioning where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do next. Ultimately, we decided to return to Minnesota, in November no less, after five years of winter-free living. I was totally out of sync when we moved back to Minnesota, and I harassed my dear wife continually by telling her we needed to go back to Phoenix. After all, we still owned a house there.
There were other things going on such as work pressures, but these three were the major factors that contributed to a perfect storm that eventually landed me in hospital for four days in July 2009. There is no written record of what I was going through at the time; I didn’t want there to be one.
The value of being in the hospital was that they put me on meds which got me back to a functional state. I quickly got off a couple of the meds, and I was weaned off the others over the next few years. There was a measure of restoration at first in 2009 that increased over time, but it probably took two full years before I really felt whole again. During the last eight years though, I have felt more emotionally and mentally whole than I have ever felt in my entire life. God heals.
Noted recording artist and author Sheila Walsh writes in her book “Loved Back to Life: How I Found the Courage to Live Free” how she walked away from co-hosting a television show and checked herself into a mental hospital for a month. She writes, “Lord, please hold me. I’m falling into a dark well. I feel as if I am disappearing a little more every day. I am so angry inside that I am afraid of myself. I feel so alone.” Loved Back to Life takes readers on the journey of the soul with Sheila from hopelessness to joy as she finds that although the road was scary, at every turn God beckoned her to trust and did not let her down. Amen to that.
However, there is more to my story, and there are some very valuable lessons that I learned through this very painful experience. First the money issue: There was not much I could do to avoid the tornado that hit us during the housing crisis. We held on to the house, found great renters, the market improved slightly in 2012, and we sold the house for a $24K loss. Factor in the $3K capital loss I get to declare on my taxes for eight years, and our loss is closer to $16K. No big deal – it is only money.
There was a far more important lesson learned through this experience. I mentioned something in the narrative that could easily be overlooked, so let me repeat one statement, “I withdrew from some of the relationships I had built in Phoenix.” This was the breakdown. There are people God put’s in your life to watch your back and keep you from making foolish mistakes. If you are married, your spouse is normally your first line of defense. In this situation, it was my pastor. It was not a physical withdrawal, as we were (and still are) friends, neighbors, and co-workers. We usually saw each other 2-3 times a week. However, I withdrew from his counsel and did not regard his valuable input into my life. He was my early warning detection system and tried to get me to see that I was veering off course. Had I listened to him; I might have avoided the ensuing train wreck.
Who knows, maybe this crash was unavoidable. Perhaps the lessons I learned through it have kept me from making more serious mistakes. So here is a poem I wrote to sum up this chapter in my life:
One year of folly
Two years of pain
24,000 down the drain
For all of the wisdom and knowledge I’ve gained
I’d pay the same price again.
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