2020 year in review: The start of getting free

2020 has been a rollercoaster for me since January 1. Full of ups and downs.

Ultimately, it has resulted in the start of me getting free.

January 1 – Spent in the hospital for a panic attack

On New Year’s Eve, I had a panic attack. My fiancee at the time and now wife Kristin came home and helped get me to a manageable place. We went to a friend’s house for a NYE party, then came home and went to bed. When I woke up, my panic attack resumed.

I asked her to take me to the hospital, so off we went at 6am on New Year’s Day.

I could not stop shaking. My head had finally stopped spinning, but I was non-stop shaking uncontrollably. They gave me some minor drug in the ER which did pretty much nothing to calm me down. I wanted them to knock me out with Dilaudid or something stronger as they used to do when I had bad kidney stones.

Unfortunately for me, I was talking to them completely rationally and was obviously completely with it and competent, so they had no reason to pin me down and pump me full of drugs like I desperately wanted them to.

They sent me to the psychiatric unit, where they told me to follow up with my therapist and that I was doing everything right in taking care of myself and that I would be fine.

I hated them for that. I wanted them to take control of me and fix me, dang it!

By the time we got home, I was no longer shaking and I had come down from my attack.

That’s what PTSD looks like!

At this point, I had gotten laid off from my job a few months before, and I was working a temporary contract that was set to expire at the end of January. I had also just gotten engaged, and I gave notice to terminate my lease.

I had no idea what my job situation or living situation would look like at that time, AND I had just promised a friend of mine that I would build him a new website for his business for free. Building websites triggers my perfectionism, which triggers my trauma.

Yup, I had all the ingredients for my PTSD to come roaring in!

I decided to take the next two days off from work to recover from that episode. The second day, I did decide to keep to one commitment: an in-person job interview for a long-term, open-ended contractor position working as a web developer for the Delaware Department of State. I went in for a 1.5 hour in-person interview with the team and really had a blast talking to them.

An hour later, my tech recruiter called me and told me that they wanted to make me an offer.

Off to a new work adventure!

I finished out my contract working as a web developer for a marketing agency who works with pharmaceutical companies that treat rare diseases. At the beginning of February, I started my new job. I trained in their Dover office and started working out of their Wilmington office.

I was going to be building websites for Delaware state government agencies and municipalities. The pharma marketing contract was my first web developer job where I worked on a team with other developers. This new job is the same thing! I get to work with designers and other developers to build websites that help Delaware residents find critical information, such as how to file unemployment claims, obtain a small business loan, etc.

Yup, I was just going to be building websites for Delaware government agencies. That’s all. That’s what they told me.

And then…….

Wait, there’s a pandemic brewing, and it’s making its way towards the United States?

The Delaware health department, emergency management department, and the governor’s office convened a team that was going to have to make decisions on what to do with the approaching coronavirus, and quick.

They needed a website. We were able to successfully pitch building a separate website on WordPress so that multiple people could easily update it whenever they needed to.

I did the initial layout design. My colleagues built out the rest of it. I would’ve had a hand in it, but I had a pre-scheduled very important trip to take.

The start of my life with my love

Kristin and I moved in together at the end of February. We had about two weeks to settle in before we took a trip down to New Orleans where she had major preventive surgery. Thankfully her parents joined us as well. Care-giving is hard, and I’m always thankful for help.

I worked remotely when I could, but my attention was primarily on Kristin’s recovery.

We stayed at the Hope Lodge, which is free lodging provided by the American Cancer Society. This was preventive surgery, so Kristin never had cancer, but we were staying with active chemo patients. During the first three weeks of March when the pandemic had first come to our shores (at least that’s when we identified it).

We went about our days not really knowing if we were doing a good enough job to prevent the spread of disease. Kristin’s parents couldn’t even enter due to pandemic-restrictions that had just been put into effect. Hope Lodge eventually had to close up shop after we left, which is incredibly unfortunate for those who really need a place to stay that isn’t a hospital and feels more like home.

We got back home the end of the third week of March, just as the country started locking down. This was the official start of our life together!

Having a very hard time at the start of the pandemic

I was now the lead developer of Delaware’s coronavirus website, and that’s what I was spending most of my time on (I still am!). We saw the toilet paper runs. We saw the death ticker rapidly increasing. We saw the reporting that said that this thing was a killer.

We saw worry that the hospitals would fill up and that we wouldn’t have enough ventilators and would have to ration care.

This scared the bejeezus out of me. I was afraid to go outside. The first few walks that I took, my PTSD almost made me fall over right in the middle of the street. It took every ounce of strength I had just to get through an outdoor walk.

Then I started riding my bike, and I would wipe it down with Clorox wipes after every ride.

I was afraid the air was filled with viruses flying through it and that they were going to get me.

My inflammation went up, and so I constantly had allergies, including crap in my throat and lungs. I thought I had COVID most of the time and was taking my temperature with the new infrared thermometer we just bought.

I was doing this at the same time that I was hosting a seven-day meditation challenge for friends to help them manage their stress!

Then a teacher came along to help me make sense of this

I really knew nothing about viruses or pandemics or anything. Then along came Shawn Stevenson, who I’ve trusted for the last five years for advice on health and wellness. He helped me start my journey in 2015 and has an incredibly approachable way of presenting scientific information about the human body and our best understanding of how it works.

I listened to his podcast episodes, including about how viruses work, how we have evolved over time with viruses, and how our immune system works. I learned that about 8% of the human genome is made up of viruses. We have trillions of viruses on us at all times.

Viruses have supported our evolution over time.

Viruses don’t want to kill us. They want to find hosts and reproduce.

So what is it about us that can make viruses harmful? Our immune systems.

I learned about innate immunity and adaptive immunity. Innate immunity means that you’ve had that type of virus before. Adaptive immunity means that your immune system can quickly figure out how to fend off a foreign invader.

There are four main pillars that support a healthy immune system: nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress.

Through these lessons, I learned why the United States has gotten hit so hard with the coronavirus. Only 12% of our people are metabolically healthy. We are riddled with chronic diseases.

We have mass consumption of processed food, lack of movement sitting at desk jobs all day and on the couch after work, insane amounts of stress through overwork and trying to be productive all the time, and who the hell can sleep with all these other factors at play???

I learned about under-active immune systems, which leave us susceptible to viral infections. I also learned about over-active immune systems, including increased inflammation which causes cytokine storms that resulted in people’s immune systems attacking their own lungs due to this virus.

So, once I learned all of this information, and that over 90% of deaths from COVID-19 had other underlying factors, I decided to move past the fear narrative and take control of my life back. I cleaned up my diet, lost 15 pounds in the process, and was better able to manage my stress knowing that there weren’t viruses flying through the air and chasing me.

I am all for extra protection for the most vulnerable among us, and for those of us who aren’t, we should use common sense and established science to make the best choices for ourselves while showing common courtesy to others and respecting boundaries.

I married the love of my life

Kristin and I had to adjust our wedding plans. We kept the date of September 13 and had a much shortened guest list of just over 20 people. Everything was done outdoors, and cases were relatively flat at the time. We got tested before and after the wedding, and we were negative both times.

It was wonderful marrying the love of my life, and it was wonderful having people I love there. The sense of normalcy and community was much, much needed. For everyone else, we offered a Zoom link. We hope to have the big wedding October of next year, as long as it’s safe to come out to play.

Having a stable base with a loving partner is amazing. Living life with her is a pleasure!

New athletic adventures and adjustments

At the end of 2019, an old running injury of mine came back with a vengeance. I went to the Rothman Institute to get looked at. Had an MRI done, and I had a labral tear and a cam impingement in my hip. I don’t know what half of this stuff means, but I had serious inflammation in my groin and right hip problems.

I did physical therapy, and it helped my hip problems heal up quite a bit and got me stronger. My groin inflammation has gone down significantly.

Before I got back to running, I took up biking for cardio. I bought a road bike over the summer and really enjoyed using it to become an endurance athlete again.

I am easing back into running now and love being able to run without pain. As much as I love biking, there’s nothing quite like running for me!

I feel incredibly good at age 40. Better than I felt in my 20’s and the first half of my 30’s!

Professionally, I am thriving

I love my team at work. They have given me the perfect supportive environment, where many times before I worked in a dysfunctional culture and lacked the support that I needed to thrive. I have broken the spell and love the work that I do, and I finally feel safe doing so.

I did my first custom professional website build on my own this year, with the help of our lead designer and other people on the team to help me solve problems as they came up.

As I said before, I am the lead developer for Delaware’s coronavirus information website. We are currently doing an all-hands-on-deck redesign and development of it to make it more effective for our website visitors, and I am the lead front-end developer for that effort.

I’ve wanted to break into the tech industry as a developer for a LONG time, and I have finally punched my ticket in. I don’t feel like I’m faking it anymore. I found two companies who were willing to take a chance on me after I got laid off. My background and experienced proved to be good enough to take on the challenge, and now I am flying.

Healing from trauma and getting free

Two years ago, I had a hunch that I had been traumatized. I started to explore that with the help of a trauma therapist, and holy hell, it has been an adventure. Part of it comes with times like the panic attack that sent me to the hospital. It comes with its ups and downs.

With some of the trauma, I know what happened. With other parts of it, I don’t. I’ve learned that you don’t have to know everything in order to know that something happened.

Trauma is stored in your body. If unaddressed for long enough, it can manifest as physical symptoms. I started producing kidney stones at age 30. They told me that I was a kidney stone producer and that I shouldn’t have too much salt or leafy greens.

It turns out that when my trauma is triggered, my kidneys produce stones.

Your body is incredibly intelligent. When you have symptoms such as GI issues, anxiety, you name it…..your body is trying to tell you something. Our conventional medicine system has been all about symptom management, so you wind up taking medication to suppress your body’s mechanism of telling you that something is wrong, and you never wind up finding out that something is wrong.

We all come with trauma in some form or fashion, some place on the very wide spectrum. If it isn’t technically trauma, then it is wounding. However, trauma is much, much more prevalent than we think. And it doesn’t always look like horrific accidents or veterans who have fought in wars.

When we are born, we are a unique being with a unique way of responding to the world, and we have unique needs. We depend on flawed people called parents to meet these needs, and their ability to meet our needs depends on whether or not their needs were met by their parents.

I have trauma from when I was incredibly young, and it affected my development and how I saw the world. I’ve always thought there was something wrong with me, carried massive amounts of shame, unconsciously thought that there was a serious risk of people hurting me, and thought that I had to be perfect in order to succeed and not die.

Trauma that we carry with us from childhood affects our ability as adults for rational thinking and emotional regulation. When your body is in survival mode, it shuts off your ability to do that. So, I hope that I can contribute to normalizing doing trauma work as an adult so that you can take back your ability to live life more fully and more securely connect with those around you.

The more I’ve healed my own trauma, through work with my therapist as well as in safe relationships with my wife, friends, and colleagues at work, the more I’ve seen the cycle of trauma play out, especially with the reckoning with systemic racism that we’ve had in America. The enslavement of Africans was a traumatic reaction. The trauma has continued unabated since this country’s founding and has its tentacles in every single one of our systems.

Our punitive system of justice, including a huge imprisoned population and the use of solitary confinement? Trauma.

An economic system that tells you you’re on your own and you have to be productive and able-bodied to survive, and social services for those who need it most are underfunded? Trauma.

White supremacy? Trauma.

Traumatic cycles simply continuing unabated. Our inability to care for each other, empower each other, and uplift each other on a collective level is the most glaring example of shared trauma. We are more divided than we have been in a long time.

And let’s not forget, climate change is still a thing, and the clock is ticking.

Our inability to heal our trauma will be the death of us. We are left divided against each other, and we are the sickest nation on earth, and our sickness and prevalence of chronic diseases have been entirely self-inflicted.

Trauma is a beast, though. It hijacks all of your systems and does whatever it can to protect you so that you survive. Even if that means you wind up doing harm to yourself and others.

We are at a point where we have to evolve. We have to heal and come back together as a collective, because we need each other to survive. We need to remake ourselves and our world to step up to the challenges ahead, or else we won’t make it.

I’m doing my part by being a cycle breaker. I’m breaking the cycle of trauma in my own life. I hope to lead by example and make decisions that will facilitate my own healing, make sure that my own needs are met, and help others in the process.

But making sure that my own needs are met is number one. At work. At home. Experiencing joy in solitude and in community. Giving my body, mind, and soul what it needs to thrive.

That is my number one priority in 2021. Giving myself everything I need and continuing to get free. I deserve it. Because I exist. I don’t have to earn the ability to give myself what I need. I deserve it simply because I exist. You do too. And I’m glad you’re here!

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