wellness — By ted phaeton
Sometimes we don’t realize our boat is sinking until the water is too high to scoop out.
That was my experience at the age of 23 when an Ulcerative Colitis flare-up landed me in the hospital for almost 15 days. About a year prior to that I was diagnosed with UC, which is an autoimmune disease where the large intestine gets inflamed and doesn’t breakdown food like it’s supposed to.
I let a string of bad habits spiral out of control while I struggled to adjust and embrace my current situation. I was fresh out of college, working a job I hated, feeling stuck at home with my parents, and seeing no real direction for the life I was living.
Did I talk to anyone about it? Of course not.
Instead, I chose to bottle up my emotions while popping bottles at the club on the weekend. Imagine the shock to my friends when the “life of the party” went out of commission.
There I was, laying in my hospital bed on a late December afternoon with a lone Christmas ornament hanging from my IV pole, morphine slowly dripping from the tube to ease my pain.
How did it come to this?
Up until then, I was the victim. Most of my problems were because of circumstances beyond my control and others not giving me the shot I thought I deserved. I blamed the 2008 market crash. I blamed my parents. I even blamed being black for the things I was too afraid to take responsibility for myself.
The rude awakening came when the doctor asked about my stress levels and eating habits. I knew I was stressed at work and even more so outside of work while looking for other jobs. I knew, despite my parents cooking a hearty and nutritious meal each night, I chose to pick up fast food multiple times a week and eat in my room alone.
This time there was no getting around it. I was the reason for ending up in the hospital, period.
The dots always seem to connect in hindsight. Looking back now, those two weeks of daily blood tests, CAT scans, and days struggling to keep food down was the wake-up call I needed. That’s the moment I decided to change my outlook and focus on positivity and growth. I vowed to never end up back there again if I could help it.
One year after getting discharged from the hospital I accepted my dream job as a Broadcast Meteorologist in Saginaw, Michigan. I was at a thrift store looking for some random trinkets to display around my new apartment when I came across a small wooden plaque that would stay with me to this day.
It simply read: "No Rain…No Rainbows."
You see, boats don’t sink because of the water that’s around them. They sink because of the water that gets in them. We all experience hard times in life. However, it’s how we handle them and the community we have around us that determines the outcome of those troubling times.
I remember the first time I said the words “I’m not okay.” It was as if the 40-pound vest I’ve been carrying around with me every day was finally lifted off my shoulders. If you’re reading this, I hope you can leave that weight behind also.
After leaving the hospital I started to have different conversations with my friends. We wouldn’t just discuss the score of the game last night. We’d go deeper and ask about challenges and check on each other’s stress levels.
Fast-forward seven years and my friendships are stronger and more valuable than ever before. My willingness to be vulnerable and share my struggles have helped me build a tribe of men ready to help me take on the world.
I used to think being strong was about keeping your guard up and having thick armor. Then I realized that a suit of armor with no dents has never been to battle. It’s our vulnerabilities that make us strong.
Remember how proud we used to be to show off our scars?
Playing football in high school we used to wear our jerseys to class every Friday before game day. The players who had the most scuffs and scratches on their jerseys were always seen as the toughest.
Somewhere along the way, we decided it would be better to hide our battles and display an image that everything was okay. Unfortunately, the truth is sometimes it’s not.
It’s amazing the relationships and support I’ve been able to find from others once I started talking more about the problems I faced on a daily basis. I was shocked to learn just how many other men were experiencing the exact same issues if not worse. Many were quick to offer advice and tips if it was a problem they’ve already encountered in their lives.
That is when another switch happened. I realized that our problems are not our own. We don’t have to tackle them ourselves.
Knowing this has proven priceless as life continues to throw bigger challenges my way. The problems I face today are certainly bigger than they were almost a decade ago when my only bill was for a cell phone.
I haven’t landed back in the hospital since those days either and that’s mainly due to the people around me that continue to blow wind into my sails. Even if my boat comes across troubled waters, I know we’ll be able to weather the storm together and reach the rainbows waiting for us on the other side.
I hope you have the courage to reach out and share some of the things you’re going through with someone around you. I did and I’m thankful every day for being able to do so.
If you find opening up to a friend, parent, or healthcare professional is just too hard, a stranger may be the perfect ear to listen. I’m happy to be that stranger if you need.
At the end of the day, it’s all about community and helping each other through this. None of us have all the answers but we do have is each other. You’re not alone.