We closed on our house, our dream home in March of 2020. The year of the Covid-19 Pandemic. I am sure many of you remember, but this was right at the beginning of it all. Toilet paper was a major commodity, as was Lysol. Things were becoming more and more tense throughout the world, and businesses were shutting down left and right. Our title company was no exception. We did the first ever “Road side closing” in the company’s history. My wife and I in our vehicle, as the buyers, and the couple who sold us the home in their car a few parking places down from us. Downtown Valpo was a ghost town. Most places were I am sure. The four of us, in two separate cars, joined by a conference call on our cells thumbed through paperwork signing on the dotted lines as we came across them. Our hard work was paying off. We were at the moment we had been waiting for for so long. I had been holding on mentally by threads for quite some time. Stressed to the max, spread incredibly thin, mental health in rapid decline, sustaining myself and my unhealed and overwhelmed mind with IPAs every chance I got. Today was supposed to be a day of great celebration and joy. And it was. But the fear had long since settled into my mind. And my fear based ruminating mind was here to stay.
It was hard enough before, on Kinsey street to keep my shit together. Now, we were going to be moving into a home that was going to cost quite a bit more monthly. Yes, it was indeed our dream home, and still is, but for a couple 30-somethings who, not long ago didn’t even have furniture to move into the first house, it was pretty overwhelming. For me at least. I had a hard time seeing the blessings and opportunities at this time, with the head space I was in. “Babe, everything is going to be fine. God didn’t bring us this far to only bring us this far.” She would tell me. “I know.” Sounds good. It was such a majorly overwhelming flood of mixed emotions.
We finished up the curb side closing and got the keys. Great, now we have to actually move everything into this house. Fuck. And let me tell you something, you want to know who your real friends are? Ask some people to help you move. Oh yeah, and we were in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic. Everyone was pretty much in the “We’re all gonna die” mindset at this point. And that alone provided every single person we asked to help with an excuse on why they couldn’t.
“Uh, gee, yeah, we would love to come help y’all move and all, but, ya know, Covid.” “Anyways, take care and stay safe during these uncertain times, congrats on the house!”
I swear if I never hear a commercial talking about “these uncertain times” again, it will be too soon. My God how I hated that phrase. Anyways, I guess you could say we were on our own. My wife and I, Jamie, and Connor. That was our man power. Oh, and I had never driven a U-haul before. So this should be fun. Somehow I was able to maneuver the 27 foot behemoth and get it backed into the Kinsey house. Let the moving commence. We busted our asses all day long. Box after box. Couch after bed after table. What once was an overgrown and non livable house, was now a home that we had cherished for years, and were now saying good bye to. We were leveling up. We were moving on to bigger and brighter things, during quite possibly the most dicey season in current world history. How fitting. New level, new devil. Or so they say. And they are almost always right.
Well I didn’t kill anybody driving the U-haul, so that was good. And we somehow managed to move the entire house in just two trips. My back was very happy when we sat the last of the second truck load into the garage. I couldn’t believe this, honestly. It was all so surreal, I was once a homeless strung out heroin addicted street person. And now we were moved into an absolutely beautiful subdivision home in valparaiso. I remember when I used to cut grass to get by, for 8$ an hour. I used to be so resentful and bitter when we would visit homes and neighborhoods like the one we just moved into. “These fucking perfect people with their great lives and wonderful jobs and childhoods. I fucking hate cutting grass for homes I’ll never be able to afford.” But I had hope, and something told me that if I just held on long enough that my day would come. And here it was. I was so happy and proud, and tired, and sore, and anxious, and overwhelmed, and worried. It was quite possibly the most blended, emotionally that I had ever been in my life. I was slowly losing my mind still. I was still untreated, I was still so hurt and traumatized deep down inside. It’s kind of like, once the fear and rumination had begun a while back, that my mind was kind of like this giant hour glass. And the sand was running every second of every day. Luckily for me, I had some cold beers to take the edge off. What a fucking wonderful Idea herb….
I don’t exactly remember for the sake of the timeline when the excessive drinking started. At this point, nothing had really been anything too worrisome, save for a couple nights getting a little mouthy. We just chalked it up to stress, or to being in a bad mood. Everyone has a rough go, a negative experience drinking once in a while. It was pretty much right about parallel with that. Nothing crazy. But I can look back on things now, and notice that there was a very concerning connection with the decline of my mental health, the amount and frequency of my drinking, and my overall presence and likability. I had already been in a pretty consistent mental decline, and this whole new stress plus Covid shit was not helping. It was really hard for me to enjoy anything. It was really difficult for me to explain to anyone when I tried. I had such an amazing and wonderful life, wife, family, and home, but for some reason, I just couldn’t seem to enjoy much of anything. I had been to counselors, I had tried medication. Nothing seemed to help. One of the doctors I saw diagnosed me as BiPolar and put me on Lamictal. That shit sucked. It instantly and consistently turned me into a zombie. I knew I wasn’t BiPolar.
What’s really interesting to me, is that I wasn’t always like this. I mean, when I was in drug court, the counselor I was seeing thought I had dysthymia, or “the blues” for many of the same reasons I was complaining about now. I believe that there is a direct link between stress, overthinking, and worry, and poor mental health. I may have very well stressed, worried, and overthought myself into a depression. It sure seemed like it at the time. It was unhealed trauma. It was borderline personality disorder. It has always been the trauma. I know that now It was PTSD. And chronic and intense distress are the absolute last thing that someone with PTSD needs to experience on a regular basis. Once my stress meter and distress compartments reached maximum levels, my mental health began to decline. The more and more I piled onto myself, the more stress I felt, and the worse I got. And the more I drank. Which in turn, raised my anxiety baseline, which drove me to drink more and more. This was not good. The more stress and distress my mind endured, the more anxiety and depression I experienced, the more alcohol I consumed, and the closer and closer I got to a full blown “split”.
Both wolves were being given food, but only one was getting fed.
We got settled into our new home really nicely. It was a dream come true. I remember how excited and proud everyone was that we had “made it”. Everyone had their own space. The house even had a hot tub out back, which we took advantage of right away! It was one of the best times in our lives. Sometimes through out the days, we would almost forget that there was a virus on the loose that was killing hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. Not really, but we tried to. Here we were, freshly moved into our dream home, and essentially quarantined right off the bat. The world was on lock down. Earth was closed. People were dying left and right all over the world. What was going to happen? My mind went to all of the worst possible scenarios, like always. This whole pandemic thing probably took some years off of my life. I had to appear strong and stoic for the family and be their protector, but I was losing my mind. Probably worse than most. Just my luck huh, finally turn my life around, make something of myself, get married and start a family, found a company and purchase a home, and then the world fucking ends. A’int that a bitch.
Spring was turning into summer, and there was no relief in sight. There was no relief in my mind. There was no relief on the news. We own a small business who’s whole mode of functionality is to meet with families, in large groups and in their homes to execute interventions. That certainly was not happening any time soon. Tiffany’s work had shut down, and sometimes she could work a little bit at a time from home. How would we pay our bills? Were we going to lose the home? How in the world could our timing be so truly bad, how was this all happening now? More stress, more fear, more worry more drinking.
We did our best to protect ourselves, we ordered food from the food delivery services when we could, and we Lysoled everything that came into our house. there was nothing I could do however, to protect my unraveling mind. Nothing I seemed to do helped. Everything was shut down except for essential places like gas stations, grocers, and liquor stores. We had basically no money coming in and the bills were not stopping. People were not able to perform their jobs, but yet the companies that called the shots did not cease sending bills. “Oh we’re in a global pandemic? Fuck you pay me.” God bless America. The stress that was building inside my already fragile mind was enough to weigh an elephant down. I continued to stuff it down. I continued to gut it out as best as I could. White knuckles on the daily, I did my best to put on a normal face and carry on. I had already been carrying around old dusty boxes of compartmentalized pains, traumas and memories for many years. I was running out of room inside my mind and my spirit was dimming. My fire was slowly burning out and so was I. The only thing that seemed to help was drinking. But the more I drank, the more it negatively effected me. And my family. I was spiraling, but I was doing my best to hold it together. People needed me.
Finally some relief came in the form of the stimulus checks, and some unemployment for the self employed, like myself. So that helped ease some of the worries. But the neurological damage had already been done. I was back in emotional dysregulation. I had full blown distress intolerance. All of this had piled up, and been accelerated by drinking to where I had reverted right back into my trauma brain. It felt like I was two people. I was fully double minded. This was dangerous as shit. Half of me was the husband, family man, home owner, helper, lover, giver, good person. The other half of me was the man I thought I had left behind, I was angry, I was drunk, I was distant and depressed, I was edgy, I was unapproachable, I was a loose cannon. I had fully split by now. Who you got on any given day was literally a coin toss. Jekyll and Hyde had returned. And this time, I had become so volatile that my mood literally flip flopped back and forth with little or no provocation at any given moment. Most of the time, I was out of my body. I was either back in the space shuttle, or still in the space shuttle. But I was disassociating again. My wife said she could see it in my eyes when I split. I usually have blue eyes, but when I would split, they would go black. It’s fucking scary I know. This is mental health. This is what trauma, PTSD, Borderline, Addiction, Alcoholism does and is. It’s not a fucking joke. My mind was gone.
Things seemed to somewhat level out in our space i guess. I mean, we were able to pay the bills and what not. So that was good. But we were still very much sequestered, as were millions around the world. We did our best to protect ourselves from the virus, but in spite of our best efforts the kids still got it. This was our first brush with the virus, but not our last. It was scary. We made their meals and set them outside the bedroom doors while they quarantined in their bedrooms. We freaked out, we prayed, we worried. I drank. It seemed to be the way that so many people in the world, and in our neighborhood handled the stress. Day drinking, night drinking, weekends, all the time. I was slipping further and further away. A bad night would happen where I was a flaming asshole, and then I would dial it back in for a while. And then again. The more I stressed, the more I drank, the more I had progressively worse anxiety, the more I drank, the more I got ugly. It felt as though I had completely split and was watching the whole thing happen in front of me. I was in full blown “Distress induced clinical impairment and cognitive distortions.” But I didn’t even know what that meant at the time. This is a term that I wouldn’t learn until later.
The summer came to an end, and the world did it’s best to get as close to normal as it could. Or, the “new normal”, another phrase I hate to this day. Virtual learning was the new thing, and work was non existent. We hung on and hung on. I drank more and more. I was still able to maintain though, somehow for the most part. We were still progressing as best we could. My wife and I have always had such an amazing partnership and team mindset. She has been the 80 and me the 20 for a vast majority of the last several years. I simply wouldn’t have made it through all of this without her. Especially with what lied ahead.
School had resumed virtually, and life on earth was adapting. It was nearing the end of the summer season. August was upon us. We made due like many families did, we stuck to ourselves and enjoyed as much outside time and fresh air as we could. We had been wrapping up a very status quo day in our home when my phone rang. It was my older brother, Josh. I always loved talking with him on the phone, he always brightened my day, “Whattttttt Upppppp boyyyyy? Whatchu doin man? He always began each and every phone call he made to me. And the small talk began. We talked about all the regular old stuff, all the “how’s life, how’s the wife” shit men talk about. Nothing out of the ordinary at all. And Josh proceeded to tell me that he had been having diarrhea for several days now, which again, was nothing really out of the ordinary. Men talking about their poops that is. I never thought anything of it. And neither did he. I believe he attributed it to something he had eaten recently, and that was that. We finished up our small talk and said our I love yous and hung up the phone. Life went back to life.
The next week, I believe on a Monday, Josh called me again. His work had mandated that everyone in the company take covid tests. Josh was an essential worker, as he worked for the City of Peachtree City. He had to be in the office, because they were the ones who kept the city running. And he had tested positive and was sent home until he got better. When he told me this, I was utterly shaken to my core. It was one of those moments when you can feel the world stop spinning, mouth runs dry, blood runs cold type moments. But I did my best to sound encouraging, and so did he. He indicated to me that he was symptom free, and other than the recent stomach issues felt top shape. He assured me I had nothing to worry about. I believed him. I checked in on him every day, and spoke with his wife as often. He was holding strong. No fevers, no cough, no issues.
His wife was nurse, and had been on the front lines of this thing the whole time. She knew what she was doing, what she was looking for, and how to handle it. He was in the best and most equipped and capable hands, and those hands loved him very much so he was double covered. She took care of him. She got him all kinds of vitamins and fluids and all the preventative measures were taken. She even had a pulse oximeter to check his vitals and oxygen. All was well. He was managing nicely. I did my best to be there for him, encouraging him and assuring him that he was gonna be fine. And he did the same for me. I was losing my mind over this, but I couldn’t let him hear it in my voice. Everything was going to be fine.
And about four days into it, four days after Josh testing positive, my phone rang. It was josh’s cell. He was calling to check in. It was not josh. It was his wife. My sister in law. Calling me to tell me that Josh’s oxygen had plummeted and he was spiking fevers and was being taken to a local hospital by ambulance to be admitted and cared for. I had no words. I had never been so scared, shocked, and paralyzed in my life up until this point. But once He got to the hospital, josh got his phone back and assured me that this was all just precautionary. “Shit I feel fine, Stevie. I’m good man, I don’t even feel sick. Don’t worry about me dude, I’m good man. I love you buddy I talk to you soon.” He sent me a picture of him in the hospital, with one of those oxygen hoses in his nose, duck lips out, showing the “peace sign” with his fingers. And it was the last time we ever spoke. He was gone less than 48 hours later.
My big brother, my protector, my male figure. He and carol drove from Georgia multiple times when I was in jail after being terminated from drug court, just to be at my court dates and visit me in jail. He was always my protector and best friend. He was everything to me since the day I was born. This simply could not be. My big brother. Was gone. He had lost his battle with covid. A piece of me died right along with him, and my life has never been the same. He died on August 29, 2020. My mother died on August 27, 2014. This was absolutely unreal. Why is life like this. We had so many plans and dreams, he had so much life to live, and he was snatched away from us. My mind and heart will never be the same. My, and so many others’ new normal was now to be somehow living life without the most wonderful man to walk this earth. His wife told me when he died that it was an honor to be loved by him. I know, because it was an honor to be his little brother. We loved each other so much. It still doesn’t seem real. More trauma. More sorrow. More woe. My heart and mind simply couldn’t process this. I was in shock.
It wouldn’t be long from here, that I would once again be bottoming out. I simply could not take any more. I felt like my own life was ending. I did not handle this well at all. More and more excessive drinking, deeper and deeper into depression I dove, more splitting, I was searching for blotto and oblivion. And I was about to find it.