A tale of recovery
"I was a weed and alcohol addicted loser with anger issues who played video games until 4am and ate 7-11 dinners."
A: Hey, put me in your blog!
Me: What do you want me to say about you?
A: Anything you think is relevant about what you noticed about me while working with me?
Me: I think your words would be much more powerful than my recollection and telling of a case study...
Rules of Engagement
This is an account of a young mans suffering and road to recovery.
I thought it would be meaningful because it illustrates some the issues we experience, the biases and stigmas, and how we desperately seek support. And that support may lead us into realms that are not in our best interest. Please read with an open heart.
Austin- Day after our first contact
He is happy to be outside, able to handle sunlight, take walks, and enjoy the day again.
A: Okay, I will start with something...
My life was weed, alcohol, anger issues, 7-11 dinners and playing video games until 4am when I wasn't out wasting my life getting high and drunk.
My belief system was that I should always be happy with what I have rather than what I want. And that life was about what I wanted to do in the moment.
Because of this perpetual "living in the moment" I did nothing else but drink and smoke and party which created a lot of unhappiness.
I didn't have any aspirations so instead of taking the time to find it, I turned away from crossroads in my life and got high and drunk all day.
Me: Tell us about how young you were when you started drugs and alcohol and why.
A: I was seventeen when I started getting angry with everything and turning to substances. I feel like I realized that I was living badly but was afraid of change. I could only truly see the reality of myself after I had a different perspective which only occurred during my recovery.
I used drugs and alcohol for any emotional issues that I felt I couldn't resolve myself.
Anything from having no aspirations to a bad day at work; an argument. At first, I liked the drugs and alcohol and how I felt. But then it became a dependency and took a front seat in my life when the front seat should have been my passions and aspirations.
Me: Did your addictions have any negative effects on you since 17?
A: It actually made me angrier.
It put me in a cycle of temporary relief but constant discontent.
Me: But you kept using drugs and alcohol, why is that?
A: Anger issues, high anxiety, more stress. Not many physical ailments that I can remember.
I kept using because I didn't know what to do and by then I was addicted.
I was not prepared to change [my life] out of fear.
Me: And this went on for about 4-5 years. Things were fine until late 2020 correct?
I was getting angrier and more stressed. I never really tried to better myself and then [around summer of 2020] I "got sick."
I randomly felt this intense spike ...almost like a panic attack feeling but I couldn't put my finger on it....I just felt off.
It felt like something was wrong. I knew it but I couldn't tell what was wrong. Then I started to get visual and head disturbances, things looking "grainy" and "off" when I looked at them.
Weird light sensitivity.
My head felt like I was lightheaded and seeing thru a strange fog.
I kept up my drug lifestyle and then started to get CRAZY fatigue very quickly.
Gradually, unbelievable exhaustion fatigue like I couldn't stay sitting upright. I felt sick like a had a bad flu.
Me: And what did you do? Did you seek care from a doctor?
A: I continued to fight the fatigue myself but started to feel nauseous, dizzy, head sensations like my head was swimming, extreme unbelievable "have to lay down right now" exhaustion.
I went to see my primary care doctor and got- Covid tests (multiple), blood tests, MRI. I went to urgent care.
I went to see a neurologist.
They told me I had anxiety or that they couldn't understand what was wrong.
Every test was normal or negative.
Me: Can you give us a more accurate timeline of how you progressed and who you saw?
A: First, urgent care for Covid tests.
I was sure I had Covid or had it and was suffering from long Covid. But all the tests were negative.
Then I went to my PCP where they did blood tests and told me nothing was wrong.
Then eventually ER visit who did an MRI. By now, all my tests were negative.
Then I went to see a neurologist.
Tests for mononucleosis. Negative.
I had no biomarkers for ANYTHING. Nothing was wrong with me.
Me: So you did what everyone does and searched on the internet for answers.
A: Yes, that's right.
I didn't know where else to turn.
I couldn't find anything on the symptoms I had.
So I posted my experience on Reddit and people told me I had CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome).
The symptoms matched up to a point.
I found some similarities and began accepting advice from sick people just like me.
But the internet had led me down a rabbit hole of CFS and other shit that wasn't the case.
Me: What advice did you get?
A: They (people on the platforms) told me to rest as much as possible.
Don't exert myself.
Don't get up.
You will be sick forever, just accept it.
People on forums were sick for years with mono or some other unknown fatigue.
I saw similarities and took advice from them. But because of that, it increased my fear level. I was taking advice from people who didn't recover!
Me: Then what happened?
A: I got worse.
Until I was finally bed bound.
My fatigue and neurologic symptoms like light sensitivity, head pressure and eye issues got worse.
I felt sicker.
Eye issues like things looking "off," inability to focus, dizziness.
I couldn't look at screens and eventually I couldn't even read a book.
I just laid in bed all day and night with the blinds closed and the lights out.
Me: What was the progression of your bed bound experience?
A: I was constantly on my phone, lying down and searching thru the CFS and Covid forums. Searching for other similar people and their recovery...but my symptoms just kept getting worse and eventually I had to stop looking at any screens.
I couldn't do anything.
Eventually I had to pee in a bottle because my symptoms were too intense to make it to the bathroom.
Advice on internet had told me to not exert myself in any way because things would get worse.
Interestingly, I always had an appetite so eating food was not a problem but i was still exhausted and I kept losing weight.
My parents kept telling me that I would recover but I became more convinced that I had CFS and that I wasn't going to recover. My friends would check on me but I always told then I wasn't better yet and that I didn't know what I had.
My fatigue was getting worse.
Light sensitivity was getting worse.
And eyes were feeling like bugs were eating them.
Me: Where were you mentally at this point?
A: Laying in the dark all day.
I was very depressed as I thought there was no hope and at some points wanted to die when I believed it would never get better.
Me: Did you tell anyone about those feelings?
My mom and friends but my mom would argue with me during those times as she didn't want to hear that.
Me: Any professionals?
A: No. I was too tired to talk very long.
Me: Was seeking help from a mental health professional even on option for you? Talking to someone about feeling suicidal?
A: Yes but I didn't think of it and didn't want to exert myself any more.
Me: Explain that.
A: It was hard for me to have long conversations.
When I exerted too much it made me feel worse and that lined up with what the people on the forums were saying about CFS. That strengthened my position that this is what I had.
Then my mom told me that it wasn't CFS and that my uncle could help me.
At this point, almost 6 months into his journey, he had found a nurse practitioner who ordered a saliva cortisol test. He had not sought any mental health help even though he was depressed, anxious and occasionally suicidal.
My sister had been talking to me via text and told me what was going on. I told her that I could help and that I would be willing to go down there and work with Austin but ONLY if he was going to be 100% onboard. He would have to commit to doing everything I asked.
After a few weeks he agreed and I flew down to see him.
Hope shows up
Me: Initially, you were not willing to work with someone like me who did a functional approach to such things. Why the change of heart?
A: Because I was willing to try anything to get better.
Anything to live again.
I didn't want to live like that.
Me: Tell us about how you initially felt and your initial impression of this approach? Were you skeptical? Did you think it was all bogus?
A: I thought I had CFS and that nothing would help.
I thought I was doomed; that the only thing that would help me was some super drug...so how could functional methods work?
I didn't know what I had so how could anyone fix me?
Me: What happened when I first arrived at your house and came into your room?
A: My uncle came into my room and we talked.
He explained to me a few things about how stress causes things to happen in my mind and body that can make me sick. He did a few strange tests and then he did some work on me.
He got me to take a few steps for the first time in a month or two.
I couldn't believe that I was up.
And then my uncle told me that he could guarantee that I would recover and I started to think that maybe this could really work.
That's when my perspective changed into a more hopeful one.
Within two hours I believed that I could recover.
Me: Tell us about what you went through over the next few months.
A: Well, I took my uncles advice and began to eat healthy and taking these supplements.
I started to build up my strength by taking daily walks and increasing my exercise.
It was very hard for me to grow out of the "stoner" mindset and see that there were other things in life besides relying on getting high and drunk.
I struggled because weed had played a big part in my life and having to change my lifestyle to not having it was very difficult because I was not used to anything else.
I struggled with self confidence and not feeling good enough or like I was a loser.
I didn't know how to deal with my own issues.
I had no coping skills other than turning to drugs and alcohol.
Although Austin's body was healing, he continued to struggle with his addictions and emotional state. We would talk often about his anger and frustrations. He would get fixated on a subject or point in time and spiral into deeper anger and frustration. At those times, the pull for drugs and alcohol was intense. He fought a lot with his mom, lashing out at her since she was the closest person to him.
His reluctance to therapy or any mental health support came from not wanting to take drugs for the rest of his life and not believing in "talk" therapy. After many conversations, his mom was finally able to convince him to seek professional care.
Finding help with therapy
Me: Tell us about your work with the therapists.
A: They helped me c