Our society has been struggling with how to deal with people with mental health issues now more than ever. There has also been a struggle for a long time on how to incorporate people with disabilities into the workplace. There are professionals who speak on these topics who are highly trained, but have only learned about these issues in a textbook or through observation. I myself have actually lived through losing both my mind and body in the same lifetime. Having to actually live with bipolar disorder and paralysis I can give an audience a first-hand account of both mental illness and physical disability.
I came to The Ohio State University in 2005 on a full ride scholarship. I had a bright future ahead of myself, but even though I felt like I had everything going for me I still fought through periods of depression. In my sophomore year of college I turned to marijuana to cope with my depression. It was the start of a downhill spiral for me. I partied my way through college, but at the same time I was still functional and accomplished a great deal.
In the spring of my junior year in 2008 I was accepted into The SPHINX Senior Class Honorary. Only 24 students out of the entire senior class are chosen each year that best represent The Ohio State University and it is the highest honor that can be accorded as a student there. Euphoria took over and it only grew greater at the end of the summer when I won the Ohio State Waterski Championship.
I came back to Ohio State in the fall where I was reckless and impulsive. After five weeks of not going to class I realized that I had dug myself into a hole that was too big for me to get myself out of. I was $15,000 in debt, I had marijuana growing in my closet, I had gone through a huge drug binge, and I hated what I had become. The anxiety kept me awake for six days straight and I went into full-blown psychosis.
Everything became a sign to me from the title of a book, a picture, some words in a magazine, to even street signs. Ultimately the signs led me to believe that I was the second coming of Jesus Christ. The next morning I woke up in the psych ward in Akron General. I thought cameras were watching my every move and that the entire world was watching. I was put on medications and after 2 1/2 weeks I was released.
I met with my psychiatrist who gave me a bipolar diagnosis. I went through group therapy and other therapies for about a month and then went to drug rehab for three weeks. After paying off my debts I went back to Ohio State, but ultimately fell back into smoking marijuana.
As Captain of The Ohio State Waterski Team I worked hard to recruit new members and train our team. Two years after the psych ward we qualified for Nationals for the first time since 1972. We went on to win our first ever National Championship. This was a team that I built primarily by myself over the course of five years. It was the ultimate highlight of my career, but little did I know was that this would be the last time I would ever get to waterski.
In January 2011 I went off my medications for just five days and went into another full-blown manic episode. I took off on a drive at 3:30 AM with 5 inches of snow on the ground and negative temperatures. Without going into all the details, the drive ended with me running from the police going 120 mph on a flat tire in the snow. A song was playing over the radio and the lyrics went, "I throw my hands up in the air sometimes." So I opened my sunroof and put both hands in the air. Then everything went black.
I flipped five times end over end and landed upside down in a field in the snow. I suffered a spinal cord injury at the C6/C7 vertebrae, collapsed both of my lungs amongst other injuries. I died at the scene, but the paramedics got on site in time to resuscitate me.
I woke up in the ICU in Indianapolis with a breathing tube shoved down my throat unable to talk or move. A week later I got out of the ICU and found out that my spinal cord was still intact. This meant there was a chance that I could walk again. Although with the bipolar left untreated I continued to believe that I was Jesus and there was no doubt in my mind that I wouldn't recover.
After being on proper medication I got my mind back and reality hit me. I realized that I may have to say goodbye to all of my physical passions. That first year I was depressed and suicidal. I thought there was nothing left to live for.
I started to write and reach out to people through Facebook and slowly I realized my purpose. That purpose was to share my story to help others in a positive way. I made people realize what was important in life and not to take the little things in life for granted.
I went back to Ohio State to finish my degree in Civil Engineering. I graduated in June 2012, but I had a different plan for my future. I went on to become a Motivational Speaker and I published my book in February 2014 with the title "Well... I Guess I'm Not Jesus".
I have spoken over 175 times to audiences of all ages and all professions. My life now has a purpose and I see the accident as a blessing rather than a curse. I have found that the best way to help yourself is to help others. I really enjoyed working with high school and college students one-on-one as a life coach. There is no greater feeling than actually watching the transformation in their lives.
I see my story now as a message for prevention and a story of hope that all of us should be happy no matter what our circumstances are. I show people that we all face adversity, but it should always be used as a way to train ourselves to be better in the future. I myself am thankful for all that I went through because now I am happier than I have been in my entire life.
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