EDITOR’S NOTE: You’ll have to bear with me, this piece is long, as it tells a story that’s been with me since I was at least two years old. I hope you can find some portion of this relatable to your life.
Imagine wanting something so bad that your whole life is consumed by it.
Now, imagine having the very thing you wanted slip through your fingers.
Since I can remember, all I ever wanted to be was a meteorologist. I loved the idea of being on a chromakey wall telling people what the weather was going to be like for the next day, being that voice of comfort when people needed it, and learning about why the atmosphere can go from utter chaos one day, to peaceful and serene the next.
I didn’t just want to work at the local level, though. No, my dream was to work at The Weather Channel in Atlanta, Georgia, with some of the brightest minds in the science and my hero, Jim Cantore. I wrote him a letter in sixth grade as part of a creative writing project and “called my shot.” He wrote back, telling me to be a sponge by reading and watching everything I possibly could, and also sent a photo with a note inscribed on it:
“I hope to see you here someday. Until then, I’ll keep the seat warm.
Sincerely, Jim Cantore.”
From the time we got cable in my house until I graduated high school, I would carve out some time from my day to watch “The Channel.” While it was repetitive to those who were not trying to learn the science, I found it extremely interesting because there was always something to learn; how hurricanes are heat engines, how do leaves change their color, or weather-proofing your home. I also watched it to get methods on how to present yourself on-air, giving reliable information to people who need it fast.
Through high school, I battled football injuries, work, and school obligations to intern at one of our local television stations. There were many late nights, especially working snowstorms and severe weather, but I was on cloud nine learning from some great people about the TV business and even more about the weather.
When I graduated from high school, family issues prevented me from going to college right away. But in May 2008, while delivering furniture to beautiful homes in Western Kansas (yes, they exist,) and with a tornado outbreak in progress 100 miles from me, my girlfriend (now wife) and I made the decision that I would go to school and pursue my meteorology degree. In August of that year, a full six years after receiving my high school diploma, I stepped into a college classroom for the first time.
Math has always been a roadblock for me. I remember my Mother spending the last of her hard-earned money to pay for me to get tutoring each summer while I was in elementary school. Coaxed along, I finally got the hang of multiplication, division, and fractions. As I continued into middle and high school, I struggled mightily in math, but somehow managed to finish each course with a “C.”
It was as if middle and high school were a precursor for what was to come.
After checking off the prerequisite classes with ease, I started getting into the high-end math classes needed for my major; trigonometry, Calculus I thru III, and Differential Equations: math problems that take up the whole page, filled with squiggly lines, “Sin,” “Cos,” “Tan,” square roots — all the other stuff that makes the average person go cross-eyed. Like elementary school, I tutored up, and like middle and high schools, I earned “C’s” in the first two classes.
But all that changed when I took Calculus II.
After failing the class the previous two semesters, I threw everything I had into making sure the third time would be different; working in the math lab when I wasn’t in class, attending study groups, and taking practice tests. I was all-in on passing this class, knowing that Calculus II was supposed to be “the hardest level of Calculus.” All of this hard work culminated in our final exam, which was worth 60 percent of the final grade.
I didn’t recognize the signs for anxiety attacks at the time, but I remember getting sick and having a rapid heart rate before each exam in that third semester. But wanting it so bad, I soldiered on and took the exams. I remember the day of the final exam as if it happened yesterday, May 12, 2010. I sat straight up in my bed at 2:40 in the morning in a pool of cold sweat, heart beating out of my chest, stomach in knots, and shaking badly. I went to the bathroom to try and make myself sick, but that didn’t work. So, I grabbed my study materials and went into our living room to look everything over, wanting desperately to make sure I didn’t overlook anything that could be tested. With each climb of the clock and page turn in my notebook, everything was looking more and more like gibberish.
Unable to retain anything, and unable to calm down, I drove to campus and took the exam. There were 15 people in the room, and the exam was ten questions long. I had 90 minutes to figure it out. Sitting there, I struggled to write my name on the test booklet. I looked through it to see if there was anything I was comfortable working, but there wasn’t.
Fifteen minutes, gone.
Thirty minutes, gone.
An hour down the drain.
I sat in the room, quietly sobbing while people were handing in their exams and leaving for the summer.
In a pool of my tears, I froze.
My dream was gone.
How do you handle losing something you wanted so bad for so long?
This hurt was worse than any, unexpectedly losing my best friend and stepbrother at the hands of a drunk driver, or any of the verbal and mental anguish I went through during my childhood years (another time and another platform). In my mind, this was self-induced, and there wasn’t anyone else to blame but me.
I questioned every single thing I did up to that moment; did I study enough, write something down wrong, not ask enough questions? On a personal level, I questioned my relationship with my girlfriend, became a recluse from the world, and continued delivering furniture, something I grew to hate. I was looking for an answer to why I froze in that moment, on that day, and I still don’t have it.
Looking for that answer led me into a bottomless abyss that I’m still in today. To this day, I’ve poured myself into my work, do things for other people to make them happy, and looked for things to replace the loss I still feel to this day.
I worked for five-plus years doing news and weather at a Country music radio station, and while I did award-winning work there, I did so under a program director who sucked all the air out of every room he walked in and never encouraged growth among the staff. Before that experience, I thought I was getting better mentally and emotionally. As it turned out, he and the experience of working for him made me weaker.
I have run two minor league hockey websites, won a major league award, broke scene-changing news, met a lot of great people, and done some cool stuff, but even with this, I’m always looking for something more.
Through it all, there have been some very dark moments sprinkled in with the good moments. Depression works like that.
As I’ve come to realize in the last few months, the problem isn’t with where I worked or other people’s happiness; it’s with me. I’m broken. I’m 36 now, been with my wife for over 15 years, and she deserves a whole husband, not someone who resembles Humpty Dumpty after falling off the wall.
This month is dedicated to men’s mental and physical health. In years past, I’ve grown beards and gnarly looking mustaches in support of the cause, but haven’t done anything to help make my situation better. This year feels different like a new season is coming.
Rather than donating to another person’s mustache or beard, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is, and start seeing a therapist. I have much to work through, and I hope to come back here in a year and write an article telling you that I’m a much happier and stronger person than I was 365 days ago. Such a process will take a lot of tears and work, but I’m not immune to that.
I can’t allow the rope to slip through my fingers anymore.
Mental health is important. If you need someone to talk to, you can DM me anytime @SinBinThunder, or if it’s more immediate, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.