Mid August of 2017, I was diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome). Something I thought would never happen to me. It felt like it came out of nowhere and to be honest, prior to going through it myself, I never really gave much thought to it when people mentioned they battled anxiety. I kind of just thought it was a trait of the weak minded and I was far too tough to go through any of that. Well boy was I wrong!
After holding the hand of a nine year old little girl as she passed away and two weeks later literally embracing what was like a brother to me, as he passed away at 18 years of age, I was completely drained but, I didn’t know it right away. I went on to suit up for the next three weeks for other children at least four days a week. I even flew to Seattle and visited three hospitals and did a live news interview amidst 3 more children (I was close to) dying and going to majority of their funerals. I was only doing what I had done countless times before; kept going and kept moving. There was honor in that. In my mind it wasn’t for me. It was for the kids who passed and the ones I’d see. Little did I know what was about to take place. Little did I know what I was about to face.
“Its like standing outside on the most beautiful summer day. The sun’s out but, you cant feel it. Although you know the sky’s blue, its gray just for you”.
One day I was normal (but of course grieving the children who’d passed), and the next, I couldn’t control my mind or my heart rate. The smallest things triggered me into having extreme panic attacks. Riding in a car, Small talk with a friend in passing, certain smells, being in public, hospitals, seeing children (in general), public speaking, and the list goes on. It was so extreme that I was almost fainting. I’d get dizzy, hyperventilate, and would have to sit down constantly. Because of all this, things got dark. Real dark and real fast! While all of this began, life around me was changing drastically. My best friends whom I lived with for the past 4 years decided to move to Florida. They were my only real friends I’d see and talk to daily and all of a sudden, they were gone. We all lived in a 3 bedroom house together so, when they moved, I was vexed with what I should do because I literally had nowhere to go and no one to help me. Plus, lets keep in mind that I was leading a movement and company with all I was doing as Spider-Man so, I had all of that responsibility as well. God graced me with someone who made a substantial monetary donation and I was able to consolidate the companies business location with my living situation (which saved me AND the company thousands per month). It was a tremendous blessing to gain that money to save Heart Of a Hero (my company) and where I lived. I took it as a sign from God telling me, It wasn’t over. The mission would go on but, a new war was about to begin.
The fact that I couldn’t even go to the grocery store without almost passing out forced me to seek help. My thoughts were growing darker and I actually told myself the spider-man mission was over and I cant do it. But deep down inside I knew that was a lie and I had to fight. So fight I did. I researched on google and tried vitamins, Pink Himalayan Salt water, and many other things to combat my anxiety and depression issues but they just weren’t working. I even tried CBD oil. It took the edge off but still wasn’t helping much. I found myself alone in my three bedroom house. I took a month off from being Spider-Man to focus on my mental health in September of 2017. I felt like my house turned into a tomb. All of a sudden this man who inspired the whole globe fearlessly was trapped beyond the door of his home. Unable to find himself again no matter how hard he scratched and clawed. I had days where the ONLY reason I got up was to feed my dog (Zoey) and walk her. Days where I’d have my faced buried in my pillow screaming at God at the top of my lungs while crying and asking him “WHY?! WHY ME GOD?!!”. I hated who I had become. I felt weak and I hated my life. Had loving the world with all my heart come to bite me in the ass? At the time, I definitely thought so.
Everything came to a head when I confided in my mother that I was having suicidal thoughts. Watching her cry in sadness is something I’ll never forget. How did I fall so far from grace? Although I was battling hardcore, I pushed myself to be at the gym at least four days a week for an hour each time. It seemed to help a bit (Especially running on the treadmill), but even going there was hard. There were times I walked in the gym, hit one set, and immediately left because I was almost passing out. On one of those days, as I sat in the gym parking lot, I called around for an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapist. I had heard great things about it so I decided to give it a try. At the beginning of EMDR therapy I was also doing bereavement therapy but soon discontinued bereavement therapy.
“I took it as a sign from God telling me, It wasn’t over. The mission would go on but, a new war was about to begin”.
Let me tell ya, EMDR therapy made me feel so much better! I wasn’t feeling like myself again right away but, after a month or so, I was beginning to grasp and understand why my brain went into such a tailspin. After a few months of treatment, my therapist suggested I start an Anti-Depressant known as Celexa (10mg). I cried when she first suggested it because it felt like a set back and that I was too weak to do this on my own but, after a week on half the dose she suggested (5mg), I felt alive again! Although I still have my bad days and there are still triggers I must work through, I can feel the light again!
I once described my PTSD as “Wearing kryptonite around my neck”. Even superman knelt in weakness in its presence and I’m just a human. I also described it by saying “Its like standing outside on the most beautiful summer day. The sun’s out but, you cant feel it. Although you know the sky’s blue, its gray just for you”. All in all I’ve taken two complete months off from being Spider-Man since this all began July 26th 2017. I’m still going to therapy, still taking celexa, and I’ve had to lessen my work load from 5-6 days a week to 2-3. It’s still hard to workout and there’s days where it feels like the weight of the world rests on my chest but you know what I also still feel? LOVE. I’ts the one thing that pushed me through the darkness. It’s my love for the children and the world that guided me back to the light.
Did PTSD knock me down? hell yeah it did. It felt and sometimes still feels like hell on earth but I rise every day to challenge it. I still visit hospitals to see kids. I still hold hands of little ones I know won’t survive. I believe the PTSD, anxiety, depression, and all their symptoms gave what I do even more meaning because its actually harder to do it now. For a long time I never gave myself enough credit for all I’ve seen and have gone through. Watching children die IS walking through the valley of the shadows of death here on earth but helping them smile is watching them LIVE in spite of all that ; and its worth all my heartache and more.
I will not bow to the pain. I will not give up. I am stronger than even I can perceive and I’m using my experience, with what will most likely be a lifelong case of PTSD, to strengthen my soul. I used to ask God why but now I understand why. He needed me to be even more resilient. To be stronger. To face the devil and all his evil and still rise in the name of goodness, light and love. The war with anxiety and depression wages on and always will for me but if I am saving lives for going through it and sharing my story, then this obstacle is a blessing too. If you’re reading this, feeling trapped in the darkness, you are here to hear the voice of light. YOU CAN GET THROUGH THIS AND YOU WILL.
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.” -Khalil Gibran