(Continued from Part 1 — the burnout origins of our lost anti-hero)
Sure enough, we peeled back some wallpaper at the back of our sleek, modern office to reveal a water leak had covered it in slimy, black mold (Stachybotrys).
Feeling excluded, lost — feeling like dying alone — I slunk back “home”.
My funky, huge, classy retro apartment was beyond cool, complete with jiu-jitsu mats, a full jam room, and — a leaky whirlpool tub with an underside covered in black mold, circulating through the A/C system and my lungs as I slept.
Toxic mold exposure. It was the final straw and tipping point.
Consequence took over the controls, and I crashed hard.
What does that mean?
It was not pretty. You feel like death — losing capacity, sense of space and time, your cognition, your sanity — because you’re being poisoned and starting to die.
I was in full denial as I lost 45lbs in less than 5 weeks.
I could not eat enough.
I could hardly eat.
I was reactive and allergic to everything.
My heart was racing/pounding, then weakly limping. (My blood pressure readings would later hang around 70/40)
Every organ struggled. Every meal, every thought and interaction — was a painful and terrible labor with unknown outcomes.
Inflammation spread through me like the virus it is.
I would stand in the middle of my office like a true zombie, my team asking me a variety of questions, and receiving an auto-responder or unconscious decision:
Ok, cool. Good stuff. (no idea what was asked or even what words were being said)
Yes — do that.
No, uh — ask me tomorrow. I have to lay down.
This is all from reports later retold to me.
I lost all memory of the hours
My marketing and sales instincts — political survival skills — ran deceptive scripts to fool and appease concerns. “Mold-rage” and pain made me into a agitated asshole. My “zombie-time” was expanding, and my overall waking hours were in rapid decline.
A heavy fatigue drove me to sleep. The more I slept, the worse I felt, and the harder it was to wake up.
Scary times indeed.
Everywhere, everything felt unsafe.
It was a direct correlation — identified using a hard-won awareness as I fought through a constant fog and decline to define two realities of my daily time-spaces:
Time in office = Mental Level of a Zombie
Time in cool, oldschool-but-toxic, mancave dwelling = Feeling of death
Further validation and moment-to-moment clarity came from the guidance of Western-trained-yet-functional medicine doctors. I used my few hours on waking consciousness to research.
I drank some Bulletproof kool-aid and used biotoxin detox techniques backed up by science and anecdotes. It became an obsession, a lifeline, an evolving solution — linking me to a new understanding of…life.
I meticulously tested the hacks, drew on old experiences, and took action. I made my biology and health my absolute focus once again, in a new frontier.
Finding a new place, working remotely in purified air, rebuilding a mold-free existence in a humid climate, engaging in deep research and testing/documentation to discover root causes and awareness.
I was forced, mostly alone (or so my damaged brain and foolish pride thought), to fight through the symptoms, champion my own survival and recovery once again (My Bio-hacking Story coming in a future article).
I slowly, meticulously put weight back on.
I confronted old injuries — both of body and mind.
Each day I got a little more back, discovered something new to try.
I had setbacks, learned, was humbled, and pressed on.
I began to connect with and personalize human evolution.
Being forced to strip away the filters, the “adult” mindset — the paradox of narrow mental cannibalism in pursuit of progress — I was vulnerable, like a child again. I even reconnected, genuinely albeit remotely, with my mom. Our relationship, for reasons often unclear and avoided, has been foolishly strained and confrontational.
Again, what a privilege to have her alive, supportive, sharing love for her son in one of his weakest times.
Balance is now the theme, the aspiration.
A paradox looms: when imbalance is masked and hidden from the human by the effects of the imbalance itself.
The more I learn and seek awareness of mental capture, the more the signals of denial can be seen. Recognition and acceptance — as cliche as it sounds — is the first and often only needed step to stop the trend before it starts.
I fully repatriated to the US this summer.
Much of 2016 was spent discovering my own biology and particular physical, mental, and emotional nuances that create a complete human formula. A greater breakthrough about our species emerged:
The formula exists in everyone.
Compassion and understanding has an entirely different meaning now. My faculties are returning — often in new, advancing forms.
I am grateful.
I am fallible.
The stress and adrenal fatigue of the last few years is steadily being replaced by a balanced, informed, open, and adaptive version of me. This Upgraded Self, or rather constantly-vigilant and awareness-seeking self, requires humility. I am privileged to have the freedom to pursue it.
The financial costs, the time spent, the sacrifices for the essential foundation of health are investments in me — and in a market where luck and unrecognized advantages dictate who lives, survives, and dies.
My good fortune lies in somehow finding the ability to push through the brain fog, the illness. I seek compassion for those less fortunate, less privileged, and trapped in the scary paradox of illness-preventing-healthy-decisions.
Yes, I still slip back into old habits of over-work, self-hate, pointless destruction, and imbalance. Every time it happens though, I have a little more awareness of the warning signs and the effects. I learn how to recover.
Human adaptation is our greatest ability as a species.
I’m something of a techno-hippie now. A little more…ok, WAY more open to the woo-woo and fringe, especially when someone takes the time to test, quantify, and prove effects in biomarkers: results even the most stubborn Western doctors struggle to deny. It spills over into my human connections.
It took this journey to realize:
Healthy, balanced sprint-and-rest cycles are actually more productive. You have to work with fellow humans who share the same principles.
Now, travel means something again. I have the space and balance to value it, immerse in the changes of state, scene, and culture.
When I travel:
I look around.
I drop the agenda — the moment is what it is.
I recognize and appreciate other humans.
I genuinely smile at and empathize with the TSA (or equivalent of the country I’m in).
How many people has she asked the same question to?
“Thank you [insert name badge’s name]” *carry a real conversation afterwards, almost always triggered by the recognition, as I remove my shoes and check for any need to help move luggage, resolve confusion as a somewhat-seasoned nomad
Ok, good for me — but Why Share a Burnout Story?
Arianna Huffington issued a call to action. She gave sharing burnout a purpose.
Burnout’s a damn shame — a absurd First World waste and tragedy. If we empathize and relate to distinct, personal stories with the same, ridiculous theme — change becomes possible.
“What? Working more hours doesn’t produce more? Silly nomadic American, I don’t have time to talk — there’s a ton of busy work for me to use to look productive today, tonight, and anytime anyone sends me anything.”
We can recognize and rationalize the dangers of an unsustainable culture.
We can stop rewarding self-destruction and stories of health-sacrifice.
We can create one of those “Woah — did we just do that?” moments a human maker-team seems to magically pull out of their mold-free, balanced bio-processors.
Did I say how much I love humans and our superpower(s)?
I’m still finding mine.
P.S. Much love to the Sapiens and our Momma.
Originally published at medium.com