Since early childhood, it was accepted among myself, my family, my educators, and many of my peers that I was quite intelligent and that I was far more academically-inclined than most of the people around me, especially given that I grew-up in a blue-collar mill town where most people had made their fortunes by either skating through high school or dropping out out-right, and then getting union jobs and starting families. While it had its seedy parts and poverty was not unknown, it wasn't a bad place to grow up and make a life for oneself in spite of its not being the sort of place where intellectual types tend to thrive. Moreover, I have been blessed with an incredibly loving and compassionate family and some awesomely inspiring educators and mentors, including a step-father whose incredible passion and boundless love have transformed my teenage and adult years in ways that would have made them far more dreary had I not been so blessed as to have him in my life.
My IQ, as measured at age 15, is 143, and most of my psychometric tests, taken at around age 10, were off-the-charts, though my severe deficiencies in penmanship and other fine-motor skills ensured that so-called gifted classification would elude me. Nonetheless, both my mother and most of my teachers saw intrinsic value in me as a person and as an aspiring intellectual, and did their best to ensure that the talent that I did have would be nurtured, making sure that I would also be treated as gifted in as many senses as would have been possible for me and never consigned to the special education classes on account of my weaknesses.
In spite of having such a promising intellect, however, I was always lacking in real-time cognition or in any meaningful ability to think on my feet. I could not speak at the same level at which I could write, I could not express myself extemporaneously, and I spent the bulk of my time as an emotional wreck and a social misfit. Happily, I now find it easier to write than I had ever found it before and I find it even easier to speak than I do to write, in sharp contrast with how things had been before.
Moreover, while I was always a good writer and a good test-taker, and my essays and research papers were generally well-received due to strength of the writing itself, I have always been a very bad researcher, and very bad at preparing and working from plans and outlines. I have generally lived in clutter, and I have never been good with schedules, budgets, organizer, or calendars.
While I had a theoretical understanding of French grammar that surpassed many of the native speakers around me, the fact that it was my second language exasperated the extent to which my ability to express myself orally in the language was already hampered by the cognitive deficiencies that had been mentioned above. Nonetheless, I count three of my French teachers in particular – in kindergarten, grades 3 through 5, and grade 10 – as being among the most inspiring people in my life and some of the most positive influences that have shaped me into the person that I am today.
Alongside my mother and those teachers, I have had wonderful educators who have fostered my love for writing, technology, politics and who have given me a strong sense of social justice and righteousness rooted in their instilling of a very progressive take on Catholic social teaching in me. My high school Spanish and religion teacher – a wonderful woman with Master's degrees in Latin American Studies and Roman Catholic Theology – was particular inspiring in this regard, emphasizing a progressive, humanitarian, living Catholicism through her teaching me about Liberation Theology and Christian Feminism.
While I was raised Catholic and went on to consider myself an atheist for a long time, I now considerable myself a Unitarian and post-Christian theist, with a faith rooted heavily in the Social Gospel, the Civil Rights Movement, and Liberation Theology, all of which which I consider to be living continuations of the Gospel and the strongest embodiments of Jesus Christ's work in the modern world. Unfortunately, my work schedule does not currently permit me to be active in any communities of faith.
Politically, if it were not already obvious to you all, I am firmly on the progressive left. Labels that I would use to describe my politics include heterodox social democrat, civil libertarian, and anti-neoliberal. Green and pirate politics have also had considerable influence on my ideology, as have old-fashioned social liberalism and socialist feminism.
Though I have never actually been diagnosed, I have often been labelled as being autistic, as an idiot-savant, and as having some sort of learning disability and various other cognitive impairments. Indeed, alongside my awful fine-motor skills, my hand-eye coordination always lagged far behind my peers. My gait was slightly awkward, I was a lousy athlete, and I couldn't dance to save my life..
For reasons that I alluded to above and that I will further discuss later on, I have recently transcended these limitations.
Given all this, I don't think I have to tell you how bad things were with respect to friends, women, and all the wonderful social and emotional experiences that make life worth living. In fact, while I had my first kiss and fooled around with a girl during the summer in which I had turned 14, I never had a serious girlfriend until I was 25 (early 2009) and remained a virgin until the age of 26 (later in 2009).
Oddly enough, I was a very profitable recreational poker player from about 2005 to 2009, though I relied on my knowledge of strategies and calculations more so than my (pitiful) aptitude for reading my opponents and their tells. Moreover, I have always been a pretty fast typist and a decent Guitar Hero player in spite of my poor coordination. I have always enjoyed card games and video games, though the latter interest me far less than they did prior to my crisis.
In spite of all these foibles, I was somehow able to make it through university and make the rent in unsubsidized housing by the time I had hit my mid-20s (around 2010 or so), and for the past 3.5 years I have been in a promising career with a wonderful employer that I have held in high esteem since long before I had ever started working there.
That being said, a lot of things were still going wrong: I was very dependent on alcohol and marijuana, aside from the few close friends I have made over the years, most of my social circle has consisted of the casual acquaintances that I partied, gambled, watched the game, and smoked dope with, and I was still being dogged relentlessly by my cognitive and social impairments.
Moreover, I was sleeping very shallowly and waking up throughout the night, I was always tired and had no energy, to the extent that I was consistently passing out on the couch at family functions, I was getting in trouble at work for regularly losing focus and taking micro-naps, and, by the end of 2014, my girlfriend at the time left me in large part because I would always zone out and nap when we were together, things to which she understandably took considerable great offence.
One very positive thing happened during this period, however. In November of 2012, I was 5'4 and weight 229 pounds. Obviously, this was unacceptable. I create a diet for myself that emphasized portion control, calorie counting, and the restriction of simple sugars. By the end of the year, I had taken up jogging, and by June of 2013, I had participated in a 5K run and was down to about 165 pounds. Not great, but good enough for a man of my height to be reasonably healthy and for me to be the recipient of a small torrent of plaudits from my friends, loved ones, and colleagues. My sleep, which had been getting awful by this point, also improved dramatically due to my weight loss.
At the same time, I was hired by my current employer, and was slated to start there in June of 2013.
Unfortunately, the week before I was to begin my new career, I came down with a severe flu-like illness that left me bed-ridden for days. I was running a high fever, my muscles ached all over, I was too tired to get out of bed, and many of my lymph nodes were swollen. Eventually, my temperature went down and I was no longer bed ridden, but my foot had swollen to twice its normal size, which obviously meant that something was still seriously wrong. I went to the emergency room and had my vitals taken. Everything was fine except that I still had a low-grade fever, but it was clear from everything else that I had some sort of skin or tissue infection for which I desperately needed medical attention. I spent the whole night at the hospital, and was seen by a GP, an infectious disease specialist, and a couple of other relevant doctors. Thankfully, the diagnosis was cellulitis of the skin and shallow tissues of my foot and lower leg, and I did not have any sort of bone infection, blood poisoning, or flesh-eating disease to contend with. Moreover, the antibiotics that they gave me – first through an IV system and then orally – were able to help me beat back the infection after a few weeks, and, as I was well enough to work and not contagious when it was time to begin my training, my employer allowed me to work while wearing a portable IV system and medical slippers for my swollen foot. Unfortunately, the illness had sapped away any motivation that I had built up for healthy eating and jogging, and over the next couple of years, the weight came back with a vengeance: I am currently 246 pounds, though I was over 250 less than two weeks ago and I am no longer drinking pop or eating in excess. It's much easier to give a damn and to be frustrated by a body that cannot keep of with the rest of you when you are awake and no longer suffering in more fundamental ways.
Circling back to the question of my ceaseless exhaustion, while I had no idea what was wrong with me, by that point it had become obvious that I needed medical attention, so in February of 2015 I went for a physical at a local clinic (I still do not have a family doctor, sadly) and described my symptoms, and he wisely referred me to a sleep therapist.
A few weeks later, I got a call from a sleep clinic to schedule an appointment, and in May of 2015, I went for a sleep-study. A few days before my sleep study: two very odd things happened to me. First, I was mugged in broad daylight in a place where lots of cameras would have been able to see my assailants. They stole my expensive smartphone, gave me a black eye, and damaged my glasses. Luckily, they were not interested in my wallet or in any of my identity cards or other personal documents. Second, on the very next day, I joined this huge online poker tournament on a whim, finished 3rd among over 2000, and win enough money to purchase another fancy smartphone. What a wonderful turnabout!
Anyways, on to the sleep study we go!
I went to this clinic and was giving a small but comfortable bedroom where my sleep study would take place. The nurse gave me a few very basic cognitive and sensory tests that I failed miserably, and immediately, I had a bunch of sensors attached to my body and some sort of sleeping mask applied to my face. I passed out very quickly and slept without interruption till 6 AM, having the most refreshing sleep that I had had in years.
That morning, the doctor diagnosed me with severe obstructive sleep apnea and informed me that I had stopped breathing over 100 times an hour while I was sleeping. To give you some perspective on just how sick I was, the threshold for a “severe” classification is 30 breathing interruptions per hour, the worst cases hit about about 120 or so, and this article -- https://www.theguard...lth.sleepapnoea – states that a British sufferer with 90 interruptions per hour was estimated to get an average of 14 minutes of sleep per night before he began his therapy.
In any event, I was given a trial prescription for CPAP therapy, given a list of respiratory therapists who would be able to see me, and left to suffer for another week or so until I could get an appointment. Upon seeing my therapist, an incredibly attractive young woman from the other side of the country, I was given a trial CPAP machine and purchased a $400 mask, and, with that, I began a path to what I would hope would be a better, more restful life.
Unfortunately, fate had other dirty tricks in store for me and my darkest days were still ahead....