While some health issues are visible to the outside world, many people face chronic conditions that don’t have externally visible signs or symptoms—also known as invisible illnesses. In mindbodygreen’s series, we’re giving individuals with invisible illnesses a platform to share their personal experiences. Our hope is their stories will shed light on these conditions and offer solidarity to others facing similar situations.
Note: This essay was excerpted from The Gravity of Up by Brent Yates. Trigger warning: This article includes mentions of suicidal ideation.
I don’t really remember passing out, but I do remember falling backward from a standing position and slamming my head against the cold floor tiles. I was told there were likely some convulsions somewhere in the mix too.
The tests gave me little information.
At the hospital, the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, as all of my test results came back negative. This was good news for me, but it confused the medical staff. Confounding things even more, there were still no concrete answers with the follow-up appointments.
Unsure of a diagnosis, the doctors were advising me not to drive because they were worried I could have another onset of seizures or convulsions at any time. I managed to keep my driver’s license, but within a few months of that incident, things went further south after I contracted a potentially deadly MRSA infection. My face and ears were both visibly and embarrassingly affected. Soon after, my feet and ankles started giving me major problems.
Out of the blue, I found myself suddenly needing a cane and then crutches to walk. There was zero doubt that I was breaking down mentally and physically. When one aching foot would start to feel better, the other would become increasingly problematic.
Diabetes and gout had been ruled out. With no prior injuries to my feet, the perplexed doctors struggled to explain my rapidly deteriorating condition. It didn’t make any sense to me then, but it certainly does now. The burden of overwhelming stress and emotions has to live somewhere. My body was holding on to all of it and had finally reached its limit.
Stress was breaking down my body.
After decades, the aggregate stress and trauma had exceeded the threshold of my mind and soul to manifest physically. My negative patterns—never back down, win at all costs, grind harder, success at all costs—were literally killing me. I wasn’t living. I was dying. Things couldn’t get worse.
The physical weight of my stress continued to debilitate my body. My weakened mind had shut down and my energy was at an all-time low. In the midst of my collapsing health, my divorce was finalized.
My ex-wife got half, which consisted primarily of our house, cash, and investments. My half was all I wanted: the company. I had MOP, a failing condo project, and the financial calamity of 2008 swallowing me whole. I went down to the Gulf Shores to clear my head. More accurately, I went there to avoid people and conversation. I was angry. Disappointed. Frustrated. Broken. Life hadn’t turned out the way I’d planned. I didn’t have a single person who I truly felt comfort-able asking for help, but that was my own doing.
I had shut everyone out. I had wanted to do this life all by myself and had been too proud to ask for help. These compounded stressors created an “emotional arthritis” that made my body and brain hurt at all times. Even if I had a minor success, I couldn’t enjoy it because I was convinced that something else would happen to immediately steal even that little happiness away from me. The pain was too great. I wanted out.
Walking along the beach, I began to feel a magnetic pull from the rolling whitecaps forty yards out. I staggered to where the water rushed over the sand in waves, and I froze. Watching wave after wave roll in, I stared out at the blue abyss until the wet sand began to collapse under my weight. The siren’s call beckoned me to keep walking out into the depths of the angry ocean. I could disappear and no one would notice. Or even if someone eventually did, it would be too late.
In those moments of quiet contemplation, I thought about my kids, my business, and what little I had left of my faith. I was a complete failure in each part of my life. Maybe everyone and everything would be better if I weren’t around. I closed my eyes and took another step into the waves. Then, another. As I descended into the swirling void, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. It was as if the wrathful waves and tossing water were perfectly mirroring my inner turmoil. Even though I was getting pounded by the surf, the stress in my body suddenly clicked off like a light switch. I was prepared to keep pushing forward to a place from which I might not return.
I stood in the water with my eyes closed and my brain mentally checked out. Surrendering to my circumstances, I continued forward step by step. As the water surrounded me, I had no sense of time. Time is completely irrelevant when you’re ending your life. Submerged, I persisted forward and felt the water splash above my shoulders as my feet struggled to make contact with the ocean floor. As my head finally made it under the water, I just knew I would find the peace I was so desperately seeking. Instead, something very different happened.
Suddenly, I was scared as hell. My eyes exploded open with a shot of adrenaline as I coughed up salty water. My body was letting me know that I was lying to myself! I didn’t want to die. In actuality, I was terrified of death because I still had so much life left to live, even though my foggy mind could not see it. I turned my back on the raging waves and slogged my way to dry land.
When I got to the beach, I lay in the sand and stared up at the endless stars punching through the night sky. For a moment, the world felt very big and my problems very small. I realized that what I really wanted was to be a better man, father, and leader. That incident proved to me that if I didn’t make a change, I would die in Lexington, Ohio.
While I didn’t yet understand the concept of healing and going Up, I knew I had to shed the shame and guilt that was pinning me down. I needed to become a brand-new person. Not only did I need a change of scenery, pace, and energy, I needed to find a place that could lead me to reset everything. In order to give myself a fighting chance, I made the proactive choice to go where I could feel free.
Adapted excerpt from The Gravity of Up, published by Forefront Books, copyright © 2022 by Brent Yates.