By the time I was 18 years old, I had already gone through more hardships than some people go through in their entire lives. My parents divorced when I was 6 due to my father’s alcoholism and abuse. Shortly later I was in a car wreck that almost took my life. I broke my femur in 3 places and was in the hospital for several months. When I was finally released from the hospital to go home, I learned that I would be moving into a different house with my mom and her new boyfriend.
I had to learn how to walk all over again. After several months of intense physical therapy I was ready to be a normal kid getting in to trouble again. I quickly learned that getting into trouble resulted in getting viciously beaten by my mom’s new boyfriend. The first time he hit me wasn’t even much longer after I was on my feet again. The beatings intensified as I got older. I’ll never forget the worst one. I called my older brother a rude name. My mom’s boyfriend came running down the stairs, knocked me down, and slapped me in the face while he had me pinned down. He then proceeded to get up, got to the kitchen and get a pepper shaker which he used to beat me in the face with until my lips were bloody.
By the time I was 13 there was a bit of role reversal in my family. My dad finally sobered up, and my mom turned to alcohol and drugs. She had been using drugs with her boyfriend the entire time while I was growing up. I knew what marijuana smelled like, and what it sounded like when someone does a line of cocaine before I was 5 years old. I guess my mom had enough of receiving her own beatings coupled with extreme mental abuse and finally broke. It was finally her time to party. She had my brother when she was 16 years old. We were grown enough and it was finally “her time”. It was around this time that my mom started hitting me as well. I was old enough that I wasn’t going to take getting beaten any more. Things got physical between us. I still regret that so much to this day. I had to go live with my aunt and uncle since my mom clearly wasn’t able to take care of me anymore.
Things were great for a while. My aunt and uncle were able to buy me nice clothing to send me to school the following year. For a while I was happy. Then as normal teens do, I started skateboarding and getting into trouble. My aunt and uncle weren’t having any of this. The following year, they sent me back to my mom’s. She was doing better for a time and it seemed like things might work out. They were wrong.
Things at my mom got even worse this time around. The drugs and alcohol were out of control. She would go on binges for several days. Things got so bad that she actually ended up getting evicted from her apartment since she couldn’t manage to come up with enough money to pay her rent. I was back for a year and then off to another new house. This time it was to live with my dad.
Being at my dad’s was cool for a while. He was quiet. I didn’t really get to know him until I was in my late 20s. I always kind of resented him for missing out on so much of my life, but we made it work. I lived with him until I was 18. Things started to turn around for me. I started doing well in school and even started looking to the future.
I was going to an all-day vocational technical school for commercial art and graphic design. I joined the Army National Guard in my junior year and was ready to ship off to basic training right school was over. I graduated as class president, gave a speech at graduation, and things were looking bright for me. Just when I thought I had my life figured out everything spiraled out of control.
I graduated as planned and left for basic training six days later. Training was difficult for me. Being away from home for so long was really tough on me as well. I ended up struggling though training and obtained a pass to come home for a few weeks before I shipped out to my next training base.
I didn’t touch base with my mom when I got home. She didn’t know I was coming home at all and I wanted to surprise her. I wanted to stand outside of her work in my uniform when she ended her shift and have her come out and give me the kind of hug only your mom can give you. I called her work a few times. Apparently she stopped showing up for some reason. I shrugged it off and figured she was partying as usual and figured I’d see her soon.
3 days after I got home from basic, I was on the couch with my dad and my step mom. My dad asked me if I had talked to my mom. I said “no” and told him about how I haven’t been able to get in touch with her. That’s when the phone rang. My dad answered. I didn’t need him to tell me. He didn’t need to say it. I just knew that was the call informing us that my mom had died.
In that moment my life changed forever. My mom was everything to me. I know I talked a lot about her issues and problems we had earlier in this story, but she really was the most loving mother anyone could have ever wished for. That part of me was gone. I had to identify her body with my dad. She was blue and almost unrecognizable besides her blonde hair. I’ve done everything I can to block that image out, but it still haunts me today.
I spent the next 10-12 years of my life trying to fill the void losing my mother left in my life. I filled it with drugs, sex, and alcohol. I had a hard time holding down a job or any real relationships. I was totally self-absorbed. Time and time again I chose to hurt myself instead admitting that I needed help to recover from all of the pain I had been through in my life. I tried to commit suicide a few times. Every time someone significant to me at the time would leave my life, my mom died all over again. I ended up in the mental hospital twice. I never had any money to follow up on any care plan or medication after I was discharged. Within a few months I would be back to doing drugs regularly and ruining my life.
At some point (I really don’t recall exactly when) I started to realize I wanted more out of life. I finally went to a doctor to talk about everything I went though. He diagnosed me with Major Depressive Disorder and prescribed me with the first anti-depressants that I would stick with. I wish I could say it was that easy, but it wasn’t. It took quite a while for me to find a medication that actually worked for me without those nasty side affects you hear about on the commercials.
Shortly later I met a woman whom I soon would marry. We decided to get involved in a local church together. Over the next few years we got heavily involved in the church. People there saw something in me and valued me. I became a small group leader, an usher leader, and later The Easter Bunny. This is where things get a little more interesting. The first time I put the bunny costume on something new came alive inside of me. I was able to be someone else for the first time other than the closet case depressed introvert that I felt like inside. For the first time I was really able to connect with kids and make them smile. I must have done a pretty good job because when the egg hunt came the following year, I was the first guy they looked to.
Later that year is when things really started to change for me. My church held a back to school event for the area kids. They decided they wanted to have princesses and superheroes there for the kids to get their pictures taken with. This was the first time I got to be Batman. I probably got a little too into the role. As soon as the cowl was on my head and I saw my first smile, I felt something inside of me click and I began to realize what I’m really supposed to be doing here on this earth.
Fast forward to a year or two later and my wife at the time and I are planning to move to Las Vegas to start a new life together. Shortly after our arrival in Vegas, we went to check out Fremont Street. I saw lots of people out there, posing in costumes with tourists for tips. When I first got to Vegas, I had to take a job that paid a little less than what I was making back home. At the time, we were saving to buy a house. I still had the Batman costume from the church event, so I came up with a plan. I spent about 100 bucks to upgrade my costume and I started posing on the Las Vegas Strip and Fremont Street for tips.
A few months into this I was approached by a guy that had a pretty nice costume while on The Strip. He told me about a local charity that delivers donated comic books to kids in the hospital that just so happens to be looking for a Batman. He put me in touch with the Founder of Critical Care Comics. 3 years later, and I’m the Vice President of CCC and have delivered thousands of comics to kids in Las Vegas hospitals.
Today, I’m 36 years old. I’ve been in a career for over 13 years. I got divorced, but married again a few years later and my wife is now pregnant with my twin baby girls who should be arriving in the next few weeks.
Not too long ago, I went out with a good friend of mine to see one of his friends and website clients speak about depression and how he deals with it. He said something really profound that grabbed me and it’s actually what made me want to write this story. During the interview it was implied that he made it through his mental illness. He quickly corrected her by saying that it’s not something you get through, but more of something that you learn to cope with. That simple statement finally made me realize that I wasn’t alone in my struggle and that other people were out there coping and learning to manage their depression. The speaker was Ryan Brunty of Depressed Monsters.
All I’m really trying to say by writing this is that it’s OK for people to talk about mental illness. I think that a big part of why my problems went on for so long was that I was afraid to admit that I was depressed and needed help. As soon as I started to admit this to myself, things got better. I’m not saying that I’m happy all the time and that my past doesn’t weigh on me. That’s not the case at all. Every day is a battle. I’m just willing to fight now.