The Pit

I reclaimed my life through neurohacking, but sometimes it's hard for my friends to understand how bad things were for me a few years ago. I've worked very, very hard to reclaim my health. I've also worked very, very hard to restore a sense of normality to my life.

In other words, I don't look or sound like someone who has been to Hell and back :)

What did that trip to Hell look like?

When I was employed as a cook at age 17, I became sensitized to oven cleaner. It gave me an awful headache. This spread to grill degreasers at age 20.

From age 20-23, I shook off the depression and anger that I had experienced as a kid. I began to take a lot of awesome steps forward in my life: I lost 80 pounds, started strength training 5-6x per week, did great in college, and started to take a really active role in directing my life to where I wanted it to go. In short, I was on the road to awesomeness.

At age 23, I sealed and painted up the basement without proper ventilation and became very sick. I was nearly bedridden for a year. I saw doctor after doctor, who couldn't come up with any good answers for me. I learned how profoundly even a tiny, tiny exposure to paint would affect me: walking into a place that had been recently painted, smelling the paint, and then immediately leaving meant that I'd be in bed for another week with flu-like symptoms and severe cognitive impairment.

My symptoms increased, year after year, in a process called  'spreading' whereby people who are sensitive to one chemical come to be sensitive to additional chemicals (and food). Although I got into the gym whenever I was healthy enough to do so, and I maintained a pretty constant weight, my body continued to deteriorate in frightening ways. My joints were in pain (especially the tendons in my hands), my eyesight got worse every year, and I became more and more unable to do 'normal' things due to my increasing sensitivities. Going out with friends for a few hours would mean that I'd be sick and bedridden for a few days afterwords.

I tried just about everything to get better, but there weren't any good answers.

I searched for some rational explanation for what was happening to me for over a decade. I consulted with dozens of doctors and specialists, including a week’s worth of testing and probing at the prestigious Mayo Clinic. I asked my doctor to pull copies of medical journal articles for me, I studied and read and asked and inquired. I did everything I could to find an answer! What I found is that there was no scientific theory to explain how the body can become sensitized to a wide variety of foods, chemicals and allergens.

After 10 years of deteriorating health, it came to the point where I realized that I had to move out of the city and find a place with clean air and water. The only people I knew of that healed from these sorts of injuries were people who reduced their toxin load to the point where the body could slowly heal itself. For me, that meant getting out of the city.

This move nearly killed me.

I found an isolated cabin in Northern Wisconsin, which needed some work to become safer for me to live in. A friend applied a product applied to the flooring (shellac) that I had previously tested on a small strip of wood. The full-scale application was much more problematic, it was probably the xylene solvent (at a few parts per million) that got to me.

I checked out the cabin briefly, after the work was completed. When I walked out of the cabin, I fainted. I fell face-first onto the gravel driveway. I've never fainted before, or since ... that was scary. But what happened next was even scarier.

I was in incredible pain, I was running a fever, and I was crapping out toxic black tar. My brain barely functioned. I lost almost all of my motor control, I had to exert <em>enormous</em> effort just to move my body a few inches. I was literally crawling ... a few inches at a time.

I was exquisitely sensitive to *everything*. I slept on the tile floor, next to an electric space heater, freezing. I was very grateful when my mother hand-washed a sheet about 15x, so I had something to cover up with.

I couldn't eat anything for a week. Around week two, I started eating white rice and fruit. My skin turned pale, and then it turned pale-and-green. Over the next 3 weeks I lost around 50#, much of it muscle (all those years of bulking up in the gym undoubtedly saved my life). When I started to regain a bit of strength, my mother picked up a turkey dinner at a local diner and I wolfed it down. After 13 years of veganism, my body was clearly telling me to 'eat some damned meat'! And so I listened to my body :)

I had planned to crash in a small trailer in the driveway for a few weeks until the cabin aired out, but that small trailer became my home for the next few months. A few friends and family came up to help when I was sick, including my mother -- who stayed with me for a few weeks to nurse me back to health. They saved my life. The trailer also saved my life. I was very, very close to death. And with as sensitive as I was, going to a hospital wouldn't have been an option. I was so close to the edge, that experience would have killed me.

This experience increased my sensitivities enormously. I was advised by my doctor that the best I could hope for was to stabilize my medical condition by living in that cabin, seldom leaving. This meant a life of severe isolation, I barely saw another human being for 4 years.

I was in near-constant pain, my diet was severely limited, and my mind was clouded by severe cognitive impairment. I couldn't exercise, due to the stress it would add to my body.

Life was very, very difficult: the main heater broke in the cabin and I couldn't replace it with a new one, I had to send my cats to live with my uncle, I had to work extremely hard to acquire safe beddings and clothing, and the extreme cold of Northern Wisconsin didn't mesh well with my impaired ability to regulate my own body temperature.

In short: I was in extreme pain, my brain barely worked, my life was very difficult, and I was entirely without hope for anything better. I didn't expect that I'd live very long.

But, hey, do you know what's cool about all this? I figured out a way to reclaim my life, and I got better.

My 'new birthday' is July 2nd, 2011. That's the day I escaped the cabin.

I had been hacking my brain intensely for a year and a half, and at that point I was barely well enough to spend a full day in the city (I was making enormous progress, but I had a hell of a large hill to climb).

July 1st is the day a big storm came through and knocked down a lot of trees in the area. Many of my neighbors had their roofs caved in; I was very, very lucky. The storm was so intense, that the National Guard was called in to provide assistance.

Although my back yard was full of snapped trees, and my driveway was full of snapped trees, my garage (and the car I was in) were narrowly missed by a tree that fell about 2 feet from the garage roof. The front door of the cabin would have been crushed if I hadn't put a weight set out there a few weeks earlier. Like I said -- lucky! :)

A friend found someone to clear the driveway of trees, and I escaped the cabin. I stayed in a hotel for the first time in over a decade. It took an enormous effort of will to stay the night, and I did every technique I knew over and over and over again to keep my body and brain from collapsing into some sort of toxic Erik puddle (because I knew damned well how dangerous that could be). I made it through the night. That was momentous! I was ready to leave the cabin on July 2nd, but barely.

About 6 weeks later, I was on my way to Austin Texas to find somewhere warm to spend the winter. I had never driven across the country before! It was amazing, to enter states I'd never been to before -- I was doing something I never thought I'd be able to do! As difficult as this was, the adrenaline and pure joy that I experienced on this trip made it possible for me to bodge on through and make it to Texas.

Why Austin, Texas? I had some friends in the area, it seemed like a cool city, it was easy to drive to along Interstate 35, and it was WARM. Did I mention that Texas is warm in the winter? Did I mention how tired I was of -20 degree weather?

Did I mention how awesome it was to escape that pit?

This is a glimmer of what my trip to Hell was like. It's why I feel so much anger, even today.

But it's also a remarkable sign of how far I've come. When I left the cabin I was over 330#, I had very little muscle left, I could barely walk a mile without getting completely exhausted for a few days, and my body was easily injured by even mild weight training.

Aside from the neurohacking, I've also made enormous gains in my physical prowess in the past two and a half years. It's amazing, all of it.

But my time in the pit cannot be forgotten. It's left an enormous scar on my soul.

It was torture. It hurt. It's really, really hard to describe how much it hurt.

But I climbed out of that pit and I'm never fucking going back.


Originally written on 2013-12-13