Friday, November 13, 2015
The disease that is often forgotten
I was at Alpharetta’s North Park. Wish for Wendy, the event my family and I started to fight cystic fibrosis, raised nearly $600K, a record-breaking fundraising performance. People expected me to do cartwheels and celebrate like I’d just won the seventh game of the World Series, but it’s when those final numbers are announced and the day turns to night, my feelings turn to something a bit unexpected. At least it’s unexpected to those around me. To a person who is well aware of the fight with depression and anxiety, this is just another day dealing with the struggle.
As the event was ending and friends and family who I’d seen and talked to throughout the day began departing, my thoughts turned to despair. It occurred to me that the next few months would be cold and dark due to the time change. Late fall and winter have never been my favorite seasons. Late fall is when I went to Ridgeview, a mental institution, 6 years ago. Winter is when my CF takes an ugly turn and usually requires IV’s.
My family at this year's Wish for Wendy
That Saturday evening, I found myself walking up to the vacant auction room as the rest of the attendees settled down to watch the semifinals and finals of our tournament. That night should have been a time to celebrate but thanks to anxiety and depression, it was a night to cope with my issues. It was a night to quietly sit there for five to ten minutes and calm myself by repeating the serenity prayer and meditating. Nights like these are agonizing for those of us who fight mental illness and I’m pretty sure it’s even more so for those that love us. These are what I call my “moments of darkness.”
These moments are horrible. I’ll be sitting alone contemplating death. I’m not considering suicide rather I’m thinking what death must be like. The lights and television are usually off. It’s the middle of the day. I feel like I can’t breathe and for once it’s not CF-related. All I think about is my life ending and living in complete darkness for the rest of eternity. As my pulse races, I begin to sweat. These “moments” rarely if ever occur in the spring, summer or early fall. They occur frequently as the days grow shorter from November to February.
My goal in this blog post is to show my readers what it feels like to battle anxiety and depression. I think most people think of anxiety as a quick moment where you’re worried about getting a test back and depression is just being sad about something. That’s part of it but not nearly all of it.
I believe some of my anxiety stems from growing up with cystic fibrosis. My life has been measured by tests since I was a little kid. None of them determining A’ or B’s on a report card. Each one instead determining the next step in my care.
I am open about my mental health issues. I see a psychiatrist bi-annually, a therapist three to four times a year and practice meditation when it’s needed. I am not ashamed of my emotional situation. As someone who deals with physical illness as well, I honestly don’t see much of a difference admitting I have depression versus saying I have cystic fibrosis. I believe that being transparent encourages others to ask questions, gain knowledge and perhaps gain insight into what it’s like to suffer from mental health issues.
I'm open about my mental illness because hiding it only brought me more issues.
How does one know he or she has a problem with depression and/or anxiety? Read the question below and choose your answer. I’ll then explain what my answer is and how it reveals my issues with mental illness.
Question: In the next week, you can have the following happen:
A. You have the best week of your life. Absolutely nothing goes wrong.
B. Nothing exciting happens. Things remain status quo.
My guess is that most “normal” people would choose “A.” That would have been my choice for the longest time, however; that is no longer an option for me.
When I was diagnosed with clinical depression and high anxiety, I learned that the only way I could survive on this earth is to live as even keel as possible and therefore I cannot choose “A.” While nothing bad may happen to me for an entire week, things can only go down from there hence why my only choice would have to be “B.” For me, going through highs and lows is very unhealthy. It was when people put me on a pedestal and lauded at my achievements that I had the tendency to feel invincible and arrogant. I could do no wrong. Addicts can’t live in those circumstances.
I am an addict.
My sobriety date is November 13, 2009. Today in fact is my six-year sobriety anniversary. It’s a time to give thanks but not to get wrapped up in celebration.
It was a Friday the 13th that I first stepped foot in the Ridgeview Mental Institution. Sobriety is not just about drugs and alcohol. It can be about almost anything. If there’s something that constantly nags at you and pushes you to live an unhealthy lifestyle; that is an addiction.
When I was an outpatient at Ridgeview, I witnessed all sorts of additions: drugs, alcohol, self-mutilation, etc. I learned some things about myself too that I probably would not have learned otherwise. I have an inner-arrogance about me that is very dangerous. When good things happen to me, they build into great things in my mind. While most would probably not be too concerned with that, please understand that the opposite happens as well. When bad things happen to me, they turn into extremely horrible things in my mind. I would go from being an egocentric maniac to believing I was the lowest form of scum on earth in a matter of seconds. I would go from feeling invincible to feeling as if I was the poster boy for Murphy’s Law. As my therapist explained it, I lived in extremes. I went years not being able to cope.
To me, the definition of anxiety and depression is not feeling nervous nor is it feeling sad. Experiencing these two sensations is like feeling everything at all times. When things are good, the problems tend to mask themselves but when things are bad, the problems are as visible as a huge monster cornering me in a small room.
Now let’s revisit a topic I mentioned earlier. Does cystic fibrosis cause my anxiety and depression? I can’t know for sure but I know it has not been a factor in fixing it. Having to remember pills and being able to deal with bad doctor’s appointments were things I had to deal with growing up. Notice I said “deal with” rather than “cope with.” Imagine having a disease in which your life expectancy was that of a teenager. Imagine having to get your care done at a children’s hospital because for the longest time adult clinics did not exist due to lack of need because patients generally did not live to see adulthood. Imagine a disease which requires administering hours of treatments and taking copious amounts of pills just to attempt to avoid regular hospitalizations. For most, including myself, it’s a devastating feeling to deal with 365 days a year.
The reason for my anxiety and depression?
Over the years, I’ve developed a skillset to help me cope with depression and anxiety. For one, I repeat the serenity prayer during the worst of times but also when things could not be better. I’ve learned to call my sponsor if I encounter a situation in which my sobriety could be at risk. Finally, I’ve learned that I’ll never be a “recovering” addict because my issues with depression and anxiety will never go away. I can cope with them now but I will never say that my problems are behind me. They are constantly with me and to ignore that is forgetting everything I learned from my days at Ridgeview.
Thank you for reading and if you do feel like you have an issue with depression, anxiety or any form of mental illness, seek professional help. Getting assistance for emotional issues doesn’t mean you’re weak.
On the contrary, it demonstrates your strength.
Live your dreams and love your life.
Saturday, September 12, 2015
Monday, August 31, 2015
Dear Mr. Malone,
My name is Andy Lipman. I’m 41 years old from Atlanta, Georgia. I was born in Atlanta in 1973 but my Atlanta sports allegiance did not begin until 1982.
Let’s flash back to that season. That was the year the Braves started the season at 13-0, a Major-League record to start a season. For most, that spring was mostly about wins and losses. Not for me though.
That 13 game winning streak meant a heck of a lot more to me than just baseball. It was around that time I learned my life expectancy was 25 years due to the fact that I was born with cystic fibrosis. My father got me into America's pastime that spring. I needed the Braves then a lot more than they needed me.
Those 13 straight wins kept me playing baseball and therefore improved my lung capacity. Baseball is a part of the reason I’m 42 this Friday and still thriving with this disease. Like I said, I needed baseball, specifically the Braves, back then a lot more than they needed me.
Let’s turn to present day. The Braves have one of the worst teams in baseball, attendance is dwindling and fan support is at a low I haven’t seen since the team moved to Turner Field.
There’s a disconnect between the Braves and its fans. Just as an example, I went to the Yankees game yesterday as I am a season ticket holder and I was embarrassed to tell my 7 year old that we are still considered the home team despite the fact that 60% of the stadium wore Yankee pinstripes.
Mr. Malone, all I keep hearing about is "The Braves Way." I get the marketing strategy to get younger in order to succeed. Heck, I predicted it going into the offseason. I understood the Heyward trade though it pains me to realize that you’re essentially saying we couldn’t afford him when he becomes a free agent. I understood the Justin Upton trade though once again I’m miffed that you’re saying we can’t afford him. I understood the Gattis trade because the guy couldn’t be a solid catcher. I even understood trading Kimbrel BUT only because you were starting over and you were able to get rid of Melvin Upton.
Here’s what I don’t understand. When did the Atlanta Braves become a small market franchise? When did "The Braves Way" become putting the brand over the team? When did ownership stop caring about the everyday fan?
When Ted Turner was at the helm, he either got the big named free agents or at least had the Braves as one of the teams that was in talks with the high-priced guys. I looked at ESPN after last season and the Braves were not listed as favorites for any of the best players in free agency.
Here are some other things I don’t understand. Why do we still have Fredi Gonzalez? He’s a terrible strategist and knows very little about sabermetrics which is a key metric to winning in present day baseball. I also don’t understand why we drafted about 50 pitchers in this year’s draft when hitting is our biggest weakness. You may say we’ll trade that young pitching for hitters but we haven’t exactly brought in any great hitters into our minor league system lately. We then took money we weren’t spending on guys like Heyward or Upton and signed an outfielder to a long-term deal who was past his prime and about to go under the knife. Markakis had a decent year but he can't hit for power anymore and his better days are far behind him.
We were told "The Braves Way" meant getting younger but we followed up trading some of our mid-20 stars by signing an aging catcher, several past-their-prime outfielders and a couple of scrap heap relief pitchers.
I didn’t expect to trade our number one minor league prospect, a good young pitcher and a few other players for a couple of scrubs and a 30-year old player with an injury history who is still NOT considered ready for the big leagues. That doesn't sound like "The Braves Way." I think Olivera will be our modern day Brad Komminsk. If you don’t know about Komminsk, he was supposed to be the next Dale Murphy. He wasn’t even as good as Eddie Murphy.
Mr. Malone, I have never met you and never heard a word from you about the team that has given me and millions of people around the country reasons to turn on the television or walk through the gates of Turner Field. I want to hear from you or John Coppolella or John Hart or Jon Schuerholz or anyone with the name “John” who is a Braves employee as to why we are basically tanking when kids like mine want to root so badly for this team.
We are being insulted as fans that the big deal surrounding this team is a new stadium. We don’t care. I don’t go to Braves games for the “fan experience.” I go to see a competitive team that will play its heart out for our city and I believe that most season-ticket holders will agree with me.
Somewhere there is a kid like me who needs another “13-game winning streak” to keep his self-esteem going during a difficult time. Somewhere a young Braves fan needs a run like in 1991 for some extra motivation to get him through a tumultuous time. Somewhere there is a kid who needs a CHAMPIONSHIP reminiscent of 1995 so that he doesn’t have to focus on all of the medical treatments he has ahead.
Thirty-three years ago I needed our Braves to get through my treatment-filled days. Today I believe that they need me and millions of others to stand by them and bring back the success that our fans deserve.
Thank you for your time. Please come to Turner Field sometime and witness firsthand the amount of empty seats and the number of fans wearing the visiting team's jerseys. It might be an eye-opening experience for you.
Please help us bring back a professional baseball franchise to Atlanta. If you can’t bring this kind of competitive unit to this city, I beg you to sell this team to someone locally who can.
I realize you need some type of stock in return but please consider the working man who spends a good percentage of his salary to attend games. Please consider the lifelong fans who have been watching games since before you were even born. And of course, please think about the kids who are learning baseball for the first time and need a local team to root for. Those are your future season-ticket holders.
They are a lot more important than a few pieces of paper to someone like yourself who honestly doesn't need the money.
It's time to scrap "The Braves Way" and change it to "The Atlanta Way."
We are all in this together.
Andy C. Lipman
Atlanta native & a Braves fan forever
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
I don't shy away from being open and honest about my mental issues. In fact, I often discuss my issues with depression and anxiety. Recently, I’ve been confronting another emotional stressor, that of envy.
I feel as if I'm trapped on the Titanic. Half of the ship is being rescued while my half wonders if we are doomed. In this case, people aren't being rescued based on wealth or social status, rather their survival depends on their genotype.
Over the last 12 to 18 months, two major pharmaceutical breakthroughs have helped more than 50% of the CF population improve their lung function. The new drugs, Kalydeco and Orkambi, are not effective for the type of CF I have.
While people like me are happy for those who are being treated, we are disappointed that we are not candidates for either of these drugs. Knowing this makes me feel as if I’m trapped with that disappointed CF population on a sinking ship. Emotionally it seems so unfair to read discussions on social networks like Facebook dedicated to talking about how patients' lives are so much better after taking these miracle drugs. I feel so selfish for revealing my envy.
I'm not fighting any less to beat this disease. I spend most hours of the day and night doing treatments, running, working out and doing whatever it takes to stay strong with cystic fibrosis. Yet, there is a part of me that is envious of those who take these new drugs and get to feel so much better. I'm sure that one day my genotype will have a breakthrough treatment. I know there are several companies working on one,and the previous FDA approvals only add momentum for future successes. Still, it is difficult to wait and wonder.
Neither new drug is a cure, but then not all rescue boats are guaranteed to reach the mainland safely. Still, like the drugs, they offer hope. I worry that by the time the right drug is available for me, my ship will have already sailed or worse, sunk.
Still, this wouldn't be a post from me without a positive spin. I may have already received my first "miracle" drug 9 1/2 years ago, and then another 2 1/2 years later. I'm referring to the birth of my children.
Avery and Ethan have changed my life. My health is no longer just about me. It's about them too. I want to keep getting stronger so that I can see all of the milestones in their lives. They have changed my life more than any pill could. I think that perhaps each of us has received a miracle drug some time in our lives but might not have recognized it as such because it wasn't something we had to swallow or inhale.
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
During that episode, I lived in a constant state of fear. I wasn't worried about how I was going to live my day rather I focused all of my energies on how I could outsmart death. What I didn't realize then was that I should have concerned myself more with the former than the latter.
Why is it so important to worry less about dying than worry more about living? I guess in short, everyone dies but not everyone lives. Yes, we all technically live because each of us breathes but I believe the true definition of living should not just be to inhale and exhale oxygen 24 hours a day. Living, to me, is attempting something that scares you. Living is going somewhere that is outside of your comfort zone. Living is accomplishing feats that are considered improbable.
My definition of living probably varies from many of you. I have lived with an enormous chip on my shoulder since I learned of the mortality rate that came with having this incurable genetic disease.
Living with cystic fibrosis provides me with a tremendous opportunity to view life more appreciatively. We each live only once so really it doesn't matter what ends our tour on this earth. What matters is how much we appreciate our days while we are here.
Does this mean that I am grateful every moment that I spend on this planet? Heck no! There are days when I wonder "Why me?" There are mornings that I wake up on the wrong side of the bed. There are occurrences that cause me to question life's fairness. These moments, however, are brief compared to the times that I relish experiencing another day as a part of our beautiful world.
Too many times I hear people complain about the "small stuff." Why is traffic so slow today? Why is there nothing good on television? Why does it continue to rain?
Perhaps it's perspective.
With traffic being so slow, I have more time for self-analysis or to listen to my favorite CD.
If there's nothing on TV, I can take that time to enjoy my family or take a much-needed nap.
If it continues to rain, I can work on a project that I've been pushing aside for months. I can call someone I haven't talked to in weeks or perhaps months or even years.
Life isn't about dying. If it was, we'd all be the same. It's about living and therefore we are all different. We each have the choice to make the most of every moment. If we don't, there is no one else to blame but ourselves.
The final chapter of your story shouldn't be the best one. Don't just skip to the last page; that's not where life happens. Enjoy your entire story. Make it the best book ever written.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
My company was officially sold today and therefore I am bidding farewell and focusing more on health, family and a passion project (that I'm still figuring out). The company was in the process of being sold for some time so leaving DiversiTech was not an overnight decision for me. It was great to sell the company and have a lot of people prosper from the sale. It was also a relief to sell to a company that was going to keep most of our organization in tact.
Leaving my job is difficult. I've already informed my co-workers and suppliers. I even informed my personal trainer that my days at the fitness center are numbered as it is too far from my house. She looked as sad as I look each time she tells me to do 20 burpies.
If anyone wants to reach me, you can still do so at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I want to continue speaking as a profession. I'm already in touch with a few people as to how to take my speaking to new levels. I remember the final episode of Mary Tyler Moore when Mary and her co-workers are extremely emotional as they leave for the final time. I think I'll leave with those same feelings. The last thing I'll take from my office is the name tag that has stuck to my door for the last 18 years.
Mary, I get it.
CF patients rarely have the strength nor the employer support to be able to keep a full-time job. I've been fortunate to have an understanding team and the ability to work at my company for nearly 18 years. I'm going to miss DiversiTech. When I arrived, we weren't a very big company but as I leave we have been a Top 100 private company in Atlanta for more than 5 years running. Doing treatments prior to work, at lunch and as I departed each day just became too much for me to handle. My last day will be this Friday May 22nd.
In other news, the FDA Advisory Council recommended approval for another great CF drug Orkambi from Vertex Pharmaceuticals. It doesn't yet affect my genotype but we are headed in the right direction as it affects 50% of CF patients. There are lots of cool studies going on. Too many to mention here but we seem to be getting ever-closer to a cure for this dreaded disease.
More great news for the CF Community
The girls' softball team I coached made it all the way to the finals. I was so proud of my Ducks specifically number 9 on my team. That's Avery. She came in with no softball experience and a fear of the ball. She leaves as a top outfielder and a 5-for-5 hitting performance between the semifinal and championship game.
My son made the All-Star team. I'm so excited for Ethan. We've been spending everyday lately at the fields. In fact, Saturday I had the wrong time and we arrived 2 hours early and we ended up warming up for half that time. The kid can't get enough of baseball. Or basketball. Or football. I wonder how he became a sports junkie. Yeah, I know.
Andrea is doing great. She's been very supportive during this period of change. She has done an amazing job orchestrating a new home project. A pool!!! It should be ready before the summer. We can't wait!
It's coming along swimmingly.
I'm dealing with some anxiety wondering how my life will change with so many things up in the air, but over the years I've learned how to cope with these sorts of changes. Overall, this is a very positive change. I guess part of me feels like having a fulltime job was another way I was beating cystic fibrosis. I felt that same defiance by having children, being able to exercise daily and by living past my 40th birthday. I will find other ways to defy it though.
My change in lifestyle won't affect my goal to raise awareness for cystic fibrosis.
Just a few more days till I bid farewell to one stage of my life...
or should I say just a few more days until I begin a new one.
Live your dreams and love your life.