Introduction

I loved my old life. I relished in the discipline it took to work two jobs, attend college classes, pose for modeling gigs, and most importantly, work out every day. Exercise was my fun, my playtime—the chance for me to drown out everything and get wild. But I also saw it as my path to fame and fortune. Surely one day I would be a famous fitness personality on the cover of every muscle magazine.

I became obsessed—working out was what I prioritized above all else. I would skip class and work, sometimes I’d even go without adequate food or sleep, but I never missed a workout. While my friends were off studying in the library or going to parties, I was at the gym, my clothes drenched in sweat. I worked out because I loved it. Exercise was so embedded in my life, it was like breathing. I couldn’t live without it. That’s why I tried to fit as much of it into each day as possible.

Most days I woke up at five in the morning, downed a protein shake and caffeine pill, then at 6:30, I led a class of devoted exercisers in an hour-long, heart-pumping, sweat-inducing, high-intensity workout routine. When the class was finished, the floor was covered with sweat and bodies lying prostrate. But my day was just beginning.

From there, I went to Sonoma State University, where I spent the next eight hours sitting through lectures. I was an average student—I did just enough to pass my courses, and if I had an opportunity, I snuck in a nap in the back of the lecture hall. When my academic classes were done for the day, the real fun began. I hit the gym for three hours of heavy weight lifting. I tossed ninety-pound dumbbells around the weight room like pillows and left feeling ready to take on the next challenge of my day.

That’s when I would down a second protein shake and caffeine pill as I raced off to teach another group fitness class in the evening. On my way home, I would make one last stop at the gym for an hour of high-intensity interval training on the treadmill. Then, finally, after all the calories were burned and all the sweat had hit the floor, I chugged one last protein shake and tried to sleep a few hours before I woke up and did it all over again.

Now, eight years later, my life is very different. I often try but fail to wrap my head around the stark contrast—the fact that I’m too weak to hold a water glass and I have to type these words on a smartphone because I can’t support the weight of a laptop.

But these are relatively minor obstacles compared to what I’ve already been through. As frustrating as it has been, nonverbal communication has kept me alive while I’ve been unable to speak, eat solid food, or get out of bed. I’ve tried, really tried, to stand up, but every time I put my feet on the ground my muscles give out at the slightest bearing of weight. My body used to lift hundreds of additional pounds, now it can’t even support its own weight.

I’ve witnessed my health steadily crumble over the last several years, but I still can’t understand how such a fit, active, and seemingly healthy person in the prime of his life can be reduced to such profound debilitation. I can’t seem to reconcile my past self with my present self. It feels as if I’m still waiting to get my old life back, still waiting to wake up tomorrow and resume everything I was doing before I got sick.

I can’t help but wonder whether I’m the same person who used to throw weights around the gym like pillows, the same person who would wake up at five in the morning to show other people how to work out. Am I still that person? Do I even want to be that person anymore? These questions remind me that we don’t get to pick which obstacles we face in life, and we don’t get to decide our fate, but we do get to choose the force with which we meet it.

That’s why, looking back, my struggles feel eerily fateful, as if they were waiting on the horizon the entire time but I failed to see them. Then, before I knew it, they were right in front of me and I had no choice but to crash head on . . . .

Next Chapter: Chapter 1: The Crash