"Jamison Hill’s memoir combines the narrative drive of a medical mystery with all the fear and pathos of a journey to hell. From virile model and personal trainer to bedridden and unable to speak, his experiences bring to life all the fragility of the human condition. A riveting true life story."
- A.J. Baime, New York Times bestselling author of The Arsenal of Democracy
At twenty years old, I was a bodybuilder who could lift more than four hundred pounds. I was in my last year of college, working as a fitness instructor, modeling for print ads, and posing in bodybuilding competitions. I fully expected to one day be a wealthy, muscle-bound fitness personality whipping people into shape on my own TV show, my picture featured on the cover of Muscle & Fitness.
Then, my idyllic life was upended. I was in a fatal car crash in which I watched, helpless and terrified, as someone burned to death. The horror of the accident left me with nightmarish flashbacks, hallucinations that made havoc of my life, and caused me to doubt my mental stability. Despite the lingering trauma, I managed to complete my final year of college.
But, not long after the accident, during a typical day at the gym, I became violently ill. My doctor diagnosed me with mononucleosis, but unlike most people with mono, I didn’t get better. I spent the next several months looking for an explanation that would account for my transformation from a bodybuilder to an invalid.
Five years later, I was bedridden and so weak I couldn’t even write my own name. I conducted life through whispers and hand signals in a dark room, rocking my tanning goggles to block out harsh sunlight. I remained motionless in bed each day, my mind hijacked by flashes of car crashes—crunched metal, broken windshields, and exploding gas tanks. Despite months of research and many visits to see top doctors, I had few answers as to why my health kept getting worse.
One doctor insisted that my illness was psychosomatic. She thought I was imagining my symptoms, similar to how I imagined flashbacks from the car accident. For awhile I believed it—the idea that the car accident somehow caused my illness. But I also wondered whether I just had a bad case of mono, or if I had a weakened immune system from overtraining in the gym. As my health continued to decline, I began to question who I was in this new, debilitated body. My status as a bodybuilder had been reduced to fading memories of training in the gym and posing on stage. I began to wonder if I would ever return to that life. My muscles were wasting away as I drifted further and further away from the life I loved. And my unrealistic views on body image didn’t help the transition—how would I define myself without my muscular physique?
The illness had left my body so ravaged I couldn’t lift weights, have sex, or sustain a romantic relationship. I doubted if I would ever be able to be a father or have a family in any capacity. As time and my illness wore on, I was forced to define myself by how I lived, how I survived, and by the person I became in spite of my struggles. In the process of reevaluating my body, and redefining who I was, I abandoned the motivations that had formed the basis of my previous life—the quest for fame, fortune, and self-worth based on the admiration of others, all of which now seemed hollow.
Throughout this dark time, I was fortunate to have the support of my family. My sister helped care for me, my father brought me food, and my mother was my biggest support. When I became too sick to take care of myself, she was my main caregiver. She also became my surrogate in the search for a doctor who could uncover the reason for my sudden decline. When, at last, she found that doctor, I finally discovered the surprising cause of the illness. With treatment, my health improved, enabling me to emerge from my dark room after more than two years of being bedridden. I started to speak and chew food again. I even progressed to standing upright and getting into a wheelchair, which is how I explored my house for the first time since becoming bedridden. Then, one day, I went outside at dusk and saw a beautiful pastel pink sunset, the first I’d seen in years.
Not long after this milestone, I met someone and fell in love. In the two years since we first met, she has shown me that two sick people can be there for each other in ways I didn’t know were possible. This realization was the inspiration for my Modern Love essay for The New York Times, titled “Love Means Never Having to Say . . . Anything.”
When Force Meets Fate is an expansion of that essay, as well as other pieces I’ve written for The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post. The essay I wrote for The New York Times was well-received, and eventually adapted for the Modern Love podcast by WBUR, Boston’s public radio station. Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones, Narcos) read the essay for the podcast.
This memoir is, foremost, about the strength it takes to survive life’s toughest obstacles and how the discipline I developed as a bodybuilder allowed me to endure years of illness, trauma, and finally, to solve the mystery of my poor health. In many ways, the memoir focuses on the human condition, and the amount of punishment a person can sustain without giving up. At its core, When Force Meets Fate is a story of change—how a person sees the world and oneself, and how unexpected events inevitably alter those perceptions. It is also about keeping one’s character intact and holding on to one’s identity amidst circumstances that would be the demise of many people. The unrelenting pursuit of my passion—bodybuilding—equipped me with the traits to survive the bleakest of fates, and to persevere in spite of years of pain and misery. In doing so, I learned how to define myself in entirely new terms. But most of all, I learned how to keep going—how to carry on against all odds—and consequently, what happens When Force Meets Fate.
Read a sample of my memoir.
Find out more about me at JamisonWrites.com.
"The gripping prose in this memoir describes a young man, whose life deteriorates from a healthy fitness trainer to the sudden depths of being sick and bedridden with a mysterious illness for years. Jamison’s dedication to life, however fragile, and advocacy, however impossible, have brought out this incredible story of survival."
- Stephanie Land, New York Times bestselling author of MAID