When I was 18 years old, I fell in love. Scary, way too fast, first time, head-over-heels love. One day, this guy I had a crush on in high school, messaged me on facebook and that was the beginning of everything. He was funny, caring, hard-working, with just a touch of bad boy. He would be the guy to turn my fairy tale into real life.
He seemed perfectly healthy. He played sports in high school and was putting 12 hours shifts in a magazine warehouse. He had tons of friends, a pretty good relationship with his family and to me, he was perfect.
As we got to know each other, he told me about his anxiety and depression that he had struggled with most of his adolescence, which eventually lead him to drop out of high school. Later I saw a scar on his back and found out that a few months before we met, he’d been in a car crash. Little did I know this combination would become my cross to bear.
The summer after we met, his back began acting up again and he would have to have another surgery. He was prescribed pain killers. Two weeks later, he was still in excruciating pain and went in for an emergency second surgery. With the help of the prescription opiates, he was able to go back to work, but had to move to the office since he could no longer lift heavy boxes. His back was still in constant pain and was now accompanied by nerve damage. Within six months, he was no longer able to perform at his job and was let go.
The next few months were taken over by pain management and doctors visits, a diagnosis of degenerative disc disease, permanent sciatic nerve damage and spondylitis. In 2007 he went in for his fourth surgery, where a titanium cage was placed around his lower spine as a form of a spinal fusion.
All four of these surgeries were unsuccessful. He now had a chronic back pain and is unable to work. He became dependent on pain killers to make it through everyday activities. He spiraled into severe depression, lost all of his friends and has ruined countless relationships.
He fell through the cracks of our system. At 22 he lost coverage of his parents insurance and was denied insurance countless times due to a pre-existing condition. He couldn’t afford to get to the doctor for proper care, so he turned to marijuana and opiates he got from “friends.” At 25 Obama’s Affordable Care Act kicked in and he was able to go back on his parents insurance. He found doctors to prescribe him higher doses of the opiates and took a lot more than what was prescribed to him. He was now using them not only to cover the pain from his condition, but also to fill the void while his life was spinning out of control. At 26 he aged out of the ACA coverage and was without insurance once again.
He started running with the wrong crowd to help him get a hold of the drugs. He stole from family, pawned electronics and did whatever he could to get his hands on the pain pills. He became a master manipulator.
He lost everything.
In the period of 5 years he went from being a hard-working, upstanding individual- to a derelict drug addict. The past two years we have experienced very low, lows- talk of rehab, a suicide attempt and continued drug use, as well as some pretty high, highs- he is has taken steps to get his life on the right track and we have a baby on the way.
I have stood by his side every step of the way. Some days, I don’t know why I keep myself in this situation. I know that I don’t deserve to go through many of the things that I have to on a daily basis, but I know that I am all he has left. I understand that he is sick and that none of this has anything to do with me. Some days we walk a mile forward and other days, we go back to square one.
He is the new face of drug use in America. He is one bad decision away from becoming a heroin addict and living in an American nightmare. He is a societal outcast, but more importantly, he is a victim of mental illness. In the greatest country in the world, his sickness is taboo and he is treated like a criminal. Until we recognize that this is a mental disorder, this addiction epidemic won’t stop. So we continue on the struggle. Day by day, one step at a time.
I know how this story ends. There are only two options, but he has to make the choice. I hope he chooses the fairy tale ending, but I’m preparing for the fact that he may choose the tragedy.