A Depressing Work of Staggering Illness - OZY | A Modern Media Company

A Depressing Work of Staggering Illness

A Depressing Work of Staggering Illness

By Troy King



If you’re still alive, you haven’t killed yourself, and that’s got to be worth something.

By Troy King

Everything is not always what it seems.

That is: Before you judge someone, get to know them. You might be surprised. Me? I was born in Bakersfield, California, in 1970. I was part of a set of fraternal twins with my sister. Unlike my sister who was born healthy and able to go home, I was born premature. I was in an incubator hooked up to sensors and tools to keep me alive. I was also born with asthma and allergies to everything, most of which could kill me, since they could cause an asthma attack. And my asthma is so severe that if I have an attack I always end up in the emergency room.

The doctors told my mom that she should let me die, that our lives would be hard, I would never be a normal kid and did she really want to live like that?

I grew up loved by my family, though. We lived a block away from my grandmother. She had 10 daughters. But I spent most of my time in the hospital. It’s amazing what you can get used to. Needles were like brushing my teeth. I always had an IV stuck in me when I visited and tons of tests.

I had a Kermit stuffy that I was given to keep me company when I was sick and my family couldn’t stay at the hospital with me. He was my best friend. I was 6 years old. I met a girl there who was never allowed to walk on her own and never got out of bed.

I started going into her room and talking to her. The fact that I was African-American and she was white didn’t matter. I would talk to her all day until they kicked me out. I even fell asleep holding her hand a few times. I used to sneak her my Jell-O whenever I could. We became very close. I didn’t like the fact that she couldn’t get out of bed, so I’d sneak into her room at night and put her in a wheelchair.

I would have her hold my IV stand and Kermit and off we went, me rolling her around the floor and hiding from the nurses. I can remember her smiling and laughing the whole time. It was the most I’d seen her smile, ever. Eventually we got caught. They would just escort us back to our rooms. They would always let me push her back. It was good for both of us. The hospital can be a lonely place.

The doctors told my mom that she should let me die, that our lives would be hard, I would never be a normal kid and did she really want to live like that?

I eventually had to leave the hospital. I walked by her room. I didn’t want to go. I asked my mom if I could stay. She said no. I asked if I could give her my Kermit so she wouldn’t be lonely, and I ran into her room, gave her a hug and my Kermit. That was it. No name, nothing. Just a memory of her that makes me smile.

But Bakersfield wasn’t good for my health, and we moved to East Menlo Park. I was the white sheep in a Black family, though. I was always different. On the surface we looked like any other family, but the truth was we dealt with a lot of physical and mental abuse. Because of various addictions to alcohol and drugs. I grew up hiding cuts, bruises and scars.


I soon discovered a world out there beyond my neighborhood and far from a family life I wanted to get away from, and when I turned 14, I took a turn that changed my life: I became a Rude Boy. While this was at first known for being part of a British subculture that combined a love of ska music and early reggae with a sharp fashion sense and scooters, for us it became a lifestyle. Even now it’s a big part of who I am.

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The author, in yellow as a young ’un.

Source Photo courtesy of Troy King

Then a turn for the terrible: I lost my sister to suicide. She’d just had a baby and suffered from postpartum depression. This together with childhood trauma and abuse made for a bad combination. We were 18. I felt more broken than I had my whole life.

And when people feel broken, they break: drug abuse, alcohol, homelessness and a self-destructive path. I tried to kill myself a few times, and every time I was saved by my best friend. If not for him I would have joined my sister. 

He told me I needed to stop tempting fate and live my life and stop chasing death. So when I was 26, I met the woman of my dreams. We had two beautiful daughters and were on our second dog.

But in 2015, after 20 years, we split. It was really hard to do and caused a lot of pain to break up the family, but I was unhappy. It took years of trying to make it work before I told her. My daughters and I are very close. I stayed at home with them for the first year or so when they were born and have always been there to support them and be the father I never had. They always came first, no matter what.

I had PTSD, anxiety, depression, intense episodes of anger. My therapist and doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.

My girls have a great life, and family, friends, teachers and everyone who has ever met them falls in love with them. People say that it’s the parenting, which is true for the most part, but the soul, the inner beauty, has everything to do with the individual.

But then I had knee surgery and, sadly, a breakdown. I was working two jobs, 15 hours a day. I was sleeping about four hours a night. I started drinking a lot. Every day. I kept alcohol in my car and would drink when stressed. After the breakdown, I ended up on leave for the third time in two years. I was seeing a therapist four days a week. I was diagnosed with a new disorder every month.

I had PTSD, anxiety, depression, intense episodes of anger. My therapist and doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I was also blacking out. My allergist told me I seemed tired. I told her I always felt tired, no matter how much I slept. She checked my sinuses and noticed I had a deviated septum and polyps. An extreme case.

This story doesn’t have a happy ending. I’m sorry for that. I struggle with depression, recover from surgeries and other medical issues and I miss seeing my babies as often as I want to. But I take what life gives me and try to weather the storm. One day at a time.

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