In July 2011, I returned to Arlington, Virginia after an amazing couple of months away from home. I don't know what my exact financial situation was but I know I was still short about $25k between Full Tilt, Ultimate Bet, and outstanding poker investments and liable for $18k to the IRS. Whatever the numbers worked out to, I decided I could afford to chip away at the IRS bill a bit and shipped a $5k check their way. I wanted to do my part in keeping those government wheels churning, especially after they'd helped me so much in the last year!
I hadn't been giving my next move a ton of thought with how busy I was at WSOP, but one idea had materialized as the top seed. My friends Nate (from Cali, lived with him at '10 WSOP) and Stu (from the UK, also lived with him at '10 WSOP) had moved into a house in Marbella, Spain with another poker player, Dave (from elsewhere in the UK), who I had never met. Additionally, one of my best friends, Tim (from Australia, lived with him at '10 WSOP, 2 weeks in Europe '10, '11 WSOP) was going to join them in mid-August. There was no longer an extra room available, but there was an extra bed. There was also a pool and a Spanish-style villa...count me in.
The rest of August consisted mostly of relaxation as I wrapped things up in Arlington and prepared to move to Spain and continue my poker career. On August 22nd, I boarded my Delta flight and took off for my overseas experience.
I was hot off the bat. Not only that, my house was the perfect blend of people. We would go out a couple nights a week, meet awesome people, play video games (epic Mariokart battles), play padel, ping pong, soccer 3 times a week (once a week in a Spanish league), mini golf, hiked up the tallest mountain on the Costa del Sol twice (La Concha), etc. We just flat out lived. The balance between poker, exercise, and a social life (not to mention a top of the line cook in Nate) made it so much easier to be successful at what I was there to do: occasionally play poker.
|Dave and Nate chilling on top of La Concha. Marbella lies below.|
|Tim, Nate, Dave, and myself after a hike near one of the white villages.|
Heading there my intention was to primarily focus on .5/1 PLO and 1/2 PLO with a fair amount of tournament days mixed in to keep things fresh. After a disappointing tournament grind during WCOOP (World Championship of Online Poker) I decided it was in my best interest to purely grind cash games. My final cash results looked like this: 134,000 hands, +$16,845 with about 75% of my play at .5/1. During this time, I generated $17,603 in rake (weeeeeeeeeeeee) which returned about $6k to me in rakeback when all was said and done. I also binked a $1k luckbox bonus on Party Poker at the end thanks to a promotion they were running.
The tournaments I played didn't go quite as well but I was probably only down about $1k overall. I went and played one tournament live in San Remo, Italy, a $2500 PLO that lasted just two hours. Fortunately a majority of my action in that was backed so it cost me very little. When all the numbers were crunched I was heading back to the U.S. in November a few days before Thanksgiving ready to finally pay my 2010 taxes, a huge financial burden off my back.
|Sun setting over the ocean, taken from my room in Spain|
And I was pumped to plan my next trip out of the country to do it all again.
I arrived home on Monday feeling great. I still felt okay on Tuesday and then out of nowhere started feeling a lot of anxiety on Wednesday about seeing my extended family on Thursday for Thanksgiving (what else is new). When Thursday rolled around the anxiety was really peaking and I was secretly having a very hard time communicating with my close family, let alone extended family members. They had no idea because externally I looked like the same person but conversations that used to come naturally were now extremely stressful and I waited earnestly for Thanksgiving to be over.
It should be noted that I had never experienced anything like this in my entire life. I have always been a very happy-go-lucky person and my friends have often commented that I talk like a girl. Compliment accepted. However, over the previous year I had started to develop some social anxiety, feeling very uncomfortable during any sort of silences, even amongst very close friends. There was a very small number of people I still felt completely comfortable with and I soon found myself confiding in them. Again, on the surface, I was the same old Brandon, but deep down I was struggling with situations I used to love and enjoy. So this anxiety wasn't completely foreign to me but the degree to which it was felt was certainly alarming.
Thanksgiving wound down and I left my house to visit Hannah who helped take care of me for the next few days as anxiety completely overtook me. I no longer could keep the outward appearances of being the same person but I was at least around people that wouldn't know the difference. The one person who did know knew why and completely understood. I lay on the couch watching TV and fought a massive internal struggle in my mind. I had plans with a friend on Saturday that I had to make a lousy excuse for. On Sunday I went and watched football with a few friends I hadn't seen in months. I looked like I was having fun. I was freaking the fuck out.
Things worsened. Hannah returned to Wisconsin on Monday and I went back to my parents house and went on the internet to try to find a doctor to go see. At this point I recognized that not only was I suffering from terrible anxiety but also depression. I found a few doctors in the Annapolis area, where my parents had recently moved to. The only problem was that I couldn't pick up the telephone to call them. All this time I hadn't told my parents any of this as I had been living independently for three years and this was just a part of my relationship with my parents that was strained. They had wondered if I had depression a few years before when I had nearly failed out of college as a junior. Its quite possible that I did to some degree, but I think it had far more to do with a complete lack of interest in school than anything else. I was still very happy back then. Either way, I was going to have a very hard time admitting to them that I did indeed have depression.
Aside: When I say I have a strained relationship with my parents I am not saying it is in any way dysfunctional. My parents are incredibly loving and supportive but we have struggled to see eye to eye on a number of things over last several years. I think we are both working on it.
Around 5 pm on Monday my Mom came into my room and asked if everything was all right. I hadn't left my bed all day. It was time for me to ask for my parents help. I told her simply, "No, I'm not okay but I can't talk to you about right now. I'll talk to you about it later when I'm ready." She said okay and closed the door. She checked on me an hour later and this time I snapped back a bit, a defense mechanism of our strained relationship, "When I'm ready." I came downstairs a couple hours later for dinner and poured it all out on the table for my parents to hear. How everything in my mind was just a vicious cycle of negativity. How all of the things I had once loved and thoroughly enjoyed: sports, music, friends...I had ceased to enjoy at all. I didn't understand why, I just knew that it was happening. I could literally do two things that gave me joy: eat and masturbate, and you can only do each so many times per day, as I soon found out.
My parents offered their help and I accepted. They quickly found me a psychiatrist to go see who readily gave me a prescription for anti-depressants. They also found a psychologist for me to go see. The first one sucked, I moved on. The second one was a former sports psychologist who upon finding out that I was a professional poker player began using poker metaphors on just the first day...bingo.
For a full week I lay in bed and waited for sleep. I was happy when I slept, or at least not unhappy. When I woke up the negative thoughts began and they were soon accompanied by an all-day migraine (the first migraines of my life) which would last another month and a half, long beyond the depression itself. When I had issues I would talk to a couple of friends and my parents, who would attempt to get me back to thinking rationally. I understood that I would be happy again but for the time being it was a feeling I had a hard time remembering. Everything was saddening. I have always been a very social person and my sudden complete inability to communicate with people was horrifying. The anxiety and depression fed off each other in a vicious cycle of misery. Nothing could entertain me and conversations with others provided 100x more stress than pleasure.
After about a week I started to feel a little better. I watched an episode of "Big Bang Theory" and laughed a little instead of flipping channels in disgust. I watched a college football game with some interest instead of total disregard. I continued to go to the gym but I now found myself somewhat motivated again, no longer just going through the motions. These three things helped me finally break the cycle. I mean "Big Bang Theory" specifically. I couldn't relate to their lives in any way and what I needed was pure fiction, everything else I over-analyzed like crazy. I would watch "The Office" and wonder about character interactions on a level never intended. After a few weeks I reconnected with friends, and finally went out of the house again to hang out with my friend, Andrew. I told him about everything that was going on and he was incredibly supportive. I told him he was the first person I was able to hang out with in person in 3 weeks and how much it meant to me. Typing it out right now brings tears to my eyes. I was laughing and smiling again.
After about a month the depression had faded into mere background noise. The anxiety was still there and I was working on it aggressively with my therapist. I was going to him twice a week since I was planning to leave the country again soon. Crash course therapy, and it worked incredibly well. New Years rolled around and I went out with a few friends and had an amazing time dancing in the new year. With my head finally back on straight I realized I could finally start planning out my future, and excitedly pounded out plans for Australia.
On January 21st, I went to Madison, WI for a week to see Hannah and went to an Avicii show. It was an incredible week and we had an amazing time at the concert, her first EDM experience (that's electronic dance music, not some sort of drug, Mom). On the 26th I left for Vegas to chill there with Eric before we left for Australia. We went to see Dada Life at Surrender and partied another night with some friend's of Eric's at the Aria. Another amazing time and Dada Life blew the roof off the house, as to be expected from the Big Bad Wolf (that actually hadn't come out yet, but pretend it had because it works nicely).
On January 30th, I left for 2 months in Byron Bay, Australia. My life had turned around in a huge way and I was determined to look at things from a different perspective. I had always been a very positive person in general but my month-long bout with depression gave me a new-found focus on positivity.
|Not too hard to feel better when you're going here...|
The only problem was that the cards weren't with me. That, and I was virtually broke going in having just sent a $15k check to the IRS and spent another $1500 on surprise medical bills. The first two weeks were the toughest of my poker career, losing $4.3k of the $2k that I had to my name. Okay, I had a little more than that, but I had $83 in my actual bank accounts and everything else was online and rapidly dwindling. It was extremely stressful and inspired a few blogs. But I was incredibly determined and working harder than I ever had before. I also knew I was still playing very well and things were bound to turn around for me eventually.
When they finally did, it happened in a big, big way. 73,000 hands and 5 weeks into Australia, I was still down $3700 before rakeback. After 129,000 hands, I had finally broken even. In the following 18,000 hands, I made $7400. It felt AMAZING. On top of that, I had made another $7k in rakeback over the course of the two months, and another $2k in bonuses. Things were finally looking up.
(During this time I was also playing some $1/2 and things weren't going well at all but this was backed and had no effect on my livelihood)
Then my roommate and I had a falling out. For various reasons we decided we could no longer live together and I looked for other options. A month ago I would've been stranded in Australia, only having enough money to get out and make it back to my parents house, resigned to look for a job. But after the great month I had money to go somewhere, and even a little spending money.
I had a few options...Panama with Nate, Costa Rica with Nelson (from Texas, lived with at '11 WSOP), or Colombia with Dan (from Arizona, lived with at '11 WSOP). The more I looked into it, the more it looked like Colombia was the best option so I contacted Dan and he was ecstatic that I would be able to join him for Poker Stars' SCOOP (Spring Championship of Online Poker) in early May before we headed to Vegas for WSOP 2012 together.
So the plans fell into line. I went up to Brisbane to hang out and relax with Tim for another week, meanwhile playing about 20 hours of poker and making another $3k (run better Brandon). During that time I actually my best day ever, making 16 buy-ins at .5/1 (+$1600 for the laymen). This day preceded the last Sunday of my stay in Australia and I decided to freeroll a big tournament session to see if I could make it into a truly big day. From here, I wish the story got truly epic, but instead I found myself exhausted out of my mind at 9 am (in Australia Sundays are played on Monday morning, starting at around 3 am) and my $1600 profit was now $50. Oh well, it was worth a shot! When Australia wrapped up I had somehow managed to achieve some goals that at one point seemed impossible (an A on the WRATH scale).
I left Australia on the morning of Saturday, April 14th. After 24 hours of traveling via Seoul, South Korea (note: Burger King in South Korea tastes the EXACT same) I arrived in Los Angeles mid-afternoon, still Saturday. I spent an awesome few days in LA then shot down to Indio, CA for a little festival called Coachella, completing the best week of my entire life...but we'll save that story for another day.
Right now I am in Madison, WI visiting Hannah for a week before heading down to Armenia, Colombia for 3 weeks there. I stop for a night in Ft. Lauderdale, FL on the way to play a little at the Hard Rock Casino before catching an early flight the next morning. I return on the 22nd for one night in Maryland with my parents before beginning the drive out to Vegas. St. Louis on the 24th for a baseball game (free tickets from my brother's gf!), then going to Avicii on the 25th with my brother and his friends, and then I continue the drive to Vegas, where I will be staying through mid-July for the WSOP (and EDC, BOOM).
An incredible couple of months lie directly ahead, the depression far behind...
Right now in my life, I am extremely, extremely happy but I always remember how close behind me those dark days were. They were irrational and the result of a chemical imbalance and they could very well happen again (drugs please hold one time) but in the meantime I am intent on living my life to the fullest, when I am doing really interesting things, or even when I'm just sitting around listening to music or watching TV. Enjoy what you have, you only live once.
Depression is obviously a very personal issue to me, but I encourage anyone that suffers from it to share their experiences and thoughts with those they trust. Its not something we can get through on our own very easily, nor should it be. It also isn't something you should be ashamed of. I had everything in the world going for me and was incredibly happy and then the next week found myself bedridden thinking there was no joy left in the world. That will happen to some people but just know that you will get out of it and you will find happiness again, I promise. For some that will mean medication, for some it simply means talking through their problems with friends, family, or an occasional unbiased third party observer.
Also, I encourage anyone and everyone to talk to a therapist at some point in your life. You may not even think you have any problems but its an incredibly freeing experience and will open you up to things you've never considered.
One final note. For those of you close to me who were unaware of my depression, I don't want sympathy or apologies or anything like that at all. It is what it is and I sincerely believe I am better for it in the long-run. I had the support of many friends and family during that time and I just couldn't come to everyone, whether it be because I didn't want to burden you with my troubles or because I just simply didn't have the time or energy. Everyone who has been a positive influence in my life at any point in time, I've got nothing but love for ya.