From Depression, To Blindness, To Fantasy Football and Beyond: My Journey Continues06.02.2020
By Dominick Petrillo
Before starting with the following story of my life and in some sense downturn and redemption, I would like to state I am not a professional writer yet. I am a determined sports enthusiast; I love to write, doing so to the best of my abilities. I would also like to share a quick story about my development, something I did not learn until later in life.
When my mom got pregnant with me, she was told by her doctor to terminate the pregnancy. When asked why, she was told there was a 99 percent chance I would be born” mentally retarded” or severely developmentally challenged. She said no we are going to have the baby. While I do not lend much credence to IQ tests, I have taken one and registered a 164. I was even given a college recommendation from a teacher stating, I have no weaknesses other than my intelligence being a double-edged sword as I learn so quickly that I get bored before we can move on to the next subject.
I am not saying this to toot my own horn, but simply to show how even doctors do not know everything all the time and things are not always predetermined for you in life. I also want to warn you, there may be triggering topics in the following as some of the things I am going to talk about can be hard. They will include depression and suicidal thoughts and attempts.
But by telling my story I hope I can help at least one person realize they can do anything as long as they put their everything into it. If I can help in any way, I will add my email address to the end of this story for anyone who needs help or just to talk to someone because helping others and telling my story is my form of therapy.
My life growing up was not hard. I did not struggle for food or money. We were not wealthy by any means, but we were comfortable enough. There was always family around, especially after my parents separated when I was six. The happiest times of my life came over the next four years when my sister, mom and I lived at my grandparents’ house. We had a big house, a big pool and vacations to Canada every summer. These are still my favorite vacations and I cannot wait to go back to the peaceful waters of the Rideau Lake system. While everything was happy in the suburbs of Philadelphia where I grew up, even at this early age, I still felt the depression which would come to be a part of my life moving forward.
Starting at age ten, I felt a sense of sadness. Even confiding to others my premonitions of being dead before the age of 40. While everyone passed this off as an overactive imagination, to me it was real and, in some senses, remains so to this day. I certainly still think about it. Luckily for me, or maybe unluckily for me, this never manifested in the way it does for some leading to daredevil behavior or even drugs.
For me it manifested in other ways.
To start off with, a lackadaisical attitude to everything from school to my health. Doing just enough in school to get by even though the work was so easy to me (I could have easily been an honor roll student) to overeating to the point where I was not eating out of hunger, but simply out of depression and boredom. Have you ever taken a jar of crunchy peanut butter or a tube of raw chocolate chip cookie dough to your bedroom just to eat because you did not know what else to do? Well, I have on more than one occasion. While I realize now this is a sign of depression and not boredom, at the time it just made me feel even worse about myself with every bite or every spoonful.
I remember in eighth grade when I was talking to classmates in a home economics class. I stated to them how the course did not matter to me because I do not care if I live or die anyway. After returning home that night my mom called me in to her room. The school had called because the teacher had reported what I stated in the classroom. When she got off the phone, she immediately asked me if I needed to see a shrink and I told her no, which she suggested was a good thing because we could not afford it anyway. While this was more the norm in the mid-90s rather than the exception, if I had received some help at this point, things may have possibly ended there, and I could have gotten better. Not to say my mom is to blame, because she is not. In fact, I am the one who should have realized I needed help and said yes when she asked me. It is more to show that there are warning signs for everyone, even those who appear happy on the outside but are going through World War III on the inside.
During high school, while it did not really do the “jocks only hung out with jocks” and such, I really did not have a group of friends. The first day at lunch I sat with a group of seniors and for the rest of the semester, they saved my seat every day so I would sit there. Such acceptance should have been a good thing but I was still (and to this day remain) so self-conscience I can really never be comfortable around many people as I always feel they are judging me -- and not in a good manner.
I was always a great public speaker if they were not my words. As for my own words such as oral reports, I always just took a zero or the teacher let me turn in a paper and would start the grading at 50 so I would fail but not get a zero. This was pretty much the norm. Starting in my sophomore year and going through my senior year, I split time at two schools. I went to Souderton High School for my base classes of English, history, science and math then I went the other half of the day to cooking class at Vo-Tech school.
During this time is when everything that led to where I am now really started to mount.
In July 1997, the month before my junior year and a month before my 17th birthday, I was diagnosed with diabetes. While my mom and the rest of my family saw this as a tragedy, honestly and sadly, the thought which went through my mind even sitting in the doctor’s office was, “Well, I guess this is how I will die.” I knew then and I know now this is not healthy thinking but at the time I did not care. I was never a huge sweets eater, but I guess forbidden fruit tastes the best, so I started eating more candy and not taking my medications. As a result, the diabetes started getting worse. Doctors kept trying different medications, but I was not taking them, so my health continued to falter.
After high school and a failed attempt at college, I floated for a while. The internet was new, and I loved using Yahoo chat to talk to people. I was struggling at home with my mom complaining I did not do anything, so my depression deepened. This led to my first feeble suicide attempt, which came in the form of swallowing 17 blood pressure pills. This attempt did nothing but make me a little chilly and I never told anyone about it. What it did do was make me decide I needed to get away so I met a lady who was married on the internet and she told me her and her husband would love for me to come live with them. So, I sold my golf clubs for bus fare and took a Greyhound to Katy, Texas. When I got to the station in Katy, the lady never showed up and neither did my luggage, so I was extremely upset. Luckily, the station was slow, so the agent called the local homeless shelter for me and they sent their director to talk to me.
When she arrived, she was accompanied by a police officer because she thought my case sounded eerily similar to another case in which a Katy resident lured a student there from College Station. Afterwards, he went missing for two weeks before his body was found in the fields around Katy and the thought was the same lady lured both of us there.
After giving the police all the information which I still remember, the homeless shelter paid for my bus ticket back to Philadelphia with the promise I would not make another bus trip like this again.
After being home for about a month and talking to another lady online, I bought another ticket. This time to Lawton, Oklahoma. When I arrived there, she did show up but over the next week or two I found everything she had told me was a lie. So, I was stuck there and depressed. Feeling it was my only option, I tried suicide for the second time in her home. It was another feeble attempt for sure as it was the same medication just 27 pills instead of 17. This time she was there so she called the ambulance and I was given charcoal to drink. After getting through the night, I was taken to the mental ward for 24 hours and then released. After this, my dad sent me money for a bus ticket and I again came home. Although this time I went to live with my dad in New Jersey leading to where I live now.
Over the next several years, I worked at a Days Inn for eight years, I worked at Bally’s Casino in Atlantic City for four months and I worked at car rental agencies for six years. While all were gainful employment, none of them offered medical insurance for the most part and I was still in the mind set I was going to die by 40 so I never made an effort to take care of myself. Due to this, my diabetes was out of control with my average A1C being anywhere from 12 to 15. For those of you non-medical students, this is extremely dangerous.
Kind of like having a 103.5 fever all the time.
During this time, I suffered the greatest loss of my life. On January 9, 2007, I lost my dad to depression and diabetes when he suffered cardiac arrest while on dialysis. I still remember the last conversation we ever had. It was the morning after the Ohio St. against Florida National Championship game. I was getting ready to leave for work and he called out from his bedroom asking if the team I had bet on won. I told him no they had not. He then said I love you and I said the same before leaving for work. That afternoon my sister called to tell me the horrifying news and I rushed to the hospital from work. The one thing I remember about the drive there was looking at the clock on my radio and it said 4:16 p.m. When I arrived at the hospital and they called us back to tell us he had passed, I looked at the death certificate and the time on the certificate was 4:16 p.m.
To this day my sister and I think about him every day. We have what we call “Daderisms.” Any time we do or say something that falls into this category, we immediately realize it is our dad coming out in us and we laugh.
After the loss of my father I think the depression started to again come to the forefront as I was still the same on the outside but felt like I was a failure on the inside. It felt like I was disappointing both my dad and my grandfather with how I was living. My dad was an extremely hard worker when he was able to work. He dropped out of school at 16 to become a truck driver and he worked for many companies over the years until 1992 when he was injured climbing into his truck. While in the hospital, his bosses came in to see how he was feeling and also to inform him they would no longer be needing his services. From that point on in his life he battled the depression.
While his injuries inside and out never healed, he continued to try to work when he could, to the detriment of his own health. His determination has lived on in me. It has motivated me to work as hard as I can and to follow my dream of sports writing.
That determination is not the only thing I learned from him. I have also learned, for better and worse, humor. Not just humor to make people laugh, but humor to hide feelings. Always trying to show a positive exterior no matter how you are feeling on the inside. This is a lesson I have learned all too well. It is something I do to this day.
While it is not healthy, it is a way to keep others from knowing my inner torment.
Following my father’s death, I continued to work at the car rental agencies, the Days Inn for a time and also Bally’s until finally, in 2009, I was strictly working in the car rental field. Every night -- and yes, I do mean every night -- I would drive home down Interstate 295 and when I was traveling in the left lane and would be coming up to an overpass, my first thought would always be, if I just yanked the wheel to the left right now, I could hit this barrier at 70 and never feel a thing. Although I never did it, I did think about it each and every day. Also, during this time, I spent time in ICU twice as I developed diabetic ketoacidosis meaning my sugar was so out of whack, I almost fell into a diabetic coma.
In early 2011 I received a Ped Egg as a Christmas present to shave calluses off the bottom of my feet. It worked well for the first few times but because of my neuropathy, I did not feel the point where on my left foot I cut the skin just beneath my little toe causing a blood blister to form. After it was pointed out to me by my sister, we took precautions including wrapping it as well as cleaning it with alcohol and hydrogen peroxide but to no avail. After going to the doctor and getting a strong antibiotic and taking it, it still did not work. There for when I woke up on Sunday June 25, 2011 and found my little toe and shin being so painful and the toe had turned the color of a blueberry, I drove myself to the hospital where I remained for six weeks. I even got caught in a police trap on the way there and got a $125 ticket for not having a valid inspection on my vehicle since I had just purchased it and didn’t have the pink slip showing I had two weeks to get it inspected.
I arrived at the hospital about 10 a.m. and my 2:30 p.m. a major portion of the top of my foot as well as my little toe were gone. I was advised that the infection had been spreading amazingly fast and had I not driven myself there when I did, it would have been much worse than it turned out. This was the first of my two six-week stays in the hospital due to my foot.
Do you know how much they charge someone without insurance for six weeks in the hospital? $333,000.
On the bright side since I always like to battle depression and other feelings by covering it up with humor, we still on each anniversary date of the amputation have hot dogs and tater tots.
The End of Sight:
In early 2012, I started to notice my vision getting blurry even with the use of my glasses. I called around to different eye doctors to find out what type of insurance they accepted and was told of a few different eye-care policies. After purchasing one of the plans and going to the doctor in June, he told me he was not a specialist, but he felt I was developing detached retinas and I needed to see a retina specialist. I asked if he knew of any who accepted my insurance and he told me no they do not take eye insurance, they use medical insurance.
So again, I was unable to go any further.
After waiting throughout the summer with my eyesight getting to the point of needing a magnifying glass to read the computer screen. I had to work with my boss to shift my hours allowing me to get home before dark. As I could no longer see in the dark to drive. After finally gaining medical insurance on November 1, 2012, the first thing I did was make an appointment to see a specialist. When I went to him the first time, he looked in my eyes with his machine for less than one minute before saying you have detached retinas. I asked which eye and he said both are completely detached. After telling me this he also told me my eyes were so damaged, he doubted he could save any sight in my left eye and that my right eye was already past help.
So why you ask, do I consider November 19, 2012 the day I went blind?
Because after this appointment, my sister would drive me to and from work every day and on that day, a Monday, I was sitting at work and realized, even with the magnifying glass, I still could not see the computer and this was the last day I was ever able to work there.
Starting December 7, 2012 and going forward until March 2016, I dealt with a multitude of eye surgeries at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. All this while still dealing with yet another six-week stay in the hospital in 2013 for a surgery to remove more of my foot bone which became infected. As well as another two-week stay for a skin-graft procedure on my foot using a mixture of my skin and cells from a shark skin to finally close it permanently. This, finally, put an end to the infections once and for all.
So now, not only was I dealing with complete blindness as my eyes got worse with each surgery until there was absolutely no sight left, I am also dealing with leg weakness and balance issues due to my foot -- issues which I still deal with to this day.
When I was first told I would not be regaining vision, of course I was a little depressed. But not as much as you (or even I) would have thought. Yes, I was sad I would not see my family anymore, but I soon realized when sleeping, I still see my family and my friends through all the happy memories in my dreams. Better still, they would always look the same to me; the same way they looked when I last saw them or what they looked like years ago during happier times. I could still see them. All I had to do was close my eyes.
After coming to this conclusion, the depression I thought I would have never really manifested. Instead, a sense of “What am I going to do with my life?” overtook me. I had nothing but time on my hands, I was not even 40 years old and I was not going to spend the next 40 years sitting at home doing nothing. I also started feeling I was still here for a reason. I thought I would be dead by 40, I thought the diabetes would be how it happened and while it did take my sight and some of my physical capabilities, it had not killed me.
What it had done is actually improved my life in many ways.
It showed me who my true friends really were. They were the ones who stuck with me. Not the ones who told me “I am not going to deal with your disability.” It has shown me a better way of seeing people. No longer can I be one of the masses who take one look at a person and just instinctively know whether they are someone I would ever consider even hanging out with let alone anything else. While everyone claims to not be superficial like this, everyone is it is just natural. But being blind, I cannot see the clothes you wear or your skin color or anything else. All I can see is your heart which is shown through your words and actions, not your dress or appearance. In this sense, I have met much better humans and made much better friends then I did in the past when I had 20/20 vision.
In fact, since going blind I truly feel the world would be much better if everyone had to go completely blind for six months. They would feel the hurt and depression some experience when getting put down by society. Conversely, they would also realize how good it feels to find their true friends. The ones who are willing to look at you as a person, not a blind person. You would see what the visually impaired see with our “Blind Vision.”
For those of you who contemplate a world spoken of in the song ‘Imagine” by John Lennon; if everyone had a chance to see the things around them the way the myself and other blind people do, it might just become a reality. All the racism and flat out injustices seen in today’s society might just diminish to the point of endangerment and with all hopes, extinction.
After coming to these determinations, I came to another one as well: I have always cared about helping others more than taking care of myself. I have always looked at it as a kind of self-medication or self-therapy.
I also knew I have been a life-long sports fan from golf to football to curling and even darts. I just loved and still love sports -- the NBA not included. It just is so much drama and diva behavior since the millennium. Sorry folks, it is true.
With this said, I have dreamed of a job in sports since I was young and I knew if I had any chance of doing it I wanted to take the shot and also try to help others at the same time. Those who might be suffering with depression or anything else I had gone through. I also love to write, although I have much work to do and progress to be made in that regard. Still, I believe a sports writing position would be the best of both worlds.
It would allow me to be productive along with also getting my story out there.
With this in mind, I started to try to figure out how to make it happen. I did not know anyone, and I knew I was not a good enough writer to get a position with a platform to help others (although I do think I have come a long way). I started getting really bored at home, so I decided to see what this podcast thing was about and started looking up different shows to listen to. One of the first ones I found was Backyard Banter with Matt Harmon. At the, time the newest episode was about Justin Lonero. I decided to listen, and I was really struck by how he beat alcoholism and got his life on track. I saw a lot of similarities in us -- albeit under different circumstances.
After listening to the episode, I went on Twitter, found his profile and saw that he had his direct messages open so I sent him a message telling him how much I liked his episode and also how it affected me. I told him a little about my struggles, my blindness and wanting to get into the fantasy football and sports world and he sent out a tweet asking for any people willing to help. The first reply I got was from Andrew Ferris which led me to landing with Fantasyhotread.com. Thanks to Andy and Adam Inman, I have gained traction in the industry and my writing has improved greatly. I am now a majority owner of Fantasyhotread.com due to the trust given to me by both Andrew and Adam Inman. With the help and support of Justin, Andy and Adam -- as well as multiple others who I can’t thank enough, I have been given the chance to write for a few different websites, get in to The Scott Fish Bowl for four years running(and hopefully all future Fishbowls) and, as of 2018, start moving my way up even more in the writing world by landing a position as a writer for Rotoballer.com.
So onwards and upwards. From here, I hope.
There are so many writers and others in the industry who have been so willing to help me and encourage me that I cannot name all of them as I would not want to miss anyone in the thanks so I just want to say to all of you, thank you all so much for all the guidance, wisdom and support you have shown a blind and disabled yet determined and passionate sports fan trying to get to his dream. The hope is, in doing so, I also make a difference in someone else’s life who may be struggling with their own demons.
When I first got help from Justin, I told him I did not know any way I could thank him enough. I told him if he ever needed anything, I was there. He simply said if I wanted to thank him when I make it, make sure I help others. I have always tried to do this my entire life when I can. Now, with the support I have been shown from this community as a whole, I truly look forward to doing exactly this for the next group of up and coming writers and analysts.
As I enter my fourth season writing about fantasy football. With all of the changes we are facing in our country, I still yearn to make a difference. I still strive to gain a career writing about football. My passion for the sport has only grown through out the years. To the point of not just wanting to write and podcast about fantasy football, but also the sport as a whole. It is difficult in today’s climate to see the goal coming true. Not knowing what will come down the pike for anyone. I know in my heart if I keep working and making contacts, I can do it. I will do it. And for all the others out there living everyday just to make it, I must do it.
While I still have many days in which I think about suicide and wonder what I am doing here, I know now it is not worth it. I realize that even if it seems bad today, it will get better. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But as long as you stay determined to get better and take the steps necessary to make it better, you and I will be fine. There are people out there willing to listen. It is not always family, as seen in my case, but there are groups of people just like yourself no matter what your condition is. From drugs to alcohol. From gambling to depression. For any of a myriad of issues, there is help. Please do not give in to the temptation of thinking suicide is the only way.
I thought this way for many years and if I had succeeded, I would never have achieved my dreams. I realize now I still have dreams left unfulfilled in my life. While it is too late for me to have kids due to my diabetes, I have always been a romantic and passionate man and I want to find a woman to share this with. I have looked my whole life for someone who will love me the way I want to love them. If I had not made it this far, I would lose the opportunity to find that lucky woman who deserves my love just for being them.
There is someone out there for everyone. Maybe part of your depression is the feeling of being unloved. I know for sure it is part of mine. When the time is right, you will find them.They may already be in your life and you just do not know it yet. The key is never giving up and never letting go of the thing which keeps you getting up every morning. I know at my lowest times in the past few years, the only thing that kept me from hurting myself was a promise I made to someone special. I do not break my promises. In this case, I promised to never harm myself again. I think about the promise every morning and every night.
While this person is no longer in my life, she is very dear to me to this day and I would never go back on my word to her.
Whatever it is that gets you up and out of bed in the morning, make sure you never forget to think about it. Make sure you get the help you need through support groups, friends or family in order to get through the day and on to the next. Take life one day at a time and eventually, things will become clear and you will get past the battle and win the war.
As for those looking for help with anything from a podcast guest to anyone with a job opening and especially those of you who either want to comment on my story or need someone to talk to and listen to them, please do not hesitate to follow me on twitter @EnvisionFF and send me a direct message and also feel free to email me at dominickPetrillo@gmail.com