How I turned my losses into lessons

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To: To kids facing tough times

From: George Atkinson III

Charity: NAMI San Francisco

Sponsor: Ashton Nixon will donate $50 to NAMI SF in honor of the first 50 shares of George's letter

To kids going through tough times,

It seemed like I lost everything all at once. I can’t even completely describe the hurt I feel but sharing my story with you is a release for me.

When I was young, I came home from school and I was like mom, “We’re rich. We’re rich.”

A kid or a teacher at school found out my dad was George Atkinson II, a pro-football player. So, I thought we were set for life.

I told my mom, “We don’t have to worry about nothing. We good. We rich.”

But my dad and mom weren’t together at all.

We weren’t good. We weren’t rich.

Early in George’s childhood, he lived with his mother and twin brother, Josh.

Instead, we struggled.

My mom suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, which led to drug addiction. Crack was her main choice. Since we were babies, she would have episodes. She would think people were out to get her or she would hallucinate. Eventually, she’d get 5150’d, which is where she was forced into an institution. My brother and I didn’t know what was going on. All we knew was that people were taking our mom away from us.

At 10 years old, I started to realize my situation wasn’t right.

I had to call the police on my mom because she was getting violent toward me and my brother.

Our lives were never stable. We moved around a lot because my mom wouldn’t be able to pay rent or she would damage the property, writing on the walls. They put my brother and me in special education classes because we weren’t attending school regularly, which affected our self-esteem.

For me and my twin brother Josh, each other was really all we had. Through the years we grew closer and closer. But neither of us were ever taught to talk about our feelings. For me, I felt like I had to be this tough guy and show no emotion.

George and Josh grew closer and closer through the years, as they faced many challenges together.

Eventually, we were taken away from our mom. After living with our uncle for almost two years our dad stepped up when we were about 13 and took us in to live with him.

Our dad instilled the discipline and guidance that we didn’t have in our lives as young kids. It was also the first time we had real stability, as it was the longest we had ever been at one spot.

However, we still did not open up about all that we went through. We just kept moving forward.

I felt like I had to be this tough guy and show no emotion.

In sports, we were bigger and faster than everyone else.

I knew there was only one way to get to the league and that was through college. Football motivated me to get my grades right and focus and hone in on school.

We told our new guidance counselor we wanted to take the classes that would allow us to go to a good college. He laughed at me and my brother. He thought it was a joke.

George and Josh moved in with their father when they were about 13.

He told us we needed to take these lower classes.

I was like, “No, I don’t care what you say. I am going to do what I have to do. I am getting a scholly.”

It was hard but we managed and ended up with scholarship offers from all over. My brother fell in love with Notre Dame right away. I was reluctant but he said he wanted to go there.

So, I said, “OK, that’s where we are going.”

While we succeeded, we also continued to carry pain.

Last October, when were 26 years old, our mother died from complications from Crohn’s disease. We both were grieving but I thought Josh was taking it better than me.

I guess he was just masking it…

On Christmas Eve, he went missing. We found him through the GPS in his car. Drunk and upset, he was on the verge of driving to the bridge and doing something stupid. He said he felt guilty because we pulled the plug on our mother’s life support. I told him it was our decision. I reassured him no one is blaming nobody and to snap out of it because it was in God’s hand.

I calmed him down and took him home.

The next day he hanged himself.

That’s the moment I felt like I lost everything. That’s the moment I can’t describe. I never want you to feel his pain or my pain.

I was 5150’d – forced into the same institution my mom was once in because I, too, tried to harm myself.

Filled with anger and guilt, I was on an emotional roller coaster and in a real dark place.

Then, I thought about my “why.” When I played football, helping my mom was my “why.” She was the reason I worked so hard – I wanted to help her. Now, my daughter, who is only two years old, is my “why.”

Already, she’s athletic. She loves basketball. Anything that involves kicking, dribbling or shooting a ball – she’s all over it. I knew I had to find a way to keep going and be a role model for her.

Without my daughter, I don’t know where I would be right now. She gave me that second wind of motivation.

I went to seek help and spoke to a psychologist. I realized I had to let go of this ego that made me think sharing my feelings was showing weakness. Also, I had to learn to love myself.

George had to learn to love himself.

Like you, I am still struggling. My mother’s birthday just passed and I know the holidays this year won’t be easy. But I am trying to take life one day at a time.

And so should you…

We all must make sure we don’t find the easy way out, like using alcohol or drugs to numb our pain. That will lead us nowhere. We have to face our problems head-on, whether that is talking to people, praying or listening to motivational speeches. Whatever helps you get through a tough time, that’s what you’ve got to do and that’s what I have to do too.

When I was your age, when I was a kid, I wish I knew how to open up and talk to my parents, friends or family.

Instead, my brother and I were like faucets that were running water with caps on.

Eventually, you run out of steam and all this hot water that’s stuck in this little funnel bursts and there’s nothing you can do about it.

That burst cost my brother his life and nearly cost me mine.

I don’t want that to be you. Please, let out your emotions. Don’t hold them in.

It’s a release for me to tell all of you my story because if my pain teaches you how to express yourselves during hard times, everything that I lost can turn into a gift that I can give to all of you to help you live more positive lives.

With hope for your future and mine,

George Atkinson III

 

Written with Lauren Brill

If you appreciate George’s story and our mission to create change in the world through truth, please consider making a contribution to The Unsealed.  Help us change the world!

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About the author:

George Atkinson III is a former professional football player, playing with several NFL teams including the Oakland Raiders. Atkinson’s father, George Atkinson II was a two-time AFL All-Star and Super Bowl Champion, who played for the Raiders and the Denver Broncos.

About the sponsor and the charity:

Ashton Nixon will donate $50 to NAMI San Francisco in honor of the first 50 shares of George’s letter. The National Alliance on Mental Illness in San Francisco (NAMI SF) is the community’s voice on mental illness.  At the heart of NAMI San Francisco’s mission is the sharing of information and striving to end the stigma associated with mental illness.

The Unsealed will match the donation if we get 100 new Facebook followers and 100 new subscribers by 10-24-19.

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Nothing like maintaining a positive outlook! When i need to fight off despair i set goals. It is a great way to fight off negative thoughts and feeling!

Very interesting! Opinion at a later date!

Crazy that this still goes on. I fear for my safety almost all the time. Black or brown males are subject to arrest and violent behavior. I just read a article where a former New York cops claims they had to arrest more people of color to get a promotion. This is sick and I'm tired of living in fear. People are going to start fighting back.

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I think me and your grandpa would have been friends. I been a type 1 diabetic since three years old. I would have said the same thing waking up and seeing two nurses. Do I get to choose. I'm pretty sure I've done that before.

I have learned over my Fifty-Eight years of life, and more specifically over the last 10 that FDR's words about fearing only fear itself ring true; to me, they do, anyway. And, at the same time, how the words of the 23rd Psalm comfort me and my abundant faith in G-d allows me to fear only fear, knowing full well that He is always with me. Growing up in a Non-Orthodox, yet Observant Jewish family nicely brings both together and not only makes me feel more protected but commands me to believe so. You see, I have lived a different kind of life, as we all have to some degree, but mine changes daily. Not that I am ANY BETTER than anyone else, in fact, probably less so... I stray from my stories often. I shouldn't, but since my Stroke in 2012, I have somehow developed some sort of ADD, so please bear with me, the end will justify the means and I will *try* to stick with my story; for you, my readers. I moved my family of the ex-wife and four children Cross-Country in 2002 to be closer to my dad who was turning 75 that year, and while I could not afford both financially as well as mentally to move back to Southern California (where he and my mother lived), I chose the Midbar (Hebrew for Desert) of Arizona. Within just a few short weeks of moving here, I woke up one day with some of the most severe abdominal pain I had ever experienced. I found a local doctor and made an appointment to see him that day. I arrived at the appointment and was ushered into an examination room by their PA (Physician's Assistant), who is supposed to be the same as a Doctor, but not really (?). I was examined and Prescriptions for a Pain Medication and an Antibiotic. They continued to treat me in a like manner for almost six months when I ended up in an Emergency Room, where a CT Scan was performed and Colonoscopy was scheduled. I was then diagnosed with a grapefruit-sized obstruction and abscess in my colon that would require surgical intervention. Surgery was scheduled for two days later, on a Friday in Mid-March 2003. I arrived at the hospital at the designated time, 5:45 am; was admitted to the hospital; told them about ALL my allergies (including a BIG ONE, an allergy to a particular anesthetic agent), and taken to a room where I was put into one of those awful gowns and told that they'd be "right back" to take me to surgery. They promptly came back at 10:30 in the morning and took me to yet another room... to wait some more. At 11:45 the Anesthesiologist came in to talk with me. He informed me that he was going to use Propofol for my induction and that he was planning on using the EXACT ANESTHESIA TO WHICH I AM ALLERGIC to maintain me through surgery! "NOT ON ME, YOU'RE NOT", I exclaimed! "I'M ALLERGIC!!!" On my wrist sat a red band that clearly said ALLERGIES: CEVOFLURAINE. I then proceeded to give him a list of anesthetic agents that I knew to be safe. He tapped me on the knee and said: Okay, Smart guy, put yourself to sleep and quickly left the room. I awoke from the anesthesia on the following Wednesday evening. In addition to the NINE small incisions from various attempts to perform the procedure of removing 18" of my diseased colon through a scope, I also had one 6" cut in my belly that began around my navel and continued to just above my groin. I also began experiencing severe shortness of breath. The staples were ripped out of my skin by the Butcher Surgeon two weeks later, but my breathing difficulties continued. After being examined by one doctor after another, I finally decided to be examined by The Mayo Clinic. Over a ten-day to 2 week period, I was examined by multiple physicians, underwent numerous tests and procedures and was finally ready for my Report Appointment. I would learn the results of all of the tests and procedures and hopefully have a clear diagnosis and prognosis. The verdict had come in. Diagnosis: Terminal COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Causation: Bacterial Pneumonia due to Malignant Hyperthermia caused by induction of Detrimental Anesthesia Prognosis: 5% chance of Five-Year Survival I then took my report to a highly regarded Pulmonologist for Follow-Up Care, but not before enrolling in Rabbinical School in New York City. I had, (since age ten) always wanted to be a Rabbi. It was now or never. On the advice of the Pulmonologist, I began taking Prednisone (a Steroid) that would open up my Bronchioles and make it easier to breathe. The normal dosage for a man who is 5'9" and weighs 150 pounds (before I got sick, I weighed 174 pounds, all muscle, by the way) is <100mg per day. My STARTING dose was 100mg THREE TIMES a DAY. the dosage was increased every few months for the following THREE YEARS, when, on Sunday, September 9, 2007, at the weight of 340 Pounds (the Steroids had been increased to 250mg Four Times a day), I collapsed and at Mayo Hospital, was intubated where my organs began failing. Two nights later, on the First Night of Rosh haShana, the Jewish New Year, and while being mechanically ventilated, I went into Full Blown Total System Failure, and suffered a Cardiac Arrest for 14 minutes, followed by a Coma of several weeks duration. During my Coma, I felt as if I was in a box. The box had four dirt walls and smelled like the Morning Dew. In the upper right corner of the box sat a red square with a white X inside of it. "If only I could click on that X, I might stop this program", I thought to myself, but I could not move; I could not stand; could not reach, and could not scream for help. I lay in this place crying out in fear for what seemed like days and weeks and months. Suddenly, my cries were replaced by Psalms. I was reciting Psalms, some of which I had never even read before! And the Psalms turned into Prayers; The Kol Nidre, chanted at the beginning of our Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur; every other prayer recited on this Holy of all Holy Days; the Prayers for the Sukkot Holidays that follow the next week and the Readings for every single Torah Portion of the year. I somehow knew them all. By heart. Without hesitation of memory and obviously without any text to look at. I kept reading and chanting day and night; night and day and resting in between. Really resting. Sleeping... until one day, I opened up my eyes to see my beautiful son Zac sitting at my side on my bed. Covering the holes in my throat and on the side of my neck, I managed to spit out "C'était le rêve de dix minutes le plus étrange que j'aie jamais eu"! I told my son that was the weirdest ten-minute dream that I have ever had in FRENCH, my first language and native tongue. He then told me that it had been over two months, and I was in a Hospice Facility. The night before, I had begun to breathe on my own a minute or so after being disconnected from the machines that had sustained my organs since September. A few days later I was wheeled to an ambulance outside to be transported to the truly amazing HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Scottsdale. The sun kissed my face as I felt like I was pulled up into a body of love. It spoke. In Hebrew: Don't worry, it said. "You and I are going to be okay". I spent the next six weeks learning to do things like eating and holding a pencil; how to shower and dress. I learned how to return to life. Six weeks after leaving HealthSouth, my dad died. In July 2018, my mom joined him. I have had many trials and tribulations over these last twelve years. A Stroke in 2012 took my ability to project my voice loudly; I've been hospitalized many times and know how very precious time is. I do not live for today, rather, I live for tomorrow. I do everything I can do today to help others, and pray that I am again awakened tomorrow to do more good. And if so, great! And if not; if G-d decides to take me tonight, I will hang out with my parents and loved ones forever. I win either way. President Roosevelt was right to believe in only fearing fear. Psalm 23 is even more so, as Faith follows all of us.

Funny my mom passed in 1991 as a 13 year old it was hard but she was much more then beauty. She was a fighter from the beginning and I will never be able to explain her impact. It shows you came from a strong famiy and I'm glad you had both a mom and dad because a lot of people don't. I pray your truth can make a difference

This is trying to scare us with more misinformation then actual information but thank you for giving us your reality. I like it a lot.and people just wash your hand like you should be doing anyway 😂

Great discussion, as well as some interesting numbers which I'm not sure are meant to calm us, or install even more fear. I have many of your same concerns. Just yesterday I scheduled a work trip to Miami for late next week, but am unsure if it will happen or not. And while i say or act like i'm not concerned, sub-consciously, i am quite sure it is weighing on my mind each time i cough, or sneeze, or feel "a little warm", or if someone around me does. One of the biggest fears i have is that with all of the media coverage and the additional testing becoming available, the numbers are sure to skyrocket, and this is going to really set some people off. Our country is going to go absolutely bonkers . We are all guilty of taking limited amounts of information and either talking about it like an expert, or completely overreacting. Here's hoping that the number stat to level out, and then drop. Lets hope that the American people can follow simple suggestions. Lets hope that countries from around the world can work together to come up with a viable plan to slow this train down. And last but not least, lets hope our politicians can come together to provide our country guidance as we all try to get through this. Lets hope they can forget about the presidential race for just a minute to remember what their job really is; to serve the American people. And now is their time to really step up and lead by example.

Lauren, like you I have to balance my fear and confusion. I work directly with the public and I have an immune system that is partially suppressed as a by product of treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis. I fear for my Father the most as his body is much weaker than even mine. I visited the Cleveland Museum of Art on Sunday just to learn three people were positively diagnosed on Monday in Cuyahoga county. You aren't alone in that fear. I think that we must turn to hope to keep us in this trying time. We have to...

Terry, As a man who has lived and breathed baseball, your letter was an absolute joy for me to read. What young boy wouldn't want to be in the clubhouse with his Dad? During your time as manager I've been to quite a few games in Cleveland. None though were as special as July 12th 2014. That was the day I celebrated my 30th birthday. Though the day centered around my birthday it saw me doing something for someone else. It was the day I took my Father to the very first professional sports game in his 59 years of life at the time. It was so touching the certificate that he got from the wonderful folks at Guest Services. And although the home team lost to the White Sox that day, it will always remain one of the best days in my heart. Letters like yours only serve to renew my love for the game of baseball. Thanks for sharing it with the little boy still inside of me wanting to throw that 0-2 curveball to the best hitter in the league.

[…] enough, in the email was your letter to your late father, former NBA basketball star Anthony Mason, talking about your struggles after his death. You wrote […]

Sweet Lauren, I agree completely with the promise that Brian asked you to make. Frankly, it is the only way that I know to love; totally, completely, wholly and unconditionally. You deserve nothing less, nor does your future love.

Wow. What a truly moving and powerful story. We often take for granted the small gifts we give each other just by being present. I'm sad for the heartache. I'm glad you stayed and became. Who knows what little girl or boy will be attributing their life's purpose to some kindness you shared. Peace and Sunshine

You’re welcome Lauren looking forward to all the future stories :)

Thank you Tony. I appreciate all your support.

Thank you Tony. I appreciate all your support.

I’m sorry to hear about Brian but he was right you are too beautiful to not receive roses Lauren:)

[…] Here is why you need to stop being nice and start being loud […]

Thanks for this! So what movie set did you get on?

So nice Roger <3

Pat, Your letter touched me in a very profound way. It left me in tears in the middle of my work day. It made me want to share something with you. On a July morning in 2007 a police officer answered a 911 call I had made when my Mother went into cardiac arrest. Between that officer, my best friend and the fire fighters who showed up minutes later they were able to restart her heart, however at the hospital she passed away an hour later. At the end of his shift that officer stopped by my home to check on the situation and cried when I told him the unfortunate news I received only 4 hours prior. He tried to apologize to me. I looked at the anguish in his eyes and asked him directly what for? He described the ways he felt sorry. What I want to leave you with was my reply to him. I told him he had nothing to be sorry for because he answered the call in what was the darkest moment in my life. I told him that he was a hero regardless because it takes a special person to answer calls like that. You are a hero to people Pat. No one can ever take that away from you. I understand the process you're going through as I've been there myself and like you I still struggle with it when no one is looking. You aren't alone in this. I hope your healing process continues on and you can regain the happiness in this beautiful life. You'll always be a hero to those people, because you were there when the call came Best wishes Roger Chamberlain

Ruth, your letter moved me to tears. Once upon a time I was very closed off about the LGBT community but over a course of several years, I turned my fear into understanding and I actively stand with the community for their equal rights because it is the right thing to do.