I met Billy Corgan over a decade ago when I covered an event for my column in the RedEye Edition of the Chicago Tribune in the Windy City. At the party, I approached the rock star and told him that his Smashing Pumpkins song Today is one of my favorite songs. I went on to say that whenever I hear that song I always seem to have a great day. Billy gave me a strange look and told me that when he wrote that song he was suicidal. His dark statement took me aback. After all, the first line in the song is: “Today is the greatest day I’ve ever known.” Our exchange left me confused.
His statement haunted me for years. I couldn’t comprehend what message he was trying to convey. At the time I met Billy, I had lead a very blessed and charmed life and hadn’t faced any real trauma.
Then on October 8, 2012, I found myself clinging on to dear life as I battled meningitis at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles. Doctors later concluded that I had herpes-meningitis that progressed to meningoencephalitis. The pain I felt from the disease was so unbearable that I couldn’t sit up in a chair for weeks even on powerful painkillers without experiencing excruciating pain from my swollen brain. My doctors weren’t sure if I would recover and they didn’t know how much longer I would suffer. I had never felt so alone in my life. At the time, I did not know anyone else with my disease. I couldn’t find any support groups for people with herpes-meningitis and meningoencephalitis.
Just when I thought that the pain couldn’t get any worse, I discovered that my ex caused my life-threatening disease. He lied to all my doctors and I by denying that he had both herpes one and two. His deceit obstructed and delayed my treatment leaving me with brain damage. I lost my jobs due to the sexual assault my ex committed against me. The betrayal triggered a whole new level of emotional pain I had never felt before and I began to develop a serious case of posttraumatic stress disorder.
The physical pain from my disease coupled with the emotional pain I felt was too much. I had never experienced so much pain in my life; it literally was painful to simply breathe air. I went to a very dark place and fantasized about taking my own life. The idea of never having to feel any pain again gave me a euphoric feeling of pure ecstasy. During this time I happened to hear Today on the radio. Ten years later, I finally understood why Billy told me he was suicidal when he wrote that song. It hit me like a ton of bricks. The idea of never having to feel pain again by taking your own life is morbid but also very empowering. I finally understood why he sang: “Today is the greatest day I’ve ever known, can’t live for tomorrow, tomorrow’s much too long.”
As much as I didn’t want to go on with my life, I knew I couldn’t kill myself because it would inflict too much pain on my friends and family. It was their love and support that got me to the other end of the dark tunnel I was in. But here’s the lesson Billy taught me. With every dark experience a person has in life, you have the opportunity to create something beautiful out of it. I think Today is one of Billy’s greatest songs. When I look at some of my favorite music, paintings and films – they are often pieces of art that are the product of great pain and suffering. I recently ran into Billy and had the pleasure to tell him I finally understood and could relate to the Today lyrics. It was a beautiful full circle moment for me.
Before a butterfly spreads it’s wings and flies, it’s an ugly caterpillar that crawls on the ground and can’t see the world from above. Before the brightest dawns there are the darkest nights. I went through absolute hell but I made it through. I’ve recently completed a beautiful novel titled Malice that is already touching thousands of people and it hasn’t even come out yet. People who have also fallen victim to a sexual assault or contracted an STD by a dishonest partner contact me all the time. I’m told that my story has given them strength and courage. I spent over a decade long career on TV, radio, writing columns for newspapers and covering front-page stories for major national magazines. Today I don’t currently have a column in any publication and I have no regular TV or radio gig for the first time in years. Yet, I’m approached more than ever on the street by strangers who have been following my story on-line and through my social media to tell me that my journey has helped and inspired them.
When I was at rock bottom and in my darkest place, I could not foresee that any positive could come out of my suffering. But now I’m a butterfly soaring through the sky and I can see the world from a much higher altitude. Not only is there a ton of good coming out of my nightmare, it’s beyond what I could have ever imagined. I was so saddened to hear about the suicide of Robin Williams. I wonder if he knew what I now know which is: There is an end to the dark tunnel of pain so many people experience. Pain is only temporary and, with a little faith in God, anyone can overcome his or her darkest days. I’m so grateful that I’m still alive and I didn’t give up on my life. My wish and goal is to help others who finds him or herself in that same dark place to know that not only can they come out of that black hole – your nightmare can turn you from a helpless little caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly. Winston Churchill said, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” It took me a while to learn how to spread my wings and fly, but I did. And so can you!