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  • Writer's pictureBen R

From $6000 to cheese & crackers: A life-changing year in review

It's the end of January and I'm sitting at one of those Quick Hit slots at Bally's Casino in Las Vegas. I've been on the machine for probably about 5-10 minutes. A friend of mine is sitting next to me, sipping on a drink as we were about to wind down for the night.

I put my bet to $1.20 and pull the lever. Oh wait, most casinos just have buttons now. So I push the button. Five columns with one Quick Platinum Hit in each column appears on my screen.

I won!

At first glance, I read the pay out as $600.

Hey, I'm not complaining I think to myself. I've never won more than about $350-400 on slot machines before.

Wait. Let me look at that payout number again - 600000. Oh, there's an extra "0" in there. I knew the last two zeros were the cent part.

OMFG I sort of whisper to my friend. He looks over in curiosity now. I believe he just said "WOW!"

I had to call for a casino attendant to pay me the cash out. Thankfully, not too much attention was drawn as I had to be given a form to use for tax time. You know you won something when Uncle Sam gets a cut later on!

I remember making a beeline for the elevators to go up to our hotel room and put the cash in a safe box. I was a little paranoid that someone would try to jump me. But that wasn't as bad as when I headed back home two days later, paranoid that the somewhat useless gatekeepers (TSA) would question me for having wads of cash. I was so worried that I used a bathroom stall to move cash around. I had $1500 in my wallet incase my luggage got lost. Didn't want to be completely screwed over. In hindsight of all places, this was Vegas. I'm sure people have left McCarran Airport with a hell of a lot more than 6K.

One month into 2020, I was feeling pretty good about life, especially given that New Year's Day was quite a scare.

My partner and I's beloved dog, Fiona, was not herself at all that day. We couldn't do anything to comfort her. She would only sit next to my partner, and whenever she left, Fiona would just whine. If that wasn't stressful enough, we had family in town still from Christmas.

She made a remarkable recovery over the next couple of days from what would become several more series of strokes until she finally gave out in October. But the fact that we had this incident happen on the first day of 2020, I guess, should have been foresight into what 2020 has and continues to be.

I know that the Kansas City Chiefs won their first Super Bowl in 50 years the day after I got home from Vegas. I remember this because they won their first Super Bowl against the Vikings in 1970. No, I wasn't alive back then. This wonderful creation came about ten years later...haha.

Since March 13th, my life has pretty much been on lockdown

For 290 straight days I've:

- been unable to work

- been unable to see any family, including my 90 year old grandmother, outside immediate family

-been unable to eat at a restaurant

-been unable to really go anywhere outside of Rochester, MN

-been unable to see any friends

-been unable to fully comprehend people's selfish actions that have lead to this long of a pandemic

If you would have told me in March that I would still be in quarantine as we come to the end of the year, I would have said that you're either crazy or that I must be one of the last survivors of the end of the world.

As of this writing, 335,000 Americans have lost their lives to Covid. That's basically the entire population of Hawaii's largest city, Honolulu.

There's a silver lining to everything, right?

For 290 straight days I've:

-been able to grow a lot as a person as far as my mental health is concerned

-been able to volunteer my time to share my story and advocate to others

-been able to spend valuable time with our puppy, Hazel and the remaining months of Fiona's life

-been able to spend more time with my partner

-been able to slow down and take notice of the beauty that surrounds us

-been able to see and understand what's really important in life

My mental health journey began in late 2017 and has been a slow work in progress up until 2020.

I'm still Ben, but I'm not exactly the same person I was earlier in the year. I've come quite far in my mental health journey since I started an advocate page on Facebook in 2019.

2020 has been a time to really hone in on what kind of impact I could have on others in the mental health community.

While 2020 is a year many of us would like to forget, for me it's certainly given me the sense that it will have become a pivotal year for me.

I've spent most of my 40 years on this Earth, trying to find "my place" in this world. While I certainly have a strong idea of how I can help others, I'm learning to live in the moment, the present.

I end 2020 almost finishing up a three week intensive Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) class, a third session of a 1:1 peer support meeting (over the phone of course!), and probably an inordinate amount of cheese and crackers to celebrate the coming of 2021.

(not my actual charcuterie board)

- Ben

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