My Story

The Swine Flu

     My name is Zack. I would like to start by telling you my history, and why I decided to start this blog. I caught the swine flu in 2009 when I was only seventeen. I went to the doctor twice, but I was told that I just had a cold. So, I went home and took over the counter cold medication. Late one night, I couldn’t sleep, then I started having trouble breathing. I awoke my father, and we decided to go to the local hospital, which was not known for being an excellent hospital. I stayed the night; then I was sent to Jackson General, which was a better hospital.


     They decided instantly, after examining me, that I was too critical for them to help. So. I was immediately flown to Vanderbilt children’s hospital. My lungs had filled with fluid, and that liquid had hardened around the inside of my lungs so no oxygen could enter my bloodstream. I “drowned” and clinically died, then was in an induced coma for 76 days from then on. Drowning was horrible! That was the only time I coded, while awake. They put me on a heart-lung bypass, for two weeks, called E.C.M.O. I was the first adult ever on it. It was only for premature babies before me. Now it’s in many other hospitals, due to the study on me, which is fantastic!

coma 2

     Eleven doctors said I wouldn’t live, my family had to say goodbye, but God had, and still has, different plans. There are much more details to the story of the coma, such as all of my organs failing, coding five times, having my ribs broken, due having CPR so many times, but It would take me forever to tell that entire story. The outcome is the same, no matter the smaller details; I lived when I shouldn’t have.


     It took me a long time to get back to even a close to an average state after I left physical rehab. I still had to work on walking correctly, which took about a year. Luckily, my mother is a physical therapist! Because my ribs had been broken, I dealt with a lot of pain issues. I was put on oxycontin 30mg three times a day straight out of the hospital. As most people do, at that level of pain medication, I became addicted. I dealt with significant addiction issues for many years. I was miserable all the time if I didn’t have something mind altering. I would take all of my medication too quickly, having fun for a week or two, then be just rock bottom, until my prescription was refilled.

     I would start to withdraw, and be so desperate that I would even search under everything, looking in the vents, for a pill that I may have dropped. All that I could think about was getting another pill. I couldn’t focus on, or do, anything else. It was probably the most miserable time of my life and the time that I hurt the people I loved the most. That vicious circle continued for a long time. I was terrified of going near other people. I mean, to the point of isolating for months, due to fear of even being seen. At this part of my life, I had no idea what social anxiety or what panic disorders were, but I had them both, and it was severe. I was self-medicating without even realizing it.

Getting Miserable to Get Better

Probably, the hardest decision I have had to make was to go to rehab, to admit that I had a problem, and give up all control, so that I could be detoxed and put on the right path. I ended up going to Vanderbilt Psychiatric hospital. It was a great facility. I was detoxed off of the oxycontin and put onto a drug called Suboxone, which stops craving and helps the pain. At this point, I was only twenty, still a kid. I didn’t honestly have the mindset of wanting to get better. I just wanted to get high, to make all of my demons go away, instead of battling them.

I got out of rehab, after two weeks. I stayed clean for close to a year, and went to college, majoring in English. Things seemed to be going well for a while. I loved English, poetry, writing essays, all of it. Then, one of my friends offered to trade me some marijuana for some of my suboxone. I stupidly said yes, thinking that I would be alright. The marijuana ended up making me paranoid. I was still okay after that until I ran out of suboxone, which was medicating my anxiety, as well as my addiction and pain, which I did not know. I ended up locking myself in my apartment on campus for two weeks, with no food for that second week. I could hear people walking through the halls, laughing and talking. I just could not walk out there, due to the fear of being seen and judged.  My mother ended up having to come and get me, and take me home.

So, I ended up being a dropout, self-loathing, anxiety-filled, twenty-year-old kid. For five years, I slowly went downhill, headed towards rock bottom. I did horrible things to my family, which I can never truly and fully make amends for. After my family had had enough, which was way later than most families would have put up with me, they kicked me out of the house, and I stayed at my younger brother’s house. I got blackout drunk that entire weekend while sleeping on his couch. Laying in my brother’s impressive home, knowing that he was four years younger than me, I felt so worthless. In my mind, I would never be able to have a house, as beautiful as his, of my own. A family, or to make money, other than disability.

I was getting very close to rock bottom but was still in denial that I needed to check back into the mental hospital. I woke up on the third day of being there, completely hung-over. I had made a gigantic mess, so I cleaned the house. My rib pain, due to the CPR during the coma, that I felt like I needed to go to the E.R. I sat down and began to cry. I felt worthless, useless. I started to ask myself depressing questions, which I assumed I knew the answers to. I can’t even clean the house, without hurting this bad? Do you have to drink just to talk to a girl over text on your cell phone? Are you still self-medicating? Then the big one came. The suicidal ideation. The telling yourself that you, and everyone else you love, would be better of with you dead. I promised myself long ago that, no matter how bad thing got, I would never take my own life, after surviving so much, when probability said that I shouldn’t have. So, I gave up all control, and made the tough decision to give up all power, yet again, and get help at Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital. I called my mother, and they took me the next day to the hospital.

Me now

After years of growing older, this time I had the mindset of wanting to get better, which is the difference between being successful, or leaving and relapsing. I had an excellent psychiatrists and doctor. My medications were managed, and I went to groups, actually taking notes and paying attention this time. By the time I got out of the hospital, I felt confident that I would make it this time, that I could go back to college and succeed. I loved English, but now all I want to do is to help people who are going through the hell of anxiety, depression and substance abuse issues, as I did. So, next January, I start working towards becoming a cognitive behavioral therapist. I know that it hasn’t been very long since I got out got out of rehab, but I feel very confident and content. I have been going to out-patient therapy twice a week and meditating daily to improve my anxiety, and it is much improved. My pain is also much more manageable. It will always be there, but I can tolerate it. So, that is my quite long story. Thank you for reading, if you made it this far.

God bless,

Zack Winchester



4 thoughts on “My Story

    1. No one said you weren’t complex, just someone who is fine being horrible to a woman who didn’t deserve it, actually kind of the opposite, which is the point. The fact that you were one of the only people I respected, then you just lost it all with a single text conversation is what makes me the most upset. I never said it was simple or textbook. I never said you weren’t masculine. Honestly, I am completely over it. You didn’t do anything to me, but I can’t go back to respecting you. You’d be a much better person if you had been through what I have. The email account you used to send this kind of proved you are immature…lol.


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