A Quest to Live ( an Absolutely Extraordinary Life)
Life As He Knew It
That is, until he developed a health condition in January of his senior year.
The Beginning of It All
James began to feel exhausted to the point that he could not get up in the morning, leaving school to be inaccessible. He realized this was not something that was going to go away. He began seeking medical attention for his illness. He thought he should do something with his time and decided to document his thoughts and health experiences through YouTube
James shared all of this through the outlet of YouTube. He felt that talking to the camera and connecting was a fantastic coping mechanism. He became a virtual shut in and finding people on the internet was an accessible type of friendship, and as such, he began thriving in the digital community. YouTube friends were more accessible to him while he was going through his process. Digital contact was the norm, it didn’t require a physical space, therefore it worked best for him at that time. James views his lost friends as a side effect of his illness. He indicates that it isn’t a matter of good or bad friends, but rather how your lives intersect in the best way. When you are gone from a physical space like James was, the interaction changes, a it becomes a chore. With friendship being a two-way street, you can’t expect one party to completely disrupt their lives to maintain a relationship.To him, YouTube was a community that shared his passions and supported him, just like any other community. Unlike a physical community, he was able to participate despite being unable to leave his home. In this new medium, creating and replying to each others’ videos, he found a community centered around creation and interaction that suited his needs perfectly. He took summer school and graduated 3 months late, in August. At this point, he took a semester off to get back on his feet, hoping to continue onto college for the spring semester.
After applying and being accepted to Arizona State University, that is precisely what James did. He began studying at ASU in January 2012, but realized that his symptoms and overall health were becoming worse and worse. He was admitted to the Mayo Clinic and was properly diagnosed around July of 2012 with POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), a form of dysautonomia, or a malfunction of the Autonomic Nervous System. He found this treatment a year later in a two week intensive outpatient program in Dallas. This changed his life in two ways: It gave him methods for coping with his physical illness and rehabilitating him, made him realize that the biggest problem was his mental health. He realized that his future health and happiness were going to be subject to the state of his mental health.
James’ time at ASU came to an abrupt halt after a long and rough spring semester. He felt completely ill-equipped to deal with the manic episodes, severe depression, and POTS symptoms he was experiencing daily. His mental health had limited him from finishing classes, and with recommendation letters from a couple of his doctors, he filed for medical withdraw. In July 2013, ASU sent him a letter denying his medical withdraw for that semester. As a result, he lost all of the scholarships he had earned, leaving him frustrated and panicked. Had it not been for this, he would have continued his education, but losing the money left him feeling cheated. For many students with chronic illness, especially invisible illnesses (diseases that are not immediately recognizable to outsiders), this is all too common. Schools often do not support students with real health problems simply due to the fact that they do not understand them. In the case of mental health, it is often stigmatized, and therefore is routinely dismissed as a flaw of character, not a medical problem. He felt betrayed and used by the financial aid department who seemed to have no sympathy that he was dying as a result of the workload. He felt it was not worth his energy to fight this process and gave up on his education entirely.
VidCon 2013 & Less Than Famous
During this time, James had begun a panel celebrating smaller channels (Less than Famous) at VidCon, a YouTube Content Creator convention. He personally interviewed candidates and a moderator. At VidCon that year, James presented his hand-crafted panel which was very well received and continues to run at the annual convention. However, due to his new mental health challenges, James left the YouTube community in search of more tangible interpersonal connections. He wanted to be in the physical world and tried to make connections as he had through the digital platform.
This brings us to the present, where James is going back to school, has a job, and many friends as well as an emotional support dog, Nova. His trials have made him who he is, and he is very grateful for the outcome of such a perilous time in his life. It has made him come to terms with hard facts. He began to accept the necessity to step outside the standard that society had set for him. He has learned that your life experiences, such as education, should come at no cost to your health or happiness.