The Truth about my Cliff

My dad (and probably a cousin or two) is going to hate me for telling this story, but here’s the truth about my history that led me to a serious brain disease and disability now:

Back in my 20’s, I worked 10-12 hours a day on my part-time MBA and full-time career for 3.5 years. Then, did a startup, Shopseen (which was backed by 500 Startups), where I was working a ton…14-16 hour days for a year. Life was going great! 28-29 years old; Co-Founder of a venture-backed company, newly minted millionaire, just completed my MBA, and first-time homeowner in SF. Really enjoying all of it including working my ass off! Something cropped up at the tail end of the startup though.

My dad got diagnosed with Interstitial Lung Disease (i.e. ILD) a month after his retirement (that slowly suffocates people to death within 2-5 years and has no cure) back in 2/2014. Then, I, honestly, stopped working on the startup because I felt overly depressed. My other founder, logically, booted me out because I wasn’t really working for a few months thereafter, runway was very short, and I hadn’t told him what was going on with me personally. On that last month, my dad’s oldest sister passed away from the same disease…I distinctly remember crying that night about her (she was really a really joyful and awesome aunt) and thinking I was an idiot for going the entrepreneurial route rather than spending more time with my parents.

From what I remember, that feeling continued for months including in the middle of interviews. It took ~2.5 months to find work. Through that process, I went back to reset: volunteered as a tutor to underprivileged kids, reconnected with friends to seek advice, ended up meeting my first girlfriend, and getting a good PM job at a good company on 6/2014. Life was pretty on track.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. The company, Granicus, decided to move to Denver about 3-4 months into me being there. So, I had to make a decision to leave my dying dad (from what I thought at the time), my girlfriend, and my close friends in Silicon Valley for Denver to keep the job. Instead, I decided to move back closer to home and find work around there at Ooyala.

Work at Ooyala was promising early on just like at Granicus, but I really needed a break, have something stable, and to slow down. I didn’t get that due to the ability that I showed at work (was doing very well early on and getting a ton of opportunity). I didn’t understand it at the time, but I should have been seeing a therapist. While my health got worse, I also started getting weird allergic reactions to tofu which I hadn’t been allergic to previously for years (told my family at the time)…and then a whole host of other symptoms…that led to a serious brain disease. It’s a sad story.

In hindsight, a mix of un-forced life factors, stress, a predisposition, and lack of early treatment for Depression really messed up my promising life for a number of years and, probably, going forward. It caused a lot of grief and uncertainty to people that care and love me as well. On the other hand, my dad’s doing well and daily breathing exercises help him, my mom, and me a ton ever since I’ve been at home. Mindfulness really works! Also, so does medication, therapy, good diet, exercise, and talking to people through it. I’m out of my first episode and its well-managed as well as perfectly livable now.

…this is the real story. It’s the honest one with a clear mind after so many years. Time to move forward; with better living and no allergies.

The Mango Story

Won’t go into it too much, but food and farming runs in the family on my Mom’s side…especially Mangoes. I’ve kinda talked to death about my allergies, but this story has stuck with me.

Indian Mango

Born with just a ton of allergies, the mango was the weirdest. I was eating it every day in my first 2 years of life (who wouldn’t, but especially with my family). Every day, I was getting sick. On one day while I was ~2 years old, my dad got fed up and locked himself in a library for a weekend reading up about allergies. He read through everything he could find and was about to give up (mind you, this was pre-Internet) until he thought about looking up tree nuts.

Glancing through the book, he found out that the Mango…is a cousin of the Cashew. That revelation meant that they were feeding their kid something, everyday in his early life, that was causing him to get sick…and wasn’t getting healthier. Lots of it too because it was so delicious.

That story carried with me when they told me about it. My parents + sis have been protective my entire life. How do you care for a sick child for an illness you don’t understand, isn’t hereditary, and that medical science doesn’t understand (back in the 80’s)? You protect.

If you don’t know, I was in a bunch of hospitals or asthmatic and severe allergic reactions early on before the age of 5 that became rather formative and caused a lot of sadness. We always had to be careful. Bring a month’s worth of safe foods to India, if we go. Don’t eat anything or interact with anyone eating Indian food (e.g. family and cultural events). Eat safe food like McDonald’s and Taco Bell not as a luxury, but as a necessity. Etc.

Wanted to share, but to me, this current serious sickness is just another one that I traded for, IMO.

Anaphylaxis & More @ UC Irvine

Near-death experiences provide a heavy emotional weight…even 16 years later and, generally, the rest of a person’s life.

Still remember everything, as much as I can, from that night in Irvine. My most important anniversary thus far in life. Here goes:

It started with a pecan-filled brownie that wasn’t properly listed with its ingredients. After eating it at Mesa Commons, a half hour later I started experiencing all sorts of issues: swollen throat, diarrhea, vomiting, blood-red eyes, swollen forehead (that was red too through my brown skin), a distinct lack of oxygen, inability to walk without support, and an inability to breath or talk. I needed to type out, letter barely after letter, to take me to the hospital by my dorm-mates. I lost consciousness before I got out of the door. My dormmates told me that I fell apart in their arms at the steps leading to the parking lot and fell down a flight unconscious. They called the paramedics and I got a number of Epipen shots to kick my body into gear…ended up 30 minutes to an hour later at the ICU at Irvine Hospital. The docs took awhile on me and tried out some experimental drug to open up my lungs and throat…a last ditch effort before calling me dead, actually.

Thankfully, my lungs and throat opened up. 3/4’s of a day later, I woke up from a coma that the doctors weren’t sure if I’d ever wake up from with a family crying (they drove all the way down overnight not knowing if I was going to be alive or dead by the time they reached there). I was intubated and lying there motionless not able to move a muscle as my body was wrecked and lifeless.

It took another day to move me out of ICU and into a proper bed without intubation or…anything else needed to support me. I couldn’t walk for a day, but I told my parents, well, I had homework I needed to get done by Monday for my Physics class (one of the first things I said after getting out of the coma). I stayed 3 days in the hospital and my parents, incredibly begrudgingly decided to keep me in Irvine (400 miles away and only 4 months being alone for the first time in my life). I went to my physics class in a crutch unable to walk properly, but I was there at 7:30am in the morning with my homework.

From there, I ended up on academic contract a quarter later. I survived that as well taking the toughest grading professors in the Computer Engineering program for 3 straight quarters. Ended up graduating with a pretty decent GPA after it and a lot of discipline built up over the years and through that.