Friday, June 6, 2014

The Amazing Tale of Jonathan Winston - Chapter Four

July 6, 2014 - The Georgia Gazette

Jonathan Winston's  bookstore closed during the 18 months in the late 1980's when he divorced himself from the world. His savings evaporated, but he refused to accept money to tell his story, although there were offers as high as $2,000,000. And so, in early 1990 he closed up his apartment in Georgia, packed one small suitcase and became a resident of the United Kingdom, moving in with his sister and brother-in-law.

During the course of the 1990's, Jonathan Winston estimated he spent over 1500 days traveling the world in search of answers. "I went anywhere and everywhere. My expenses were paid by those who beckoned.. I traveled to more than 50 countries and was poked, prodded and even on one occasion poisoned on purpose." In total, he moved about for months on each of the seven continents, and witnessed the best and the worst in every  nook and cranny of the globe. But neither the beauty nor the ugliness made an impact on him. Jonathan was consumed by only one thought.

He submitted himself to endless interrogation, to intimate examination, to twists and turns of body and soul. He would literally stand on his head if requested, once held his breath for over two minutes, counted from 10,000 to 1 backwards and held a pencil for three days straight. He ingested all kinds of "remedies", took all manner of medicines, stopped eating meat and drank only water. His search was seemingly without limit. However he would  never agree to brain surgery, for there was nothing to suggest he would be "normal" afterwards. He was tired and cranky, frustrated and sad, angry and discouraged, and more and more in despair. Each day was becoming worse than the one before. And then, in one instant, the search abruptly ended.

On August 17,1999, Jonathan Winston tried to kill himself. He was in a remote village in South Africa, eight days into what was yet another wild goose chase. "I couldn't see the purpose of continuing. Sitting alone in my room,  I was exhausted, completely and utterly lost. I slit my wrists and waited to die." He stares at the faint reminders of that decision.

Jonathan was found by a local doctor who had come to take him to just one more appointment. He was rushed, in grave condition, to the hospital two miles away. "Lying in that hospital bed, I  had what I consider my true "awakening". It was as if a portion of my brain dormant since February, 1987 came alive. At 10:16 on the morning of August 23, 1999, I  came to the simple realization that I was not my condition . I vowed that I would not let it control the rest of my days. From that moment on, I stopped running from myself."

And thus began the second part of his journey of discovery.

Once out of the hospital,  Jonathan  returned to the home of his sister and brother-in-law and started studies in meditation. "Several months into this process, I found my evenings were not so desperate, so desolate anymore. I was able to go into a kind of trance, and to a large extent,  my nights became not much different from yours. Getting into bed, I would be able to become very quiet, very still. Gradually I was able to extend the time that I remained in that state through most of the night."

In early 2001, Jonathan bid his sister and brother-in-law goodbye. He boarded a plane, and headed back to America. To Durham, North Carolina.

The mission statement of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences is to "advance interdisciplinary research and education that transfers our understanding of brain function and translates into innovative solution for health and society".

Dr. Thomas Lipton, head of the Institute in 2001, now retired, remembers the call he received  on February 11 of that year. It was from Jonathan Winston. "He introduced himself on the phone and asked if I knew how he was. Who, especially in my community would not know him? He said that he was living with family in England, but was hoping for a chance to come to work with us. He wanted to understand as much as he could about the brain and thought there was no better place in the world for him to get that knowledge. I told him it would be an honor and a privilege for him to be in our employ. I had no idea at that time what work he would do."

On March 3, 2001, Jonathan Winston started his job at the Institute.

"Instead of disengaging from what was happening to me, I began to embrace it." In 2003, at age 59, with the financial assistance of his employer, Jonathan went back to school. He took the prerequisite science courses, and then became a graduate student in neuroscience at Duke University. Today, he is Dr. Jonathan Winston, still on the staff of the Institute. He has collaborated on a number of important studies, most having no relation to his own condition. "Not being able to sleep turned out to be the greatest blessing I could ever imagine. It has pointed my life in a wholly unexpected direction and has allowed me extraordinary opportunities."

Over the past decade, Jonathan  found one other gift he thought would forever elude him: family. In late 2003, he met Ellen Thompson, then 34 and a single mom with a six year old son Ethan.  By the beginning of 2005, Jonathan Winston was married with an instant family. In September, Ethan will begin his own journey of discovery at Duke University.

Despite such unique circumstances, Jonathan Winston has settled into what he believes is, in very large part, an ordinary life."I did not choose to be as I am. I did not want to be as I am. I only wanted to be like everyone else, to live like everyone else. I have found what I began searching for in those terrible moments in February, 1987. I have found quiet, inside and out."

On July 4, 2014, Jonathan Winston marked 10,000 consecutive days in which he had been awake 24 hours straight. That is 240,000 hours or 14,400,000 minutes or 864,000,000 seconds since his last sleep.The "shakes" still remain. But while he has gone more than 27 years with a condition now known as "Winston's Disease", Jonathan Winston has never felt better in his entire life. Or happier.

This is the last of a 4 part series on "The Amazing Tale of Jonathan Winston."


Anonymous said...

So… I LOVE where you took this! There are so many things about this series that are great. Here's what grabbed me: 1) the format - a newspaper story/reporting format in four parts. I think it's really unique and perfect for unwrapping this kind of story, 2) the power of the journey we take with Jonathan through his ups and downs; and 3) the total satisfaction we feel at the end as he is able to embrace his condition and make peace with himself. It's a story of self acceptance. So great. I had no idea where it was going at the beginning, but was immediately grabbed by the compelling opening. What a fun journey!


Anonymous said...

Love the "Tale of Jonathan Winston". See a short story evolving.