Finger on the Trigger (by a Sloper)

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Note from Tim: Nearly seven years ago, Market Sniper (“Dutch”) wrote a piece called The Very Last Day in One Trader’s Life, a personal tale. In a similar vein, another Sloper, whom has requested anonymity, offers up this autobiographical tale (unlike Dutch’s, which was about a friend), and I am grateful for this thoughtful contribution. I usually embellish posts, including those from outside contributors, with graphics to make them more interesting and approachable, but I am leaving this as an unadorned essay, as originally submitted:

Let’s talk about something dark. Something really dark. This may not be appropriate for a trading blog. This is a story about suicide. A very personal story about failed life expectations, great loss, and how nice guys finish last.

Ever since age 16, I was driven. I had high life goals, school was easy, grades were high, and life was high. Life came easy. I was born with a silver spoon. My parents were not super rich, but very conservative and had zero debt with enough savings to give their children every advantage they could. When I was old enough to drive, my dad gave me a 1979 Chevy. It was an old beater, it didn’t impress girls, but it was mine. I was proud of it. The Chevy taught me a lot about life. I always had a pair of jumper cables handy since that battery was always dead. A lesson, I had not yet realized the importance. There is always option B when things look dire. A backup plan.

My senior year in high school, the year 2002, I was anxious about college. I brought home a stack of literature about student loans and scholarships. I showed my dad the info and little to my knowledge, he had saved money in a college fund for myself and sisters. He said, “Son, its okay, you can go to any school you choose and do whatever you want. I want you to be a full time student and take school seriously. You don’t need loans or a part time job.” I was raised with the mindset of being lower middle class, with a big ass secret of being moderately wealthy. To this day, I thank my parents.

In college, I had no reason to be depressed. Much of my peers had it off much worse. On both spectrums; On one side, some students were accumulating 100’s thousands of dollars of debt with no real promise of a job. Their parents acted wealthy. New boats, fancy cars, campers, you name it. They lived life high on credit, but their children paid the price, literally.

On the other side, I specifically remember a very wealthy fraternity boy was so controlled by his wealthy family he didn’t have any freedom. In fact, he actually sued his parents for what he claimed was mismanagement of his trust fund. Wow. My parents loved me and I loved them, I couldn’t imagine being in arbitration with my own family.

So, do I fit the stereotype of one that is going to kill myself? Well, not yet. What would drive a man to suicide? What goes though one’s mind the few seconds before they pull the trigger? Is it one event, or is it a combination of factors? Perhaps, suicide is a chemical imbalance?

So, I graduated college with a 3.89/4.00 GPA. I wasn’t specially gifted with genius, but I had work ethic. I say GPA isn’t necessarily how smart you are, its how hard you worked. Its not fair that some students with a lower GPA also worked two jobs which distracted from school. I studied in the library at least 2-3 hours a day in between classes. It was my job to be a student!

Well, I graduated college. I was chasing the dreams. Every single star is aligning perfectly. The first job interview I have, I was hired. Score! However, one thing is missing in my life. I don’t have a girlfriend. I’m 22 years old and I have never had a real, long term girlfriend. I looked at my parents, at the time, I thought was the perfect marriage. I had a delusional view of how my life will be. I need to find a wife and have babies, because that is what people do!

During this time, I was also amassing a great fortune. I was ‘cheap’ like my parents. I was making big bucks and never spent it. I was still basically a virgin, still avoiding girls. Perhaps, girls were avoiding me? I was average, appeared poor but in fact worth quite a bit at age 25. I often think of all those trophy girlfriends that were fooled with flashy faux wealth all built on credit.

I went on a few dates, the girls didn’t return my call. I was weird, socially awkward, and tight as hell. I joined Match.com and the only girls that showed interest were morbidly obese or divorced. I was not going to be judgmental, and I went on a few dates. I met a divorced woman, and she was cool. She had a daughter, and was really easy to talk to. This woman was smart, she knew I would be a good provider for her and her daughter and I understood that was part of the deal. Well, this woman turned out to be still married. I escaped that ordeal unscathed. It could have ended very badly. So I gave up the whole online dating scene and continue on my career path.

In about 2008, I had a great opportunity to move to overseas. That year is about the same time I got interested in trading. Markets were tanking, the world was ending. I was incredibly bored overseas, so I learned all about options/futures/equities. My only financial experience was buying long equity mutual funds and municipal bonds through my brick and mortar broker. So I open an online account through a discount broker. I very easily got approved to trade it all.

I was selling equity option premium. Mostly puts in the downturn. I WANTED to own stock at those levels. Cash secured puts were my instrument of choice. I was making so much damn money it was ridiculous. My best month was March of 2009 when I realized about $60,000. Obviously, now I think I can do this forever, month after month, right? Well, I ended 2009 with a 100,000 gain.

In 2010, I moved back to United States with a king’s ransom of money. Both salary and trading gains. I am a very rich man who still thinks he should get married and start a family.

When am I going to start talking about suicide? Well, I’ll get there. In 2010, I’m done being long equities. I decide to short the market. As you know, I got burned bad, really bad. I lost years and years of savings and 2009 trading gains in a matter of weeks. WHAT HAPPENED??? Did I not understand the risk of shorting? I understood the risk all too well, but my brain was hardwired that I can’t lose. I haven’t lost anything in my life. I just had to be right! The market will retest the 2009 low. At the time, I thought it was a big loss. Maybe 15% of my net worth. It gets worse.

In 2011, I start picking up the pieces, and by complete chance, meet my future wife. She was super poor. Both her parents were dead from poor decisions. I felt sorry for her. She treated me as a human being and I felt comfortable around her. We start dating, seriously and we move fast. We complement each other, I am the serious guy with foundation and she is the flakey free spirit type. Opposites do attract.

In 2012, we get married. We had a few bumps along the way, but I kept looking past them. This woman needs me and I thought I needed her. Maybe for some reason, I thought I had this ‘savior complex.’ I will be rewarded for helping this girl have a good life and I will restore what I had lost. That is complete lunacy!

In 2013, the markets are roaring higher. Making all time highs. I’m getting interested in trading again. I decided to try to short the markets. I slowly rebuilt most of my net worth back to what I had lost in 2010, from hard work and salary. I start playing, safer trading with stops and better risk management. It was frustrating, but no huge draw downs..yet.

In 2014-2015, it was the two worst years of my life. In February of 2014, I had actually recovered my entire trading loss plus more. Wow, was I confident, the next week I was diagnosed with a very large brain tumor. My wife completely fell apart. She started drinking, beat me up and told me I deserved the brain tumor. I was feeling really bad. What man is beat up and calls the police to report domestic violence? That wasn’t me! In March of 2014 I had a 13 hour brain surgery to remove it. I walked into the hospital and woke up unable to walk. The surgeons said that was normal. I had significant brain stem compression that will subside and with help from family I will recover. Family? My wife, the same wife that had beat the shit out of me? Nope, I needed real help. My parents took care of me while my wife literally left me in the hospital alone to go drink.

What has happened? This girl I thought I was saving is now a huge threat to my health? I should have just cut ties right there and then. Like a stop loss. Stops in life are just as important as trading. During my recovery, I was trading…short everything. I had good months, some bad. I refused to be a loser and be stopped out. Back in 2013, 99% of my trades that were stopped and would have been winning trades had I just held on for a few more weeks. That was my trading strategy. Short ES futures and hold them until I was right. Well, I lost about 80% of my net worth in 2014. I was toast. No way I would recover that. I was trying to make up my losses with even greater size and risk, only to be burnt. I had two women against me..My wife and a horrible old lady named Janet Yellen. I saw no end. I lost an entire decade of my life and had nothing to show. The guilt was great, I could never tell my parents or my wife how much money I had lost.

By the end of 2014, I was mostly recovered, medically. Still wonky. My only permanent symptoms include deafness/maddening tinnitus in one ear and facial weakness/numbness. I lost my job. They terminated me. My employer actually disagreed with brain surgeons and said that I should have been back to work within six weeks, not six months. That was total bullshit. I had an acoustic neuroma. My employer said it was an ear tumor. In fact, it was a tumor that grew on my ear nerve, that got so big it compressed my brain stem. It was a brain tumor, end of story.

In 2015, I moved back with my wife. I am now officially depressed. I can’t hear a damn thing in a loud environment. Single sided deafness is a lot more debilitating than one would think. I’m basically deaf, no job, raging tinnitus in my deaf ear, an alcoholic wife, and I lost 80% of my net worth. I literally lost decades of wealth in a matter of months. I was depressed, I started having suicidal thoughts. I knew if I had divorced my wife, her life would spiral dangerously out of control. I couldn’t do that to her. She NEEDED me. Even though I had been treated very badly by her, I had a warm heart, but I was in a lot of pain.

My wife and I decide to go to marriage counseling. What a joke. It was completely one sided. The counselor was a complete fraud. He just keep asking, “how does that make you feel?” Marriage counseling was basically a session for my wife to vent about me. The counselor obviously took her side and I couldn’t say anything for fear of reprisal from my wife. After our sessions, I dreaded the drive home. I was in more trouble by expressing my feelings about the marriage. The marriage counselor, who was not a real psychiatrist, kept trying to diagnose me with dysthymia.

The marriage counselor gave us an assignment. Our assignment was to write a good bye letter to each other. Our instructions were not to show each other and read it out loud for the next session. I sat down and started writing, when finished I realized I had wrote a suicide note. I took “never seeing you again” a little too literal. I proofread the letter, and broke down and started crying. I have never cried like that in my life. Even when I lost all that money or bravely walked into a hospital for brain surgery, I never cried. Now, I was crying. I was broken. I was scared. I irrationally wanted to die. I saw no exit other than suicide. Believe it or not, a marriage counselor made me realize how close to suicide I had come along. I know that was not the point of the exercise. A chilling event that no one should experience.

I looked back at my life, my proud, winning life. I don’t know what caused my brain tumor, but that was definitely a turning point. A woman broke me in the end. I hated her. Everyday, it was constant stress. Now that I was unemployed, I spent every waking moment with her. If I tried to leave the house, she felt abandoned and I was an asshole for leaving her. I was a prisoner in my own home. I needed help. I convinced my wife that marriage counseling was not helping and I needed to fix myself first. If I remember, my wife was the one that needed fixing at first. Now, I was broken by her.

I started talking to a therapist one on one. He was okay. Most importantly, he listened to me. He agreed that I did nothing wrong and I should save myself. He would use an analogy that sometimes you let the puppy run across the freeway because you will get killed in the process of trying to save him.

This is where it gets really dark. One day, I decided to buy a shotgun. I had no real concrete, specific plans of suicide. I’ve owned guns before and was a supporter of people’s right to own a gun. I always felt unsafe in our house because there was no firearm in case I needed it. I didn’t buy the shotgun for suicide. I literally bought it because I can. But what I will say, is that my suicidal thoughts increased like crazy. I kept thinking, how easy is this? Put that thing in your mouth and pull the trigger. I hated that thing in the house. I think most people don’t wake up one morning and say, “yep, today is my last day, I will kill myself at 8 p.m.”

I’ve known a few colleagues kill themselves in the past. It always bothered me. I often thought, why? I am convinced suicide is almost always a spontaneous event that day. A little bit of alcohol, a fight with the wife, anger rages, you grab the gun….

In fact, interesting story in England when they finally got rid of the coal gasworks stoves. Sticking your head in an oven with the gas on would painlessly kill yourself because it was almost 10% carbon monoxide. There was literally an execution chamber in everybody’s home. In the 50’s and 60’s, over half of the suicides were in the oven. When all homes switched to natural gas by the 1970’s, the suicide rate in England dropped by a third. Dorothy Parker quoted, “If it is too much trouble, you might as well live.”

That being said, if you are having suicidal thoughts, a gun in the house is not cool. Get that thing out of there! Another good piece of advice, is just wait 24 hours. Most of the time, whatever is bothering you, will subside.

Where am I today? I feel healthy. I got a new job that I love. My wife started taking Lexapro. She has chilled a lot. Most importantly, even though I was clinically depressed, I still managed to knock my wife up. We had a baby in the end of 2015. My son has changed the entire outlook. He is number one.

The best possible cure for depression is daily exercise and just working a job you love, even if its a paycut. Staying busy is very important. I spent about 18 months unemployed. Also, I have a child that depends on me. Just like I had depended on my parents growing up. I don’t know how I would have handled a suicide from one of my parents. I no longer have suicidal thoughts. They did subside, although it took much more than 24 hours.

So the question is, could I have actually done it? Maybe. I thought about it often. I thought about how suicide doesn’t end pain. It transfers pain to those who love you. It’s incredibly selfish. I don’t fault those who commit suicide. I think it’s a moment of spontaneous and irrational thoughts that turn into actions.

I will never forget an old post from Tim Knight (circa 2015) that I read at one of my darkest moments. It was about the air we breathe. Everyone is given air. Its the only truly socialist program that works. I would dwell on those comments while I mediated on breathing. It gave me peace. Knowing, that at least I still have the air in my lungs.

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