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“Trading a Life” – My Story (Part 1)

GO TO PART 2
If you’ve read my bio, you’ll know I’ve been very sick the last few years, confined to my home, and learned to trade because of it.  When I heard James “Rev Shark” DePorre’s story of learning to trade after going deaf, losing his job, and his wife, I could relate (except the wife part).  But other than his hearing, I guess Rev’s health was ok.  Mine’s not.  Here’s my story.  I wrote this for a trader friend of mine.  However, it seemed fitting to post it here today, on my birthday, as I reflect on all that has transpired.

Why do we trade? There are as many reasons as there are traders, but the reasons are probably similar. Intrigue, gambling, occupation, and, for a few, because you’re actually great at it. In early 2006, a few months after college, I dipped my toe in the markets for sanity. I traded to escape reality. I traded to have a purpose. I traded so the people on CNBC could keep me company.

I was a complete market retard at first. Didn’t even know how to use Yahoo! Finance. True, in addition to engineering, I majored in mathematical economics, but I never cared much for finance. Only spent an hour per week on finance versus seventy or eighty on engineering. Being an engineer was my dream. Always loved figuring stuff out, having some vision in my mind, then seeing it come to life. Same reason graphic/web design was a hobby- I got to share my visions with others. But finance? Did it because I promised my dad I would.

So you ask, Jeff, why do you trade now? In short, life happened. I was born with asthma as well as severe skin and food allergies. I took a gamble on an immunosuppressant shot to deal with my allergies, hoping for a chance at a normal life. I wanted do what my friends were doing. Brand spanking new careers. Grad schools. Or just going out. But this shot nuked my life. My health, which had been sliding downhill since birth, simply fell off a cliff. My life and dreams went with it.

I looked like I had third degree burns or worse. Not a single clear patch of skin anywhere, only infections and leaking wounds that wouldn’t heal. My system was in chaos. Everything doctors tried made it worse, including the steroids I’d fall back on during emergencies such as this. Painkillers were off limits too. I was constantly itching and in pain. My mind also started to go. I didn’t know who I was, couldn’t comprehend much at times, and had trouble forming coherent speech. It might’ve been side effects from the shot, or simply a hysterical panic attack. I couldn’t cope with my new reality. I couldn’t see tomorrow. Little Orphan Annie stopped singing. Like P.O.W.’s, I felt “broken.” For two years, until a few months ago, I barely left my house, my room, and often had trouble just getting out of my chair.

One afternoon during these “early days” after “the shot,” I halted my channel surfing on CNBC to the screaming of Mad Money’s Jim Cramer. The show was packed with information and, for the first time in months, I didn’t feel brain-dead. At that moment, I became involved with the market. Doesn’t matter what people say about Cramer, even if every call he makes from now on is wrong, Cramer has my deepest gratitude for doing Mad Money that day.

I couldn’t have discovered the markets at a better time. Days get pretty long for someone without a job and can’t run the errands that fill up people’s days. Friends I’d chat with online had moved on with new lives. I woke up at odd hours while my parents were asleep, losing a bit more of my mind everyday as the loneliness set in. The markets gave me something to focus on, and it was accessible online. Like most beginners, I started on Yahoo! Finance. I signed up for way too many newsletters, forums, and even the Wall Street Journal. My dad had bits and pieces left from a portfolio he owned during the tech bubble. This was my starting capital.

I dove into it like every other naïve, innocent novice out there. Just because analysts and newsletters said Caterpillar’s stock was a buy, I believed them. I love the big yellow “CAT” dumptrucks. They were everywhere on National Geographic and Discovery shows! I sold the shattered pieces of MRV Communications my dad still had, and bought Caterpillar, all at once. Yes, everyone knows that’s a very bad idea, but I didn’t. I really didn’t know anything. Seemed ok at the time. The markets kept going up in spring of ’06. Easy! Sure helped my self-confidence and emotions. I thought, maybe I could make a living from my room! I saw other stocks, like Peru’s Southern Copper, go up everyday, much faster than my Caterpillar. China needed a lot of copper to build a city a day? It made sense. I bought the story and the stock. Again, bad idea. I know.

Focusing on the markets helped me get through the day. Any little thing that went my way was a big boost because everyday my health got worse. My body was simply overwhelmed by infections and allergies. I wasn’t handicapped, but my parents had to do everything for me, especially since I couldn’t touch water (hadn’t been able to for years). I was so weak my kneecaps would pop if I forgot to clench my muscles for even a moment. I hobbled to the bathroom or crawled there on my elbows. My skin was rotting, especially on the legs where I had the shots, and considered amputation. I was constantly on edge, uncertain of what I had to face tomorrow. Sometimes I wished I had cancer. At least I’d know what I had.

My sleep schedule was random. When I wake up or pass out was up to my body, not me. I was always exhausted, staying awake for only a few hours. I was mostly nocturnal. Daylight gave me migraines. The daytime heat irritated my rashes and often caused hot flashes.

Everyday I was woken up by pain, then cried out in pain while bandaging myself for the next hour. By the time I was done, my heart felt like it’d go into shock, and I’d collapse in front of the TV. I’d turn on CNBC, watching Squawk Box (3am here on the west coast) or a late replay of Mad Money. The anchors at CNBC were the only people I saw everyday and the only familiar voices I’d hear. They became my “friends”: Joe’s unique sense of humor; Mark’s quirky attitude; Erin’s engaging interviews; Dylan’s intuitive explanations. I even watched WorldWide Exchange from 1-3am. Yes, Ross Westgate in London, someone in California knows who you are!

These wonderful people kept me sane, and I dreaded the weekends when they were off air. When they were, I’d do research mostly by listening than web browsing. My eyelids hurt, and so did my bandaged fingers. I played Jim Cramer’s “Real Money” radio show (which he was still doing at the time) on weekdays, and conference call after conference call on weekends. Boring? No kidding! But I didn’t hurt as much when I had voices to focus on.

The good times making money on Southern Copper lasted for all of two weeks. The markets, especially metals like copper, went down hard in Summer ’06. My plan of buying, holding, making money, and living off of my “investments” suddenly sucked big time. The portfolio was worth less everyday. I couldn’t understand why. The “work” I did for months seemed worthless. (I realize now it’s just part of the job.) I was frustrated I couldn’t talk to the people on CNBC, or anyone, about this. I was angry I couldn’t be up while the markets were open, often thinking “if only…” Even when I was awake, I’d forget what I was doing. As I said, my mind wasn’t always there. This stress wasn’t healthy and I got even sicker. I couldn’t take it anymore. I sold Southern Copper and others I’d lost the most on…at the bottom. By the end of the year, Southern Copper had nearly doubled from where I sold it.

Everyone’s been there. Bought at the top, sold at the bottom, lost money, only to watch it go back up and laugh in your face. I felt worse because it was “my dad’s money.” Like everyone else, I wanted to give up, but I had something going for me. Something more painful than losing money: my reality. I needed the markets to focus on.

My mom said to consider the loss as tuition paid. I had learned a lot. I learned not to get emotionally married to any stock. I learned to sell, to think for myself, and to get back in.

It was impossible to watch the markets all day, even though I was always home. I worked around my unpredictable hours, taking a longer term “investing” view. I bought stocks I wouldn’t be afraid and confused about if they went down while I slept. Going along with my nocturnal hours, I caught up on news in the peace and quiet of the night, away from the market frenzy during the day. I even thought of myself as a “Night Trader,” the slow, languid counterpart of hyperactive “Day Traders.” I still bought and sold when I felt necessary, doing this early in the morning if I could. When there were economic or company announcements, I tried to get up for them. Then I’d pass out again.

Finally by the fall, my health stopped getting worse thanks to help from QiGong (Chinese internal energy exercises). Things weren’t rosy, but they weren’t in freefall anymore. That’s enough sometimes. My health improved a bit, then deteriorated some, but the worst was behind me. My portfolio made up some lost ground too, ending down slightly for 2006. Not bad for my first year, all things considered.

PART 2 COMING TOMORROW

Videos Tracking My Health Developments

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