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Josh Marks was a rising culinary talent. But then, suddenly, horribly, his life spiraled out of control. D usk loomed a few hours away, but as the young man wandered, vacant eyed, through the back streets of his Chicago boyhood, a different kind of darkness, one that had stalked him for months, settled on him like a fog. Not that he could have. A thousand dollars plus an iPhone had been the ask.
He had eight bucks in his pocket, and there was no way he was giving up his phone, the one on which he had saved every message from his mother as the darkness had descended.
A few miles away, cheeks wet from panicked tears, hands slapping the steering wheel, his mother weaved through rush-hour traffic, stoplights and speed limits be damned. Her son, she had been told, was wandering the streets. With a gun. That it had come to this, in the space of only a few months, seemed inconceivable. Restaurants wanted him, and his growing legion of fans lavished supportive comments on him. He was on his way. Or seemed to be. Until the first panic attack came.
From that moment, like a thread being pulled from a fine garment, his mental state unspooled so rapidly that the change in him seemed as impossible as his lightning-strike ascent had seemed charmed. A traffic accident borne of a mind gone suddenly blank; a terrifying scuffle with police that included gunfire, a flurry of baton blows, a cloud of pepper spray; voices torturing him at all hours, voices that he was sure wanted to kill him; weeks of hospitalization to figure out what was wrong.
The episodes were alarming and heartbreaking. In the gathering dusk, Marks felt the heft of the gun. The orange sky over him bled into red. Sunset was going to be beautiful. Paulette Mitchell was relieved. The entire family was. As with most such shows, the drama—not to mention the ratings—leaned on the intensity surrounding which contestant would be sent home each week and which would advance. Those not were sent packing.
Josh Marks was lucky to even make the audition. Family which included another sister, Dana, two years his senior had always come first for Marks, but in recent years his interest in cooking had become a close second. Part of that passion stemmed from a fascination with reality cooking shows. Marks was the last person the Chicago judges saw, but he left quite an impression.
He had a round face, an infectious grin, and big wire-framed glasses that lent him a bookish air. He loved sports—basketball and baseball, in particular—but also math and chess.
For all his later success in the kitchen, though, Marks as a boy showed exactly zero interest in fancier foods. Not surprisingly, he played basketball in school—well enough to land a scholarship at tiny Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi.
It was a good fit. Once Marks had settled in, finding a church became a top priority. As part of his spiritual commitment, he looked for ways to help people in need. He hit upon the idea of distributing one of his favorite dorm foods—Hamburger Helper—but not merely the package-instruction version. After graduating cum laude in with a degree in economics, Marks took a job as a contract specialist for the Army Corps of Engineers in nearby Vicksburg, Mississippi. If he was really being honest with himself, the audition in Chicago was more than a lark.
In it, he saw the potential for an entirely new life. Like the other contestants on the show, Marks had never cooked professionally. But he had qualities that made him stand out.
His height, for one. His bighearted nature, for another. And his competitive fire. They got to see his personality. They got to see his charisma.
The episode competition, shot over the course of eight weeks in the spring ofwas grueling. Contestants were routinely roused at a. The producers kept them sequestered in their rooms at night, switching them to new hotels every other day.
Despite the competitive atmosphere, Marks developed good friends on the show. When we first met, he thought I was uptight, but then as he got to know me, he realized that I, too, was goofy. Ryan Umane, another competitor, recalls how he and Marks would while away their downtime with pushup and arm-wrestling contests.
The final test to determine the winner—an episode shot in late April —required Marks and Ha to each complete a three-course meal of their choosing in two hours. At the end, the duo stood in front of the judges and the cameras as their families waited in the background. After an agonizing pause, Ramsay announced that Ha had won. A blizzard of confetti floated around them. Marks, looking slightly lost, leaned down and gave Ha a hug and a smile. I expect nothing but great things from Josh, and will always be proud of his performance on MasterChef, no matter what he goes on to pursue.
It will come true. When the show started airing in early June, Marks enjoyed his newfound celebrity, holding watch parties with his college friends and making announcements on his Facebook about upcoming episodes.
But as the finale approached in September, something inside him shifted. Always so self-possessed and imperturbable, he began suffering from panic attacks. One of the first occurred when Marks and his mother were in New York for a finale-viewing party.
Marks had been at a street festival with Ryan Umane, his friend from the show, when several people recognized him and crowded around. Overwhelmed, Marks felt a rising wave of claustrophobia and phoned Mitchell, who was visiting a friend. Both Marks and his mother dismissed the incident, but in the months that followed, such episodes grew more frequent and more troubling.
Eventually, they gave way to something far more alarming: spells where Marks seemed to lose touch with reality. His friends in Mississippi noticed the change. To the surprise of his friends in Mississippi and family back home, Marks suddenly announced that he was quitting his job and moving back to Chicago to pursue a career in cooking. There was more.
Marks said that he had met and fallen in love with someone and, after only a few weeks of dating, they were engaged. When Marks returned to Chicago, any hope that his erratic behavior was an anomaly vanished. One day in Januarywhile at a culinary event in Washington, D. The next morning, just before dawn, he settled into a chair, turned on a video camera, and began a rambling minute soliloquy. In the video, framed by the golden drapes of his hotel room, he rocks back and forth, a ski cap pulled down to his eyebrows.
As he talks, he holds his hands a few inches apart and parallel, like a fisherman showing the size of a catch, as if trying to force himself to stay on track. Songs unto the L-o-o-o-rd. For the last 40 seconds of the video, he simply stares past the camera, almost in a fugue state. Finally, he silently leans over and turns it off. Continued below. Things got worse the next day. Having returned to Chicago, Marks was involved in a serious crash that involved several cars. Thankfully I escaped the accident with a big scratch on my head and several stitches.
I was transported by ambulance and received treatment from Cook County Hospital in the trauma center and stayed there overnight for my aches and pains. The reality, says Mitchell, was far more disturbing: Her son admitted that he had blacked out just before entering the intersection and blown right through a red light. The front end pushed in, dashboard cracked in two. He was telling me that my father, who is still living, was dead, that Gordon Ramsay was dead. He was saying that he [Marks] had an inheritance. I was just holding his hand and rubbing his forearm.
Later that night, Mitchell says, she spoke to a social worker at the hospital about the options available to Marks, who had no medical insurance. After some phone calls, the social worker was able to arrange for a short stay at Rush University Medical Center. A psychiatrist at Rush, Michael S. Before these incidents, Marks had never shown the slightest of anything resembling a mental health problem. In fact, he was the rock of the family. Now he had been diagnosed with a severe disorder that his mother knew almost nothing about.
Her first step was to find out what they were dealing with. People with bipolar disorder, for example, experience dramatic swings in mood and activity levels. They can be bursting with ideas and energy one day and nearly paralyzed by depressive thoughts the next. That was Marks lately. His mother also researched psychosis. The condition, she learned, included a of symptoms—hearing voices, having hallucinations, experiencing paranoid delusions. The information was helpful, but it led to the far bigger and thornier questions of how and where to get Marks help—and how to afford it.
She set off on what would Ladies for your Chicago pleasure 50 mass to be a confusing and frustrating search for treatment to address the complex set of long-term psychiatric issues that come with such a diagnosis. Making matters worse was the fact that funding for mental health services had been slashed dramatically.
It covers everything from X-rays and laboratory tests to prescription drugs and mental health services. To qualify, Marks needed to be at or below percent of the federal poverty level, live in Cook County, and not be eligible for regular Medicaid. But even after he was approved, there were problems. Because the program was so new, many providers had yet to start accepting the insurance.
Despite his spotty care, Marks would have stretches when he acted perfectly normal and lucid, and during one of those periods, in Februaryhe made a public service video for the Make a Sound Project, a suicide prevention organization.Ladies for your Chicago pleasure 50 mass
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