Summer in New York City | August ’17

First of all, I am very well aware of the fact that I haven’t written anything of value on here in literally months. Ya know, just figured I’d acknowledge my complete lack of commitment and say that I HAVE THINGS TO WRITE ABOUT AND I WILL SHARE THEM SOON.

In the meantime, check out August’s vlog ft. my friends with video footage to prove that we do in fact watch sports occasionally.

Summer in New York City | July ’17

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted anything. I have A LOT of things I want to write about, I just haven’t had a ton of time to dedicate to it, SO more to come on that.

But …….today I wanted to share July’s collage vlog! Very delayed I know….but without further ado, here’s what my friends and I did in July:

Pride Month: Carrie

Although this weekend was Pride in NYC, that doesn’t mean my posts are over yet!! I still have a few more awesome pieces to share.

For those of you who know Carrie, are there even words to accurately describe her? Like I’m asking genuinely because I don’t know if there are. Carrie, the writer of this piece, is like the best combination of all of your favorite comedians, rolled into one.

Befriending Carrie felt so natural. It’s just impossible to feel uncomfortable around her. My friend Morgan put it best when she said, “she’s hysterical, yet the most personal and easy going at the same time. She’s a real life example of not taking anything too seriously and counting your blessings.”

That is Carrie to the T. Genuine, compassionate, and without a doubt, always the funniest person in the room. 

She is the type to put her whole heart into everything she does, which is why I am so excited to share her piece for Pride Month today. It’s raw and honest and seriously beautiful. Her words literally radiate this newfound confidence, and I can guarantee you’ll find it just as captivating as I do.

Here it is:

“What are you so afraid of?”

I sat across from my therapist shaking like a leaf. If I could’ve gotten up and bolted to the door at that point I would’ve, but my head was spinning and I thought any sudden movement would send my dinner all over her Persian rug. It was early October, I’d just graduated from college, and I hadn’t seen my friends in what felt like years. You know those heavy, grey coats they used to make you wear at the dentists when they’d x-ray your teeth? I felt like I was constantly wearing six of them– I was a slab of lead, I was dead wood, and I was sick of feeling like I couldn’t speak, or breathe, or grow, or do much of anything, really.

It was my fourth session with my therapist Susan, and I’d made pretty good headway since I had nearly gone into cardiac arrest coming out to her a few weeks prior. I had made some progress, but the real challenge was sitting right in front of me, staring me in the face: I had to come out to my friends and family.

Figuring out the logistics of coming out was turning into a big, gigantic fucking nightmare, and I was getting lost in the details. I felt like I was trying to throw a surprise party, only instead of everyone surprising one person, I was one person trying to surprise a mob of people. What if I tell this person and they can’t keep their mouth shut so they tell someone else, and it spreads? I’m not ready for all of kingdom come to know I’m gay. I can’t do this shit…

Trying to control a rumor is the easiest way to make yourself insane. The x-ray coat began to feel heavier and heavier.

I was in the middle of rambling on when Susan cut me off: “What are you so afraid of? What’s stopping you from coming home, right now, sitting your family down and saying, ‘hey guys, I’m gay.’”

She was right. I was scared. I was absolutely petrified. I thought that coming out meant I’d risk losing the friends/family/relationships that I cared the most about. I thought my friends would think I was weird. I thought my relationship with my sister would change, I worried my little brother wouldn’t look up to me the same way he did. I just wanted things to be the way they were, I didn’t want to be labeled, or boxed in, or put in a corner over something that I had no control over.

I was starting to work myself up into a state, when Susan looked me dead in the eye and said “Well, yeah. That might happen. You may lose some friends, people may look at you differently. But when you’re totally yourself, you’ll attract the true friends, and you’ll build stronger relationships than you’ve ever had before.” 

It’s crazy how the worst thing in the entire world can turn into the most important lesson ever. Yeah, I really did feel like my worst nightmare had come true- but it was the first time that something really clicked. It was the moment I realized that I had to really start to love myself- FULLY- every part, regardless of if I’m different, or weird, or off-the-wall, or whatever. Regardless, unconditionally, I had to be good with myself. I had to get right with myself.

It’s been 6 months since I came out, and while some things have changed, the important things have remained the same. The people who matter couldn’t have been more supportive, present, and encouraging. I’m talking rock stars. The night I told one of my best friends, Cat, she replied with: “Damn. Donald Trump was just elected President and my best friend’s gay. Today is officially the most shocking day of 2016.” We both fell into an instant heap of laughter. 6 months later, and I still crack up telling people her response … like I said. Rock stars.

I realize that not everyone has the same outcomes though. Some people don’t have the people; some people don’t have the support. That’s why, now more than ever, we have got to love ourselves and practice being true to ourselves every day. It’s not easy and it’s something we’ve got to work at. When you’re true to yourself you glow, and you simultaneously give other people permission to do so too.

In the end, nothing is more important than being true to yourself. No image, no idea, no preconceived notions about what you should do with your life, who you should love, who you should be, should come before being true to yourself. I won’t act like I’ve got it all figured out, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m on the first step of a thousand-ringed ladder. But for the first the first time I feel like the ladder is leaning against the right wall.

About a year ago I stumbled upon a post about coming out, and I thought, “damn it, I wish I could just talk to this person anonymously. I don’t want to open a whole can of worms, I just need someone to listen.” If you’re feeling like this, don’t do what I did, and put it at the bottom of your to-do list. Come talk to me. Doesn’t matter who you are, if you know me, if you’re feeling just a hunch, or you’re like WOW IM AS GAY AS SUNSHINE. It’s 2017, but it still takes a heap of courage. The more we can help each other out the better off we all will be.

Special Thanks to you Krump, for asking me to write this blog. It’s one thing to be brave enough to put your stuff on the big bad internet like she does every month, but she takes it a step further and gives other people the opportunity to share their voice too. Hats off to you my friend.

Check Carrie out on Instagram: @carriebrennan

 

Pride Month: Josh

The writer of this piece is the closest combination of Beyonce, Kim K, and Kanye that I have ever met in my life. As many of you already know, he is a king.
 
Throughout college, Josh and I were entwined in many of the same social circles. It’s funny though because having said that, I think it took us a while to actually become close friends.

I remember one of our last nights at JMU before graduation, I was at a house party with Josh, and while everyone was outside, he took me into the empty living room, put on a playlist of solely Beyonce songs, and performed every single dance to every single song, to the T, without stopping. It was, for lack of a better word, literally captivating. After that, all bets were off. I just knew we would be great friends.

Josh is the kind of person that makes you feel confident and unapologetically yourself, just by being around him. I couldn’t be luckier to still have him as a friend, even years after graduating, and multiple states between us. 

It means a lot that he was willing to write something for my blog this month, so check it out here:

Pride:
Gives me life. A life I never thought I would ever be able to live freely.

From the first time I got that “weird” feeling about another guy, I thought something was wrong with me. I was young and didn’t know what it was. As I grew older, I learned that “weird” feeling was actually called being gay. So I asked myself: is this the way you should be? Is that the way you want to be? You don’t want to be that kid that’s different or unpopular. C’mon.

Time went on and I refused to accept the fact that I was “different”. I graduated from high school and ventured to JMU for undergrad. I was thinking and hoping something might change. I joined a fraternity, thinking maybe I would like girls and be normal. Nah. Didn’t happen. Instead, that lead to many encounters with other closeted frat guys (gay and JMU Greek life, blasphemy, right?).

I got tired of constantly living a lie and finally came out to my family and close friends the summer after sophomore year of college. The response I received from them was nothing short of acceptance and love. At that point, I started living the way I was meant to live. Even though every day still isn’t easy, I know I’m where I’m meant to be.

To anyone out there who is scared, confused and lonely: I’ve been there. Things will get better and easier. Don’t give up on true yourself to conform to what society thinks. Fuck society. Slay the game and live your beautiful life. Be proud, baby.

Pride Month: Nick

The coolest thing about this collaborative project, for me at least, has been the number of amazing, unique, and inspiring people I have met during the process. Nick is one of those people. 

Nick is a friend of a friend, and honestly, it’s a little shocking that we haven’t met in person yet, seeing as we live in the same city and share multiple mutual friends, but that is beside the point.

When I first reached out to a couple of Nick’s friends about this Pride Month idea, they both, without hesitation, told me how perfect he would be for the project. 

Reaching out to strangers, in hopes that they will bear their hearts for you, is extremely daunting, but Nick has been nothing but supportive and enthusiastic from the start, and I just can’t help but admire him for that. In fact, his initial response to my completely random text was, “Okay so I am so into this and here for it and already know what I want to do.” That. Is. Cool. 

As you will quickly realize, Nick has a multitude of thought-provoking experiences and passion-driven ideas to share. His piece does a great job at highlighting some of the stereotypes that surround gay men, and how those preconceived notions played a part in his coming out journey.  

I hope you all appreciate his words as much as I do. Read it here:

Pride: noun
a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.

nick and matt

My boyfriend Matt and I

Every year in June the LGBTQIA community celebrates what we call “Pride Month” to honor those who have, and continue to, fight for our rights and equality for all. What pride means to me is so much more than a month in a year. As a gay man from the suburbs of Virginia, I have definitely faced my fair share of discrimination and bullying, but at the end of the day, it all made me stronger.

Coming to terms with my sexuality was difficult enough, but the thought of coming out to my friends and family seemed impossible. I honestly never thought that day would come because I was so scared. I thought I would lose my friends, be judged and thrown to the side, and lose any respect that I thought people had for me. I didn’t even know where I would stand in the gay community. I honestly did not feel like I fit in in any community at the time.

nick soccer

Back in my college soccer days

Growing up I played soccer competitively, which I think threw a lot of people off. People did not think that you could be good at a sport like soccer, basketball, or football, and be gay. This made things even harder because guys who had the word “faggot” in their daily vernacular surrounded me.

How was I supposed to say, “Oh, by the way, that is what I am….”? It also annoyed me that everyone had a certain idea of what a gay person was. Someone super flamboyant, who loved shopping and getting their hair done and blah blah blah. Yeah, of course, there are gay guys who are like that, and they are fucking fabulous and amazing, but that just wasn’t who I was or who I am. I hate shopping. I get my hair cut once a month and I dress like a Dad who just dropped his kids off at Lacrosse practice.  

nicks parents stonewall

My parents visiting the historic Stonewall Inn where the gay rights movement began.

I wanted people to know that everyone is different regardless of their sexual orientation and wanted to change people’s views on that.  So that is what I did. My senior year of high school I came out to everyone in my immediate family and high school.  I was sick of lying, sick of pretending to talk about hot girls (even though they were gorgina and I still live for them), and just not being authentic to who I truly was. I remember how I did it as well. We were at our Senior Beach Week, I was shithouse drunk and a Katy Perry song came on. “California Gurls”…  maybe you’ve heard of it. And I remember just being a Queen and dancing on a table and telling everyone. Nobody was really that surprised. Some people were, but most were just like…. makes sense. That actually made me feel a lot better. That even though they had a hint or feeling, they still didn’t treat me differently. I had a good coming out experience; I did it and could not believe how easy it was. That is, until I left for College.

nick family

With my chosen family Caitlyn (left) and Victoria. They were the first people I came out to and are still my very best friends today.

When I went to College, I had a scholarship to play Division 1 Soccer and accepted that. I won’t name the school but I really did not like it. I knew I was in for a rough experience the moment I landed there, and I actually went back in the closet. Kind of like a turtle peeping it’s head out, being scared, and retreating immediately. I made some life long friend there, and they were the only ones who had my back once things got rough. I kept my sexuality a secret to a very unhealthy point. I had my best friend visit me and we bought lube and condoms and pretended to have sex. Thanks for that Caitlyn! I do not know how we did not laugh the entire time, but we made them believe it. The next day her car got towed and she was wearing a “legalize gay” shirt and my friends saw her. I fucking love that girl but what an idiot.

nick rupaul

W/ Violet Chachki (winner of Rupaul’s Drag Race Season 7) and Carmen Carrera (Trans Activist)

So after that, people questioned things and eventually, I told some close friends there. Most were supportive and some weren’t. The ones that weren’t, I do not keep in touch with. I quit the team, only a few guys reached out, and the rest just talked shit about me and made sure I wasn’t invited to any parties, and that I just wasn’t included in things in general.They also, get this, DE-FRIENDED ME ON FACEBOOK. The nerve. What assholes and how dare they. So I transferred schools and my life changed for the best. I thought about what I went through there, how I overcame it, and all of the amazing support I had in my life, and that is when I had my first feeling of Pride. I was proud of what I overcame, I was proud of my family and friends for sticking by me, and I was proud of the community I was a part of.

nick drag

Dressed in DRAG, Halloween 2015

School went smoothly and all was well and then I decided upon graduating that I was going to move to New York City. I always wanted to live in New York. The idea of it made me have butterflies and it was so foreign to me. Hunnyyyy, it was the best decision I ever made. I first interned here are got a taste and once that happened, all bets were off.

nick pride 2016

Pride 2016, New York, NY

During my time in New York, I have witnessed many victories and tragedies in my community. I was here when gay marriage was legalized across the country. We can now just say “marriage” because gay marriage isn’t a thing. Marriage is marriage, fucking finally. I remember crying at work when that happened and I called my Mom and Dad. That was a great day. I was also here for my very first Pride March and that was an out of body experience. I never felt so normal in my life. Then I realized being normal is overrated. I was also here when the Pulse Shootings happened. I went to Stonewall for the vigil and to date, it was one of the saddest things I have ever experienced.

nick march

March for those murdered at Pulse Nightclub.

 All of those experiences are examples of what makes Pride Month so special. It is a celebration of what we have overcome and what we still have to overcome. We are so far from where we need to be, and there are so many things left to be done. Give your friends a hug, tell them you love them, give them a random compliment.

Just spread love and light because we need it now more than ever. Also, let this month be a reminder that together we will continue to fight for what is right, to not judge each other, to love and support each other, and to drink a lot of vodka sodas because calories do matter.

Happy Pride,
Nick Wright

You can check out Nick on Social Media:
Instagram: @nickreedwright
Twitter: @NICKREEDWRIGHT

He also hosts his own podcast called “Nick Interviews Friends”! 
Listen to it on Sound Cloud (aka binge all 7 episodes now) 

MHAM Post #19: A Great Friend

Today is officially the last day of May… wow. This month and this project have flown by! I’m not entirely sure if today will be the definitive end point of my Mental Health Awareness Month posts (also more to come about an upcoming project soon), but I did save this post for the “last day” for a reason. 

This piece is written by a good friend of mine who chooses to be anonymous (~corporate jobs ya know~). Like I’ve said before though, I think each of these posts has so much weight, regardless of whether or not they have a specific name attached. 

This month has been all about speaking up, sharing your unique experiences, and feeling more understood in the process. I love this post because it encompasses just that. 

The writer shares her journey with her mental health and how she found her voice over time. I really feel that her struggles and her silence are so perfectly described in a way that we call all identify with, and her end points help to bring it all full circle.

Here it isssssssssssssss:

“I’ve always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed up in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed.” ― David Benioff, City of Thieves

As the pressure of performing well in college dug its way into my psyche, I began to sleep less and less. For three years, I managed. All-nighters are not unusual in college to cram for an exam or essay, and I could always reset my system once whatever was keeping me up was over. I never recognized it as an actual issue, and often fed my undiagnosed insomnia with cups of coffee and giant red bulls. I’d crash, sleep, and repeat.

But something changed senior year. Everything felt chaotic. After going abroad my spring semester junior year, I felt displaced amongst my friends and overwhelmed with what exactly I was going to do beyond the safe and secure bubble of a college town. I didn’t get either of the first two jobs I applied to, and the fear of failure was crushing me. Sleepless nights turned into sleepless weeks, and I couldn’t verbalize what was happening to me. No one wants to be sick their last semester senior year, but I was. Chronic insomnia is what they call a “co-morbid” condition (sounds a little dramatic, TBH), and often sits beside it’s ugly stepsisters, Anxiety and Depression. Pair that with a thyroid imbalance and a looming feeling of uncertainty, and you have a recipe for disaster.

I wouldn’t have gotten help on my own. I didn’t recognize any of my thoughts as harmful, or my actions as out of character, but my wonderful friends did. I am lucky to have had friends that recognized I was not okay, even when I couldn’t admit that to myself.

The most ironic thing about my experience, is that one of my majors was Communication Studies in college. You would think as a proficient writer who was enrolled in interpersonal communications and leadership classes – that focused on how to bridge gaps between different groups and personalities –  I would have these skills to tackle the crushing fear of failure. I studied the autism spectrum and learned how to communicate effectively with people that are seen as “other” and “different,” yet, when I felt like an outsider, I lost my voice. I couldn’t speak. The stigma crushed me. I was a happy-go-lucky senior, a fairly good student and super involved my college community. My friends know me as a loud, outgoing person. Yet when I had these sudden fears of not fitting in, or not getting a job that I pulled three back to back all-nighters to apply for, I lost my ability to articulate my feelings.

As illustrated through this blog, mental health is a tricky subject. We all have different coping mechanisms and ways out of the dark, and there’s no “one size fits all” solution. When I sat down to write this, I struggled for a while to articulate what truly happened to me senior year. I still struggle with insomnia, but feel very far removed from the way I felt three years ago. But if I learned anything from my experience, it’s that the stigma around mental health issues is pointless. I am glad that this blog gives us all a chance to air it out.

If you take anything from this post and this month, I want it to be those last two lines. The stigma IS (for lack of a better synonym lol) pointless. We are all just human. We all have good days and bad. We all have our struggles. By sharing what we’re going through, we can remind each other, and ourselves, that we are so far from alone. 

Also, check out this writer on Tumblr here: @todayitwasalltheearth (it’s filled with awesome poems/words/art!!)

MHAM Post #15: Maggie

Today’s piece is actually written by a friend of a friend whom I’ve never even met. I just wanted to stress this fact, because the amount of support and enthusiasm I have received about this project over the past month is so amazing/heartwarming/mind-blowing to me. 

The fact that someone I don’t even know on a personal level would be so inspired to open up about her experiences for the sake of others is so crazy and beautiful. 

I really enjoyed this piece because Maggie, the writer, doesn’t focus too much on specific diagnoses. She just shares times in her life where things got especially trying, and in turn, negatively impacted her already existing mental health struggles. 

I think that’s an extremely important thing to remember. Mental health is a part of all of us, right? Whether good or bad. Some of us have a genetic predisposition to certain diagnoses. Some of us have more negative experiences with regards to our mental health than others. Some of us have labels that we can attach to our struggles. Regardless, we all have good and bad experiences in life, and those experiences impact our mental health. Regardless of predisposition, confirmed diagnoses, etc, our life experiences shape us and make us who we are. Our mental health is directly tied to all of that. 

Maggie’s piece does a great job at explaining just how drastically certain events in her life made these kinds of impacts on her. 

I am happy to share her story here: 

This is difficult for me to start, because my experience with mental illness has been both a marathon and series of short, painful sprints. I didn’t meet my triggers until late in college, and didn’t know how to talk about what I was feeling until after a terrifying and heartbreaking night in the emergency room.  

My case is different than some. I never worried about talking about what I was feeling. In
fact, I ALWAYS talked about what I was feeling, whether it was to someone else, or within my ever present (sometimes deafening) internal dialogue.  From an early age, I was assessing and labeling what I saw, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt, and if something wasn’t right, or I wasn’t where I wanted it to be, I fixed it.  Big surprise, I now work in healthcare. 

When I was in high school, I experienced hardship as everyone does, and instead of dealing with the things I couldn’t understand or label, I started digging deep to bury the hard things. This continued throughout college, until I ran out of space to bury the shitty stuff.  The biggest problem with this was that, because of the fact that I didn’t understand and couldn’t put a label on my feelings, I couldn’t find the means to talk about them. I wasn’t talking about what I was going through, but not because I was afraid or because I didn’t want to. I literally couldn’t.  I had dealt with death and hardship, and while these are horrendous and devastating things, this was DIFFERENT.  I stopped sleeping, I overate, drank an unbelievable amount, and completely stopped working out.  I managed to push through the end of college with minimal visible harm, and slid into my gap year. During this year, I took my physical health to the forefront, but did not think much about my mental health. Because physicality is such a huge part of my life, my mental health
improved with the improvement of my physical health.  However, I was not making a concerted effort to better myself as a whole, and I was doing myself a disservice without even knowing it. I thought my dark period in college was a come and go “rough patch” that I wouldn’t go back to, and DAMN was I absolutely wrong.

I have always been driven, determined, outgoing, outspoken, and didn’t give a flying fuck about what anyone thought about me, until I started dating the person I thought was my forever partner. We met right before I started grad school, and immediately clicked. I had never felt that way about anyone before, and things moved much too quickly.  We were living together after only a few months. The fights we had were vicious and sometimes very scary for others. Things spiraled downhill almost as quickly, and I saw a side of myself that I wish to NEVER see again. I let someone else dictate my life. I made all decisions based on this person. I didn’t realize it until almost a year after the fact, but I was living in constant fear that if I said or did the wrong thing, or didn’t consistently put this other person first, that he would leave me and my one true love would be gone forever, and he didn’t let me forget it. One of our infamous fights hit an all-time low, and I tried to kill myself. Waking up to the pure sadness that I saw was the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever experienced, and I would not wish that feeling on anyone in the world. Despite this, I stayed with this
person another two years, and it was a constant ebb and flow of amazing days and some of the ugliest days I’ve seen. I let myself get to a point where I told myself I had nowhere to go but inward. I knew what I was feeling, but I was so paralyzed by fear that if I expressed myself, he would leave and I would be left with nothing. Little did I know, I am fucking everything and more (and so are you).

Last summer, his beautiful mother passed away, and to say that it was devastating is an understatement. I didn’t deal with this loss, because I didn’t feel as though it was mine, and I knew I needed to be his rock.  After this, I made the move to NYC, and I was biding my time until he was able to move up here as well. In this time, he became distant and meaner than ever. I was constantly anxious and terrified that I was doing the wrong thing. Later I came to find that he had started dating someone else, but it was just too hard for him to tell me (insert eye roll here). I. Was. Devastated. I lost 20 pounds in less than a month. I wasn’t sleeping. My work suffered, and my already broken relationships with my family and friends suffered even more. 

Here comes the upswing (you knew it was coming at some point).  Instead of letting this person continue to define me, I decided to redefine me. I told myself, “I live in the greatest city in the free world, take advantage and just do you boo boo”. I started just doing things that I wanted to do, whether I had someone to do them with or not. A random happy hour by myself, where I met an amazing woman my age in the same boat (WHAT?! WHY?!). Check. John Legend concert. Check. All you can eat pizza fundraiser for breast cancer. Check. Training for, and soon to run, a half marathon. Check. Signing up for my first marathon. Check. Getting accepted to a doctorate program. Check.

During this time, I worked with some of the greatest and most supportive earth angels on the planet. They took me under their wings, and didn’t comment on my obvious, rapid weight loss, they didn’t try to tell me what to do, they were just there for me  even though they hadn’t known me for very long. They let me talk when I wanted to, and, most importantly, they didn’t judge me for feeling. They are now some of my best friends in the world, and if it wasn’t for this shitty situation, I wouldn’t have been able to expand my bad ass squad with these rock stars. Not only did I make new friends, but my best friends (which includes my family) were truly amazing (which is the understatement of the century). They dealt with, and still deal with, my breakdowns at all hours with unbeatable
grace and always had a kind word or a laugh to share. 

I have also been able to pay it forward. I am not the only one of my friends that has struggled with one of many mental health issues. We have created an open dialogue that may look terrifying to the outside eye, but it’s our safe space.  Doing this has also given me an incredible amount of perspective when I am having my bad days. We are not alone. We can do this. We are a tribe that gets shit done in grand fashion.

While I will always struggle with the need to fix and label, it’s getting easier with each day and a lot of hard work.  I will never let someone else define who I am. I will continue to be the outspoken (sometimes too blunt), funny, lighthearted person I always was, but my bad days are quite a bit different now. I know the bad feelings will not last forever. I know that I am not only enough, but I go above and beyond.  I have a bad ass team behind me, and I don’t have a clue how I got so lucky to have them all in my life. I am a mother fucking queen.

MHAM Post #14: A Mentor

The writer of this piece is someone I consider to be not just a friend, but in many ways, a mentor as well.

I actually couldn’t even tell you when I first met this writer. I was probably like 8? I attended the same camp every summer throughout my childhood, and as a teenager I began working there too. That is when me and this writer became closer. 

Growing up, if you had asked me to describe him, I would say he was filled with nothing but love, positivity, and happiness. This writer literally made the kids at camp light up with joy every day. He seemed to be constantly be overflowing with energy and passion.

I know I’ve said it a million times before, but you really can’t judge a book by it’s cover. So many people you are surrounded by everyday are battling their inner demons in silence. 

It means so much to me that the writer of this piece was willing to share his words. I’m so happy to know that we are able to still connect now, years after working together, to share our experiences with mental health. 

As you will see in this piece, it is HARD to open up about what you’re going through. Mental health struggles are a catch-22 in that sense. Not only do they cause you to feel unstable, but they often also make you feel less capable of opening up about what you’re going through. Then, to top it off, the stigma surrounding mental health makes it, in many ways, even more difficult to share your experiences openly. It’s no surprise than so many people grapple with these issues silently. 

Having the courage to share your experiences is extremely commendable, so, without further ado, check it out: 

When I graduated from high school in 1997, I had the vaguest notion of what bipolar disorder was. I certainly did not understand its destructive power, its ability to tear away at the life one built with terrifying swiftness. I would not know that I was bipolar until August of 2009. What I do remember knowing without any doubt when I was seventeen, and entering my first year at Penn State, was that I did not feel emotionally well-balanced. I do not mean this in the sense that I was feeling down, or going through a transition in my life that made me feel more stressed and emotionally drained. I felt shame, guilt, embarrassment, hopelessness, and uselessness to such a degree that I would hide from the world for days at a time, which progressed to weeks, and eventually months. I eventually spent the better part of seven years locked away in a studio apartment with the blinds drawn, trapped in my own mind.

No family, friends, or medical professionals knew of the way I lived until March of 2008, when I hit a breaking point, but I was not properly diagnosed with cyclothymic bipolar disorder until August of 2009. It was only then that I allowed myself to begin healing. Until recently, I rarely spoke or wrote about my mental health condition for various reasons that were grounded in the shame that fueled my protracted silence, in addition to the pernicious stigma that unfortunately continues to surround mental health issues. My voicelessness, however, did not stop me from learning about my own condition. I read as much as I could in the scientific literature, in addition to memoirs about people’s experiences associated with being bipolar. I am finally able to share my story more readily; I hope it helps anyone who reads it.

Nearly everyone I have known has felt depressed at some point in their life, which is a normal phenomenon. They understand that depression tends to shut people down and draw them inward mentally. Most people, however, are fairly resilient and find that mental balance without any help, so they are soon back on their feet and functioning normally. This resiliency is the line in the sand where my diagnosis separates me from those who are able to bounce back. It is critical that I emphasize two points. First, this separation is not my choice. I would never choose to continue to be depressed. Second, the severity of the depression that I suffer from is far more serious than what most people have ever had to deal with.

Looking back, it makes sense that I was bipolar at Penn State. I loved learning, reading, hanging out with friends, and playing competitive sports. Yet, very soon after I started college, I began to withdraw. The life that I worked very hard to build throughout high school was fading as life started feeling less important to me, for reasons that I may never know. Feeling that depressed, my natural reaction was to hide, both physically and emotionally. As professors and friends told me, when they did happen to see me, it was as if I just fell off the face of the earth. From time to time I did leave my apartment, and some classes were able to motivate me enough to participate and do well. For the majority of the time, however, I was hiding in my apartment. I cried, read, and slept. A few times a week I would eat. I was fortunate to have loving parents who worked hard to put me through school, which made me more ashamed of my lack of attendance and participation in college. Until I spoke out years later, my parents paid my tuition, I tried to recover from my depression, and I would continue to fail most of the time. When I was not failing because of never attending class, I was withdrawing from a semester of courses that I never went to. I was not a party animal who blew off everything academic. I was a lost person hiding from the world, and trying to run from my mind and my pain. This was my life for many years. When I was supposed to have graduated from Penn State, I remained in my apartment and lived off of my own savings from high school. My sporadic academic victories against bipolar disorder were marked with As on my transcript. My academic shortcomings were not indicative of blowing off college; they were the markers of my suffering. Medical research strongly suggests that people with a bipolar disorder often lose social functioning that is so easy for others and do not recover it for many years. I am living proof of that.

Throughout those difficult years in my life, there were a few genuinely bright spots. I did have windows in my house of misery that brought rays of happiness into my life. I enjoyed photography, and I especially enjoyed working with children in the summer when I had to live at home. To be sure, my years working at a summer camp saved my life, and sparked my interest in education. I am certain of this, which makes me grateful for the happiness and sense of purpose the children brought into my life. I do not speak much about working with children in this particular summer camp beyond the superficial comments of how fun it was. The truth is, that summer camp holds such a special place in my heart that I find it hard to articulate how much it really means to me.

In early 2008, I finally hit bottom and broke down in front of my parents. The stress and emotional toll that the silence brought was starting to kill me. I was a shell of my former self. I told them everything. I explained how their son left his apartment once every few weeks to every two months, and learned to subsist by getting food delivered. I apologized for wasting their money, and for failing them. One of the most profound moments of my life came after I apologized. My father picked me up off the ground, wiped the tears from my eyes, and told me that the only thing lost was money and time, but that I was still here, still alive, and should be proud of that, not ashamed. From that moment on, I never allowed myself to feel like I was too weak to overcome this disorder.

It has not been an easy road, but the faith I placed in myself has helped me tremendously. I never completed my degree at Penn State, but I am proud to say that I am a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania who is currently pursuing a masters degree at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. I am studying how institutions of higher education can do more to promote mental health awareness. I have a wonderful wife, and three beautiful children who have redefined what it means to be happy and to love unconditionally. There are indeed quite a few things in this world that are far more powerful than the destructive nature of bipolar disorder. Most of all, I have learned to stop hating who I am and what I suffer from, and began to love the face I see in the mirror, as well as the mind behind that face.

Although my own struggles with bipolar disorder prevented me from actively raising awareness over the years, I truly believe that my academic and professional work regarding mental health conditions, combined with my efforts to raise my voice and share my story, are in themselves forms of activism and resistance to the stigma associated with living with bipolar disorder. I learned that my lived experience, combined with what I learned throughout the past 20 years, can effectively be used toward making the lives of others like me thrive. No one should ever make others feel like they are not worthy of love or acceptance, or loving and accepting themselves. Loving oneself is a radical act. Loving oneself is an act of resistance in a world where so many forces seek to make groups of people feel lesser. There is much work to do….

MHAM Post #13: Lydia

I remember going into my freshman year of college and feeling so passionately that a sorority would never be the right place for me. I just couldn’t help but feel that it was almost, in a way, a cop out, or the “easy way out” when it came to making friends. It seemed like, if you had pay to be in the group, there’s just no way the friendships you’d make could be genuine.

I know I sound beyond cliche, but I cannot put into words how wrong those preconceived notions were. Being in my sorority taught me so much about trust and compassion and sincere acceptance. I honestly have never felt like I belonged anywhere more. It is, without a doubt, the reason I have a lot of the amazing friends I do. 

From an outsider looking in, you probably don’t realize it, but a good deal of the people that have been willing to open themselves up for the sake of this blog over the past month have been friends that I made through my sorority. 

Being in a big sorority has it flaws though. It’s just impossible to truly get to know every single member on an intimate level in the short few years you have together. 

Lydia, the writer of this piece, is someone I genuinely wish I had had the opportunity to get to know better before I graduated. The great thing though, is that college friendships don’t need to be contained to college. I’m lucky that I am still able to get to know Lydia now, even years after graduating. 

Earlier this year, she wrote an amazing, gut-wrenching piece about depression, suicide, and coping with the pain. Her words were just so powerful that, when I came up with this month’s blog idea, asking her to share something was a no-brainer.

I’ve never told her this, but I have so much respect for Lydia. She has taught me to always remember that you never know what someone else is going through or coping with. 

Needless to say, I’m extremely happy to share her words here: 

I am here but not there.
I have found myself yet I am still searching.
Standing at the top, my eyes stare forward,
trembling to look down before I let myself plunge.
Falling beneath the black, deeper into a hole
that may never close.
The ditch is stable but its width fluctuates –
I can still fit.
I imagine a day where I outgrow the hole but maybe I don’t want to.
Maybe the depth of its darkness is a place to hide.
I dig with weary hands and brittle bones until
the dirt consumes me.
Until my heartbeat stalls and my breath screams into the empty air.
Until I realize the only way out is to climb back up without searching
for a short-cut.
The hole has found its place in my chest, my eyes, and my brain.
I will fill the hollow dwellings with my own light.

I walked into my bedroom at home last week with a new pillow added by my mother that read: “joy is in the journey”. I did not think much of the cliché until I walked into an office the next day, where the same exact pillow sat on the couch. A center where I finally accepted treatment for an eating disorder – the very hole that has welcomed depression and anxiety into its darkness. I dug into the depth of the void and I found emptiness. My mind’s control is consuming and I cannot fix this on my own.

I constantly find signs where there may be no significance at all, but nonetheless, a simple pillow ignited a decision. “I need help” came in a soft and quivering voice, but I’ve never felt so strong. I am ready to breathe freely, to dismiss the overwhelming voices, to change my learned behaviors, to start living. Recovery will be a process and there is no satisfactory result. The journey itself holds purpose and the timeline to rebuild is continuous. A hole can leak and crack, maybe re-open, but closure does not determine progression.

Whatever the hole may be for you, if your mind had the power to form the hollow dwellings, you also have the strength to fill them – but you do not need to know how to do so on your own. There is no manual to healing, no concrete image of a fixed hole to follow as you read the instructions. Making the effort to begin is greater than the endpoint. No matter your pace, purely start; rid yourself of the pressure to reach your sense of perfection. Put down the guide and stop planning for success – if the “joy is in the journey”, then you’re already there.

Read Lydia’s other piece here: https://themighty.com/2016/11/sharing-your-suicidal-thoughts-with-a-therapist/

MHAM Post #11: Corinne

This piece is written by someone that I’ve known during many stages of her life. Corinne has been a friend that I can honestly say I have grown with. I have known her since high school, and together we have experienced all of the ups and downs that come with your teens and 20s.

My favorite thing about our friendship, is that I can honestly say I’ve watched her learn and grow into herself over the years. She has become such a mature, self-aware person and it shows in her writing. 

I liked that, in a sense, her story contrasts the previous story, with regards to her opinions on medication. She also touches on her experience with therapy, and other coping mechanisms shes learned over the years. 

Read her experience here: 

It was my senior year of college. I came back to school after a summer that felt like an eternity of missing “The Promised Land” and mourning the breakup of a college relationship that, for some reason, shook me more than I ever imagined a short-lived relationship could. Going back to JMU after being at home for the summer was the best feeling in the whole world (I know all my Dookz can agree). It was then, upon the return to my favorite place, that I started experiencing what I would soon learn was my anxiety, something I would carry with me for the rest of my life.

I remember exactly what I was doing the first time I felt this then unfamiliar feeling, which I now know to be a panic attack. I was walking into the library, up to the front desk to check out a laptop. As I approached the front desk, I felt my heart begin to race. I became increasingly hot. The floor felt like it was moving below me, and I experienced an out-of-body feeling that I had never experienced before, for what seemed like no reason. I felt like I was crawling out of my skin. I felt like I needed to escape as soon as humanly possible, like I was in danger or something.  I thought it was weird, but ultimately I brushed it off.

It wasn’t until these feelings started to appear, not just in the library, but also on the bus going to class, while giving presentations, and while doing seemingly “relaxing” activities, like eating with my friends in the dining hall, that I started to become worried about what was happening to my body. (Side note: all of these were place I had previously THRIVED…I mean I AM a Leo SO you know…).

Krump was actually the first person who told me that what I was experiencing sounded like anxiety. I’ll never forget laying in my bed in Forest Hills googling “symptoms of anxiety” on WebMD, a website that, once I actually learned I had anxiety, I’d never visit ever again (hello hypochondria). I remember thinking, “holy shit, this is it, this is all of what I have been feeling”. And then I felt scared. What does this mean? Why do I feel this way? How do I make it stop?

Luckily in college, you’re surrounded by friends and LOTS of booze. So much so, that admitting to my roommate that the only time I didn’t feel anxious was when I was drunk, felt so casual to me. That fact didn’t actually scare me until I was out of college, and drinking until you can’t feel anything isn’t really a normal life coping method anymore.

Fast forward almost 5 years later and here I am, still learning new things about my anxiety and what comes along with it every single day. Sometimes I think I have it totally under control. I think that the 5th antidepressant/antianxiety medication I have tried and now take religiously, the seemingly healthy food I am putting into my body, the chamomile tea I drink both at night and during the day (I almost threw a fit when someone at work wanted to get rid of the sleepy time tea because “who needs that during work”.. umm hello anxious people do!), the 9 PM grandma bedtimes, my Himalayan salt lamp, my adult coloring book, my lavender candle, and the meditation, have somehow made my anxiety disappear. But then, BAM, I’m hit with a brain zap that comes with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, fear, worry and my least favorite, the out-of-body feeling I referenced earlier.

That’s the sneaky thing about anxiety though…just when you think you have it under control, it’s there hiding in the darkness, just waiting to come out. It appears when I am at brunch, laughing and enjoying time with my friends. It appears when I am driving down the highway. It appears when I am alone at night. It appears when I am grocery shopping. It appears when I am watching TV. It appears at times I can’t always explain.

Now let’s get to the positive side of things! I have spent a lot of time thinking about the differences between the ways that I used to cope with my anxiety versus how I cope with it now, and I feel like I can finally pat myself on the back. The people closest to me always say I never give myself enough credit, so here I am. I’m working on it! For starters, less than a year ago, I also was petrified of medication. I had some of the worst days of my life while on antidepressants that were pushed on me in the past, and I didn’t think medicine was the answer for me. Turns out, once you find a doctor who truly listens to you and genuinely cares about your well-being, this can change. I take my anxiety medication two times a day, and I can genuinely say it has changed my life for the better. Of course, I still have my moments where my anxiety creeps up on me like I described before, and it still happens way more often than the average person, but believe it or not, the number of these instances have decreased significantly. I can actually breathe again.

Less than a year ago, I was constantly looking for life situations to blame my anxiety on and so did my ex-therapist.  She taught me to search for answers or reasons as to why I felt this way. Like maybe it was just my post-grad anxiety/depression (my doctor said she saw so many people for this, so it must be true right!?). Maybe it was the toxic two-year relationship I was in. Or maybe it was the aftermath of the breakup of that toxic relationship. Or maybe it was the fact that my physical health is all sorts of fucked up and that carries so many unknowns. Or maybe it’s because I was transitioning jobs, or my work environment wasn’t good… this list could go on forever. Telling her about an experience I had with sexual assault was like a goldmine for her, because she was convinced she had found the answer to all of my anxieties. In reality, this wasn’t the case at all (hence the “ex” in ex-therapist). She made me feel like anxiety was something you could “fix” but it’s not. It’s actually quite the opposite. While, of course, the experiences I shared with her do play a part in the state of my mental health, even when I can’t recognize it, addressing those experiences doesn’t mean they, or my anxieties as a result of those experiences, suddenly go away. I now know that my anxiety has always been with me, it just chose the year 2012 to come out in full force.

And finally after all this thinking (it’s what us anxious people do best right!?), the #1 thing my journey has taught me, is that despite anxiety being a part of me, I am not “anxious all day every day for no apparent reason at all” like I used to believe I was. In the past, I was convinced that every ounce of my body felt anxious at every second of every day. I used to only noticed the times when I wasn’t anxious, in the same way people who don’t have generalized anxiety disorder only notice the times that they are anxious.

Since then, I have grown to learn how my past and present experiences have shaped me as a person, and how they have shaped my anxiety. I have learned what many of my triggers are, and how to talk myself off the ledge when I feel myself ramping up. I have switched from having the mindset of blaming my anxiety, to accepting it. My anxiety will always be part of me. There will always be time when it hits me and I can’t explain it. And it will never be “fixed”, but I know one thing is for sure, my anxiety does not define me and yours does not define you either.

**Disclaimer: I still think that therapy is one of the best things a person can do for their mental health, despite my personal experiences thus far. I know my prefect therapist is out there somewhere, just gotta find him or her!