The Stories My 2,915 Facebook Photos Don’t Tell
There are approximately 2,915 photos of me on my Facebook profile. About 2,200 of them feature the many stages of my smile: there is the devious 10-year-old holding a book during an awkward photo-op; the demure lip perch, trying to hide my braces, I had on prom night shortly after being anointed prom king; the candid shot of my smile graduating from UCLA; the exhausted, relieved smile after completing the LA Marathon; and my big goofy smile that overtakes me when I’m with those I love or at a Beyonce concert.
There’s about 90 photos of me with The People’s Eyebrow™, 120 photos of me doing Blue Steel™ and the remaining photos of me serving resting bitch face (thanks mom!) or incriminating photos I forgot to untag prior to graduating college and before becoming a grownup.
None of the 2,915 photos tell the story of a boy who has depression, plagued with thoughts of suicide and crippling anxiety. And yet all of them do.
It’s the night before my birthday, and I’m lying in bed paralyzed. Last night my mind began to spiral, and I’ve yet to figure out the cause, let alone know what the remedy might be to get me up. The more time passes, the more useless I feel. I keep replaying the surveillance videos in my brain from the past 48 hours to understand when the robbery of the present moment occurred. It’s silly to try and pinpoint what inane pebble led to this boulder I’m trying to outrun. It just takes the slight pivot of an expectation or the impossibility of trying to figure out where to eat for dinner. The pebble is rarely based on logic. It’s the gas leak no one smells waiting for the flick of a match.
My family threw me a birthday dinner the night before. It was my favorite meal, “breakfast for dinner,” complete with eggs, bacon, iced coffee and mimosas. As I sat at the table beside my brother, mom and dad, I felt like an uninvited stranger crashing this celebration. Everything inside me was screaming to smile, to be grateful, to be happy, but I wasn’t, I couldn’t, my mind and my body refused to. My mom picked up her mimosa and turned it to the zombie at the table. “To my special birthday boy…” she said as she angled her glass towards me. “I just want you to know how much we love you, today’s a day…”
My mind began to wonder and her words became washed out by the white noise in my head. There’s a thousand things I wish I would have said in that moment, but the only thing that escaped my mind was “this is a nightmare! this is a nightmare!” My head grew heavy, and my vision began to blur. I left the table with no explanation and retreated to my room and collapsed on to my bed. The next few hours were blurry as my bed began to float off into the sea of despair. My family each visited me one by one. My mom cried, my dad pleaded for me to be happy and my brother sat bedside for hours hoping I’d awaken from this mental coma. As I was lying in bed, my phone would ding with Facebook notifications, texts and calls from friends sending their birthday wishes. They went ignored. I had lost the ability to speak, to think and to reason. I was drowning.
As a kid, I always knew I was different, and that scared the hell out of me because I wanted to be like everyone else and I wanted everyone else to like me. In the fifth grade I was called a “faggot” for the first time. At that age, I wasn’t really sure what that word meant and the hate it carried. I went online to AskJeeves.com and asked “how do you know you’re gay?” (Note: I would have Googled this question, but I never knew how many O’s were in “Google”). When I read the results, I realized instantly I was gay. It was the year after Matthew Shepard was killed for being gay, and upon realizing I myself was also gay, it scared me. I was 10 years old and pictured the road in front of me. I thought of what a disappointment I would be to my mom, dad and family. I imagined how humiliating it would be for any of them to have to reveal the truth about my identity. I was afraid of my gayness, and I believed it was an inevitable death sentence. I already knew what the ending of my story would be, and so I thought I’d cut to the chase. I took a handful of Tylenol one night and went to bed relieved I wouldn’t have to wake up to the next day.
I woke up.
As a teenager, I did the best I could to suppress who I was and what that represented. I was insecure and thought I could create a facade of what a happy life was supposed to look like. If anyone questioned or inquired whether I was gay, I would instantly view them as a threat ready to expose my deeply buried secret. Holding in that secret became toxic as I began distancing anyone who could possibly expose me. I thought I had to do whatever I could to protect myself from the truth of who I was. I needed the story to be true.
In college, I added a guy name Dave on MySpace who I would later find out was the love of my life. At the age of 20, I came out to my mom. Actually… she came out to me for me.
I had taken my mom out to breakfast. We ordered at the counter, sat down at a table and without a moment to spare, she blurted out “I know you’re gay, and I know Dave is your boyfriend. Don’t you feel better now?” I don’t even think she took a breath. My mom had ripped the Band-Aid off and freed me of my mind’s emotional prison. Yet I couldn’t fully comprehend what had just taken place. I looked down at my parfait in horror. After all of the torture I had subjected myself to, after all the expectations I set forth as a 10-year-old, I was finally free.
It’s the morning of my birthday, and I feel trapped. I should be happy and have so much to celebrate and so many things to be thankful for. But in this moment, I am anything but grateful for being here. I want to disappear, and I want the suffering to end.
A sadness had always been a part of me, but I never knew what the source was. Was it because I was gay? Was it something even deeper? All of my life, my sadness followed me around. I carried it with me in my backpack through school; I brought it with my luggage on vacations, and it arrived just in time to help me celebrate my birthday. It is more real than anything in my life, yet I don’t want to acknowledge it’s a part of me. Doing so felt like admitting I am weak. I was scared of the reality of knowing I have depression. I overcompensated. I overpacked. I said “yes” when everything inside me was screaming “no.” I was turning myself into the person I thought everyone wanted me to be — the strong one, or the guy that’s always happy. I wanted to be the guy who had his shit together. Yet here I was motionless in bed.
I’m surrounded by fighters. I’m surrounded by people who have risked everything to help others obtain a better life. My grandparents were both holocaust survivors who fought for their lives to create a life that had the possibility of creating a family. I held my mom’s hand through her darkest days of chemo. My brother fought to get back on his feet after getting hit by a car on my 8th birthday, I’ve weathered the storm of two cancer fights that struck my partner Dave. Hell, even my adopted son/dog Rocco has fought for his life time and time again after multiple cancer diagnoses. In this moment, I’m not a fighter. I feel like a deserter. I am ready to give in.
My phone dings.
“Can you come to the window?” a text from Dave reads. I wrap my blanket around me and slowly get out of bed for the first time in 26 hours. The sun burns my eyes as I open the shade (much like you’d expect for someone whose father was born in Transylvania, like mine was). As my eyes begin to refocus, I see a sight that completely changes my life. Dave is standing on the sidewalk with our dog Rocco, who has several balloons tied to him. I break down. As we walk around the block that afternoon, I confess to Dave, “I think I need help.”
I came out for the second time in my life. When I’m at my lowest, I never know which wave will take me back to shore and which wave will pull me under. Quite honestly the idea of ever getting back to shore never really feels like a possibility in the moment. On this day, that ride back to shore came thanks to Dave, Rocco and five latex balloons.
The road to recovery these past few years has been paved with books, hikes, self-care and good ol’ fashion therapy. I am constantly learning how to build boundaries to protect myself, say no (which is impossible for someone who loves to please others and suffers from FOMO) and ask for help when it’s needed. At my lowest I found myself thinking of my depression as something that I could never talk openly about. I found myself partaking in the same shame cycle I found myself in when I came out as gay. To begin treating my depression, I first had to come out and accept that my depression was a part of me and a part of my story.
A few years ago, I ran the LA Marathon with Dave and I came up with the idea of filming the entire experience on a GoPro that would tell the story of a day in my life. Many runners had captured their experience by putting the GoPro on a headband and shooting outwards, but I wanted to capture a shot facing inwards that featured me in it. I had the whole concept pictured in my mind. It would be a shot of me running through sunny Los Angeles, and at the finish line, I was going to receive my gold medal and fall backwards into the Pacific Ocean with the Santa Monica Pier in the background. I told Dave about this idea, and we engineered a camera rig that would capture this shot. The “camera rig” was a twisty pool hose from Home Depot which I contorted my body through as Dave stuffed folded up towels between the metal and my body.
We then tied it to me. He pressed record, and there we were running 26.2 miles with a 20+ pound “camera rig” tied to my body. Every step was painful and awkward, but I was so excited to see the final video from my thoughts come into fruition.
By mile 2, runners were passing me and saying “you’re never going to make it with that!” I was determined. As if the length of the run wasn’t enough, at mile 6, it began pouring rain — not a drizzle, full on Jumanji- sized rain. I kept going. I was determined to get the shot. We continued forward running with wet socks and crossed the finish line six and a half hours later. Our phones were destroyed. Our bodies were going into shock, and we were on the verge of pneumonia. It was miserable.
A few days later, my brother edited the whole marathon experience together, and one thing was apparent from the 11-minute montage. Unbeknownst to me, I was smiling the entire time through the pain and the rain.
I look back to that video on my worst days and think how closely that marathon mirrors my life. It never really matches the expectation you set forth. It is often filled with pain and with rain. But let Oprah be my witness, I am determined to see the end product and look back at the story of my life and cherish all the smiles I had throughout.
It has been a struggle to get out of bed these past few days. My heart has been so heavy since first hearing about the loss of my brothers and sisters in Orlando. I think of the love stories that will never get to unfold. I think of the kids and teenagers around the world who fear what being gay might mean in this world.
I wish I could tell all of them the same thing I wish I could have told that 10-year-old me with a handful of Tylenol: We will emerge from this darkness because we are strong and driven by love.
It has been a long road, but I could not be prouder to be who I am. I am thankful for Dave. I am thankful to be gay. I am thankful for my family and the countless allies in my life that have given me the strength to continue forward through the pain. Today, I am deciding to get out of bed.
Because I’m a fighter.
If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.