Down the Rabbit Hole and Through the Looking Glass

[Warning: this article contains discussions of suicide, caution is advised for readers who may be triggered by this subject]

Me in late 1998, aged 13

This writing was never intended for this website, but I have a lot to say and no other internet medium allows me unlimited space to express myself. This has been something that I have needed to address for the last two months, honestly I could say the past few years. It has been eating away at me from within, and with people still asking me why I “abruptly” quit my job in February of this year (2021), I feel like this is the best way to handle the matter. For anyone on the outside looking in, it did seem rather abrupt, but it wasn’t as spontaneous as it appeared. Only a small select few individuals knew about what was happening during and after my resignation.

Quitting one’s job may not seem all that interesting or useful to talk about. People quit their jobs from time to time, nothing unusual there, but most people don’t do it without having already secured a new one. Two years ago and barely more than a year into my now-previous-job, I had already attempted to find a different one. Sporadically over the next couple years I continued to apply elsewhere. The obvious question is why, why was I applying to other positions, why was I trying to leave my teaching job as a professional development instructor?

It’s an easy question, but not one that has an easy answer. There are many factors that went into that behavior and I will discuss that soon, but if I want to be more encompassing, the reality is I have not been mentally and emotionally okay for many, many years. The photo at the top of this article was included because that’s about the age where my mental health began to fall apart and my mental illness began to show itself. I may look cute and happy, but behind those eyes was a lot of fear, self-hatred, confusion, and sadness; wishing I could wake up and it would all be different or wishing I’d never wake up again. Some of it known and explainable, but held deeply secret. The other part of it was a total mystery even to me at the time, completely and terrifyingly mystified by what was beginning to happen to me, and horribly clueless as to how bad it was going to get in just three years time.

In more recent times, these past several years have been particularly daunting, a trend I have not seen in more than a decade. I have included a graph to better help others grasp what I’m talking about. In the graph’s severity rating of 1 – 10 on the Y-axis, a ten represents the worst severity in symptoms. The zigzagging blue line is my mental state from 1995 – 2021.

The red banner across the top represents a danger zone, wherein the suicide risk is greatly increased. The fluctuations over time are important, basically they map out the effects of my mental illness over the decades. This graph shows five spikes, in 2002, 2005, 2008, 2018 and 2021, all representing moments in my young adult life when I reached suicidality due to bipolar disorder.

For every person with a mental health issue there are triggers that can cause an increase in symptoms and a general sense of instability. If not monitored and addressed, these triggers can go on to initiate a psychiatric episode, a period in which a mental illness is its most severe and the well-being of the person is at greatest risk.

I have addressed my mental health experiences from pre-2018 in previous writings [A Journey Called Hope, My Experience With a Mental Health Condition, The Power of Hope on the Journey of Recovery], so let’s skip ahead to 2019. It was a pretty good year for me, as you can see the severity of my symptoms were on a downward trend, and then 2020 happened. My personal life and activities changed, my professional life and how business was conducted also changed. This impact was felt by many people around the world and the data collected by mental health support agencies, service organizations, and support phonelines such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) and Crisis Text Line (741-741) reflect this same kind of global spike in reported mental health issues and crises during 2020.

I managed most of 2020 without any major struggle, which is a notable success because for people with a mental illness like me, any interruption to our usual routine can have dire consequences to our overall mental health. There were two exceptions to my wellness though: (1) my medication that I was taking for my mental illness stopped working in early 2020 and I came down off it, and (2) I became less physically active throughout 2020 despite it being my new year’s resolution to increase my workouts. This slacking in physical fitness had been an ongoing downward trend since 2016, the year my mother died.

As a professional development instructor I taught career skills to agency staff, and because we live in the digital age, I could do this job online at a desk in the workplace or at home and have no in-person interaction. In some ways I rather enjoyed my time away from others. As a naturally introverted person with an INTJ personality, I found the social distancing to be quite the convenient excuse to avoid other people. But as 2020 drew to a close, I began to sense that some semblance of “normalcy” would soon return and that I would have to go back to “business as usual,” something I was not willing to accept. Coupling this realization with a related increase in pressure in the workplace, an ongoing disagreement with decisions being made, and unfavorable management practices, I began to feel suffocated and trapped.

With my physical health going down the drain and other mounting pressures, I applied to positions outside my organization before 2020 came to a close. When those attempts were not fruitful by December, I no longer had any desire to remain in my position, whether I had found another job or not. I had always been financially responsible and I knew that money was not a problem for me, I could be unemployed for months without any real issues. I was overworked, overwhelmed, felt belittled by management, felt as though my ideas, talents and interests were not adequately respected or utilized, and when we were asked to nearly double the number of classes we were teaching I experienced immense burnout.

I felt as though I could never take off work without two weeks advanced notice, and when I did I felt guilty about it. If for some reason my mental illness was particularly bad one day, I could not just simply call-in that morning and take off, as a professional development instructor I had classes that were scheduled two to three months in advance, occurring 3 to 4 days a week, sometimes more than one class a day. Each class lasted anywhere from 1.5 to 3 hours, and teaching was only half my job, the other half was equally demanding and consuming.

Some of my other tasks included maintaining employee transcripts by tracking and issuing education credits – including for professional licenses and certifications. I coordinated other training and education opportunities for the benefit of internal and external agency employees. Wrote and submitted proposals for new program initiatives and process improvement ideas. Designed and promoted marketing materials, informative graphics, and monthly newsletters. Captured and reviewed data analytics for performance expectations, tracking, and reporting. Truth be told, I felt as though I was working two jobs, but only enjoyed one of them.

I saw several news articles during 2020 about how teachers were quitting their jobs because they could not handle the new pressures that the Coronavirus and COVID-19 were placing on them, either directly with online learning, or indirectly by how it was impacting everything and everyone around them. The stress and anxiety was just too much. Reading and listening to those teachers being interviewed, I couldn’t help but feel a kindred spirit. Even though teaching teens and kids is vastly different and more challenging than teaching adults, mainly because I didn’t have to assign homework or grade papers, I could still understand their feelings of overwhelm and burnout.

I cannot speak for all teachers, but when you get in front of your class (in-person or virtually) you have to perform much the same way an actor performs in a movie. You have a role to play and an audience to win over, you have to be convincing in your act, and it is most certainly an artform. You have a responsibility to make sure they learn, but you also have a responsibility to make sure they learn in a pleasant manner, that they have a good experience. For someone with an extroverted personality, this performance is likely not that challenging, but for an introverted person – the task is an immense challenge. Mostly because you have to fake it, you have to pretend to be this outgoing and extroverted person in order to capture and retain their attention and interest. You have to be someone you’re not for the benefit of others.

After every in-person class or online webinar I felt absolutely exhausted, drained of my mental and physical energy, but because teaching was only half my job I still had to perform in other ways each day. Just like those school teachers, I too genuinely began to hate my job. The very idea of having to get up in the morning became a constant source of dread and despair as I prepared myself to once again perform for an audience, I had to literally drag myself out of my bed and down caffeine every single day just to survive it.

This agitation was amplified by the reality that I seemed to be working a dead-end job. Even though I was always a high performer and always went above and beyond expectation and was rightly financially rewarded for my willingness to do so, I was not allowed to progress in terms of job classification. Despite performing duties beyond my station, I was not permitted the opportunity to be acknowledged for doing so. This lack of willingness to recognize my contributions by rewarding me with the title I had dutifully earned was both belittling and demoralizing. I felt as though I was being taken for granted.

This daily experience was my main trigger, I began to feel as though I was being traumatized by my own workplace. Not traumatized in the sense that my work was gruesome or dangerous, but that it was violating my mind, a mentally grueling experience for someone who already had a major mental illness to combat on a daily basis. This ongoing trigger awakened my bipolar disorder in a way that it had not been stirred in more than twelve years. I began having this sense of panic or dread, that something was coming, something was growing inside me and about to emerge. I felt like I had to get out of that environment, out of that situation. It reminded me of when I had been suicidal in the past, this heavy storm in the distance, rumbling with quick and frightening flashes on the horizon.

So, I submitted my first letter of resignation on December 16th with the expectation to leave at the end of the month. After some renegotiation, I chose to stay for another month to write procedures for all the tasks I performed, and also record, edit, and post all ten of my courses online for agency staff to continue to take after my departure. While this process was daunting and came at great personal financial cost, I committed myself to completing it before I left and was successful. That last month felt so relieving to me, like I had been in prison and I was just given my release date. I was excited but nervous, I didn’t know if I’d make it on the outside or if I had been imprisoned for so long that I was forever changed and broken, unable to survive. I had worked in that building for 12 years of my young life.

The first two weeks after leaving were great, I began catching up on my sleep after feeling as though such a burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I could finally get more than 5 hours of sleep a night! I was working out regularly again, I spent my time chilling out, catching up on Netflix shows and movies I hadn’t had time to see, but I also spent it being creative and experimenting with video editing and post-production, putting together informative content to share. I was also intent on finishing the book that I had been writing for several years, and finishing a research project I had started a few years ago. I had plans, I had intentions, a list of things I wanted to accomplish before finding a new job. All of those things seemed possible, and then everything changed.

By mid-February my mental illness arose in me, revealing its whole self. I began sleeping for 12 to 14 hours a day, and even when I was awake I struggled to get up out of bed, I just laid there like someone was drugging me, injecting me with a tranquilizer. I still managed to shower almost every day, and I cleaned my apartment, but I was barely eating anything, I had no energy or drive to do anything more productive than that, nothing that demanded deep thought and concentration anyway. This crushing sense of hopelessness came over me, not about unemployment, but about my life. That I would never find a sense of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment, that no matter what job I got next, it didn’t matter because in a few years time, I’d be right back here again. Trapped inside this loop of proverbial living and dying, drowning in the darkness of my own mental illness.

I would go for days never stepping outside, little sunlight touched my face, at times I couldn’t even bring myself to go outside to check for mail or throw my trash out. I began having suicidal thoughts, like little whispers in my ear, ways that I could end my life in my apartment. Hang myself in the closet, maybe a knife on my wrist, maybe those pills I had stashed away from a surgery several years ago. The storm swallowed me and nothing mattered anymore, all of it was meaningless, life was meaningless, I was meaningless. It was all I could do to get out of bed and go lay on the couch, my brain and body capable of nothing more than watching movies and streaming Netflix. My pushy 80-year-old father was perhaps my only saving grace, he expected me to visit him every weekend. This expectation was enough to get me up and going one day a week, the one day I felt like I could actually do something productive outside of my apartment.

For the next week I lived like this, if you can even call it living, and by the last week of February I knew I had to do something. I did manage to go hiking at the end of February, but I had so much more I wanted to accomplish! I knew I needed something to trigger my bipolar disorder again, to trigger the other phase called mania. For people with bipolar disorder we experience intermittent episodes or phases of major depression and mania, and sometimes a reprieve in between the two that can appear to be a “normal” state of mind. I was very clearly experiencing a major depressive episode and since I had been off and without prescription medication for almost a year, I had to find another way through.

I was not interested in going back to the doctor to try yet another prescription medication, I had tried 9 different ones from 2005 – 2020. Some did nothing, some made me sleep so deeply my parents couldn’t wake me, some gave me bad stomach cramps that didn’t subside with or without food, some caused me to gain weight, one made me have hallucinations of floating heads, and a couple worked for a few months and then had no effect. I knew that I needed to try something, to get up and get moving, so I went online to purchase a multi-ingredient performance enhancer (MIPE) that would give me the boost to do just that. Now, let me give a disclaimer here, I do not advocate for other people with bipolar disorder to take multi-ingredient performance enhancers because some of the substances in those cocktails can interfere with psychotropic prescription medications or with bipolar disorder itself.

I made the decision for myself to try it, I was in a bad place and felt like the worst was already upon me. By March I began the MIPE and after a week, nothing really changed. By the end of the second week I found myself experiencing the exact opposite of what I had been enduring – insomnia. I was able to go hiking a second time, but I also went from sleeping 12 – 14 hours to not being able to sleep at all. I would lay there in bed wide awake, the longest I laid there was for 7 hours, just laying there glancing at the clock every so often, waiting for sleep to take me. It seemed as though I could only sleep when the sun came up, and I would sleep at least until noon, sometimes well into the afternoon. Eventually this U-turn made me become foggy-headed, like I was in a daze all day, every day. I knew I had to stop the MIPE, but didn’t want to abruptly stop in fear of side-effects, so I took half the dose for the next week and then never took it again.

My second adventure into self-medicating was also over-the-counter, a chemical compound called 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan), a naturally occurring amino acid that impacts serotonin in the brain. Initially I took it at night, and the full dose as directed on the bottle, but after a week of feeling like it was perhaps perpetuating my insomnia, I cut the dose in half and started taking it in the morning. After another couple weeks I began to feel very different, my major depression was lifting and I began having moments of what felt like mania. Those who have bipolar disorder type 1 (one) experience hypermania, those with bipolar disorder type 2 (two) like me experience hypomania. The difference between the two types of mania is that hypermania is generally considered a more severe variant. Either kind of mania can induce effects such as euphoria, obsessiveness, compulsiveness, physical and mental hyper-activity, and impetuousness.

For me in the past, hypomania has caused all of those symptoms, there was one time where just drinking water felt like a profound experience. Some of my best creative work was done while in a state of hypomania. It can be difficult to focus during, but if I’m able to channel the energy into something productive I can accomplish a lot. There have been times I have sat and become so engrossed in my work that I didn’t eat, drink, or use the bathroom for some 12 hours or so, just completely and utterly transfixed on the task at hand, an unstoppable machine. Hypermania is like hypomania’s evil twin, often causing people with bipolar disorder type 1 (one) to engage in bizarre, risky or violent behavior. Anything from egregious social behavior, to gambling or spending all of their money shopping, to erratic behavior that puts themselves or others in danger.

Since taking the lower dose of 5-HTP I have started feeling emotions again, other than despair and dread. I have doubled my daily workout routine, found myself baking and cooking things I hadn’t made in more than a year, I’ve begun reading books again – something that I used to enjoy. Words seem more powerful to me, I can feel other people’s emotions in their words, written or spoken, and the lyrics in music feel more powerful to me, more invocative. One night I laid in bed listening to a song and tears started rolling down my face, not because I was sad but because I felt joy. I felt like things were going to be okay, like everything was fine, like I was no longer dying. These are the effects I used to feel when my prescription meds would actually work, but they are also similar to the effects of mania. So, is it the 5-HTP impacting my serotonin, or has the 5-HTP triggered my mania?

I won’t know for a few months, mania is always temporary but it can last months. It eventually breaks into intermittent bouts of major depression, causing someone to stumble back and forth between the two which can be a horrific experience. This is why many people with bipolar disorder choose to take mood stabilizing medications in addition to their anti-depressant, in an attempt to prevent these cycles of episodes and ending both major depression and mania. Like with many other health issues, not all medications or treatment options work for everyone, the key is to keep trying something different.

Hopefully this piece of writing sheds light on what has been happening for the last few months. I wish that I could say that this has been a new experience and one that I will never have to go through again, but mental illness often doesn’t work that way, especially bipolar disorder which is notorious for being treatment resistant and debilitating. While I have known from personal experience the harsh reality of living with bipolar disorder, I recently learned that 30-60% of patients never recover to the point where they can function normally and retain or return to full-time employment. Instead, they become disabled by the condition.

While these percentages are disheartening, they are not surprising. Looking at my timeline of symptom severity I can see how it makes sense. My mental illness has impacted my personal life and goals, my social life, and my professional life for many years now. I have received therapy from counselors, social workers, and a psychiatrist, I have received prescriptions for Celexa, Cymbalta, Depakote ER, Effexor XR, Lexapro, Paxil CR, Prozac, Wellbutrin, and Zoloft. There are other alternative treatments I have not yet tried such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), but it can be hard to hold on to hope in the face of such adversity.

Nevertheless I choose to keep moving forward, performing the mental acrobatics I need in order to make it through the day. I always say this, but people don’t want to die, they just don’t want to hurt anymore and they often don’t see another way out of that pain than through suicide because they see their life and their pain as one synonymous struggle.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, please access my immediate assistance resource page.  A comprehensive listing of online and phone resources and services is also available.

The Power of Hope on the Journey of Recovery

In this episode of the Ardent Axiom I reflect on how important hope is on the journey of recovery, as well as the other factors that aid in the process of healing after a mental health crisis or struggle with a substance use disorder.

If you or someone you know needs help:

U.S. National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
(Call or Text the Number 988)
Provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources, and best practices for professionals. Spanish and hearing impaired communication available, visit the site for alternative online chat options.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline
Free, confidential, 24/7 treatment referral and information service (English and Spanish), for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use issues.

SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline
Provides 24/7 assistance with crisis counseling and support for people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters. Call or text options available.

Crisis Text Line
(U.S. and Canada – text the word HELLO to 741741)
Trained Crisis Counselors who volunteer their time to provide 24/7, free and confidential support for people in crisis, utilizing active listening and collaborative problem solving. Also available in the United Kingdom (text 85258) and Ireland (text 50808).

The Trevor Project
(Call 1-866-488-7386 or text 678678)
A 24/7 resource for LGBT youth struggling with a crisis or suicidal thoughts. The line is staffed by trained crisis counselors. The Trevor Project is the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ young people.

To learn more about The Ardent Axiom, or to follow on social media:

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— Special thanks to the following creative commons contributors:

Tima Mirosnichenko
Cotton Video & Graphics

Companionship: Love Not Lust

I’m a descriptive writer, I love details, analogies, essays and creativity. Someone told me one night that I write because it’s how I come to understand things.  That through my writing I come to terms with things that once tormented me or that continues to torment, perplex or inspire me to journey inward.  I make sense of these things through writing when I can’t put the puzzle pieces together in my head by just thinking about them.  He said that I don’t write just so that I can explain things to other people and tell them who I am, but I write so that I can come to know myself.

I can’t claim to know why human beings are drawn to each other.  I don’t know what really causes us to be attracted to certain people or even what things we collectively look for as a species in one another. I’m not sure if I can even explain what attracts me to certain people.  Though, I have on numerous occasions attempted to figure it out and have tried to dissect it in writing.

I’d like to know what causes me to be drawn to a broader spectrum of people, more accurately particular genders. I’m physically and emotionally attracted to men, but not so much romantically. I’m romantically and emotionally attracted to women, but not so much physically. There are things I’ll do with a girl that I won’t do with a guy and things I’ll do with a guy that I won’t do with a girl. I’m neither gay nor straight.

When I was younger I was drawn to certain girls that I found both physically attractive in the sense that I thought they were pretty and who’s personalities I found favorable. Like any male, I was also drawn to other males, as friends.  Guys to talk to, relate to, have fun with, laugh and joke around with, pick on each other, normal guy stuff.

These are things all kids go through and experience.  But at some point everything changed and I became consciously aware of this change.  A change in perception and desire. At around eleven years old I began to see things differently, I began to feel differently about people.  I still liked girls as friends, but it wasn’t just friends.  There was something else there.  I could feel it, proverbially in my heart. I liked their attention, I liked spending time with them and talking to them and I wanted to be closer to them.  I became jealous when the girls I liked spent time with other guys.

By all accounts that part was entirely average.  Puberty causes physiological changes, charged by chemical changes in body and mind. For me those changes didn’t just end there.  The way I saw and felt about some males also changed.  Sure, I still saw some of them as friends who I could spend time with and talk to, joke around with. However, there were other males that I found myself drawn to in ways that I knew were not normal.

I started to notice things in guys such as attractiveness.  I knew whether or not another male was physically good looking.  For the most part, I have always felt like this was normal for all guys.  Despite many guys being unwilling to acknowledge the attractiveness of each other, most males, if not all, are fully capable and fully aware of how attractive each other are, regardless of orientation.  I think it’s something that comes into play in knowing whether or not another male is a threat in competition for females.

What pushed me beyond that level of new normalcy was that I didn’t just notice how attractive they were, I wasn’t just interested in hanging out with them because I felt like it would increase my chances of being noticed by a girl. No, I was drawn to them because I wanted to become more than friends with them, I wanted to know everything about them, become best friends, even become physically familiar with each other.

You see, at eleven years old, I wondered what their guy parts looked like.  Not because I wondered whether or not I measured up, but because I was turned on by it.  It excited me to think about another guy naked.  When we looked at playboy magazines and the other guys got all worked up about the naked girls, I didn’t care about the girls anymore, I was way more curious about finding naked pictures of guys.

It wasn’t just physical lust or shameful curiosity and I only say shameful because back then I was incredibly embarrassed and ashamed that I had those feelings.  I may have been eleven, but I knew it was not normal.  I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I knew it wasn’t something the other guys around me were apparently going through and experiencing.  I felt like I was all alone in my thoughts and feelings.

Even though I spent the next eleven years of my life hiding and trying my hardest to pretend that I didn’t have an abnormal interest in other guys, those feelings didn’t just vanish from my mind because I wanted them to.  I had to fight them every single day, sometimes I faltered, but who could hold it against me, I was fighting a war that I had no chance of ever winning. Despite the unending curiosity towards certain guys, I carried on.  Luckily for me, I still had an interest in girls.  They still made me feel certain things and even though my raging hormones didn’t make me overrun with the desire to see them naked, I still wanted their attention.

Though I have never been able to understand that aspect of me, it was something that carried on into my adult life.  Even today, I still feel drawn to certain females, especially the more time I spend with them.  They make my heart feel something that is similar to how I feel with a guy.  A romantic and flirty sensation that hasn’t gone away with my attempts to ignore it.

There was one particular girl from my past that made me realize this before any other.  I had always found her physically attractive and her extroverted personality made her enjoyable to be around.  When I spent time with her, she made me feel good emotionally.  I liked having her attention and I liked being with her. The more time we spent together the more drawn to her I became.  I started to see us together in the future.  Dating, a relationship.  I fantasized about what it would be like later down the road, what we could become, what our lives would be like together with a family.

Eventually the fluttery emotions turned to physical desires and one particular day when we were standing close to one another I became consciously aware that I wanted to kiss her.  It confused me because by that time I had assumed I was gay. So, I didn’t understand how I could feel that way towards a girl.  I had no intention of dating women anymore, I had no desire to have a sexual relationship with one and yet here I was feeling romantically drawn to this girl and suddenly craving physical interaction.

Periodically that same bizarre feeling would come back to me in moments with other girls.  Over the years I have found that who the girl is plays a major effect on whether or not it happens because it didn’t just happen with physically attractive women.  It took much more than looks to spark that feeling inside me.

The most recent time was different, I hadn’t spent time with this girl, in fact we didn’t know each other at all whatsoever.  Just the mere sight of her face caused that reaction and it was the first time that it had ever happened without interaction or familiarity. For the first time a girl whom I did not know personally, caused the same physiological reaction inside of me.  Suddenly I found myself being sexually aroused by this girl I knew nothing about.

It baffled me, it caused a lot of confusion and inner conflict.  It didn’t make sense to me at all.  How had this happened, why did it happen and what did it mean, were just a few of the questions I started asking myself.  I didn’t have answers for any of it. It was a fundamental moment for me.  It made me rethink who and what I was.

Since 2008, I have encountered similar situations that made me or others think that I wasn’t gay at all.  I’ve dated men who told me I wasn’t gay, some told me that I was bisexual, others told me I was straight and confused.  I’ve even had girls tell me they found it difficult to believe that I was gay.  But at the time I was so convinced that I was, that I just brushed off their words as them simply not knowing me well enough.  They didn’t know the thoughts I had since childhood.

Despite these momentary lapses of confidence in my orientation, I was still sure that I was only really into men.  That was until this girl made me put all those pieces together and I realized that I wasn’t entirely gay. In my article “Ubiquitous” I outlined that orientation is not always so black and white.  Human attraction is a fluid thing, not everyone is just gay or just straight.  In reality, I think most people are somewhere in between those two things, whether they ever act on it or not. What draws or attracts us to some people isn’t always what attracts us to others.  It changes with the individual we’re looking at.  Sometimes we have to find different people who attract us before we realize the differing aspects of what we find attractive.

It was a sobering truth and even now I don’t know what to call myself when faced with a situation where I have to pick an orientation. Recently I was asked and I simply said that I didn’t know and that I was following my heart wherever it led me. I’ve looked back across my past relationships, attempting to figure out where I was the happiest.  Hoping that in-so-doing I would figure out which gender I should be focusing most of my attention on and looking for a partner in. Truly, I don’t know.

Most of my relationships with males and females were fleeting.  None of them ever lasted more than three months from the point at which we met.  Granted many of them were detrimental relationships that crumbled due to their lies, their cheating, their addictions and a lack of their willingness to commit to a monogamous relationship. The one guy that was good, I lost interest in and no longer had a physical attraction or romantic feelings for, which led to an inevitable break-up.

The girls I dated were those who asked me out.  None of them I actually went out and pursued.  I will, however, say that a couple of those girls I held an interest in for years after our relationship ended.  It was just one of those things, where we were not compatible. There is this one girl that I have always had an interest in ever since we met in high school.  She’s so loving and gentle, she’s extremely beautiful, compassionate and caring, funny in a subtle, innocent and adorable kind of way.  She’s creative and artistic, expresses herself with her style rather than with words. She’s short, has stunning eyes and perfect porcelain skin.  She likes keeping her hair short and it just accentuates her beauty.  She could always make me smile or laugh with her dorkiness, even when I was having a bad day.  She made me feel safe and comfortable and I always enjoyed the days when I got to see her and spend time with her.  And not to mention we both like tattoos, cats and the same kind of music.

I don’t know if she and I could have ever been together romantically, but I know that if there had ever been a girl in my life that had everything I looked for, it would be her.  She is the standard by which I compare all girls that come into my life, she is literally the epitome of the perfect girl in my eyes. She and I can never be together, she’s married these days and I doubt she ever even knew I had feelings for her.  She seems happy and honestly that’s all anyone ever wants for someone they care about.

Why have I been so hell bent on finding a male partner when I am capable of having romantic feelings towards girls?  Why haven’t I been looking for a girl the same way I’ve been looking for a guy? Those are huge questions for me.  I have considered the potential answer to be that I spent so many earlier years holding those feelings in and feeling repressed that once I was liberated in 2008, I didn’t want to focus my attention on just girls anymore and they fell to the wayside of my focus.

But just because a guy is physically attractive and catches my attention doesn’t mean he’s actually going to keep my interest either.  I have a very specific type that gets my attention and is able to keep it. Sure, physical appearance makes me initially notice someone, but if he doesn’t have the right personality or collection of traits, then I will not be able to maintain interest in him.  Even if he looked like a model.  Without the right behavior, he’s just another guy on the street.

Something I’ve often found consistently true is that I’m much more likely to be interested in or fall for a straight or bisexual guy rather than a gay one.  Which as you might suspect has been rather problematic. I’ve often wondered why that is and I’ve attempted a few times to decipher an explanation.  It really boils down to appearance, personality, and behavior.

There is an undeniable physical and psychological difference between men who identify as strictly heterosexual and men who identify as strictly homosexual. The difference between the two is not just something I’ve noticed.  This is something most people, of all genders and all orientations have noticed. The real question for me is why I find one more attractive than the other when either could be equally attractive in terms of physical appearance?

More than likely it has to do with my past.  Childhood probably.  We come to understand who attracts us or what type of traits both physical and psychological we find most attractive when we are children.  We observe, socialize and come to know and understand people throughout our lives and these people help us come to understand who or what we find attractive later in life when we are able to act on those feelings.

These traits, physical and psychological, are also traits that we exude ourselves or traits that we would like to see in ourselves.  Eventually these traits become externalized within our perception.  By that I mean they become traits we project on to others and wish to find, naturally, in our romantic partners.

As a young kid, I idolized super heroes, I was obsessed with all kinds of characters from different cartoons, video games, movies, books.  I collected all kinds of action figures.  When my girl relatives would come to my house, they would bring their barbies or whatever type of dolls were in trending at the time, we would play house together. But I never wanted to play with their Ken dolls.  I never liked the way they looked.  I used my actions figures, so that when we’d play house, I’d be Conan, Tarzan, one of the guys from the Masters of the Universe series such as He-Man, a Marvel or DC Comic character, toy soldiers, ninjas or some other masculinized and testosterone driven action figure from some cartoon or video game.

I idolized these characters as a kid (as do many young boys).  I wanted to be like them.  As I grew older, I never really lost that idolization.  Most guys don’t, we still base our understanding of manhood on the same basic principles we learn as children. Because I was born with the ability to be attracted to other men, when I became a teenager my interest in males reflected my perception of self and of manhood in general. Now that I’m an adult, my interest has not changed.  I’m drawn to men who reflect my childhood and teenage perception of manhood.  Physical and psychological traits that I associate with masculinity.  They don’t have to be big and buff like Conan or have the skills of a ninja, but they still have to meet my perception of what a real man is in their appearance, the way they think, and how they behave.

Based on research into the cause of homosexual feelings in men, as I explained in my writing “Ubiquitous”, the theory about the hypothalamus suggests that varying degrees in testosterone during prenatal development causes varying degrees in male behavior later in life. These variations in the hypothalamus not only explain differing orientations, but also differing personalities in the men within those orientations.

Being subconsciously and now consciously aware of these differences, I fully understand why I’m more attracted to certain straight and bisexual men than I am to most gay men.  They reflect something that I was drawn to growing up, both outside of myself and within myself. Why am I trying to get into a relationship with a male that reflects my childhood ideology of manhood? For love?  Without a doubt I can and do develop feelings for men that I’m drawn to.  When I think about what I want from a relationship with a guy it really cuts away all the nonsense that people fluff up romance with.  Regardless of orientation, everyone has this idea of what life would, could, or should be like in a relationship, or especially marriage.

I don’t abide by the standards of other people, I walk my own path and live my own life.  As I said before, I follow my heart and my heart doesn’t feel like it’s been leading me down the path of what society stereotypically deems a relationship between two men to be. Mostly because society depicts that type of relationship to be exactly like that of a man and a woman.  Even with gay couples, there seems to be this need to fulfill that male and female dichotomy.

When I was a kid and played alone with my action figures, of course they had girlfriends.  Sometimes the girl would be the damsel in distress type who always got captured by the bad guys and I had to go and rescue her.  Sometimes she was the kickass heroine type who would fight alongside the guy.  Sometimes the guy and girl would be married and have a kid or two and live out the happy family fantasy.

Regardless of the initial dynamic, there was also always another male action figure involved.  A best friend, a side-kick, a loyal companion who would fight beside the other guy and even be willing to die for him. As I grew, this two-male dynamic became more prevalent in my action figure fantasies.  The girl action figure ended up staying at home or at the hero’s base of operations or hideout with the kids, while my main character and his male pal would go out and fight crime or go on adventures together, whatever my imagination created.

Eventually, the girl action figure no longer got played with unless she was the bad guys’ prisoner.  Even then she was no longer the girlfriend or the wife, just some random hapless victim that needed saving. Sometimes I would even make her the villain, the one that came between the two guys and tried to separate them by trying to seduce one of them.  For some reason I became fixated on the two guys being together against the odds they faced.

In cartoons, games and movies I experienced this same fixation.  I would focus on two male characters that appeared to be best friends and thus very close to each other.  I would become upset when one of them died or when they were forced apart for whatever reason, or would even become angry when a woman would come between them and cause conflict in their friendship. Perhaps this obsession was some form of prepubescent subconscious desire for deep and intrinsic male bonding?

Whatever the reason, it was the turning point for everything after.  As I went through grade school, the action figure scenarios were reflected in real life.  I sought that same male-to-male friendship where two guys were inseparable, and faced things together. By the time my teenage years came around, my interest in having a best male friend became more than us just being best pals.  I wanted to go beyond that.  Best friends was no longer enough.  I wanted to know all of him, emotionally and physically.  To swear absolute loyalty, to never let anyone come between us, to be unequivocally honest, and to finally cross over the forbidden boundary and be the source of each other’s physical release.

I was too scared back then to actually find or create a relationship with another guy that involved sexual experimentation, but years later I would eventually find a group of males that I became very emotionally close with.  It definitely helped me grow in the understanding of what I wanted from a male-to-male relationship and how to go about nurturing that type of close friendship.

Sometimes friendships are the best teachers in showing us how we should approach relationships and what kind of people we should be in those relationships with.  I’ve always sought after a guy who I could see as my best friend.  To this day, I haven’t found that guy in my relationships, only in my friendships with heterosexual men have I found that type of emotional connection, where trust, loyalty, honesty and love were present.  But without need for mention, they were not interested in becoming anything more than just friends.

A culmination of childhood and adulthood experiences led me to this point and even though I find myself with yet more questions, such as why do I see male-to-male relationships more important than male-to-female relationships, I have at least found some sense of resolve in the fact that I’ve yearned for male companionship since I was a kid and that it’s not just some phase or momentary fracture from who I’ve always been.  It is in fact who I’ve always been.

Even if I were to get into a relationship with a girl, I still would not lose my intense desire to form an unconditional bond with another male, inseparable and primary to any other relationship within my life.  No girl I’ve ever met wants to get into a relationship with a guy who considers his relationship with her secondary to his relationship with another male.  And I suppose for that reason alone, it is in my best interest to continue searching for a male worthy of my companionship.

Love between two guys is real.  My friendships with straight guys over the years has proven to me that two men can love each other just as much as a man and a woman.  One of the best places to find and understand the bond between males is within the military or some other similar profession.  These guys spend a lot of time together, face profound struggles and traumatic events together, and in-so-doing get to know nearly everything about each other.  In some cases they know each other better than their own spouses.

It’s been a long and arduous journey trying to find a guy who understands all these things the same way I do.  Who has traveled through his life with the same perspective shaped by the same experiences that I have and wants the same things that I do.  A guy who realizes that love between two guys is more than the superficial nonsense that society tries forcing on us such as the notion that we have to behave the same way a man and a woman act in a relationship, where at least one guy needs to be effeminate or where both guys somehow lose their manhood by becoming physically close.  Or in more modern times how gay men are assumed to act.

I’ve loved men before, we never held hands and skipped down the side walk.  We never did anything that people stereotype gay men to do.  In fact we weren’t in a “gay” relationship at all because he wasn’t gay and apparently neither was I.  And yet he loved me and I loved him and we both told each other as much.  My aspiration is to find the same kind of love with a guy who’s willing to commit to one another and not let anyone come between us.  The final complexity for me is in crossing that love over the forbidden boundary of physical contact through whatever ways both guys are comfortable with.

Conforming to what other people think or want you to be is no way to live your life.  Whether you’re an effeminate gay man, a masculine gay man, or you’re a straight man or a bisexual man, or if you’re not even a man at all, just be who you feel that you are and look for someone who just tries to be who they are and that has the same perspective on life and love that you do.

I want to spend a lot of time with the guy I’m involved with, be his best friend, the first person he’d confide in. I want us to play around, horse around, lounge around, go on adventures. Be loyal to him and defend him unquestionably. I want to be the most important person in his life. I say this outright because I don’t like wasting my time or other people’s feelings by talking to or getting involved with someone that I already know can’t meet me where I’m at in terms of my perspective.

At times I go years without going on a single date and I’m fine with that.  I avoid physical intimacy outside of commitment. Only once in my life have I done the one-night-stand thing, I learned that it’s not my style. I view such things as pointless and meaningless, fleeting primal desires that weaken one’s integrity and dignity.

My sexual orientation is unknown to me and I’m not concerned with being labeled anymore. Most of the girls and guys I’ve been involved with in my life couldn’t figure me out. I’m a mystery, even unto myself, but one I no longer concern myself with solving. I’m content to be as I am.

What I do know, without a shadow of a doubt, is that since childhood, my heart has compelled me to seek another male’s companionship and loyalty.  And I think I’ve established that not just anyone will do. I’m only interested in men who behave a certain way, but they can label themselves as gay, bisexual, pansexual, str8, truly straight, or FTM’s (female-to-male transgender), labels are irrelevant to me. I mention all of those orientations because I believe human orientation is ubiquitous.

However, any atypical femininity in a guy will not attract me. I mean no offense, I’m just merely being honest. I am not physically or sexually or emotionally attracted to men who display effeminate traits, mannerisms, or behavior. It immediately turns me off.  There are plenty of other guys out there who do like that sort of thing.

What does “dating” a guy even mean to me? I hesitate to use the word “dating” as it may not be the right word. My perception or perspective is a little archaic. Like 11th century archaic. When I notice a guy, I see his body structure first and the way he behaves, how he carries himself, his attitude and mannerisms. I look at his height and if he’s physically fit. If he passes that test, I look at facial features to see if I find him attractive.

My perception is archaic because I look at a guy to consider whether or not he would be good in a fight, if he’s healthy and strong enough to hold his own or defend others if need be. I prefer men of my own fitness level. I want to be impressed by his abilities, but not be outdone, I’m competitive like that. I’m kinda bizarre really. I choose my partners in life the way I would choose a partner in a video game. What is he good at, what skills does he lack, do our strengths and weaknesses compliment each other? Do we make a good match in standing against adversity? How badass is he, do I like the way he presents himself, what’s his attitude like, what are his interests? What kind of fighting style does he prefer, stealth, warrior, or mage?

That last question may not transition directly into real life, but you can learn a lot about a guy by the way he chooses to fight in a game or what type of characters he chooses to play as. In all seriousness, can I make his life better? Can he make my life better? These are important questions. Dating is such a trivial word, open to opinions and interpretations. After the experiences I’ve had at attempts to find romance with other men and women, I’ve realized that modern society’s concepts do not fit me.

To me, gay romance is overrated and probably unrealistic. For some, it may happen, but most of what I’ve observed for the past 12 years is that it usually ends in cheating, lies, open relationships with multiple sexual partners or bitter break ups. Even straight couples these days seem to meet this same endpoint. I’m not okay with any of those. I see dating more as a brotherhood, or a pact if you will, where two males become inseparably close, both emotionally and physically and transcend modern concepts and go beyond any traditional male friendship. I’d give a historical example, but I really don’t know one that didn’t involve the men also being married to women.

Most guys like me are not open about their deep interest in other males. Either they express their interest discreetly through one-night-stands or they repress it and spend their entire lives pretending like it doesn’t exist and just get married to a woman either because they’re lonely or because they finally find one they have an emotional connection with. And those that are open, or who pursue discreetly, only seem to just want to fool around in some type of friends with benefits agreement. That’s not what I want. But I’m also not looking for a gay romance.

Being with another male for me doesn’t mean holding hands and skipping down the sidewalk while kissing. It doesn’t mean having a glass of wine while we pet our lap dog in its cashmere sweater and pink bow as we discuss recent romance novels we’ve read, Lady Gaga’s latest album, or how much we’re just dying to go see some new musical. It doesn’t mean that we spend excessive amounts on clothing or look like we just finished a GQ photoshoot, go tanning, or carry make-up in our handbags just in case. It doesn’t mean we wear thong underwear, jockstraps, or dress like we just walked off a New York fashion runway. It doesn’t mean we discuss our latest sexual encounters with men we met on Grindr or Tinder, harass straight men about how we want to see their dicks and then cry homophobe when he gets offended, complain about how people judge us as we only moments later judge everyone we know, or scold those who support masculinity and not promote the feminization of men.

Why not? Because I don’t do any of those things and I wouldn’t want to be involved with someone who does. When it comes to holding hands with and kissing other men, these things are of no interest to me.  Why not?  Because they’ve not been generally effective on me.  What does that mean?  They turn me off, make me uncomfortable, like I want to crawl out of my own skin, they do not reinforce any sense of bonding or affection.  When guys want to do this stuff with me they transform into girls right before my eyes, and suddenly lose the thing that once attracted me to them.

I dated a guy once who whispered in my ear that he wanted to give me kisses and the hair on the back of my neck stood up and I wanted to vomit. It just gave me the creeps. Femininity in males repulses me.  When it comes to kissing girls and holding their hand I have a completely different physical and emotional response and actually like doing these things.

You won’t find me referring to any guy I’ve sworn my companionship to as “babe” or “baby” or “boo” or any other related pet name that heterosexual and stereotypically gay couples use, nor can I stand being called them by another guy, as it makes me feel incredibly awkward and emasculated. Those names are fine when a woman is involved, but when it’s two dudes, no thank you. You also won’t find me in gay bars, gay clubs or at drag shows. Not comfortable at those kinds of places or anywhere else gay men flock like pidgeons.  Again, not saying there’s anything wrong with that stuff or the people who like it, just saying that I personally have no interest in them.

So how does a man who doesn’t fulfill a gay steretype “date” another man? The only way he can, by becoming his best friend and allowing his genuine and down-to-Earth friendship-based love grow into something even stronger and deeper, without the fear of breaking physical barriers. If you remove the awkwardness that society forces on male-to-male relationships, you’ll be surprised at how deep, strong, meaningful and fulfilling they potentially can become. Two men do not have to act like a man and a woman or two women to be together.

Guys that are drawn to hands-on work are usually the type I’m interested in the most, mechanics, construction workers, redneck country guys, blue collar, but I also like social outcasts and rebels. I also appreciate a guy who is intelligent and can acknowledge he has emotions and can express them one way or another without fear.

With candid honesty, when it comes to physical intimacy, I’ve often not been sexually aroused by the men I’ve dated, or I simply just lost interest in them, because they turned out to not be as masculine as they initially led me to believe they were. I’ve been alive long enough, been out long enough, dated enough girls and guys, to know who I am and what I’m looking for. I’m not going to settle for the first person that winks at me, that’s how mistakes are made. I’ve made enough of those.

I’ve gone beyond looking for delusional momentary lust-based romance where it only involves getting naked every time we hang out. That’s not love and in the end it will mean nothing. If a guy is after that, he’s come to the wrong person. In the past I’ve gone several years without so much as touching another guy. I have no qualms with being sexually abstinent either, butt sex is such an awkward and complicated thing. There are better ways to find physical release.

I want something deeper, stronger and longer lasting. Let me explain what a real bromance is because it’s more than that “friends with benefits” stupid shit that too many gay/bi guys get duped into or have delusions about. Love only exists between two guys that are intensely loyal to each other, who make each other their number one priority, that confess their fears and dreams to each other, who protect each other, spend their free time together, who laugh together, endure sorrow together, who form a committed bond that cannot be undone by others or broken by time.

The best male relationships I’ve ever had were with straight guys, but I’m pursuing one that crosses over that physical boundary few of them would even consider crossing and pushes the relationship to that final step of physical connection. I also believe in marriage, not for religious reasons, but as an act and testament to commitment and loyalty.

One of the guys I’ve connected with the best in my lifetime on a personal level was, of all people, a self-described straight Christian Evangelist. He was the first man to ever tell me that he loved me. He was a commissioned officer in the Marine Corps, is now married to a woman and has kids. That might sound wildly unbelievable, but the reality is a lot of men yearn for emotionally close male friendship, and over the past twelve years I have ran into them time and time again.  But they are often afraid to pursue bonding of this type in fear of being labeled by society as having gay feelings.

In the end, what exactly do I want from another guy? To share life. Someone I can go hiking and camping with, lay on the couch and be lazy with, sleep til noon with, go out to eat with, go see movies with, go to the park with, someone to join me when I spend time with my family, go on trips with, laugh with, endure pain with, bond with in ways others only dream of.  A life-long male companion, my partner in crime, my final best friend, another man worth dying for.

Recovery: Hope is the Spark

My personal interest in behavioral health started two decades ago, through the things I began to experience at the age of 14.  I’m sharing this because that teenage version of me would have benefited from someone else defying stigma and having the courage to speak up and be open and honest about their own struggles with mental health.  I’m here to remind you that you are not alone.

Throughout my teen years and early twenties I went through the mental health gauntlet that many others experience.  Suffering in silence, convinced I was alone in my struggle, imprisoned by shame, fear, guilt, and worst of all a loss of hope.  My experiences include ongoing suicidal thoughts, an abandoned attempt at suicide, voluntary admission into a hospital, years of therapy and countless medications, and an eventual diagnosis of bipolar disorder, which is a mood disorder that generally involves alternating phases of major depression and mania.  I can’t say all of that is behind me and that everything is fantastic now because recovery is not a destination, it’s a life-long journey.

I have heard similar stories of struggle from many others over the years.  From teenagers to adults.  Each involving their own mental or emotional suffering, traumatic experiences, loneliness, obstacles and setbacks, and loss of hope.  Understanding and compassion, these two things make the world a little less dark, but if we want to practice these two things it takes a lot of courage to break the wall of silence that stigma builds. Even if we are able to break through the wall of silence, it takes at least a little bit of hope to begin the process of walking out of that darkness. And it takes support to rise above the pain caused by behavioral health conditions.

Sometimes our busy lives don’t allow us to see the suffering in others, or it doesn’t provide us with the opportunity to express our own suffering.  Just because someone appears to be on top of the world from the outside; highly successful, popular, attractive, all the things we attribute to “having it all,” doesn’t mean they’re not falling apart on the inside, or carrying a huge burden on their shoulders, or concealing a heart-wrenching emptiness within.

Not everyone shows their pain, some people hide it very well, and such people are often fearful or ashamed of how they feel due to stigma. Because of this shame they intentionally hide their suffering from others and it prevents them from seeking help.  The belief that emotional pain and mental suffering are signs of weakness is the very core of the stigma in behavioral health.  And it’s this stigma that kills.

Some people are so embarrassed and ashamed of how they feel that they’d rather end their own life than tell others how they feel.   Suicide does not discriminate.  Anyone can die by suicide.  No matter the gender, age, race, sexuality, financial status, employment status, perceived success, popularity, or happiness.  Suicide transcends all demographics.

By making the two core aspects of behavioral health (which are mental health conditions and substance use) a prominent subject in our conversations, we begin the process of reducing the stigma that leads many to suffer in silence.  It needs to be understood and accepted that it’s okay to ask someone if they are feeling depressed.  It’s okay to ask someone if they are considering self-harm, it’s okay to ask someone if they are thinking about or planning ways to complete suicide.  No one wants to die, people just don’t want to hurt anymore.  When they can’t see any other way out of that pain than through suicide, it’s typically because they see the pain and their life as one synonymous struggle.

When we experience mental health issues, we have to reach out and get help.  Is that easy to do?  It certainly doesn’t feel easy.  So what does it take?  Well, it takes self-awareness, it takes compassion, it takes education, it takes action, it takes time, it takes faith in something, and most of all it takes hope. Even the tiniest little bit can make a difference.  The hope that maybe, just maybe, tomorrow will be different and possibly even better than today.  Sometimes that hope can be born from the truth that change is the only constant.  Hope is the spark that sets us forth on the path of recovery.

Every recovery begins with perception.  The perception of pain, the perception of self, and the perception of life beyond the obstacles and setbacks we face throughout our lives.  By having this self-awareness of our thoughts and behavior, by activating this shift in our self-perception, we are able to focus our attention on personal wellness, the well-being of others, and our future.

Awareness, both of ourselves and of others is a key factor in living life beyond the issues we face.  Awareness involves observing our own behavior and paying attention to our thoughts and our feelings.  Perhaps the most important key to recovery is expressing how we feel through whatever medium you feel comfortable with.

Recovery at its core is about learning the best practices for maintaining wellness in a world and in a life that will continuously bring obstacles, setbacks, and even heartache.  It’s about having the tools, support, and resources to take on those challenges one step at a time and triumph over them.  Our recovery centers on establishing goals that are attainable, believing that change is possible, and finding the courage and inspiration we need to move forward.

It means acknowledging our behavioral health conditions, understanding them and understanding that we and they are not one in the same – that we are more than our conditions.  It means that we recognize the signs and symptoms of episodes or relapses, or the risk of those states of mind, and we put into practice the tools we’ve learned to overcome them.

It means that we understand and practice the steps we need to take to rise above our conditions and live a life that not only benefits us, but those around us who depend upon us.  Finally, recovery also means we accept that it doesn’t equate perfection – that there will still be struggles, but with the tools we have learned to utilize we can and will live a better life experience than the one we’ve known for far too long.

Focusing more on the things we can control and focusing less on the things that we cannot control can really save us a lot of unnecessary suffering.  Knowing ourselves, our abilities or talents, strengths, accomplishments, builds us up when we’re facing adversity because it tells us that we’ve been through hard times and difficult experiences before and still came out on top.

Another key factor in recovering from mental turmoil is patience.  Patience can mean the difference between success and failure.  Finding solace, establishing a network of support, getting to a point of stability through medications or therapy, all of these things take time.  We all wish that we could wake up tomorrow and everything would be good or at least fine, but neither life nor mental health unfold like that.  It’s a process and that process takes time, energy, and commitment.

Mental health and physical health are inseparable parts of living well in recovery, as maintaining physical wellness helps to carry us through our struggle with a mental health condition.  When we become sick or experience a physical injury, we don’t think twice about going to a doctor to seek help, but when facing mental health issues we seem to hesitate or even outright avoid seeking help.  It’s stigma that causes this apprehension to seek help, but it doesn’t make any sense to allow ourselves to be controlled by it.

Aside from speaking to our doctor about our mental health, we should also seek support from those we would otherwise consider ourselves to be close to.  This does require a willingness to open up and spend time discussing things that feel immensely personal and this may create a sense of vulnerability, but what many see as an exposure of weakness is really just a statement of strength.  Exposing our pain to others gives them a path to emotional connection and if they too are suffering, then sharing our pain can literally be the threshold for initiating someone else’s healing process.

When 19-year-old me found out that other people were hurting too and that I wasn’t alone in how I felt, it changed everything for me.  Every person that I’ve ever met and communicated with, due to this process of sharing, provided opportunities for understanding and compassion.  These things make a world of difference.

Every small gesture and every endearing question can open that door of understanding and compassion.  These things make life after a mental health crisis or prolonged emotional suffering, a surmountable possibility.  Hope is born from acts of kindness and concern, and through hope we bear witness to a better life.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, please access my immediate assistance resource page.  A comprehensive listing of online and phone resources and services is also available.

To Mask or Not to Mask

I see/hear a lot of debate about wearing masks and whether or not they are worth wearing.

I see people sharing posts on social media from randomly named quacks they don’t know, or worse the poster is clearly a fake account but the sharer’s uncle Larry posted it so it must be real.  People are honestly sharing these types of posts because it mirrors their own opinions.

Sharing one’s own opinions through the words of others is still not intelligent conversation, it’s just creating a silo.

Some people are sharing links to websites that have no reputation.  Websites that were clearly found by Googling for information to support the beliefs he/she already convinced themselves were true.  I see/hear people making statements starting with “they say,” without explaining who these “they” people are that are being cited.

Politics has infected any attempt at intelligent discussion on this topic, or really any topic important enough to be discussed in our lives today.  People are being lied to and misled, and are lying and misleading others, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally.

Liberals are yelling at us to wear masks, conservatives are yelling at us about violations of freedom, and somehow a conversation about wearing a mask has become a conversation about politics?

The problem with liberals and conservatives is that they are behaving in the same way, very different beliefs and opinions, but very much cut from the same cloth.  They are two sides of the same coin, each has an agenda and they seek out information that confirms the beliefs they already have.  This need for “confirmation bias” clouds their judgement.

Sometimes the truth hurts, sometimes no matter how much you think you’re right, you might actually be wrong.  No matter how much your ego wants you to win this argument, the reality is that your ego is your biggest enemy.

I always look to science for answers to the things I don’t understand, but unfortunately scientists are people, and people are bias, egotistical, and sometimes have agendas and lie.  Which is why science must be scrutinized, studies must be repeated, findings questioned, to remove as much human error as possible.

Evidence doesn’t lie, people do.  Let go of your opinions, let go of your beliefs, let go of your assumptions, they cloud your judgment.

Below is a podcast I found about a year ago, I like their work and have developed respect for them because they actually provide references and cite their information via studies, they follow the evidence, even if the truth formed by the evidence isn’t what we’d like to hear.

The below episode is about whether or not wearing a mask makes any difference.


I found a video on the same topic, this time by the team at ASAP Science, another source I have learned to trust.  Hard to believe the results shown in this video after reading published studies that blatantly state wearing layered cloth masks are not useful in preventing viral transference compared to N95 respirators.  But it’s important to note however that the two experiments in the below video were to test for bacterial transference and not for viral, obviously a virus doesn’t consume organic matter and grow in a petri dish.

The point of these two experiments, one in the home and the other in a controlled lab environment, was to see how much of their spit got into the petri dish with and without a mask on, thus telling them the effectiveness of wearing one in public to reduce oral bodily fluid transference between them and something directly in front of them.

I’ve been on the fence about this whole mask debate, and while I agree they can be shown to reduce the risk of your oral bodily fluids spraying everyone in front of you, we all need to realize they are not 100% effective and do not guarantee safety and shouldn’t instill a false sense of protection.  When you sneeze, cough, or even breathe with a mask on, those fluid particles and the fungus, bacteria, and virus they contain still comes out around your mask because they are not air tight.  Those particles land on surfaces where the virus has been shown to survive for some 30 hours, or even a couple days based on some lab studies.  Those surfaces are touched by hands that are impossible to keep sterile.

I’ve not yet heard anyone mention this and I haven’t seen any studies about it, but I’d like to know about air particulate to eye transference.  Our eyes have tear ducts, how likely is it that the virus can infect you through your tear ducts?  These organisms have evolved to enter a host any way they can, it would seem any opening would be suffice.

Mask vs No Mask Lab Results – Do They Work?

Here are some additional links you may find helpful if this topic interests you…

A rapid systematic review of the efficacy of face masks and respirators:

5 Questions: Stanford scientists on COVID-19 mask guidelines:

A User’s Guide To Masks: What’s Best At Protecting Others (And Yourself):

Freckles: Chapter Nineteen

[PG-13:  Please be advised that this chapter contains an explicit description of a sexual encounter and is not suitable for readers under the age of thirteen]

I awoke later in the night, still laying up against Evan.  I could feel the dampness of sweat forming as I pulled away from him.  I didn’t want to lay outside the blanket, but at the same time it was too hot to stay under it and fully clothed at the same time.  In this midst of being half-asleep I caved to Evan’s dress-code and tossed the shirt and shorts he had given me, to the foot of the bed, further awkwardness be damned at this point.  He was in his underwear already anyway, it was too late to feel prudent.

I drifted in and out of sleep for what felt like hours until I awoke once more, but this time to the dawn light glaring through the bedroom window at the foot of the bed.  Its warmth flickering on my face and in my eyes as I tried to open them.  I felt engulfed in heat all around and it registered that not only was I under the warmth of a blanket, but also the warmth of Evan.

He had once again encapsulated me with his lanky body, throwing himself over me at some point during the night while I laid on my back.  From my chest to my ankles I could feel the heat of the body contact between us.  His forehead was pressed up against my jaw and his right arm reached over me to the other side of the bed.  I remembered the events of the night before and began looking for his left arm to see if the bandages had stayed in place.

As I tried to move my arms I realized that my right arm was pinned under his left side and that I wasn’t gonna be able to move it without waking him up.  Lifting the blanket with my left hand I looked for his left arm, it was laying behind him along the edge of the mattress, the bandage still secured and in place.  With his hand facing palm-up, I could see the stains of the blood that leached through during the night.

I let the blanket fall back down and the gust of air moved Evan’s hair.  I reached for my phone to see what time it was, it read Saturday 9:12 AM.  I still felt so exhausted, but not just from physical tiredness, but emotional and mental exhaustion too.  I felt like my whole life was flipped upside down, some things were happening at a viscous pace while other things were evolving at break-neck speeds.

Freckles was laying in a hospital bed where he’s been in a coma for the past month and here I lay in bed with his little brother who had revealed to me an immense amount of personal pain, anguish, and vulnerability, what a bizarre twist of fate this was.

Was it wrong?  Was this situation wrong?  Was I wrong for allowing myself into this situation?  As I contemplated this paradox, I became more self-aware of myself and this very physical situation I was in.  I found myself contemplating Evan and how in 12 hours or so we became incredibly close, connecting in a way few other human beings ever get the chance to.  And possibly in ways they’d rather not.

As my awareness shifted from my connection to Evan, I became fully aware that the emotional roller-coaster of night that I experienced, hadn’t kept me from waking up at full mast, or in other words from having morning wood.  In a slight panic I lifted the blanket again, but this time much higher to see where my body was in proportion to Evan’s and was horrified to see that my waistline disappeared beneath his own.  Essentially my morning wood was smashed up against him by his own body weight.

“This is not okay, this is not okay,” I faintly whispered to myself, equal parts mortified and oddly turned on by the predicament.  Do I move?  Do I push him off me?  Do I wake him up?  I decided to think about something that was gross, something that disgusted me, in the hopes it would eliminate my state of arousal.  So I thought about Damien’s ex-girlfriend, that bitch Megan.  “Ugh, I hate her so much, that cunt, I never met her but she hurt Damien, so by extension she also hurt me.”  I grumbled to myself softly.

My angry curses at her didn’t seem to be helping and I also must have been louder than I thought because Evan began to stir and move, and slowly he slid himself further on to me.  I froze in a panic as I felt something brush up against my body and I fell into further erotic peril with the knowledge that he also was greeting the morning with an erection.

I must have had a thousand voices in my head screaming at me, one bunch yelling at me to just push him off and get out of the bed, while the other half insisted that it was fine, I was fine, the whole situation was fine, completely innocent situation that would only be inappropriate if I woke him up and tried to seduce him while he was sad, lonely, and aroused.

As I lay there staring up at the ceiling contemplating the morality of my potential choices, Evan continued to stir from time to time, pressing and rubbing himself against me ever-so-lightly until I just couldn’t take it anymore.

“Dude, you gotta wake up!”  I shouted, as though the house were on fire, half-startling myself.

“Hhhuuuuhhh?”  Evan answered in a slow groggy tone, refusing to open his eyes and barely awake enough to put together a word, let alone a sentence.

“I know it’s early, but for the sake of us both and for the love of all things sacred, you have got to wake up.”  I clarified.

“Why, what’s going on?”  He asked innocently, wiping his eyes and then looking up at me.

“Body-awareness, bro.”  I said in response.

He stared at me for a few moments as though I had just spoken another language.  So I shifted slightly underneath him, in the hopes he would feel it and get what I was too ashamed to say out-loud.

Evan’s eyes grew huge as he apparently realized what I was trying to tell him.  Using his arms he quickly raised up his upper body and looked down at our waists and then looked up at me.

“Bro, your clothes!  Our boners are touching!!”  He shouted in a mix of hysteria and laughter.

In confusion and shock, I had no response, completely unsure of what to say as he so blatantly pointed out the source of my embarrassment, as he still laid there on top of me in his pot leaf underwear, glaring in my eyes and giggling about our near nudity and clashed swords.

“Oh fuck this is so gay bro!”  He shouted with the same hysterical laughter as before.

“Yeah so maybe you should get off me now, cause it’s super awkward.”  I confessed.

“Is it?”  He questioned.

I looked up at his face trying to determine if he was being serious or if he was screwing around with me.  Was he testing me, was this some sort of trick?  He cannot be serious right now, how could this situation not be inappropriate to him, to anyone?

“Do you really want me to get off you?”  He posed with a devilish mischievousness.

Stunned at the proposition of that question my heart began to race.  I’m a man, I have needs, I can be seduced the same as any other, but this can’t be okay this can’t be reasonable to accept and allow.  I mean, sure, people who are emotional and mentally struggling can sometimes act in ways that are not typical for them, stress and anxiety can make a person do irrational things sometimes.  And perhaps the biggest questions of all, does he like this?  Does he actually want this, is he into this sort of thing?

“I don’t know what’s happening right now and I don’t know what to think or feel.”  I responded honestly.

“Maybe you shouldn’t try to think or feel anything and just let it happen.”  He said while laying back down on top of me and pressing himself against me harder.

“But wait I thought you were into girls?”  I frantically asked.

“I am.”  He quickly replied.

“But yet you want to mess around with another guy?”  I asked, feeling as though I was interrogating him.

Evan took a long deep breath and exhaled on the side of my neck.  He stopped moving and laid there on top of me for what felt like several minutes, just breathing slowly.

“I’m sorry, it’s just that I can’t tell if you’ve been flirting with me or teasing me ever since last night, but it kind of feels that way and I’m just really confused and I don’t know what’s happening.”  I confessed.

Evan rolled off of me and sat up on the side of the bed.  “Wow, just kill the moment why don’t ya.”  He mumbled while putting his head in his hands.

“Truly I’m sorry, but I confessed my love to your brother right before he went into a coma, can you imagine his reaction if he knew about this unfolding situation, I mean I think he’d punch us both in the face.”  I said.

Evan didn’t respond and so I sat up in the bed and slid over to the side and sat next to him, hoping that he would say something in response.  He looked up over at me and looked into my eyes for a few seconds as if to judge the sincerity or honesty in my words.

“I’m not trying to date you bro.”  He said, turning his line of sight back to the floor.

“Then what are you doing?”  I asked, pressing him for more details.

“I don’t know, I’m just lonely I think, and when I feel lonely I get horny, hahaha!”  He answered with a laugh.

“But that doesn’t explain the gender situation, I’m a guy, not a girl.”  I stated as though it wasn’t obvious.

“Yeah man, I know, but sometimes desire or having wants and needs has nothing to do with gender.  Sometimes it’s just about human connection and you seemed like a really cool person and I saw how much love you had for Damien and how deep you are and kind, I just felt drawn to that.”  He confessed.

Evan continued, “I have absolutely no interest in dating another guy, I don’t want to kiss another dude, be romantic with one, I just don’t have those feelings for you or any other guy.  But that doesn’t mean that I’m somehow insecure or delusional about human contact.”

“Can you explain what you mean by human contact?”  I asked.

“Have you ever had dogs?  Like adopt two?  Even if they don’t come from the same litter, they will cuddle up and lay together, even if they’re the same gender.  You don’t see dogs call each other gay or people going around accusing two male dogs of being gay just cause they’re napping together.  That’s what I mean.”  Evan tried to explain.

“What if those two male dogs do the dirty?”  I asked half-jokingly.

Evan burst out laughing, “Damn dude, I don’t know maybe depends on what you mean by the dirty, if we’re talking full-on gay sex then maybe that makes them gay, or if we’re talking about licking each other here or there then maybe it just means they’re horny and can’t find no bitches!  Get it, bitches?”

“Yeah, you’re a real comedian.”  I playfully admitted.

“So, no I’m not gay and I’m not bisexual either, I’m just lonely.”  Evan declared, paraphrasing himself.

I sat there for a bit, absorbing what he had just told me, unsure if I should continue to ask questions or just let the subject be dropped.  I could fully understand his difficulty in explaining why he felt the way he did and why he probably felt like he shouldn’t have to explain himself or his feelings.

There were plenty of times in my own life when straight people just didn’t understand me, people who wanted me to fit perfectly in the box labeled “gay” that they had created in order to understand others like me, and then became upset when I didn’t fit neatly in their box or under the label they had created.  Not everyone can be pigeonholed and maybe Evan was one of those people, he just happened to have been coming at it from a very different direction than me.

If there can be a great variance in gay or bisexual people, it would only stand to reason that there would also be a great variance in straight people, and the lines that separate us all are probably quite blurry.  Less about black and white distinction and more about a long scale of many shades of grey.

“Where do we go from here?”  I asked hesitantly.

“I don’t know about you but I’m gonna need a little more sleep so I’m gonna lay down for like another hour.”  Evan answered.

He proceeded to crawl back to the middle of the bed and under the covers.  He laid there for a bit, facing the wall on the other side of the room and quietly asked, “Will you cuddle with me?”

I didn’t answer him right away, instead I sat there thinking about Freckles and I asked myself what he would do if he was in this situation.  What if I had been in a coma and one of my siblings invited him over to their house?  How would I feel if I could somehow find out that one of my siblings asked him to cuddle with them, knowing that the situation could turn sexual in some way or another?  Would I be angry, would I feel betrayed, would I be understanding as I lay there dead to the outside world?

I think my response might be dependent upon the possibility of my return to the world of the living or if I would forever stay in a comatose state.  If I had the chance of waking up and returning to the life I left behind, then I would be upset and feel betrayed, but if I never awoke I would want Damien to be with someone who saw him in the same wonderful light that I did, who perceived his value, I would want him to be with someone I knew and trusted and loved.  Is this how Damien would feel about Evan and I?

Is it possible to love someone deeply and yet also be willing or able to give some degree of love to another person, even if that love was more about compassion and less about passion?  Can you love someone passionately, while also loving someone else compassionately?  Is there a difference?  Is love even the right word here?  If Evan is to be believed, then this has absolutely nothing to do with any kind of love, but about solace, comfort, healing, support, and presence.

Is this what people who engage in polygamy experience or is that completely different than this?  Is this what it’s like to be in an open relationship?  I guess not, since Damien has no idea this is happening.  Should I tell him?  They say that people in a coma can sometimes hear what’s happening around them, would it break his heart?  Would he give up fighting and let go of life if he knew I had some weird platonic thing with his brother?

“Evan, are you home?!?!”  A woman’s voice shouted, breaking the silence.

“Whoa, is that your mom?”  I asked feeling startled.

“No, that’s my sister.”  Evan said, slowly sitting up in bed.

“We’re in here!”  He yelled back to her, sliding his bandaged arm under the covers.

I could hear her footsteps coming up the stairs as I quickly grabbed my shirt and shorts and slipped them on before kicking the gauze from last night’s medical situation under the bed.  I had never been around their sister outside of the hospital, she always seemed so controlled and disciplined, collected and confident.  She reached the door and my heartbeat hastened as the door knob turned and the door began to open.

“Who’s the ‘we’ you’re talking about?”  Claire asked as she opened up the door.

“Oh, Dominic, I didn’t know you were here.”  She said acting surprised.

Even though nothing had happened, I felt awkwardly guilty, as though me just being in Evan’s bedroom was somehow inappropriate and that I needed to apologize for it.  I hadn’t brushed my hair so I was certain that it was wild and messy, like after-sex kind of messy.

“When did you get here?”  She asked nonchalantly.

“Um…”  I began to mutter.

“He’s been here since last night.”  Evan quickly answered, making me blush for no legitimate reason.

“Oh, well okay.  You boys hungry?”  She asked with the concern of a true mother.

I smiled and nodded my head while Evan exclaimed that he was always hungry.

“I’ll head downstairs and see what mom has on hand, take your time getting up, I’ll let you know when it’s ready.”  Claire said as she gently closed the door behind her.

“Your sister seems nicer than your brother led me to believe.”  I advised Evan.

He laid back down in bed, “Don’t let her fool you, she can be a real hard-ass sometimes.”

I turned back and looked at him laying there facing the wall, still unsure with what to do.  He turned back around and looked up at me, as though he was awaiting my answer to his earlier question.  His dark brown eyes once again absorbing the sunlight as it was coming into his bedroom, flickering across his face.  Like two black-holes the light fell into them without escape.  Their depth and power so incredibly seductive and commanding, nothing that approached them closely enough could possibly resist.

I felt drawn in as well, trapped somewhere between my empathy for his loneliness and my own desire for physical human contact.  Sure I could visit Freckles and talk to him, but he never responded, never moved at all.  He was alive, but lifeless and as awful as it sounds, visiting Damien at the hospital was like visiting his corpse at the cemetery.  Evan on the other hand was everything that Damien couldn’t be right now.

Evan reached out and pulled me towards him and flipped me over to the other side of the bed.  He pulled the covers out from underneath me and flung them up over top of us both.  He pulled me in close to him until there was no open space between us, he threw his right arm around me and pressed himself against me from behind.

It didn’t take long for the heat in the bed to become near unbearable and I began to accumulate sweat.  He slid his hand up my arm and turned me over until I was laying on my back and then slid himself up on top of me, making sure to go slow so that I felt every bit of it.  He laid his head down next to mine, his chin resting on my right shoulder.  He brought his hands up next to my rib-cage on either side and slid them down to my waistline, my body trembling in response.

He held them there for a while and I could feel his finger tips toying with my waistbands, suddenly he grabbed at my shorts from both sides and began pulling them down.  I reached down and grabbed at his hands as if to stop him, but I put up no real resistance and he overpowered me, sliding them all the way down and off.  Coming back up he pulled at the bottom hem of my shirt, motioning to pull it up and off of me, which I allowed him to do.  He then laid back down completely on top of me, now only in our underwear our bodies were fully aligned.  Slowly he slid his whole body back and forth and up and down, rubbing and pressing himself up against me.  There was no hiding his arousal, nor mine.

Once more while laying on top of me he slid his hands down the sides of the bare skin of my rib-cage, our skin-to-skin touch feeling borderline electric.  This time he stopped at the waistband of the underwear he had borrowed me, pausing their momentarily to toy around with the fabric.  We did not make eye contact this entire time, as if to do so would somehow admonish us of the lack in morality of the behavior unfolding.  With his head still next to mine and his chin on my shoulder he lifted himself off me just slightly and began to slowly move his hands to the inside of my thighs.  My body trembled again and as he approached my cock, my body twitched as if in defiance of the presence of his hands.

Before I could do or say anything, his hands were there, on me, holding me, touching me, embracing me in an electrifying force exploding in my brain and what little resistance I had to his seduction was obliterated.  That primal part of my brain lit up like the Griswold house at Christmas.  I flipped him up and over in the bed and pounced on top of him like a jaguar, I pressed my head against his, forcing him to face the wall and I bit his ear, sliding my hand from his chest down to his waistline, he too began to tremble.  I slipped my fingers beneath the waistband of his pot leaf underwear and felt their dampness.  He released an audible exhale in anticipation and voiced a soft moan as my finger tips reached his wet cock.

“Boys!  Breakfast is ready!”  Claire yelled from the hallway.

Evan and I launched ourselves out of bed like two spooked cats.  I hurriedly pulled on my clothes and tucked myself up under my waistband as Evan scurried about his room looking for clothes to put on.

Claire knocked at the door, “Boys, you can eat now!”

“Thanks! We’ll be right down!”  Evan said, his voice cracking halfway through his response, in terror that his sister would just come walking in.

I could hear her step away from the door and return to the stairs that led down to the kitchen.  I looked over at Evan as he flailed about trying to get his clothes on that he had collected from somewhere in his room.  I didn’t know whether to laugh at us or feel guilty and ashamed, or perhaps both.  What had unfolded was clearly not okay and should not have happened, our fear of getting caught by his sister was proof enough of that.  Regardless, it had happened and there was no undoing it.  Our deep emotional connection created last night, culminated in this brief sexual encounter, but it cannot go any further.

“Dude,” Evan said looking up at me, “We can’t tell anyone about this.”

“Not even Damien?”  I asked sincerely.

“What?!?!  Fuck no, especially not Damien!”  Evan proclaimed.

“A long time ago I swore to myself that I would never take Damien for granted, that no matter what I would be honest with him, even when the truth hurt.  We made a mistake here and he deserves to know.”  I said with conviction.

“Tell him when he’s awake, but don’t you dare utter a word to him while he’s still in a coma.  I don’t know if he can hear us or not, but it would break his heart to hear that you fucked around with me.”  Evan made clear to me.

“Why’d you say it like that?  WE fucked around together, even though you started it.”  I assured him.

“You’re the gay one, you’re the reason this happened, if you’d been straight nothing would’ve happened.”  Evan said with a degree of frustration.

“Whoa, what the hell is that supposed to mean?  You seduced me, remember?”  I said with my voice raised.

With those words Evan swung at me and barely missed, he came at me again and I pushed him back, reminding him that his sister was downstairs waiting for us and that neither of us could walk down their with a bloody lip or black eye.  Shit was already weird enough.

“Please stop it bro, this is getting out of hand.”  I advised him, practically begging him to listen.

“Me?  You’re the one threatening to tell my family about my secrets!”  He shouted, nearly loud enough for his sister to hear.

“Your secrets?  I’m not trying to out you!”  I shouted back, nearly as loud.

“I’m not gay!”  Evan snapped at me, becoming red in the face.

“I didn’t say you were!”  I responded.

We both stepped back away from each other, things were getting way too heated.  I tried to choose my next words carefully.  Clearly, he felt threatened by me mentioning anything to Damien about our sexual encounter, it seems he was not ready for anyone to know that he wasn’t afraid to explore and experiment.  Even if it was just out of loneliness, as he stated.

“I won’t say anything to Damien or anyone else about what happened in here, is that what you want?”  I asked hesitantly.

“I don’t want anyone saying shit to my family about me without me being there.”  He answered.

“It’s not like I’m going to lie about anything, I was going to tell him exactly what happened.”  I tried to reassure him.

“No, that’s exactly the problem, you’re going to make me out to be some kind of fag.”  Evan said half-crying.

“Using that word was not cool bro.  For a guy who claims to be open-minded and believes in the hippie lifestyle, you’re really turning into a jackass right now.”  I pointed out.

Evan walked past me and into his bathroom, closing the door behind himself.  I wanted to scream, cry, and yell all at the same time, and honestly punch him in the face.  What a torrent of emotional hell this has been, what more could possibly go wrong?  I could hear Evan inside the bathroom sobbing uncontrollably.  I reached for the knob, but it wouldn’t budge, he had locked the door from the inside.  I returned to his bedside, sat down and waited for him to come back out.

Once again I could hear footsteps coming up the stairs, Claire was coming to see what was going on and why we still had not come down to eat.  I felt as though the situation was about to rise to another level of awkward as Evan was still audibly crying in the bathroom.

“Hey, what’s going on why are you guys still up here?”  Claire asked inquisitively.

“Um…”  I started out saying.

“Is that Evan in there, why is he crying?”  Claire asked with heightened concern.

She approached the door and knocked, “Evan, what’s going on, why are you crying?”

Evan didn’t answered, but could still be heard sobbing.  Claire looked back at me for answers.

“I don’t think it’s my place to tell you what exactly is going on here, Evan wouldn’t want me to say anything.”  I conceded.

“I don’t care what he would want, I don’t need to complete my PhD in psychology to know something is going on here.  I want answers.”  She demanded.

She continued knocking on the door, this time louder and more aggressively, yelling at Evan to open up.  My anxiety was so high at this point, I felt like just collapsing to the floor, utterly paralyzed by everything happening around me.  This was truly all my fault, Evan was right about it, if I had been straight, none of this would have ever happened.  A lot of things wouldn’t have happened if I had never got involved with anyone in this family.  It was my fault Freckles crashed, I distracted him, he was in that coma because of me, and now I’ve betrayed him and I’ve caused his brother to fall into a psychological breakdown.  I was a terrible human being.

The tears began welling in my own eyes and my knees gave way, I collapsed to the floor, crumbling from the guilt and shame that consumed me.  Claire stood there looking at me and listening to Evan sob in the bathroom, probably so perplexed by the unfolding scene before her that if she hadn’t been studying to be a mental health professional she might have thought us both possessed by demons.

“Whatever is happening here is not going to be resolved until we talk through it.  Evan, so help me god you better open this door or I’m gonna kick it in!”  She shouted, banging heavily on the bathroom door.

With a click from the release of the door’s locking mechanism, Evan emerged from the bathroom.  I got up from the bedroom floor and sat down on the bed, per the instructions of his sister.  She plopped Evan down next to me on the bed, and then she knelt down in front of us.

“Please, explain to me what is going on here.”  She demanded.

Evan spoke first through most of his sister’s inquiry, leaving out the erotic details of our encounter that would have done little but distract from the serious nature of his mental health status.  He explained to her why I was there, some of the events of the night before, he showed her his cuts and scars, expressed his feelings of abandonment, loneliness, depression, and hopelessness about Damien’s condition.  I did little more than validate his statements when she asked, but decided it best that I not speak more than necessary.

By the end of Claire’s intervention, the whole situation felt deflated, all the pressure had been released and we resigned ourselves to not dwelling on everything that had taken place.  Evan and I’s encounter and our short-lived skirmish were brushed aside as we made our way down to the kitchen.

Though we didn’t sit side-by-side like the night before, we did sit across from one another at the kitchen’s island as we ate breakfast.  I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t awkward, but I had hope that this awkwardness would fade in time and that Evan and I could get back on track to becoming close friends.  I really did appreciate and respect him as a person, he was different, but I firmly believed that being different is what makes a person interesting.  I had no idea how Damien would respond to what unfolded, but I never doubted for a second that he would want Evan and I to continue to be friends.

Click here to read more chapters from this novel.

When Life Hurts the Most

When Life Hurts the Most

We are all broken, none of us are lucky enough to get through life unscathed. What sets some apart from the rest is that they learn and grow and become stronger in the broken places.

Who are you? Who do you want to be? Are you willing to face yourself in order to be free?

The only way to win in life is to do better, become better than the person you were yesterday. It’s not easy, but it’s not supposed to be easy. If it were, everyone would be successful.

Finding yourself is hard, but healing and building yourself up from the brokenness that you find within yourself is harder. It takes a lot, we must step outside our comfort zones, be willing to see other perspectives, be willing to question what we believe to be true about us and about the way things are.

The emptiness we feel can only ever be filled by finding, keeping and nurturing three things in life: (1) physical and mental health, (2) emotional connections to others, and (3) what we believe in.

Kyle Eschenroeder once wrote that there are 7 things that can destroy us: (1) ingratitude, (2) envy, (3) impatience, (4) feeling overwhelmed, (5) inaction, (6) loss of meaning in life, (7) an unwillingness to take risks.

Psychologist Martin Seligman established the belief that we can only flourish and live well if we can meet all of the criteria laid out in what Martin called the PERMA model:

P) Positivity: practice positive emotions, forgive your own past, be grateful for what you have, and choose to be hopeful for the future.

E) Engagement: find something to do either as a hobby or as a career that you find so enjoyable that it makes you become so captured and satisfied that you lose track of time when you’re doing it.

R) Relationships: establish strong bonds with other people, know and understand who is there to support you when facing life’s challenges.

M) Meaning: determine what gives you a sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in life and pursue it, it will provide you with the most rewarding experiences in life.

A) Accomplishment: when you achieve victory or success, celebrate those wins and invite those you have a close friendship or relationship with to join you in the celebration.

One of the greatest American presidents we’ve ever had was Abraham Lincoln. He faced many obstacles, setbacks, failures, and even tragedies throughout his whole life. Before he ever became the 16th president, he told a close friend that he was considering taking his own life, but the only reason he didn’t was because he felt as though he had not yet done something with his life that made his existence matter.

He wanted to do something with his life that made a difference, that meant something, that was worth being remembered for. He didn’t want this for himself or even his family, he wanted it for the nation, for the people, to make the lives of those who also felt his struggle and his suffering to be changed into something better, something hopeful, something beautiful.

Start a Conversation that Matters


Start a Conversation that Matters

I can’t begin to tell you how much it astounds me when I ask someone to talk to me about how they feel, to share with me the pain they are afraid of that they harbor within, and their response to me is that no one has ever noticed or given them that chance before.

They tell me that no one ever seemed to care, people who have known them all their lives, people they call family and friends. Time and time again, I hear them say that they don’t matter, that how they feel doesn’t matter. They convince themselves that this is true.

Each of them has found a way to cover up those feelings, whether we’re talking about compartmentalizing and separating themselves from that pain, or taking things into themselves that bury, drown, or “sound” out the pain. Most of the time these methods are self-destructive and only temporary.

Why do the people closest to those who suffer, seem to be the ones most unaware, or unconcerned, or unwilling to reach out to help?

Perhaps it’s the same reason that some are unwilling to tell those they are closest to, just how much they hurt.

To ask is to know and share in the pain, to tell is to inform and share the pain. These are two sides of the same coin.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, please access my immediate assistance resource page.  A comprehensive listing of online and phone resources and services is also available.

The Tragedy of Travis Maldonado

I have a few things I want to say about the Netflix documentary series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness, so if you haven’t watched it you should stop reading beyond this paragraph if you want to experience it firsthand, but a word of caution, if you are emotionally or mentally triggered by someone dying (out of view of the camera), you need to reconsider watching it or at least perhaps tread lightly with someone there to support you.

***Spoiler Alert***

I do hate to use the word “spoiler” in this situation because it feels disgusting, disingenuous, disconnected from what I’m actually going to talk about. It feeds the media spectacle and further removes us from the dark reality that unfolded, ultimately blurring our ability to discern the tragedy and trauma.  I’m not so much interested in the show itself, more so a victim of circumstance in it.

This post is going to be about Travis Maldonado.  A disclaimer first and foremost, I did not know him, I have no information to present other than what has been publicly put forth by his mom Cheryl, his sisters Ashley and Danielle, and the documentary itself.  There is a lot of wild shit to talk about regarding the show, but when Travis died, that became the most impactful event and tragedy this documentary could possibly put forth outside of the animal abuse.  In fact, the documentary should have been about Travis, not Joe.

Travis is most certainly important to his family and friends who grieved his loss in 2017, but Travis is also important because he represents a group of young men that are rarely ever discussed or depicted through a widespread televised medium.  Caleb Diehl is another good example of what I’m about to discuss, so afterwards go Google Caleb’s story and mysterious disappearance if you are not familiar with it.

Over the last decade of being involved in behavioral health, and of course from my own personal experiences with a mental health condition, I can attest to the fact that sometimes people suffering from or struggling with behavioral health issues, whether we are talking about a mental health condition or a substance use disorder, become victims not just of the things they are struggling with, but also of other people who take advantage of them in their vulnerable state.

From the documentary and from the things I’ve seen publicly stated by Travis’s family, I believe this to be the other tragedy of his story, second to the fact that he died in a terrible accident, viewable on the documentary itself –  making it all the more traumatic for everyone who witnesses it.  Remember his family watched the show, relived his death, and some of Travis’s family had never before seen the security camera footage of his death.

Sometimes individuals with a mental health condition or a substance use disorder (formerly known as addiction), find themselves in very difficult situations where they become extremely vulnerable to outside influence, persuasion, manipulation, coercion, psychological or physical abuse, among other things.  This is compounded when they are also desperate for something they want or need, particularly when that thing is an illicit substance that they have become dependent upon.

If you’ve seen the documentary, you know that Travis was identified as having a meth “addiction” and used marijuana heavily.  According to his older sister in a Facebook post, Travis was portrayed fairly accurately in the documentary, so I can only ascertain that he did truly struggle with substance use.

It’s a private matter and I honestly don’t believe it’s really all that important for reasons I’ll state in a bit, but Travis’s sexual orientation remains uncertain and people continue to publicly discuss it.  He proclaimed to be straight and this was supported by coworkers who stated he frequently slept with women who worked at the zoo.  He was, however as we all know, in a relationship and marriage with another man, Joe Exotic.

Again, this detail is not important in my opinion, but due to the fact that people have discussed it a lot and have inquired as to why the term “bisexual” was never brought up in the documentary, I will say it’s certainly possible he was bisexual, the vast majority of people within the LGBTQ, are actually some variant of bisexual.  They make up a significant portion of that population.

In a 2011 American study by Gary Gates and the Williams Institute, some 8-10 million Americans identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. An additional 25 million Americans stated they had engaged in same-sex experiences, 76% of those people identified themselves as straight.  While the majority of lesbian women and gay men eventually come out publicly or to their friends and family, when it comes to self-identified bisexual Americans, the study showed that only 28% of them ever “come out” publicly.

Whether or not Travis was “happy” in his relationship with Joe is uncertain, all I have to go on is the documentary footage and his family’s public statements following the airing of the show.  Some people say he was, others say he wasn’t.  It’s this “relationship” that I want to discuss next.

This is merely my opinion, but I believe the free-spirited and sometimes wreckless Travis has become the most prominent example of a victim of a process known as “grooming.”

Grooming is a process by which a person says and does things to attract another person to them, which heavily revolves around building trust, favor, and gratitude, but eventually leads to manipulation, coercion, and even threats and blackmail if the victim attempts to separate themselves from the “groomer.”

Part of this grooming process often includes money, gifts, favors, and other methods of flattery.  Not everyone who finds themselves on the receiving end of this grooming process is oblivious to what is taking place.  Some have even purposefully put themselves into the situation because they like the attention.  Some are even using the groomer and tricking them, enacting a strange game of cat and mouse, where both become victims of each other.

However, the majority of people who find themselves being groomed are often unaware, especially in the beginning.  Typically they are like Travis, looking for belonging, direction, support, attention, connection, a change or a new start.

Victims of grooming are often young males, likely due to the fact they are less guarded, less cautious, and less likely to perceive themselves as potential victims.  They are usually under the age of 21 and unfortunately can even be very young children in cases of pedophilia.

Those who are groomers are almost always older than the victim, most of the time drastically older, which they use to their advantage.  They are typically financially better off than the victim, can provide a financially stable support system, give them shelter, guidance, employment, food, expensive gifts, the list goes on and on.

Due to the fact that grooming victims are young and often troubled or struggling with their mental and emotional states, they can be easily manipulated, especially if the manipulative behavior includes money, objects, or substances the victim wants or believes he needs.  The more the victim wants or believes he needs what the groomer is offering him, the more easily and deeply manipulated he will become.

Groomers almost always target individuals they are sexually attracted to, but the victims sexuality is less important as the groomer gets what they want through the control of manipulation, coercion, and above all else making the victim feel as though they are indebted to the groomer.

Aside from physical attraction or substance use, they may also look for young men who appear to be poor, less educated, rebellious, wreckless, socially rejected, troubled and struggling, abandoned, lonely, without purpose or direction in life, or homeless.

This grooming process almost always culminates in requests for sexual favors.  If this is the fate that befell Travis, I must say it is the first time I have ever seen the grooming process culminate in marriage to the groomer, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything.

I genuinely hope that I am wrong about the predicament that Travis was in, I sincerely hope that he actually wanted to be in a relationship with Joe and that he was actually happy and content with where he was and what he had.  But honestly, my knowledge of this type of behavior and my experiences in dealing with manipulative groomers, my observations of Travis’s behavior in the documentary and the public statements from his family, make me believe otherwise.

The premature ending of Travis’s life is the real tragedy of The Tiger King, the real injustice in all the chaos that unfolded.  I’m not intending to lay blame on anyone involved with the zoo, but his death never should have happened.

Additonal Links of Interest

Travis’s Wedding

Travis Talking About His Favorite Animal at the Zoo (skip ahead to the 3:12 mark)

Travis Maldonado Footage from JoeExoticTV Part One

Travis Maldonado Footage from JoeExoticTV Part Two

Ashley’s Memorial Video for Her Brother Travis

JoeExoticTV’s Memorial Services for Travis Maldonado

40-Second Travis YouTube Memorial Video

4:30 Travis YouTube Memorial Video

JoeExoticTv Memorial Video to Travis

Travis Shooting Stuff

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, please access my immediate assistance resource page.  A comprehensive listing of online and phone resources and services is also available.