14, 11, 8, 6, 4, 3, 2, 0, 365. All just random numbers right? Perhaps to some. For me, these numbers provide a back story to who I am. Let me explain:
14 - My favorite Number
11 - My birth month
8 - Number of "best friends" I have lost because of who I am
6 - Number of Times I have been beaten up for just being me
4 - Number of Times a person I considered a friend joined in the fight....against me
3 - Number of Times I have cut myself shaving
2 - Number of Times I did this on purpose
0 - Number of Days I feel confident
365 - Number of Days I wake up and worry today might be the day that breaks me
Today is #BellLetsTalk day...so let's talk.....
Last year, I joined the #BellLetsTalk conversation on twitter. I had numerous RT's of people telling their honest stories, honest feelings and deepest thoughts. I hit the little star to FAV a bunch of tweets sharing statistical figures on mental health. And...most importantly...I opened up to myself.
A year ago I sat in my office space and shared my own personal struggles. It was the first time I really allowed myself to be vulnerable in front of other people. Ok, sure it was virtual vulnerability, but it was still vulnerability. I knew I was opening myself up to scrutiny. I thought people would take my tweets with a grain of salt or even say to themselves "this guy just wants attention". But for me, I needed to just let out some of my own personal stories. Some of my own personal hardships. Some of my own deepest feelings.
I admitted to myself that I battle depression, daily. I was honest in saying how vulnerable I feel when I am with groups of people. I said how I often feel people are constantly making fun of me in their head or behind my back. I shared my lack of self-esteem and self-worth with the world.
It felt great. It was scary. At times it hurt. I had people reach out and just hit the little star on my tweets, people I sometimes did not even know. I had people respond and say they had the same feeling. It was a social media bonding experience to just not feel alone. When you feel like you are trapped in a cave with no hope for escape, sometimes a small light through the cracks of the rock can be enough to keep you going. Last year, #BellLetsTalk was a small glimmer of light.
The amount of times I have been bullied in my life is almost too much to count. Whether it be physical or mental/emotional abuse, I have been a punching bag for many. From being the poor kid without the newest clothes or coolest toys to physical issues of being too tall or too skinny or having too high of a voice. I think the words 'gay" and "faggot" have almost become synonymous with my name. I have taken a few punches to the face and gut while being called these words. A black eye hear, bruised legs or arms there...they heal. The emotional effect unfortunately has not. I remember in elementary school being corned on the playground one recess by two guys calling me every name in the book. I couldn't do anything. At least, in my head, that's what I thought. I didn't cry. I wanted to. I thought I would. But I didn't. I still don't know how I was able to keep that in. I took their verbal abuse, I took their pushing, their tripping, the few kicks to my legs and stomach. Then I saw another guy come over. I recognized the face. Finally someone to save me. He asked what they were doing. The two guys, after looking at me on the ground, laughed and said teaching this "fag" a lesson. I thought this guy was coming to my rescue. I knew him. He was always nice to me. He talked to me. I had a savior. Boy was I wrong. I got the opposite response. Instead of a reached out hand to help me up, I got a quick kick to the stomach. He laughed and agreed with the other two boys and the three walked away. Recess bell ended, I walked into the school, went to the bathroom, cleaned myself up, went to class. Got a quick lecture about being late. Got asked why my eye was swollen. I said I ran into a tree playing at recess and went to the bathroom to just see if I was ok. I had to stay after school for being late for class. I will never forget the moment. But what is the one moment that stands out and haunts me to this day? The "friend" not saving me, not standing up for me. The "friend" kicking me. That one kick hurt the worst....and I still feel it. I know it was years ago and I need to move on. Oddly enough, I am not mad at him anymore. I don't know where he is or what he does for a living. It was the action. The betrayal. The feeling I had inside at that moment. The impact of that kick has dictated the relationships I form to this day.
Last year's #BellLetsTalk helped me open up to my two closest friends. I shared everything with them. Those who know me realize very quickly how guarded I am and how trust is a huge issue of mine. It takes lots of time and patience and building of a friendship/relationship to have me open up. I know at times that is not fair to those close to me and I am trying to work on it. But for now, that is who I am. I sat down at my computer and emailed them both a very, very, very long letter sharing every detail of what has happened to me in my past, how I feel on a daily basis and my insecurities. Hitting the send button sent a shock wave to my system. I immediately went to bed. I had an upset stomach. I couldn't sleep. I worried my honesty would be too much for them. What if they didn't accept me because of all the issues I have? What if they thought I was too much "drama" or too much of a liability as a friend? What if they were worried their other friends would judge them for their association with me? As you can tell, when my mind gets racing down the track of negativity, I go for the checkered flag each time. I was ready and bracing myself for another swift kick.
Now, to be fair, both of them had known small little details about me. Both had seen me at points of vulnerability. Both had seen me break down and cry and admit facts about myself I still have only told the two of them. Oddly enough, both of them do not even know one another yet share a similar weight on their shoulders...or burden perhaps...of knowing me. Days went by and finally I started receiving some feedback. One was a faster response. The other needed time to just soak everything in. I knew I needed to be patient and try to accept them for taking the time they needed to grasp everything I shared. I cannot expect them to understand me without me understanding them. Both came back with similar responses: support, care, friendship, love. All things I truly never feel in my life.
It was a shock. Both of these guys are, what I would consider, the "cool kids" in school. Everyone loved them. Guys all want to be friends with them. Girls think they are greatest. Everyone has nothing but positive things to say. I always wonder what they are doing being friends with me? I am far from being the "cool kid" that's for sure. I am just me. Plain, boring, not athletic, not attractive. I've never been in a serious relationship. I've never had the guy friends I could call my "bros" and who I could rely on day or night. These two have everything I don't have, including self-confidence. Why would they want to deal with some head-case like me?
In the long run, one friendship is still strong while the other unfortunately has fizzled out. I am sure there are numerous reasons behind the friendship dying off but, in my heart, I will always think it is because of my actions on opening up and being honest. Maybe I should have just kept all the truths to myself. Maybe I would still have a best friend again. I have lost too many close friends because of who I am and it hurts and cuts deep every time. This one still stings and it has been a year. It will string for another year I am sure. I doubt myself. I blame myself. I hate myself. I tell myself these things every day. What other explanation could there be? When people no longer want anything to do with you, you right away assume you did something wrong and you are to blame right? This is a normal reaction I always assume? A smart person would focus on the positive of the other friend sticking by my side. Planning regular skype calls to catch up. Random texts just checking in and seeing how I am doing because he knows of my struggles. A smart person would focus on the positives. I,unfortunately, am not that smart person. I dwell on the negative. The loss. The thing I cannot change. The friend I cannot get back. This is the negative mentality that I dislike about myself.
I have horrible self-doubt. I look in mirror and I see a guy who is not attractive. I see a guy who is not intelligent. I see a guy who has no self-worth. I see a guy who offers little to the world. I also see a guy who knows that if I ever admit to anyone how I feel, the reaction will always be "fishing for compliments" or "guy who wants attention" or "stop being so dramatic". I'll admit I think that way sometimes as well when I hear a friend say they think they aren't smart or attractive at times. Yeah right, look at you. You have everything. You are smart. You have a great job. You have a girlfriend/boyfriend. You have great friends. But then I step back and realize maybe they do feel that way. I know I feel that way. Even if people tell me the opposite, I right away just think they are saying these things because it is the nice thing to do. The friendly response but not the truth response.
Over the past year my mental health struggle has been.....well a struggle. I have been brought to a point of ultimate low over the end of the summer months. I hated myself. I felt alone. I had no hope. I almost did the unthinkable. I was ready and willing to end it all. I had no care. I was walking to get a coffee one day. The traffic light was green and a normal person would stand at the corner and wait. I didn't. I just continued walking. Right into traffic. On a major street in my downtown core. A bus was coming. I saw it. He saw me. I didn't care. He did. He braked...hard. Stopped right before hitting me. I looked up at him. He looked at me, cursed and yelled and made numerous hand signals. I can't blame him. He had every right to be upset. People were looking at me. I just looked back down and continued walking across the street. It was only when I returned to my office and sat down that I realized how selfish my actions were. Sure, I could have ended my own life. But what about the impact that incident would have on others? How would that bus driver feel? What about the people on that bus? What about those people just walking around outside at that time? I would assume nobody wants to be a witness to that incident. It could have created negative effects to innocent people. That was selfish of me.
I posted a long rant opening up about my true mental health issues. I opened myself up to criticism. I had some people stop following me on twitter or social media. I knew I took a risk but I didn't know what else to do. I needed to reach out for help. I knew I couldn't have the conversation with anyone face to face. I also felt like nobody would want to listen or care. So I sent it out to the social media cloud. I wasn't expecting feedback or answers. I think I just needed to push myself and put my thoughts out there. I needed to not only write it down but share it with someone. Maybe some would read it, maybe some would not. But I knew it was out there and I needed that. I had many people reach out and offer support. An ear to bend. A reason to meet for coffee or lunch. I was more surprised by people who had never met me message me directly and share their stories and offer their support. One guy shared his personal story with me. He didn't have to do that. He did it because he recognized the signs and wanted to help. We started a conversation and he helped me not feel so alone. Another guy, someone I had met only once in a group setting, messaged me as well and just said he understood how I was feeling, offered up his cell number and said text any time I need someone to talk to. I took him up on the offer and I still, to this day, randomly text him. He is always there to just be supportive. I had one evening where I was feeling really low and reached out to him. We just talked through text throughout the night about random stuff. Sports mostly. He knew he just needed to get me focused on having a conversation with someone. I knew what he was doing....it was exactly what I needed. These are just two examples of people who reached out. I cannot thank either of them enough.
It has not always been good news of course. Some people were critical of my honest and open response. Some people questioned my intentions and thought it was just me wanting attention. In a way, there were right. But it wasn't attention I was craving. It was help. It was support. I didn't know how else to ask for it. I was scared to ask directly to my friends. I was already in the middle of losing one friend, was coming off a bad situation with another...the risk of opening up to any other friends and have a negative reaction would have put me over the edge. I struggled with the internal battle of keeping it all in or finally feeling brave enough to be honest with myself and others. Looking back, I am happy I did it. I may have lost some friends from it but I suppose those who cannot support me are not my real friends.
Thank you for just taking the brief time out of your day to read this. Typing this up and pushing myself to sharing has been quite difficult. I think I have hit the delete button and restarted this blog 3 or 4 times already. Not this time....I am just going with it. I am going to share it. I am going to continue my fight and hope, one day, that small glimmer of light shining on my arm will turn into full rays of sunshine.