6 Things That Could Lead To Toddlergeddon

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Toddlers may look cute, but en masse, they could end the world

Toddlers are amazing creatures. They’re all emotion and zero logic. They are selfish, wonderful, exasperating, cute, hilarious, crazy, imaginative beings that could very well bring about the end of the world. Here are 6 things that could very well lead to TODDLERGEDDON!

1) Elevator Buttons – All toddlers must press the elevator button. If there are 2 toddlers and you try to negotiate that one press the outside button and the other the inside button, screaming matches may occur because their fingers are almost magnetically drawn to that tiny, little button that wields more power than even a Jedi can master. Considering that a horde of toddlers will race to press the elevator button leading to gloating, crying, screeching and waterfalls of tears, imagine if toddlers had access to the real button!

2) Boxes – Toddlers are like cats when it comes to boxes – they must jump inside and claim their territory. After we took out our little Christmas tree, Sienna wanted to play with the box, but we said no because we didn’t want it to get damaged (and lord knows that most boxes don’t survive after a toddler encounter). A tantrum ensued. Tears. Bawling. Throwing things. “I WANT THE BOX” over and over and over! My wife and I gave her an offer we figured she couldn’t refuse. She could A) play with the box and throw out all of her toys including the precious scarf that rarely leaves her side or B) keep all of her toys and her scarf and just let the box go. Sienna chose A! Wailing, she placed her scooter in the garbage room. She gathered up toys and put them in a basket to throw away. Shockingly, she went so far as to THROW HER BELOVED SCARF DOWN THE GARBAGE CHUTE!! (Luckily I caught it in time and later, when she calmed down, we pretended that I went downstairs and found it before they took it away). Toddlers are stubborn – ridiculously obstinate. Lesson learned…boxes can lead to Earth’s destruction if left up to toddlers.

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An exhausted Sienna after nearly throwing her scarf away over a box. I don’t know why Snoopy’s in a “Blair Witch” position

3) Toys – Piggybacking on boxes, toys hold that magic power that forces toddlers to fight even if they don’t really want to play with said toy. Billy here might be playing with some truck and suddenly, toddlers descend on him from all directions wanting to play with that same toy even though there are a zillion other fun things with which to play throughout the room. At the toddler stage, the concept of sharing is still often forgotten and the concept of ownership has yet to set in. Regardless, what is so magical about that one toy? They want it. They need it. They must grab it out of Billy’s hands leaving poor Billy in a pool of tears. Then they’ll drop it and go play with something else. One single toy might cause a toddler uprising that we parents will not be able to control. Next thing we know Obama’s been thrown into a bunker as toddler chaos envelops the world because of a red block.

4) Candy – Oh boy. Candy is like an elixir to toddlers. Ears prick up when they hear the opening of a wrapper. Eyes fill with purpose and determination upon viewing a tiny piece of chocolate. Have you ever opened a lollipop only to have twenty toddlers rush you asking, begging, pleading, DEMANDING one as well? I could throw the lollipop on the ground and watch a literal feeding frenzy and those that miss out on the coveted confection would stand up, bruised, battered, bitten, bloodied and turn their devil eyes to you like the kids in Children of the Corn. And the one that did get the lollipop? Now she’s hopped up on sugar! What if they rebel? What if they realize just how much candy is available? We adults would have no chance against toddler swarms in search of candy – that is until they ask us to open it for them.

5) Colors – It doesn’t matter what the object is – clothes, toys, food, cups – if a toddler sees another toddler using something blue, every other toddler in the world will want that same blue object and they’ll fight to get it. They’ll whine. They’ll cry. They’ll try to steal the object out of the initial toddler’s hands. They will not listen to things like, “Your plate is the same blue color as Tommy’s” or “You know, you have this nice purple popsicle…let Norah have the orange one.” Reason doesn’t exist once a toddler has his eyes set on a certain color. They’ll scream and cry until their faces turn blue and ours turn red from frustration and anger. We must be strong against colors. We must be prepared. Because World War III just might break out while we’re still trying to understand why our kids must have that blue plate!

6) Blowing Out Birthday Cake Candles – All toddlers come running when it’s time to blow out the candles on a birthday cake. You can feel their bodies tense as they try to get close enough to extinguish those little flames. They’re like deer…ready to jump at any moment. You know they’d tear each other apart if we didn’t hold them back. Is it their birthday cake? Does it matter? Just look at the picture below. See how they’re all eyeing the candles with such grit and obsession. If we’re not careful with our birthday candles, we could have a full-on battle royale on our hands.

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Sienna and others eying candles on a birthday cake.

These are just but 6 things associated with toddlerhood that could lead to Toddlergedon, that could end the world if we’re not careful, patient, logical parents who take the time to explain about sharing, ownership, time and taking turns. We must be strong. We can’t let the tears and whines wear us down. We must be diligent, yet soft in our explanations. Sometimes we must let the actions play out before we can make our moves, but we can’t let the actions spread because there could be a time when every single toddler in the world wants that one orange piece of cloth and once that happens, we’re doomed. It will be…TODDLERGEDDON!

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What toddlers might look like during Toddl

What other ludicrous things do your toddlers covet and fight about? I’d love to hear your stories!

Daddies Don’t Cry!!

That’s what my near 4-yr-old daughter said as I lay under three blankets, teeth chattering, body involuntarily shaking, but still unable to feel my legs. It had been approximately 45 minutes since I finished digging my car out of three feet of snow thanks to winter storm (aka blizzard) Jonas. I stupidly skipped both breakfast and water in my stubbornness to get the car free. I just put on my coat, hat and gloves, grabbed a shovel and waded my way through giant snow drifts. And then I set to work, back and forearms aching, hands going numb. At times I’d stop to breathe and look at how much left I had to do and wanted to scream obscenities at the snow gods. I continuously wiped sweat from my brow and ignored my throat’s begging for fresh, cool water. I didn’t even think to grab a handful of snow and down it.

Hours later I’d freed the car, but parking was nonexistent. Ideally I could stay in my spot for the next few days but I’d have garnered a pile of those infuriating NYC orange parking tickets, so I took the car out and drove around and around and around looking for somewhere to leave my car. I called my parents who live in the next town over and they suggested I leave the car at their place for a bit and when ready, they’d drive me home if the conditions remained hazardous. Serendipitously, Elaine and Sienna had come down to play in the snow right when I’d finally dug myself out so they were right there when I got the invite. Elaine and Sienna piled into the car and we made our way to my parents’ house, something I barely remember. Actually, I barely recall much after that.

According to Elaine I complained of being dizzy. She’d brought a KIND bar with her because she knew I hadn’t eaten and after getting me out of my winter-wear and leading me to the couch, I chomped down the KIND bar and drank some water, but I still didn’t feel right. I remember the room spinning a bit. I remember my mom and Elaine talking about a sudden drop in blood sugar and the need for orange juice but is was like listening through walls of cotton. I don’t remember drinking it or where my dad or Sienna were playing. Apparently after drinking the juice, my teeth suddenly started chattering ferociously and I got the shakes. I lay down on the couch and they covered me with blankets. Later Elaine said my fingernail beds were blue and that I was showing signs signs of hypothermia. They pulled off my wet jeans and placed warming packs on my feet and shins which felt like blocks of ice. I must have been making pathetic sounds because this is where I recall Sienna saying, “Daddies DON’T cry!!” It sounded far away but it penetrated straight through my spasming, icy body right to my heart.

You see, as someone with depression and anxiety, I’ve cried in front of Sienna before and each time I’ve done my absolute best to explain the sadness, the tears rolling down my face. I’ve explained how there’s a boo-boo in my head causing these emotions. I’ve let her watch me take my many medications. She stays with my mom every Wednesday while I see my therapist. I’ve spent so much time trying to explain my disease and why it makes me melancholy and panicky, causes extreme chest pain and sometimes forces me to bed, and that moms and dads are human, that moms and dads can cry, that that comment’s stuck with me ever since I stupidly walked out the door with a shovel, but no food or water.

Where did she hear that? Did she tell one of her classmates that she saw me cry and the reaction was shock and disdain? Teasing even? Or did someone just come out with it during class?

“Daddies don’t cry!!”

Daddies DO cry even if they don’t have depression. It’s time we shatter that myth.

That’s why I like Keith Negley’s bold picture book, Tough Guys (Have Feelings Tooso much. It’s a beautifully illustrated children’s book that shows male superheroes, wrestlers, bikers, ninjas in poses showing sadness, fear and other emotions completely in contrast with their “macho” images.

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I’m not macho. I don’t outwardly look like any of the figures portrayed in Mr. Negley’s book. The closest I’ve ever come to being “macho” is doing a fairly good imitation of the late, great Randy “Macho Man” Savage. I show fear, frustration and depression along with love, happiness (when I can) and joy (again, when I can). I don’t smile nearly enough and that’s something I need to work on along with all of the other things on which I’m working during therapy. But there’s one thing I do know – all dads (and moms) have emotions. Dads get scared. Dads get sad. Dads fall into the trap of feeling like they’re not living up to the stereotype of being tough enough for their kids. And that’s where the brilliance of Mr. Negley’s final page comes into play:

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Regardless of exterior ALL dads share the same emotions as their kids. Children need to understand this. It doesn’t matter if you’re a a 6’4″ father covered with tattoos and a huge shaggy beard or an average 5’8″ schlub like me. We all experience strong emotions of sadness, fear and anger. None of us is too tough to shed tears, especially dads with diseases such as depression. But most importantly, all of us dads love our children with an immeasurable devotion.

So to whoever told Sienna that daddies don’t cry and undermined everything I’ve tried to teach her about my disease and feelings, you’re wrong and I think Mr. Negley’s book needs to be part of your nighttime ritual.

Daddies do cry and it doesn’t make us weak or foolish or silly.

It makes us human.

How The Star Wars: The Force Awakens Hype Machine And Toys Hooked Me

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I didn’t plan this. I didn’t plan to be salivating at the mere thought of seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens. While I’ve always been a big Star Wars fan, I fall into the “Damn you, George Lucas!” category. Lucas let me down. First with the special editions in which he had to add in extra, poorly rendered CGI creatures and have Greedo shoot first and miss at point blank range (which to me altered Han Solo’s entire character arc – he loses some of his depth as an antihero. The “self-defense” thing changes Han from a smuggler willing to simply kill a guy [even if that guy was a bounty hunter], thanks the barkeep, and walks away and eventually transforms into a person willing to put his life on the line for Luke Skywalker and the rebellion). Then Lucas came out with the loathsome prequels that introduced one of the most irritating and racist movie characters ever  (Jar Jar Binks); bored us with trade regulation discussions; screwed up the logic of the original trilogy (Leia remembers her mother how if her mom died during childbirth?); murdered the mystery behind my favorite character, Boba Fett, by showing him as a little kid wanting revenge; eschewed the magic of actual sets, miniatures, puppet and costumed creatures and props for  CGI worlds, CGI characters, CGI overload; shows Anakin Skywalker’s fall – I mean split second change – to the dark side; and, of course, gave us such brilliant dialogue as:

Anakin Skywalker (to Padme): “I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything’s soft… and smooth…

So yeah, I despised the prequels, but I could get over them if Lucas did one simple thing: release the original cuts on DVD and Blu-Ray. But he’s refused to. He believes it’s his work so he can tinker and destroy as much as he wants which I understand…it is his work, but it also belongs to the world. Steven Spielberg understood this when he re-released E.T. and digitally replaced guns with walkie-talkies. When it came time to release the new version of his classic on DVD, he gave us both versions. But George Lucas is stubborn and too often shows disdain for the fans of the universe he created. And that pulled me away from Star Wars, so when I heard Lucas sold his empire to Disney, I was thrilled because maybe we’d finally get the real original trilogy on Blu-Ray (hasn’t happened yet, but I hold out hope). Still I was antsy about a new film especially one including Han, Luke and Leia. I didn’t want to see an old Han Solo just like I didn’t want to see an old Indiana Jones (and we all know how Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull worked out). I learned J.J. Abrams planned to direct, but still I worried until I learned that the new droid, BB-8, was real – not CGI; that they hired The Empire Strikes Back screenwriter, Lawrence Kasdan, to help write the script; that they filmed on location instead of sound stages for the most part and built the iconic Millennium Falcon. The needle moved towards the excitement level.

And then the Disney hype machine won me over with this image:

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The hook became deeply embedded within my cheek and the line was pulling hard.

I’d already introduced Sienna to Star Wars, but now I  went into overdrive. I found my old Darth Vader carrying case in my parents’ attic and gave it to her while Elaine’s sister supplied her with Itty-Bitty’s of all the classic characters:

Vader Case

 

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I showed her clips from the original movies and told her I saw Star Wars in the theater when I was 4 and distinctly remember thinking Obi-Wan Kenobi was speaking directly to me when he was trying to get R2-D2 to emerge from the shadows. We got lightsabers and continue to have enormously fun battles. Sienna even wanted to carry a lightsaber with her for Halloween even though she was dressed as Princess Aurora. And all the while the Disney hype machine permeated all of existence. The toys. How I wanted the toys to share with Sienna and to play with myself. I still badly want that $150 Sphero BB-8 that you can control with your phone even though I had no idea if either the character or the movie would be good. I wanted it! Me!

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I discovered the “Black Series” which consists of highly detailed figures and vehicles. I wanted the Chewbacca mask that howls and growls like a Wookie when you put it on (and lucky for me, Elaine bought it for me as a Hanukkah present). Yes…the hype’s made me feel like a kid again. I want to play with the toys and I’m so excited to share them with Sienna and show her the original trilogy (I don’t know if I can suffer through the prequels).

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has taken over the Internet and, well, the world. You can’t go 2 commercials without seeing some sort of tie-in and for once, it doesn’t matter to me. Bring on the old Han Solo. Bring on the old Luke Skywalker and Princess (I mean General) Leia. Bring on the struggle between the light and the dark side. Bring on C-3PO and R2-D2. Bring on the Millennium Falcon – you’ve been missed. And welcome to a new diverse universe with a black former stormtrooper, what seems to be a young, female hero, and the much-needed, glass ceiling breaking first female stormtrooper/villain in Captain Phasma played by Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie (speaking of Game of Thrones, now that’s a show that took its cue from the original trilogy – actual sets, locations, costumes, props…those are the things that make a cinematic or televised world feel real.

You’ve won Star Wars: The Force Awakens hype machine, and I don’t mind in the slightest.

Now I just need to wait 31 more hours until we meet universe to face.

THINGS I HATE TODAY

Right now I hate the world. I hate everything. I hate that I’m depressed. I hate that I’m gaining weight and I don’t know how to eat right. I hate that I hate so many foods. I hate that I can’t keep up with other dad bloggers. I hate Facebook, Twitter and all social media. I hate that I have no passion. I hate that I don’t know what I’m doing anymore with my Fantasy Baseball team. I hate that I’m dependent on my parents. I hate getting gifts of anything that I need- like clothes. A gift should be something special, something you wouldn’t buy yourself. I hate that that’s a first world problem- it makes me feel guilty. I hate that I dislike Sienna right now and I don’t want to be around her. I hate that my wife has physical illnesses I can’t do anything about. I hate my age. I hate that I missed out on so much.

I hate the culture of the world- everything seems pointless. The government doesn’t care. They have their own agendas and lobbies. Nothing’s ever going to change. I hate people who can’t understand there’s an underlying current of race in everything even when it’s not racial. I hate the whole white privilege thing. I feel powerless about that and the whole mental illness thing. I hate that I’m a nobody.

I hate cleaning, I hate that Sienna’s not listening. I hate that I’m so resistant to change, to fixing myself. I hate that I have to always ‘understand’ something before I can do it.

I hate that I have no faith. I hate religion. I hate the news. I hate these people that hide behind the Second Amendment – it’s so infuriating.

I hate that I can’t remember a lot of stuff from my childhood. I hate New York.

I hate that I have no determination: I give up so quickly. I hate that I don’t know what to do with Sienna after school. I hate that my best friends live so far away.

I hate that I’m losing my hair. I hate that I’m tired all the time. I hate that I have so little time with Elaine. I hate having panic attacks.

I hate smokers. I hate people who think they’re above the law. People who don’t signal. I hate people.

I hate that I don’t have a mind that grasps things like math and photography computers. I hate that I can’t read an instruction book. I want to learn photography so much- I want to take pictures of the moon and the Galaxy but I can’t grasp how. I forget things so quickly. I hate that I forget things so quickly.

I hate that I can’t conjure up feelings.

I hate bullies.

I wish I could be one of those people that lets it all go, let’s it all slide off, can be confident in who they are and lets it all slide off.

I hate being afraid.

Most of all I hate that I’m so negative.

My Appearance On The Dad Bros Show Podcast

It’s a bit late…well, a lot late, but it’s because I’ve been going through a lot. Here’s my appearance on the Dad Bros Show Podcast from the National At-Home Dads Network Convention. I’m in the second segment and I talk about depression, the mental illness stigma, and why I chose to produce This Is My Brave NY. I hope you enjoy it. Many thanks to Josh and Jon at Dad Bros for even being interested in interviewing me.
http://dadbrosshow.com/ep-56-national-at-home-dad-convention/

One Daughter, Two Dinosaurs And A Break In The Darkness

As anyone who goes through dark spells can attest to, it’s the simple things that bring you light and snap you back to what’s important. A few such moments occurred when a big cardboard box filled with toys from the Playskool Heroes collection arrived at my door. Inside were Rescue Bot Transformers, a buzzing, light-up Tony Stark laboratory and one big, green T-Rex representing Jurassic World. My depression lifting slightly didn’t come from the toys themselves, but from watching my 3 1/2-year-old girl enter a world of imagination, one where she adopted an imposing, roaring, chomping T-Rex.

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Sienna wearing her Playskool Heroes cape and holding her new pet dino

I’m not going to lie. When I took this creature out of the box, got excited. What can I say? When I was a kid I was totally into dinosaurs and like most children, the T-Rex was my favorite, so when I saw what this toy could do – you push its back slightly forward and it not only roars, its eyes light up bright yellow, it bends down, opens its mouth and literally takes a big chomp followed by the sounds of crunching, swallowing and every so often, a burp – I wanted Sienna to go nuts and have the big green dino eat the little wrangler guy that comes with him and even Iron Man himself, but it wasn’t to be. Instead Sienna showed her kind-heartedness. She saved the wrangler from the dino’s jaws, held him to her lips and whispered, “It’s ok. It’s ok.” And you know what? My stomach fluttered a bit. The dark clouds opened slightly and the sun shone through.

We happened to go to my parents’ later that evening and we brought the toys with us. Both my mom and dad loved “Dino-Roar” (as Sienna christened him from an episode of Peppa Pig) and my mom went downstairs to the basement to find my old T-Rex, an itty bitty plastic thing that paled in comparison to Sienna’s new pet, but the memories flooded me and I was proud to share this love with my daughter (even if mine was a bit more bloodthirsty 35 years ago). Immediately she adopted my old T-Rex and brought him home. I sat across from my daughter and had Dino-Roar attack my old T-Rex, but Sienna quickly flew Iron-Man in to stop the fray!

“Be nice!” lectured Iron-Man (aka Sienna). “You’re best friends now!”

And the dinos listened. They stopped their battle and I watched, that little flutter in my stomach, that pride at having such a wonderfully compassionate little girl once more blowing away the gathering storm.

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Playskool Heroes’ Iron-Man stops by to tell Dino-Roar and my old T-Rex to play nice

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Sienna smiles at her 2 new pets as Daddy’s nostalgia meter and pride go through the roof

At night-night, Sienna let Dino-Roar drink from her sippy cup and then gently placed him in her lap as Mommy read them a story with my old T-Rex sitting nearby. When story-time ended, she cradled Dino-Roar in her arms along with a stuffed kitty and her precious scarf, placed her thumb in her mouth and eventually flew away to dreamland.

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Sienna helps Dino-Roar drink from her sippy cup

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Dino Roar sits in Sienna’s lap as Mommy reads them a story

Each toy brings a child new wonders, but not all hit the sweet spot…not all bring out the best in that child’s personality. Playskool Heroes’ Jurassic World T-Rex did just that for Sienna and in so doing, it helped momentarily alleviate the gloom swirling through my head. When you suffer from the disease known as depression, even an instant of lightness can be a harbinger for an end to the spiral. It hasn’t happened yet. The panic attacks remain. In my mind the rational still fights the irrational like two toy T-Rexes going at it before Iron-Man flies in and yells, “What are you doing? You’re best friends! Get on the same page!” But the end is coming. Watching Sienna play with my old dino and her new and waaaaaaaaay improved Playskool Heroes dino let in a little light and told me that Iron-Man’s on his way.

For more information on the Playskool Heroes line visit their social media channels to stay up to date with all the latest news:

Instagram: @Hasbro
Twitter: @HasbroNews
Facebook: Facebook.com/Playskool

(Disclaimer – Thanks to Playskool Heroes, which compensated me for this post, for encouraging dads and kids to be heroes together and for helping me get out of my head for a bit. My views and opinions are my own.)

6 Things You *Should* Say To People With Depression

I was lucky enough for The Mighty.com to ask me to write a list of things you should say to people with depression considering there are plenty of lists out there explaining what not to say. It took me awhile to write this post. I had to dig deep within myself and think about when I was at my worst and what words were able to get through. I’ve chosen 6 things from my own experience. They won’t work for everyone because every person is different, but they may work for some. If you know someone with depression, try them out. If you have depression and can think of others to add to the list, I’d love for you to explain why they work for you.

I hope my “6 Things You *Should Say To People With Depression” resonates and helps both those with and without depression to maybe understand each other a little better.

 

What I’ve Learned From Being A Dad With Depression

Dove Men+Care asked me to write an advice letter as part of their “To All Dads” campaign so I wrote a letter to dads with depression that you can read here

“My Depression: The Up And Down And Up Of It” – A New Must-Watch HBO Documentary

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I stared at myself in the mirror of Penn Station’s bustling men’s room. I’d recently left a bathroom stall where I’d simultaneously changed from jeans and a t-shirt into khakis and an untucked button-down blue shirt while hopping so as not to step in pee. The event called for business casual, a clothing style that makes me uncomfortable especially since I can’t wear my battered Yankees cap also known as my security blanket. I hate my hair and the growing desert at the back of my head, so without my hat I felt more anxious than usual. Outside waited Elaine and Sienna. Sienna and I spent a nice day at the Bronx Zoo with my good college friend and his 2-year-old daughter who were visiting from Texas. Elaine had brought my dress clothes to her job. She’d take Sienna and my sweaty, comfortable clothes home so I could attend a screening of My Depression: The And Down And Up Of It, an HBO documentary scheduled to premiere on Monday, July 13, 2015 at 9 pm. I took a deep breath and left the bathroom, eyes to the floor, accidentally knocking into a few of the unending river of people. I apologized each time, but I couldn’t look up. I found Elaine and Sienna and walked them to their train. Elaine gave me a kiss and wished me good luck. I pressed the button and entered the empty elevator, my daughter’s unhappy whines and calls for “Daddy! Daddy!” filling the compartment until the doors closed.

Adam Cohen, the dad blogger behind www.dadarocks.com, got me on the screening’s list, though it wasn’t until I met Jessica Driscoll, Director of Media Relations at HBO that I learned Adam had given up his seat and recommended me because he felt the documentary’s subject would be much more beneficial to me. I can’t thank Adam enough for such a caring gesture.

I arrived early at the HBO building and a guard told me check-in would begin promptly at 6 pm, so I went next door to the HBO store and its mugs, t-shirts, hats and assorted trinkets devoted to every HBO show from The Sopranos to Veep. $70 for a letter opener in the shape a Game of Thrones’ sword? I think not. I headed back to the lobby and stared at the posters of so many shows I’d watched remembering my time running screenings when I worked in film before I decided the industry wasn’t for me because I didn’t have the toughness to survive.

At 6 pm I checked in and headed upstairs to a large room where they held a small reception honoring everyone who worked on both the film itself and behind the scenes, but most importantly, for Elizabeth Swados, the documentary’s inspiration. In 2005, Ms. Swados, a 30+ year veteran writer, composer and theatre director; the recipient of multiple Tony and Obie nominations as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship; an author of 13 books and tons of articles featured in everything from The New York Times to Vogue, wrote and illustrated a graphic novel titled “My Depression: A Picture Book” detailing her near life-long battle with the disease. She wrote the book for a friend also suffering from depression as a means to help. Recognizing the importance of illuminating depression for a national audience, HBO translated her words and images into a musically animated half-hour documentary featuring the voices of Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi, Fred Armisen and Dan Fogler.

I entered the reception room with trembling hands and met the aforementioned Jessica Driscoll, one of the sweetest, most encouraging people I’ve ever encountered. After introductions and a little chitchat, Jessica mentioned to me that not only had Adam recommended that I take his place at the screening, but she researched me, read my blog and felt I needed to be there. These are the type of things to which I still don’t know how to respond.

“Um,” I stammered, “I was wondering if I could speak with Ms. Swados one-on-one for a little bit. Do you think it’s possible?”

“Of course!” Jessica said happily, “I’ll make sure to introduce you to Liz when she’s free. Just hang out and have a little food!”

“Ok,” I said, and headed to one of two small bars to get myself some Diet Coke.

I took my drink and a few skewers of chicken and pineapple in teriyaki sauce and sat down as far out of sight as possible. I knew no one in the room, and I rocked back and forth a bit, sipping my drink and wondering who they all were. Did they work on the film? Were they friends? Relatives? Students? (Liz, as I would soon learn to call her, teaches drama at NYU). I wondered if Steve Buscemi would show up and if so would I have the guts to go up to him and tell him I worked with him on the NYC press junket for Living In Oblivion back in 1995, how I remember sitting next to him at lunch and talking about his then in-production directorial debut, Trees Lounge. But none of the voice actors attended the screening so I’d only have to gather up the courage to talk to Liz.

Jessica found me and told me she’d spoken to Liz about me and she’d be more than happy to talk with me about anything. She led me near the front of the room where Liz sat, receiving hugs, thank yous and compliments by a line of people.

View image | gettyimages.com (This is what I wanted to do after talking with Liz, but I didn’t have the courage)

Jessica introduced us and left us alone to talk. Though our conversation was short and interrupted many times, it was in many ways life-affirming, for someone as successful as Liz essentially said to me what I often say to others: you are not alone – best exemplified when she put her hand on my own trembling one.

After telling Liz a bit about myself, my history of depression and anxiety and my blogging about the 2 while being a stay-at-home dad, I asked some questions.

“How do you stop from spiraling?”

“I don’t,” Liz responded with a bit of a laugh. “Sometimes it means I need new meds.”

I took her response to mean that even though she’s battled and continues to survive the disease for longer than I’ve been alive, she still has her dark moments that as much as she tries, she cannot control.

I told her about how I feel like I’ve hit a wall in therapy, how my therapist wants me to pretend pretend pretend that I have confidence and am happy so that it eventually becomes more real than fake.

“But I don’t know how,” I said somewhat desperately. “It’s like telling me to believe blue is green. I don’t know how to change after living most of my life like this.”

“I have blue days,” Liz said philosophically, “But I also have green ones. Today’s an orange day.”

I didn’t ask her to expound for I felt it meant what my therapist constantly repeats – that my brain’s locked into a thought process of blacks and whites and refuses to acknowledge color.

While I asked other questions, those 2 stick out most when I think of that evening.

Eventually it was time for the screening itself. I thanked Liz for her kindness and took a seat in the screening room. Many of the images come directly from Liz’s graphic novel. The animation style is like an extremely kinetic Peanuts strip. The voice acting is spot on. The songs are wild and often…funny. One perfectly illustrates the horror and franticness of suicidal thoughts via a taunting suicide van driver portrayed by Steve Buscemi and shows Liz getting closer and closer to ending it while fighting against her harried mind. Another, which takes place after Liz’s therapist decides she should be on medication, shows a rapping pill bottle (Fred Armisen) explaining the science of depression.

My-Depression-Image

The animation style of “My Depression”

My Depression tells how Liz worried about things common to all teenagers, but at a much more intense level, one so extreme that she felt alienated. We see those feelings (illustrated by a dark cloud) follow her to college and then into the world. We see Liz find joy in music, but her depression quickly flattens her to the point where she can’t get out of bed. We watch Liz’s depression get triggered by almost anything, “the change in seasons, [an] overwhelming un-cleanable closet, a rejection letter…the loss of a friend or loved one, or sometimes nothing whatsoever.”

I nodded along so much I felt my head would fall off and roll to the front of the room. It was me there on screen surrounded by non-sufferers suggesting different ways for Liz to just get over it. It was me falling into a pit of blackness. It was me listening to friends’ triumphs and feeling wholly inadequate. It was my mind screaming at me that I’m a failure after receiving a rejection letter. But at the same time Liz’s character, voiced by Sigourney Weaver, keeps reminding us that everyone’s battle with depression is different and that is very true. Although all of us sufferers share some similarities, our actions and thoughts and experiences are completely unique. Eventually, through a combination of medication and therapy (including the “pretending” that scares me to death), Liz learns to cope and experience life even if that little cloud still follows and at times engulfs her…for a bit.

It is a beautiful film designed to shatter the stigmas surrounding depression and mental illness while educating those who often mistake what is a real disease for simple sadness.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to write about My Depression; I wanted to blog immediately upon walking out of the screening. Perhaps it’s because it was so real, so intimate (for me). Perhaps my anxiety got the best of me – it is true that each time I tried to blog I’d sit staring at a blank screen feeling as if I were the victim of that medieval torture in which people were strapped down while oppressors placed heavy rocks on their chests until their ribcages collapsed. I think most of all I didn’t want to let Liz or Jessica or all of the people behind the film down so I waited allowing the pressure to produce something golden became so overwhelming I just couldn’t write until the eve of My Depression‘s premiere on HBO.

Here’s where Liz, my therapist and hopefully Jessica would say to me: It doesn’t matter. You did it. It’s done. Put it behind you. You had and have nothing to prove.

Maybe me writing that sentence is one of the most significant things I should take from meeting and talking with Liz and watching her battle on screen. All I know is that I’ve written to Liz and she’s written back and I feel like I have someone else in my corner (even if she barely knows me). And for all of you fellow depression sufferers out there, Liz is in your corner too as am I.

My Depression: The Up And Down And Up Of It premieres on Monday, July 13, 2015 at 9 pm on HBO. I hope you watch it. And you know I’ll be watching it again.

Many thanks to Liz Swados, Jessica Driscoll and Adam Cohen. I hope I’ve done you proud.

A Soul-Crushing Taste Of The Darkness Of Social Media

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What do you see when you look at this picture?

Do you see love? Beauty? Joy? Fatherhood? Childhood? Family? Fun?

I don’t know what I see anymore.

At first look I felt a rush of excitement and pride at the capture of a wonderful moment between me and my daughter. I couldn’t wait to share it with my family and friends. I remembered how enjoyable the shoot was: Sienna doing anything asked of her; tickling Sienna while gorgeous sounds of her giggles echoed throughout the room; playing our special “Sharknado” game (in which I pretend my hands are sharks while Sienna squeals in delight) in front of total strangers. She was so beautiful and happy that day. You can see it in her face. And I loved it every bit as much as she did. And I loved the photo. I even marveled at how they made it look like I’m not balding.

Then all of that joy was ripped from my heart and my soul crumpled like a tin can beneath someone’s foot. I can’t look at the picture without thinking of hatred, darkness hiding behind keyboards and computer screens, disgusting images and words. The comments. The comments crushed me into near oblivion.

The photo appeared on Instagram as part of Dove Men+Care’s “First Fatherhood Moments” campaign – a collection of shots of dads with their children that captured a moment of pure jubilance between a dad and his kid(s). To the right of our picture stood a quote: “Having kids teaches you to use your imagination again. Learn to see the world through their eyes – in every first discovery and experience.” – Lorne J. Care Makes Dad Stronger

And below that were the vicious, revolting attacks. Some complained simply because they didn’t want ads in their Instagram feeds and I get that, but you have to accept ads if you want free services. Others focused on race, how there’s no possible way Sienna could be my kid because she’s darker than I am. That’s pure ignorance and saddened me for the most part. But then there were the utterly vile, obscenity-laden, pornographic words about Sienna and I – things I planned to do to her sexually because of the tilt of my head and Sienna’s positioning – some directed specifically at my 3-year-old little girl. It was those odious, vulgar and downright nasty comments and their accompanying ghostly laughter that broke me – literally making me queasy and weak – and wrenched all sense of exultation from my body and my mind’s perception of the image. Just like that beauty morphed into salaciousness.

Still I shared the image on Facebook accompanied by a warning about the comments and the words, “I feel sick.” The response was overwhelmingly supportive and outraged. In the FB Dad Bloggers group, people remarked on the adorableness of the picture and offered the following advice:

“Never read comments. Never read comments. Never.”

“Dark side of social gives cowards a sense of courage.”

“F**k the trolls!”

“Ignore the nonsense. Some insignificant dbags on the Internet don’t matter in the grander scale of life.  Some people are just out to be vile a-holes, it would have been on whatever picture they saw that day.”

“You can’t let idiots get you down. I know, easier said than done, but half of those comments are from kids thinking they’re funny and the rest are just Internet bottom feeders. Anyone that takes the time to post hate on something beautiful has a lot of problems and you (and your daughter) are not one of them.”

Some shared the Instagram link on their own pages. Others flooded the image’s comment section with positivity.

I thanked them for having my back, but still I felt horrible. I took Sienna to a play place to try to get away from things, but despite doing my best, the juxtaposition of the picture and the awful comments left me uneasy and unsteady. Then I received a deeply apologetic e-mail from Dove Men+Care informing me they were pulling the photo to protect Sienna and I from even more illicit, repulsive remarks (and to disassociate the brand from such negativity, of course, which I completely understood). They wanted to make sure I didn’t take it personally and noted people to contact in case I just needed to talk. Later in the day, I received a second e-mail from Dove Men+Care following up to make sure I was ok and again asking if I needed to talk to someone. I seriously doubt most corporations would act in a similar capacity and I thank Dove Men+Care for their, well, caring.

Still, the fact that they pulled the ad was like another punch in the gut even if I agreed with the move. I e-mailed my parents, sister, friends and therapist to tell them the picture was pulled and that I was upset. All told me that it wasn’t my fault, that I did nothing wrong, that it wasn’t a personal attack, that it’s a special picture and I needed to ignore these horrid comments.

I reported back to the Dad Bloggers group that Dove Men+Care pulled the picture. Some reported the worst perpetrators to Instagram. Others tracked down their names, addresses and phone numbers. They all suspected the commentators were JHS/HS punks and some wanted to contact their parents. I’m not sure if they did, but I appreciated the support nonetheless. And then Mike Tremoulet of Spoon and Knife nailed it and put a lot of things in perspective:

“here’s another angle: Play the numbers game a bit. Currently, there are 308 comments on the picture, according to my browser. A chunk of those are from dads like us who point out what a great picture this is. Another chunk are upset that Instagram is now inserting promoted pics/ads into their stream. That has nothing to do with your picture and everything to do with how Instagram works (and no, they’re not the worst commenters).

I’m going to be conservative, on a quick scan, and say that half of the comments fall into those categories. That means, ballpark, about 150 comments we’ll call nasty. (You can use your own adjective there.)

There’s one other statistic you aren’t as likely to see, so I’m going to put it in all caps here. THIRTY THREE AND A HALF **THOUSAND** PEOPLE LIKED YOUR PHOTO. Let me say that again. THIRTY THREE AND A HALF **THOUSAND**. These people didn’t just see the photo, they STOPPED AND TOOK THE TIME TO DOUBLE-TAP, OR PRESS THE HEART, AND LIKE YOUR PHOTO. If I’m shouting, it’s so that you hear this louder than the nasty commenters.

For comparison, I’m happy if any picture of mine gets more than 10 likes. 33.4 THOUSAND!”

That also means, if I round the numbers a bit and break out a calculator, LESS THAN HALF OF ONE PERCENT OF PEOPLE WHO SAW YOUR PHOTO HAD SOMETHING BAD TO SAY. **LESS THAN HALF OF ONE PERCENT!** I think it’s a very safe bet that any celebrity or public figure on this planet would ABSOLUTELY DREAM of having numbers like that.

You want a meaningless (though admittedly not quite equal) comparison? Barack Obama has about a 46% approval rating now. Congress, a 19% approval rating. (Gallup, both). YOU HAVE A 99.6% APPROVAL RATING! SHOUT THAT FROM THE ROOFTOP! NINETY NINE POINT SIX PERCENT APPROVAL!

Lorne, congratulations!!! You’ve had a viral moment, complete with the good and the bad. I’m sorry it’s had its rough parts, but I’m proud of you (and the picture is awesome, and your relationship with Sienna is inspiring.)

THIRTY THREE AND A HALF THOUSAND!!!”
As a person suffering from depression, this is the story of my life. I’m super-magnetically drawn to the negatives and usually am unable to see the positives or if I can, the awfulness, as little as it might be, overwhelms any sense of accomplishment or good. Mike’s words opened my eyes to that and helped steady the ship.
So where does this leave me? Half of me wants to stare at the picture until my eyeballs pop out of my skull from exhaustion in order to take back agency and power. I’ve spent my entire life ceding all power to others, desperately needing everyone to like me, living my life for other people. Gradually, as the years go by, I’ve gotten better and stronger, but I’m nowhere near where I want to be. I still fear and expect judgment. I so want to be able to look at this perfectly captured image of Sienna and I and heed the advice of dad blogger Jayson Merryfield of In The Moment Photography
“If you want to focus on the positive, just remember how this picture will be received by those who know and love you. No one is going to read the comments. No one will see the hate, the blind bigotry or just plain obscenity that some people feel permitted to spew onto the internet.

What they WILL see if this picture. More importantly, what your daughter will see is this picture. She’ll see it today, and tomorrow, and in 15 years on her wedding day when it’s a part of the slideshow (if anyone still does those in 15 years). Maybe you print it out and put it in her room in a little frame. Maybe you make it the wallpaper on your phone so she sees it now whenever she grabs it to play Angry Birds. 

What this picture represents is a complete, unadulterated good thing, and what the dozen or so vile commenters can’t hide is the fact that 33,400+ people saw your picture, saw the joy in your daughters face and the connection that the two of you have, and they liked what they saw.”
But can I? I still see the nefarious comments each time I look at the picture. Will that fade over time? How will I react the next time I’m faced with social media’s terrible side? I hope it’ll be with newly developed power.
Have you experienced the dark side of social media? I’d love to read your stories. 
The Dad Network