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
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.
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 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.
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).
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!!!”
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.”
“Sienna! Time to brush your teeth!”
“Sienna! Time to brush your teeth!”
“Don’t make me count!”
Sienna solemnly appears in the bathroom, head down, feet shuffling. She hates this. She hates brushing her teeth. She’s 3 years old and wants to play and brushing her teeth is an annoyance of epic proportions. I’m sure most of you parents of toddlers have experienced the sudden lethargy when it comes to teeth brushing. It’s frustrating for us as much as it is for them. It was especially frustrating for me because Sienna outright refused to do it herself despite wanting to take control of every single activity in her life. I had to stand there and command her to open her mouth, teeth together, stop eating the toothpaste and chomping on the brush. Torture. Pure torture. I couldn’t understand it and I needed a solution. Then a friend of mine told me about Firefly®’s Star Wars Lightsaber Toothbrushs and our lives changed. There were 2 choices: a blue Obi-Wan toothbrush and a red Darth Vader. No question. Welcome to family, Darth! I’ve been teaching Sienna about Star Wars and this toothbrush fell right into my desire to share one of my favorite childhood loves with my daughter.
How did Sienna react? Check it out:
Utter fascination! You press a button and the Dark Sith Lord tells you to join him to complete your training or you just hear his famous breathing. Suddenly you’re awash in a blinking red lightsaber complete with the glorious lightsaber sounds. The sounds and lights keep going until it’s time to stop brushing at which point Vader tells you that your skills or complete or more importantly, “The Force is with you!” which Sienna always repeats with a wide, gleaming smile on her face.
And most importantly, Sienna DID IT ALL HERSELF!!! I just had to do a quick brushing afterwards to make sure she got all of her teeth for the Tooth Fairy wants nothing less than pearly whites.
Here are some images from Sienna’s first brushing with Firefly®’s Darth Vader Lightsaber Toothbrush:
Firefly® gets it. They’re able to instill healthy habits and allow toddlers and kids to take control of teeth brushing without them even realizing it. Lights, sounds, favorite characters and play. And it works. It really does. Within a few days Sienna fell in love with brushing her teeth.
And it’s fun for us parents too. I love hearing Sienna talk about Darth Vader, swing her lightsaber and happily say, “The Force is with me!”
To make things even better Firefly®’s running a #BrushBattle Sweepstakes until the end of June. Just enter your info and you have a chance to win a trip for 4 to an awesome California theme park! Of course, if you enter, it means I have less of a chance of winning, but I’ll allow it.
So go out and pick up one of these fantastic Firefly® toothbrushes. You won’t be disappointed.
May the Force be with you!
Disclosure: The writer was compensated monetarily or via product for this post.
There’s a call and refrain in my home whenever my daughter and I are about to watch a film:
3-yr-old Sienna: POPCORN!!
I love the movies. I love going to the movies. I love watching movies at home. And I love to share my love of movies and the magic within with my daughter. That, to me, is a secret of stay-at-home dad (SAHD) success – sharing your passions with your children. Now this doesn’t mean that we’re watching movies day and night. It simply means that us watching a movie together is something special and when at home, when we don’t have to spend a gazillion bucks on popcorn at our local multiplex, we get to enjoy a scrumptious bag of Pop Secret Pre-popped Popcorn which makes things so easy since the snack’s already made!
And if there’s one movie saga about which I’m insanely passionate, it’s Star Wars™. I started sharing my love for Star Wars™ with my daughter early. As soon as she could speak I had her saying, “Chewie, come here!” when asked what Han Solo said. I mimicked Darth Vader’s breathing, Chewie’s howls, Yoda’s vocals. Now at 3, despite never seeing any of the films, Sienna knows the good guys from the bad. She sings “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Yoda”. Together we play with little Star Wars™ dolls (graciously given to Sienna by her aunt). But while I share my passions with my daughter, I mostly let her dictate the course of play and imagination which as an adult is often difficult, and that’s another secret of being a SAHD – don’t just play with your child, crack open your imagination like an egg and let the creativity flow through you like The Force.
Then something glorious and strange happened. On May 4, 2015, Pop Secret debuted some awesome packaging for their delicious new line of flavors including Kettle Corn, Salted, White Chedder, Homestyle and the brand new Extra Cheesy starring some pretty well known characters who you might know as Chewie, Artoo, Darth and more.
The glorious part was that Pop Secret had teamed with my beloved Star Wars™; the strange part was that I began to feel an odd shift in balance when I gobbled my Pop Secret Pre-popped Popcorn, like there was something around me that I could control with my mind – a force of some sort. I’d heard something about Pop Secret and Jedi powers, but frankly, I thought it was nonsense until I started eating this convenient and quality snack from bags embossed with my favorite Star Wars™ characters and all sorts of Star Wars™ trivia. I felt it. I felt The Force flow through me. So I tested it on my wife and here’s what happened:
All the rumors were true! But I had to use my powers for good, right? Like teaching my daughter to use the potty which unfortunately didn’t work. Apparently I needed to refine my Force training which I shall continue to do.
As soon as she opened that box, saw Chewbacca’s grinning face and heard me say it was special popcorn, she ran to get her Star Wars™ dolls. I opened the bag and it was play time:
And while I had to take away the popcorn after a bit to prevent us from downing the whole bag, we spent hours playing with her Star Wars™ dolls who also, happily, found a new home which leads me to my final SAHD secret – don’t immediately throw away boxes just because they’re empty…sometimes, they can become canvases for beautiful works of art or in this case, where the artwork was already on display, sometimes they can become a treasure chest:
There’s something else very special about Pop Secret Pre-popped Popcorn that I’d like to share, something on a very personal level. For the last few months, my wife has battled stomach issues (nothing serious, thankfully) and has been forced onto a strict diet that’s eliminated so many snacks she used to love – but not Pop Secret Pre-popped Popcorn. Pop Secret is non-GMO popcorn, has no preservatives, 0 grams of trans fat and best of all, is 100% gluten free. In fact, just this past weekend we had a long postponed movie night party for my wife’s birthday with 6 of our friends which coincidentally had us watching the original Star Wars™. Amidst all the pizza, chips, pretzels and cookies, it was Pop Secret Pre-popped Popcorn that truly enhanced our movie night because my wife could happily partake.
Now it’s your turn. Remember that video you watched earlier and those rumblings about Pop Secret and The Force? Well there’s more to it than you might have thought. Pop Secret and Life of Dad have partnered up for a #PopWars Video Contest where the lucky winner will take home over $1000 in Pop Secret and Star Wars™ prizes. All you have to do is create an fun, uplifting video showing how Pop Secret Pre-popped Popcorn gave you or your family the powers of The Force. Videos will be judged on creativity, theme, and brand involvement. And make sure to tell everyone why you’re the ultimate Jedi and why your video is the best using #PopWars! For full details please visit http://popsecret.lifeofdad.
And may Pop Secret Pre-popped Popcorn, my SAHD secrets and of course, that little thing called “The Force” be with you.
Some very cool things have happened to me lately. A site located at www.themighty.com contacted me and asked to run a post of mine. This has never happened to me before, someone contacting me to run something I’ve written. The Mighty was created to improve the lives of people facing disease, disorder or disability; to inspire people; and to generate a community of sharing and caring people. I’m awfully proud to now be a part of The Mighty. It’s a wonderful site and I do hope you check out not just my piece, but many others. They’re truly spectacular! You can find my piece here.
I’ve also written a piece for Dads 4 Change in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month about a terrific initiative called This Is My Brave, an annual and expanding performance in which people suffering from mental illness brave the stage to read their words, sing, play music, etc., as a way to both create a caring community and to educate people who don’t have mental illness about what it’s like to have it. You can read that piece here.
The Huffington Post was also kind enough to run my 5 Reasons Why Facebook Is Dangerous For People With Depression.
And finally, Dads Behaving Dadly 2: 72 More Truths, Tears and Triumphs of Modern Fatherhood is available to order from Amazon and B&N. It’s an amazing book filled with stories from dads from all walks of life and makes the perfect Father’s Day gift. I’m proud to say I have 2 stories in the book and I’m also proud to be among such incredible writers. Click the picture below to order the book for the dad(s) in your life! You won’t regret it!
Thank you for continuing to support me! In addition to my regular blog posts, I’ve got some cool stuff coming up soon so be sure to check back frequently!
Last week I fell into panic mode. It started with intense chest pains each time I logged on to Facebook to check the groups I belong to as well as scroll through my main feed. Each visit became shorter as the physical symptoms of anxiety and depression overwhelmed rational thought. By Tuesday I had a full-blown anxiety attack and needed my mom to watch Sienna lest my little girl see me hysterically crying; screaming, “It’s all crashing down! It’s all crashing down!” while I sat against a wall, head in my hands. What exactly was crashing down is meaningless in hindsight because of the utter absurdity of the thoughts careening through my head: I suck; I’ll never be as good as HIM; I’m a failure; My family would be better off without me; I’ll never be successful enough. I’ve invented enormous expectations for myself thanks to those placed on me as a kid by family and school.
On Tuesday I wrote a message in a dad bloggers group to which I belong that indicated I was giving up on Facebook and leaving the group because I believed I’d never reach an elite blogging level that would lead to sponsored campaigns, TV appearances, and going viral. My post elicited a bunch of worried comments, phone calls and IMs that I ignored because I felt I didn’t deserve them. I believed myself to be an outsider, a kid not invited to a birthday party. I spent most of the next three days in bed with Elaine and my parents watching Sienna. I stuttered my way through therapy, but found no relief. I didn’t fully recover until Saturday or Sunday and now I’m slowly getting back on Facebook, but I need to limit myself because I still get chest pains, though minor at the moment.
Just imagine – a huge anxiety attack followed by three days in bed feeling pathetic, insufficient, alienated and even suicidal all because of the thoughts triggered by a social media platform.
That is depression mixed with Facebook.
Facebook and its impact on mental health has been researched for years. Multiple studies have shown that the amount of time and the ways in which people use the social media platform can, in fact, lead to depression. The University of Missouri, for example, released a study in 2015 indicating Facebook causes feelings of envy which can in turn lead to depression, but what if the user already has this overwhelming, narcissistic, mentally and physically taxing disease? In order to illustrate how dangerous Facebook can be for depression sufferers for those that don’t have the disease – and to reinforce you are NOT alone for those that do – here are five major effects Facebook has had on me.
1) Isolation – Depression is an isolating disease because you spend your life horrifically alone in your head. Imagine being in a room filled with friends, family and loved ones and still feeling utterly lost and abandoned. Now compound that with staring alone at a screen reading about other people’s lives, hoping and waiting for someone to comment on or like something you wrote. This can trigger a sense of bleakness to the nth degree in a depression sufferer.
Even more interactive Facebook components such as participating in a discussion or conversing via IM can have detrimental effects. The people with whom you’re interacting are flesh and blood, but they’re not physically in your presence; online they’re wisps in the wind. If they’re “Facebook Friends” and nothing more, they can be reminders of the lack of closeness in your life - whether real or perceived. My two best friends, for instance, live in Maryland and Florida while I’m in New York. Each time I interact with them on Facebook it’s like a piercing reminder that they live hundreds of miles from me and I’m lucky to see them in person a couple of times a year. When I close the computer I’m almost immediately punched by a deep sadness increasing my loneliness on the friendship front.
2) Comparison Game – Depression sufferers almost always reflexively play the “comparison game” in almost every form of life. They devote huge amounts of energy in measuring themselves against others and irrationally coming up lacking. It’s an awful form of pessimism, fixation and envy. Combine that with Facebook and this damaging “game” worsens. Such aggrieved people see a friend excitedly announce a new job on Facebook and think, “Why not me? I’m worthless,” and off down the rabbit hole they go. Logically they know all they’re doing is feeding the disease, but this isn’t a rational game.
This is the depression aspect that most afflicts me. I log on to Facebook, see that a friend from elementary school’s just bought a new house, look around my small apartment and lament that I have so little financially – this despite knowing I have a beautiful, loving wife, an incredible daughter, and a great deal of caring friends and family. I chastise myself for not having the money to provide my family with a house. I hate myself for not being able to afford the “American Dream.”
My thoughts, my unrelenting self-thrashings, happen so quickly that it’s nearly impossible to breathe. I see words or pictures and within seconds my chest hurts and my hands tremble. I compare myself to other dad bloggers. I look at their poetic writing styles, book publications, television appearances, viral posts, brand campaign invitations, and I feel miniscule. Does it matter that they’ve been blogging for five years compared to my two? Do I think about how their kids might be older than Sienna giving them more time to blog, to spend on Facebook, to make names for themselves? Do I think about my own accomplishments as a blogger? No. Instead my self-loathing increases; the disease digs its talons even deeper into my brain.
The comparison game is also addicting. Sometimes I spend hours on the site scrolling trough post after post, my feelings of inadequacy intensifying to the point where I’m on the verge of tears. Yet I’m unable to stop until Elaine, seeing my pain, slams shut the computer for me. I’ve yet to find a way out of this trap, to avoid this trigger. I’ve spent a lot of time in therapy trying to figure out a way – deep breaths, shouting at myself that I’m being absurd, snapping myself with a rubber band each time I have a negative thought – but it remains troublesome. Hopefully my therapist and I will figure out something that works for me.
3) Fantasy/Reality – Piggybacking on the comparison game is the fact that Facebook posts never show the full story. That friend who got the new job might have marital issues or suffer severe debt. The friend who bought the new house might be alcoholic or abusive. In my experience, the majority of Facebook users post only things of a positive nature, but a depressed person cannot see this and instead takes everything at face value. If so and so bought a house she must have everything she wants in life. She’s better than me. If so and so got a new job he’s clearly rolling in dough compared to my living check-to-check. He made it. I didn’t.
Depression fills in the blanks with fantasy allowing absurdity to consume truth. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent envying friends’ Facebook lives only to find out they’re unhappy beyond the screen. And while these revelations might help get me to see reality initially, depression refuses to lift its boot from my neck. It pushes harder than before forcing me to expend so much energy in reminding myself that what I’m reading or seeing isn’t real that eventually I give out. I move on to someone else and that awful jealousy over what may just be a happy mask returns with a vengeance.
4) Arbitrary Numbers – Like all social media platforms, Facebook is a numbers game. How many friends do you have? How many people commented on your post or picture? How many likes did your video get? If you suffer depression and receive few comments or likes on a picture or post, you’re predisposed to taking it personally – they didn’t like it so they don’t like me. Rarely does it enter the brain that people might not have seen it or are too busy to comment.
Further, people with the disease are inclined to “collect” Facebook friends even if they don’t like the person. This happened to me when I friended someone I thought I was close with between elementary and high school. Truth is, he was always an arrogant jerk who often belittled me. After a year of him ignoring me, making snarky comments and untagging himself from pictures of the two of us, I decided to unfriend him, but I couldn’t make myself do it. Something in my head told me I deserved this humiliation. It took me months to finally do it and when I did, when I finally pressed that key as my fingers trembled and tears streamed down my cheeks, it felt like less like relief than failure.
But the worst Facebook numbers game (at least for me) is how many people send birthday greetings. I always send out birthday wishes figuring it takes just a few moments of time to bring a smile to someone’s face, and while I know I shouldn’t expect it in return, I do anyway. Each year I’m afraid to check Facebook until because I think I might jinx something. Usually I get 100+ birthday wishes which is nice, but still bugs me. Remember, depression is narcissistic. This year I discovered that only 36 out of my 600+ Facebook friends sent me birthday wishes. The sheer grief, the magnitude of self-hatred I felt in that moment sent me spiraling. I wound up bawling in my Elaine’s arms. It didn’t matter that all of the most important people in my world called me nor did I care that Sienna was able to understand and wish me happy birthday for the first time in her life. Only 36 people sent me sent birthday greetings on Facebook!
Depression is like living with blinders on. You can’t see the good, only the bad. Hence I was obsessed with my other 500+ Facebook friends. Why didn’t THEY wish me a happy birthday? I cried myself to sleep that night thinking of numbers: 36 out of 600+. It turned out that during one of its upgrades Facebook changed my birthday to private which explains why I received so few posts. And while that revelation made me feel a little better, the sting still lingered. It’s absolutely insane that I disregarded the real life love I received on my birthday from my best friends, my family, my wife, my daughter while pining for birthday wishes from online friends, many of whom I barely know, but that’s what the disease does. Arbitrary numbers and depression mix about as well as onions and milk.
5) Falling Behind – It’s impossible to keep up with Facebook because people are always posting one thing or another. Thus it’s highly plausible that as a user, you’re going to miss cool pictures, announcements or humorous posts. And the more friends you have, the more you’re going to miss. When faced with this, depression sufferers often feel like they’re falling behind which leads to guilt that they’re letting their friends and family down.
This happens to me constantly. I scroll and scroll and scroll, but I just can’t keep up. It feels like I’m in a race running through thick mud as the finish line moves further and further away. Negative thoughts bombard me – What did I miss? Will my friend hate me because I didn’t like a picture of his kids or comment on his post? What if I missed a birthday? What if someone said they were having a baby? I CAN’T KEEP UP!!!
And then the debilitating guilt and fear and the horrid, selfish aspect of depression set in. I’m letting people down. My friend will hate me because I didn’t comment on their post about their daughter’s first word. They’re not going to like something I post out of spite. They’re going to forget me, unfriend me, even banish me from a group. It’s a vicious cycle because the more I spiral, the less I check Facebook and the more I “fall behind.” And even though I know it’s illogical, I have immense trouble stopping my depression from ensnaring me in its massive grip.
These are just five reasons why Facebook can be dangerous for those suffering from depression taken from my own experiences with the platform and disease. I’m sure there are many more. If you’re on Facebook and suffer depression, what aspects do you find exacerbate your mental illness?
Hopefully the start of an ongoing series, here’s a podcast Christopher Persley of The Brown Gothamite and I did for City Dads Group about pop culture dads. In our first episode we tackle “black-ish”. Chris and I got lucky in that we were able to ask Anthony Anderson some questions as well. Whit Honea of Honea Express adds some commentary at the end. Check it out! Very proud of it! Please let us know what you think! You can find it here!
Toddlers come with many rules. Think Gremlins on steroids. I’ve gotten the major ones down: don’t not toddler-proof your home; don’t expect your children to remain angels upon turning 2 or 3 because tantrums will come when you least expect them; don’t think your kid’s going to eat that peanut butter and jelly sandwich she asked for – she really just wants to watch you squirm when she takes 1 bite and demands yogurt instead. But there’s one rule, one that’s insanely integral to child-rearing that you don’t even think about it until after you’ve experienced its dire consequences: no matter how tired you are never unwittingly fall asleep on the floor while playing with your kid. It happened to me. Don’t let it happen to you.
I awoke confused, face itchy and red from the carpet, drool still sliding down my cheek. Sienna wasn’t in the living room where I lay amongst books, Sesame Street figurines, superhero action figures and too many blocks to count. I stood up, rubbed my eyes and looked at the clock on my phone. Forty-five minutes. I’d been conked out on the floor, dead to the world, for 45 minutes whilst my child had the run of the place.
“Sienna!!” I called, looking around to see if anything was broken. Outside of the mess my daughter and I had created prior to my unexpected nap, the living room looked pristine. That’s when I should have known I was in for something bad, but instead I felt like I’d dodged a bullet.
“Sienna!!” I called again, walking down the hall to the kitchen where I found only our cat, Gleeb, in a perfectly clean room. Was it me or did he have a look of fear in his eyes?
Not in the living room. Not in the kitchen. Both my daughter’s bedroom and our bedroom’s doors were closed and she’d yet to master the childproof plastic things we’d placed on the front door knob which meant she there was just one more place she could be – the bathroom.
Now, we usually close the bathroom door, but for some reason I’d forgotten to the last time I used the…um…potty. Maybe it was because I was so tired. Maybe I was in a rush to get back to playing with Sienna. I don’t know why I didn’t close it and so I throw myself on the mercy of the court of fellow parents. Wait…I don’t have to do that. You know. You already know.
I heard something ripping from just beyond the partially opened door.
Please tell me she just tore up a roll of toilet paper. It can’t be that bad.
I opened the door and found my smiling daughter standing on the toilet gleefully tearing open one of my wife’s tampons.
“Daddy!!” she yelled. “You awake!!”
She threw the partially opened tampon on the floor or what was now, basically, a garbage dump. It was if my bathroom vomited – cotton pads, Q-Tips, mouthwash, toilet paper and my wife’s assorted creams, cleansers, make-up removers, lotions, gels and myriad of different tampons littered the floor. Since our bathroom is so small I literally could not see the floor tiles.
I sighed deeply, my body deflating as I contemplated how much work lay ahead, knowing it was all my fault. I broke a rule.
“Daddy!” Sienna said. “Look what I did!” Her beautiful face shone with the cheerfulness only associated with a toddler who knew she got away with something.
“It’s beautiful, sweetie. Now let’s clean up.” How could I chastise her when it was my fault for falling asleep?
“Okay!!!” she said, jumping from the toilet.
I opened the closet across from the bathroom, grabbed a plastic bag and began the tedious job of placing each bottle back on the shelf, trying to figure out which tampon went in which box (I gave up after a couple of attempts) and playing 500-Q-Tip pick-up. I have to say Sienna was quite helpful, I have to say. I also have to say that I was thrilled all of the bottles seemed closed, that the floor wasn’t a mess of gels and lotions.
That was until Gleeb walked in and I saw his matted fur.
“Oh no,” I said. “Oh no no no no!”
“What is it, Daddy?”
I reached down, felt Gleeb’s gray and black back and sure enough, the poor thing was covered in some mysterious cream. I wasn’t imagining things. That WAS fear in his eyes!
“Sienna?” I asked, knowing full well the answer to my question. “Did you cover Gleeb with cream?”
“No,” she said sweetly.
“No.” She smiled. “Gleeb has cream?”
“He does and now we need to give him a bath and this is not gonna be fun.”
I put tied the now full bag, closed the door, started the tub, and picked up a clearly frightened Gleeb who immediately started clawing the air and my arms. Sienna stood by watching.
I placed Gleeb beneath the faucet and then came the howls, nay screams as the poor cat thrashed in the shallow water like a drowning victim.
“What’s wrong with Gleeb?” asked Sienna.
“You know how you love to sit in the bath and splash?” I said. “Cats clean themselves with their tongues. Most cats hate getting actual baths.”
With one hand holding Gleeb, I slathered shampoo on the poor cat with the other. Sienna stuck her head past me so she should get a better look.
“Bubbles!” she said happily, ignoring my bleeding arms and the terrified cat now so soaked he looked like he’d lost 5 pounds.
“Yes,” I sighed. “Bubbles.”
I did my best to get all the cream off Gleeb’s fur, turned off the faucet and covered the trembling cat with a towel. I dried him as best as I could and released him into the hall so he could lick his wounds. I’d have to worry about my own later.
Now even more thoroughly exhausted from cleaning the bathroom and cat than I was before my surprise nap, I carried Sienna back to the living room thinking about this new rule I’d have to deal with each day as a stay-at-home dad – never, ever, under ANY circumstances, accidentally fall asleep on the floor while playing with your child.
I’m proud to announce that around June 1, 2015, just in time for Father’s Day, I’ll have 2 stories featured in Dads Behaving Dadly 2: 72 More Truths, Tears and Triumphs of Modern Fatherhood”. I was honored having 2 stories featured in volume 1 and I’m even more so getting 2 in volume 2 considering the competition was that much fiercer. Many thanks to co-editors, Hogan Hilling and Al Watson! Will post more updates as they become available.