Sunday, February 5

Life Update (I started a nonprofit)

 I started a nonprofit.


It's called Rescue.Food.

We have the expansive, enormous vision of eliminating food waste at every step of the supply chain. We find the food no one wants - open containers of catered French toast or a bag of tangerines that has begun to mold or a jar of soup in the back of your fridge or an entire truckload of expired yogurt - process it into something new and desirable and shelf stable, then turn around and send it back into the community.

It's a worthy goal. Something everyone can understand, something that can make an enormous difference in food security and the environment and community togetherness as a whole. It has the possibility of uniting the poor and the rich and helping everyone become better stewards of what they have.

How it works:
  1. Someone finds super cheap food, food destined for the trash, or food is donated by individuals or organizations.
  2. A volunteer Food Hero processes the food into something with at least a 2-week shelf life (usually longer) in their home kitchen. We have dehydrators, zipper bags, and other food processing equipment available to borrow for anyone who needs it, and teach classes on food preservation.
  3. Volunteers can keep up to 20% of any donated food they process.
  4. Food gets labeled according to Utah law, then dropped off at a Rescue.Food kiosk.
  5. Anyone in the community can get super-low-cost or free food from the kiosk. Money spent goes to buy equipment, supplies, and more low-cost food to rescue.

People can also just drop off homemade or shelf-stable food. So we have homemade cookies alongside rescued fruit bread, next to cans of pinto beans.

This week I set up a distribution kiosk (so excited for this!), made bread from damaged industrial cake mix + banana peels, processed moldy apples with a three step alkali / citric acid / lactobacillus regimen to destroy patulin, and met with the local Community Action.

This coming week I'm meeting with Orem City, hopefully setting up another kiosk, experimenting with crazy ingredients, and trying to find more ways to improve distribution.

In other aspects of my life I'm doing great, albeit with a current caveat. I overdosed on vitamins during a food binge a few weeks ago, and developed hypervitaminosis from dangerously high amounts of vitamin A, D, and E. Taking liver supplements and doing my best to detox... and hoping that it takes less than the "up to 4 months" estimated for my body to heal. In the meantime, I'm dealing with brain fog, 25 pounds of sudden weight gain, headaches, simultaneous hunger and nausea, painful fluid swelling in my legs, hair falling out, peeling skin, exhaustion, zero exercise tolerance, and whatever other symptoms I can't remember right now.

...Writing it down makes it seem worse than it feels. I guess I'm glad I asked my little brothers for a blessing after they get home from Church today.

Health-wise, I was down to 150 and on the verge of finishing my short-term intervention to hit 10% body fat. Super excited about the progress I made and feeling healthier. Hoping that comes back very soon.

Emotionally, I've been great as well. I have excess emotional energy and was able to start Rescue.Food, work on random projects at Nature's Fusions, and interact with people around me in ways with which I previously would have struggled.

Spiritually, I'm also in a great place. I love my ward, and host a Sunday potluck where I invite people to come eat with my family each week. It's stressful, but it feels like it makes a difference. Temple-worthy. Focused on God.

I read a handful of research articles on autism and addiction, and one of them found a strong correlation between people with high functioning autism and cyclic obsessions - essentially addictions that can spontaneously switch or change. 

Hence my current addiction to food. Food is all I think about. I feel hungry throughout the day, while I'm eating, even after eating so much that I'm in pain. I wake up in the morning and I'm starving. I wake up at night and I'm starving. Just always, always hungry. It'll go away for a little while, to taunt me, and then jump back. The only thing that has brought respite is doing multi-day fasts. I'm hoping that as soon as I stop focusing on food / getting to a healthy body fat % that food will stop being an obsession. Here's hoping.

My next life goal has something to do with missionary work. And I'm spending most of my free time with Rescue.Food... so I guess it'll be combining those two things together.

Just wanted to share the good things in my life. :)

ps - For people who care, as of Feb 4 there are 2 Rescue.Food kiosks. One is in the Soap Factory - 52 W Center Street in Provo (open Monday and Wednesday - Saturday, 12-9); the other is in the lobby of Nature's Fusions - 57 N 1380 W Orem (open Monday-Friday 8:30-4:30). The Rescue.Food website is linktr.ee/rescue.food - the current list of food, GroupMe for food rescue efforts, our instagram (yeah... I have no visual skill) and other documents are linked there. Our current needs... are help finding an actual space to call our own, as well as obviously more food to rescue, and more people to rescue food.

Tuesday, August 16

Step 1: Honesty

I've been attending an Addiction Recovery Program meeting each week, and the experience has been far more positive than I expected it to be. In hopes that I can encourage any of you who have ever had addictions... I'm going to try to process the steps as we go through them.

Step 1

Honesty

Key Principle: Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable.

Part of the reading in this step asks to highlight the feelings, conditions - essentially triggers for addictive behaviors. It wasn't all that hard to identify, as I felt angst and edgy.

And, at its core, my trigger is loneliness. Isolation. Aloneness.

And my life is chock full of triggers.

Spending time with my family makes me feel isolated and alone. Spending time around other people does too. Spending time with my ward. Spending time at an addiction recovery program meeting. Seeing people at the gym. Driving in my car. Shopping at the grocery store.

Relationships and connections are omnipresent. Pretty much everywhere I go, I see other people, with people around them. And while I know that their connections may not be perfect, deep inside I still feel like they have more than I do. And that is isolating. It's isolating to have a positive conversation with someone and realize I'm going to forget all about them within a few days. It's isolating to see people surrounded by people they can rely on and to know there are people in my sphere... but I don't feel them. Even seeing cars with multiple people in them makes me feel alone.

Trying to befriend people is even worse. One of my core beliefs is abandonment. I honestly believe, deep inside myself, that every single person I try to befriend will abandon me. Abandon being ghost / disappear / completely stop communicating with me with no response or reason or prior notice. That means that every single moment I think about a potential friendship, I am literally fighting with myself. My mind tries to convince me that I'm not worthwhile as a friend. I'm too weird, too awkward, too messy, too needy, too much in all the wrong places and not good enough in all the right ones. Maybe I'm useful for a minute or two. Maybe I can meet a need or solve a problem or be there for a crisis. But as soon as possible, I believe everyone I try to make into a close friend will jet. And it means that even thinking about new friends, I feel alone.

I get that is messed up and pretty broken. I am probably the one doing more abandoning than anyone else, considering autism and forgetting everything about people and fearfully avoiding social situations. I might be an awesome close friend to the people who get me and understand me, but enroute to getting there I end up almost always waiting for someone else to take the initiative, because of absolute terror... or drive a steamroller through social norms and leave only pain.

Altogether, anytime I stop to think about my life I feel alone. Thankfully I do have God in my life. And if I turn to Him, I can feel connected and ok. I started a note on my phone. I'm calling it "texting God" - not really texting since He doesn't have a number, but a note file where I can write the things I would write if He were my ARP sponsor. My mentor. One of my best friends. A sort of written version of the "keep a prayer in your heart" mentality that can keep me going throughout the day.

What did I write today? Today was good. And rough. I felt alone at work but it was busy and gave me something to do. I felt angst and anxiety after work so I worked out and some of it went away, but some stayed. I felt alone, and then had a good conversation with someone, and then felt even more alone. I messaged my best friend and told him I was grateful for him for not abandoning me. I thought about creating a dating profile. And then shot myself down. I wouldn't date me. Why would anyone else? I told myself if I can meet a handful of personal life goals, then I can create a dating profile. So it'll probably be a few months. Which is ok I guess. Trying to get close to people always wrecks my self esteem, so I should have some time to prepare. Or heal. Or improve and become more resilient. Or something. And as I write I feel angst yet again. I don't know when the gym closes. It closes at midnight. I can just publish this and go workout and then hopefully pass out after.

Other honesty? Addiction is real. Also, the ARP meetings are really really worth it. I'm going to sell that hard. I think everyone should go to one at least once. If you've ever faced an addiction, go with an honest and open mind and engage. Or just go and listen and say nothing at all. Anyone is welcome, nothing is expected.

Step 1

Honesty

Key Principle: Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable.

To be totally honest, most of my life is unmanageable without God. I just have to remember, over and over, to turn to Him, trust in Him, lean on Him, counsel with Him, talk with Him - have Him be my counselor, my sponsor, my confidante, my friend. And together we'll figure life out and make it work. And be awesome hopefully.

Tuesday, August 2

(Un)Worthy of Friends

At my Addiction Recovery Program we had some extra time for questions... and I asked for advice on how to make friends.


The guys gave some awesome advice. I'm going to read Dale Carnegie's book how to win friends and influence people for social skills and strategies, and they had all sorts of things that had worked for them. The meeting ended I was feeling super awesome and stoked.

And then.

I had a thought to talk with someone and say thanks for their ideas.

And I realized I couldn't.

Because I was absolutely terrified.

Terrified that by doing something... by doing anything, actually, that I would jeopardize any chance of friendship or even acquaintanceship and break everything. I felt like a bull in a china shop, who sees a tiny teacup out of place on the floor and would love to pick it up but I'm 100% sure I will break everything if I even try.

As I drove home, I thought more about it. Here I have all these awesome ideas for finding friends:

Treat people with Christlike love. Make them feel like they are the most important person in the world. Seek out the *best people* in my life and try to spend time with them. Get out of my comfort zone - join clubs or groups with people who might be totally different from me. Smile and say hi to everyone. Don't settle for people who don't want the real me.

Yet I am still terrified about actually *making* friends. Every single time I get an idea of how to approach someone, or try to improve a friendship that isn't already close, I second guess myself. And, inevitably, at least every time in the last couple years, I end up not doing it at all.

I've been called weird, awkward, overbearing, creepy, and odd so many times... that I'm pretty convinced that I *am* all of those things. Weird, awkward, overbearing, creepy, odd... they match up with how I've tried to approach friendships in the past.

I think it's because I have only a few demarcations between people in my life. 

First are the people furthest away. Strangers, acquaintances, work colleagues, other colleagues, and people I don't remember all fall in the same basic category: I'll give them pretty much anything they ask for if there is a good reason. Time, money (well... I've gotten better at not giving strangers or newfound friends money), stuff, ideas, advice - if they ask for it, and if they need it, I'm happy to give it. 

People who are sort of close to me are the next group: I treat them like the first group, but with some limiters taken off like the third, or like the third group, but with limiters placed on like the first. But which limiters to place or take off is really, really hard to figure out.

Which leads to the third group - people who are close to me. Or who I want to be close to me: I give them everything.

Everything is a lot.

I mean, if you tell me about any health problems you or your family face I'm probably going to research them and then come up with ideas on them. If you have a business I'm gonna subconsciously analyze your blind spots and come up with ideas to optimize your process flow. If you need something I'll buy it and give it to you. If I see something I think you'd want I'll give it to you with no fanfare or reason. I'll gush my life story and share the deepest parts of my heart. Taken together, you'll go from being a stranger, or maybe an acquaintance or a potential friend or lover... to suddenly having a life coach, a business consultant, a therapist, a workout buddy, an autistic stalker, and a best friend rolled all into one.

Most people don't want that. At least not in the beginning. But I only really have off and on. Which means that until I get close enough to someone to be able to be on... I find myself passive. Because passive is safe. I'm not going to be called creepy or told I'm trying too hard if I'm passive. I'm not going to hurt anyone. And yeah, a whole lot of people may pass by... but I know inside that as soon as I try to speak up, I'm going to only cause issues. Bull in a china shop. The safest thing is to do nothing but stand there. Don't try to move. Don't try to speak. Don't even wag your tail or breathe too hard. Just being there is probably too much, so just be still and passive and wait and somehow, someday, someone will come along wanting a bull in a china shop and get close enough to you while you're passively smiling to actually become a friend.

Or something like that.

Except...

Part of me doesn't believe it.

I believe that I'm an awesome friend. That when people can actually see my real intentions, get me for who I really am, and are on the same life path as I am, I am an incredible friend. And life coach. And lover. And whatever.

But I also believe that I'm a crummy friend. An awful one, to be realistic. I forget almost everything about the people I meet, even if I take notes on our interactions. I forget their names even after deep heartfelt conversations. I forget we even had the conversations. I'm overbearing. Weird. Awkward. I push too hard when I shouldn't, don't push enough when I should. People love me and I don't feel it, which makes them feel absolutely awful. I love people and they don't feel it, which makes them think that I don't care. And sometimes I don't care. Sometimes people want to be my friend and I can't even remember who they are or connect no matter how much either of us try. 

Deep down inside, I believe that you have to be worthy to merit friends.

And that I'm not.

I believe that if I try to make friends, or even try to be more friendly than a cursory smile and maybe hello, that I'll come across as trying too hard. That if I just let myself be myself, I'll find exactly no one willing to accept me, unless they are either so broken they have no other options, or hopelessly in love with me and unable to stop... in both cases, when all meaningful ability to actually choose friendship / companionship is gone and the choice is forced upon them. Or maybe they have some dire momentary need that I can meet. So I'm useful.

I know somewhere in my head that it isn't true. That I've developed good friendships with people who really, honestly cared about me... that I could even rekindle if I had the guts and the know how. The guys in Morris Code - the first a cappella group I joined - were good friends. Some of the people in my freshman academy group - the guys who lived on my floor and shared classes with me - were good friends. Some of the people in the freshman academy group I mentored. People in my wards over time. Mission companions. Past work colleagues. Classmates and teachers in my undergrad and in the MBA program. Students I taught. People I met through (G)MG. Strangers I met and somehow talked with about their hopes and fears and dreams. 

If I'm really, truly honest with myself, there are probably thousands of people that I've been friends with over the years. Being a good friend, making friends, was the only New Year's resolution I made for over a decade - until I found my best friend. But along that path there were thousands of people who made time for me, smiled when they saw me, opened their hearts and lives and homes to me.

And then I forgot about them.

And lost my side of the connection. The emotions dissipated over a few days, and they were gone... turned back into strangers inside my mind for absolutely no reason at all.

Deep down inside, I believe that you have to be worthy to merit friends.

And that I'm not.

What kind of friend forgets his friends? What kind of friend invests 100%, and then suddenly drops to 0 with no reason or warning at all?

I don't really have a perfect solution. This last week two people already in my sphere (people who it's not hard to interact with / see on a consistent basis with low amounts of added effort or energy) reached out to me and have seemed like they wanted to be friends... something that doesn't happen all that much. I'm carefully trying to be friendly while also not being overwhelming. Which scares me a lot. I'm signed up for more social skills classes. I have a book to read on friendship. I have an idea of how to help my ward be more friendly - we don't do ward prayer, and the ward is enormous, which means it's really hard to get to know people. So I'm thinking of doing ward prayer at my house on Sunday nights. Likely not a ton of people will come. But some will. And that might create opportunities to get to know people better, and help new people feel less alone.

And hopefully, someday, I can believe that I'm an awesome friend to everyone. And fill whatever needs I've got of my own.

Tuesday, July 26

(G)MG: History - 12 Years & 600 Posts

The anniversary / birthday / whatever of (G)MG was this past week. This marks the 600th post and 12 years of writing.


I thought about sharing some of the memories / stories I have about (G)MG and my life alongside it. So this post is a (very) long, rambling story of my life and how it has interacted with (G)MG over the years.

I'm sure I'm missing a lot. But there is a lot here. I don't know that I've ever shared here about the story of why I started writing, then blogging, and then writing (G)MG in particular. A lot of this information I don't think I've ever shared here... and some of it, it's possible I've never shared with anyone.

Again, this is long. But I think it's worth knowing, if you've followed in the past.

I started writing during my mission - it was the only way I communicated with my family, and I wrote written letters home dutifully from the MTC, and then emails from the field. My very first week in Italy, I was robbed at gunpoint - a loaded gun shoved into my stomach as I was pushed up against a wall. After trying to tell the story to my family, find a meaningful uplifting moral, ask for help, etc through email, myldsmail.net (I think that was it?) ate my email because I had spent more than 30 minutes writing. So I spent 3 minutes and told them I had arrived safely, got robbed, needed help getting a new passport, and was safe. 

I kept writing letters each week, and getting one from my mom each week in return. Then my youngest brother was born while I was in my first area. That was the first week I got to the Internet cafe and there was nothing waiting for me. I remember feeling... alone. Forgotten. And something inside me told me that I needed to make sure that whatever I wrote, was interesting. And useful. And worth reading. Because, if it wasn't, no one would read it. No one would respond. No one would care.

The truthfulness of that belief wasn't really up for question. It colored every letter I sent for the rest of my mission, and "Dear Family and Friends" created my first audience or group of people I wrote to. I think that all writing has some type of audience - someone it was intended to be read by. Whether it's myself in the future, myself from the past, family or friends or strangers - each audience colors word choices and writing styles, explanations that are given or left out, stories that center or are sidelined or don't appear at all. Not that one is more real or authentic than another, but that by combining the pale understanding and hopes I have about whoever is reading with the text itself, I create something unique and different for each person that comes to mind.

I kept writing during my mission, and when I got home I kept writing, to family and friends, every week. I had enough people who asked to get it that the endless bcc's eventually caused gmail to label me as a spam artist.

Shortly after I got back from the mission, I went to a meeting at BYU run by the More Good Foundation. This was back when the world was first created and the Wikipedia articles on gospel topics were sometimes wholly written by a group of anti-Mormon antagonists. The More Good Foundation was a group of people that simply wanted to create more good content on the internet. More uplifting stuff. More testimonies of faith and hope. More positivity. They talked about lots of ways to do that, and mentioned blogging as an option, so I went through all my old mission emails, took out the personal information about specific companions or members, and then posted them on a brand new platform called blogspot or blogger. Then each week I added on my weekly email. I think. Something like that.

Fast forward to BYU graduation, and I began working at the Provo MTC, writing curriculum, helping to make movies, and publishing manuals for the development department there. It was a sweet job with me as I juggled projects among my direct manager, 4 other managers who... I'm not sure they had any employees since I was a volunteer working for free during a massive hiring freeze, the department head, and the administrative director of the MTC. I had tons to do and felt like I was making a difference.

Then one day I sent my current copy of the fundamentals - the huge curriculum project designed to teach missionaries how to use Preach My Gospel - (I'm pretty sure that's what it was called afterwards) in for my daily edit to my boss and she was like, "awesome!" and sent it to her boss and he said, "great!" and his boss was like, "sweet" and then it got sent to someone in the missionary department and it was suddenly done. And since the hiring freeze was over and we needed to test it and translate it in a million languages and roll it out as fast as missionarily possible, the department hired a dozen new employees and my quiet empty office suddenly had a lot of people.

And I went from having stuff to do every day, and being the center of every project, to being on call. I understand why it happened. But seeing all the newbies in the office getting to train full districts with the new program (something I really really wanted to do since I had never been able to be a teach at the MTC), or work on projects that came down the pipeline, or watching people travel for the second set of The District films while I sat at my desk and waited for "emergency or essential" projects because I had the most experience and the fastest turnaround... or looked up time stamps on an oracle database of like 10 million cells describing what felt like thousands of hours of camera footage I was somehow in charge of memorizing... made me feel... worthless. I had actually only been hired a few months prior because of the aforementioned hiring freeze, and I felt like I was wasting my own time, and God's money, sitting at my desk reading Preach My Gospel and the scriptures for what felt like most of most days.

I felt like maybe I could make a difference doing something else.

So the day I quit the MTC, I posted something online anonymously to the effect of "hey - if you're a gay member of the church who's trying to be faithful and you just want someone to talk to, message me and I'll message back."

The response was overwhelming. Emails flooded my inbox (that's where my (G)MG email address comes from - literally a friend to talk to), and I ended up signing up for 3 or 4 different online chat services, talking to people for over 80 hours the first week.

I realized as the week went on that a lot of the topics and questions people asked were similar. Sometimes, it was exactly the same. And I felt like maybe it would be a better use of my time to write an awesome answer and share it with a bunch of people, rather than the nuanced ones I was only sharing with people who asked.

And that was what started the idea for (G)MG. It was a place to store my answers to the questions people asked. The name was based on what they taught from the More Good Foundation. I don't think I had ever even said the word gay out loud in my life at that point. But gay, Mormon, and guy were the keywords I expected people to search. So it was the name of the blog. Gay in parenthesis because it's silent. Since I was both anonymous and had never said it aloud.

I got guidance from a friend - my boss's boss's boss at the MTC and member of my previous stake presidency - and told him I wanted to write an anonymous blog to make a difference. He gave me three pieces of advice. The first was to guard my anonymity if I wanted to be anonymous - because it would be easy to lose it if I wasn't careful. The second was to... what was it? I don't remember. Oh. Yeah. It was to never claim authority. Don't claim that I'm an expert on the subject, or claim that I have authority to interpret stuff from the Church, or that I have backing from general authorities or that I'm better than anyone else at all for any reason, because I'm not. The third was to not fall. Because the more visible you get to other people, and the more they rely on you or look to you, the more you could potentially hurt them by falling off the pedestal they place you on even when you try to make them not. So with that I started.

After writing posts that answered questions, (G)MG began to fill a different role in my writing. My audience was myself, as a late teenager - myself when I searched everywhere trying to make sense of my life. Wanting to know it was possible to be faithful. To be happy. To thrive somehow. Wanting a guidebook or manual on how to be gay and follow God and make it all work out in the end. And so I simultaneously wrote my weekly emails to family and friends (published on another blog... I think Romanmissionary.blogspot.com had at least my mission emails, if I didn't post the post-mission ones), and wrote on (G)MG to my past self and anyone who wanted a strand of hope.

(G)MG was met with some pretty big... resistance? I think that's a good word for it. There were gay Mormon bloggers when I started, but they all knew each other. It was a small world. And none of them knew me. Big surprise right? Autistic introverted kid who has no friends and knows nothing of social norms suddenly blasts into the gay Mormon blogger circuit. They were accepting and excited until my blog started getting weird traction outside the small gay Mormon world. More and more of my readers came from moms, or friends, or other people who just read just because, and my focus on trying to be as positive and meaningful in my writing (learned from wanting to write something worthwhile in my mission) meant that the comment submissions of my blog would sometimes explode with hate. I got endless hate mail. Threats. Awful comments that made me so glad I was moderating everything. But my target was myself as a kid, and as a kid, I had no interest in controversy. I wasn't looking for anti-Mormon thoughts or ideas. So (G)MG was never meant to be an open forum or a place to share those thoughts. And man did that push some buttons. At the height of it someone even copied my entire blog and posted it to a different address just so they could publish comments that didn't match with the goal of (G)MG.

At the same time, people started speculating about who I was. One of my posts went viral, shared on social media and posted on all sorts of other blogs. And suddenly a no-name anonymous blogger had way more hits and followers than was the norm for my small world... and no one in the old guard had ever spoken to me. The people I had met in person were almost all just as anonymous and quiet as I was. 

People started claiming that (G)MG wasn't real. That my optimism was faked. That no one could really be living my life and writing about it. Maybe I was actually a woman. Or a bishop. Or - my personal favorite that had a surprising amount of traction - a *group* of BYU professors. I may have had low self esteem, but learning that people felt my writing was good enough to be professor-worthy and prolific or extensive enough to require a group, made me laugh out loud more than once.

I eventually ended up meeting up in person with one of the other bloggers on campus at BYU so that he could write on his blog that I was real, and the rumors faded as (G)MG's popularity faded as well.

(G)MG became a pretty awesome blog as time went on. I had some pretty cool ideas, and enjoyed sharing them with people, getting responses, responding to emails, and connecting. I catalogued (G)MG and it grew.

Over the next few years, (G)MG also served as a cathartic outlet for my own personal thoughts. I was diagnosed with type 2 bipolar disorder and autism the summer before I started graduate school, and before then I cycled into suicidal depression almost every week. And, every time I hit depression, one of my coping strategies was writing on (G)MG. A whole lot of my posts were crazy depressing due to that fact. But hey. It makes sense in retrospect. I was suicidal, horrifically in pain, and felt so alone i it made me feel like I would drown. And the only thing I knew about myself was that I was gay. So I assumed that all gays constantly wanted to die and felt horrifically alone even when surrounded by loved ones, family, and friends. Hence why I'd feel compelled to both write and find meaning to share.

The autism made it impossible for me to realize that my experience wasn't universal. Even old comments that told me my experience was weird - that I was way too depressed for it to just be part of being gay - I wrote off because, well, *everyone* has good days and bad days. And on bad days, you want to kill yourself, right? That's just how it works.

Not.

At this point I was struggling to divide my life into life stories that I could share on (G)MG and stories to share with my weekly letter and my other blog. I knew that some people read both my weekly letters and my blog. Which scared me out of my wits. People knew that I blogged. I couldn't hide it when I sometimes spent 20 or 30 or 40 hours writing or responding to emails in a week. I tried to use different writing styles, but since the subject - my life - was the same, it was a stretch. So I tried to split the stories and thoughts. If I mentioned a story or life lesson in real life, or to one group, I couldn't mention it to the other. 

And eventually that wasn't enough. A girl I dated (I was still not out, and actively dating girls because I felt like I should - never outright lying to anyone, never being physical with girls, but trying to figure out dating in general) found (G)MG after we broke up. She was an English major, and took writing samples from my weekly letters, google searched blogs, and eventually found a blog post about the Princess and The Frog - a movie she knew I had recently watched - and the cat was out of the bag. 

She was pretty angry. The comment I remember was that she was angry that she had learned I had never been attracted to her, from reading my blog, and not from my mouth. But when I wasn't out, that wasn't really an option. Telling a girl that I'm not attracted to her is just a question waiting to be asked. ("Why are you dating me then?" "To see if it's possible to become attracted to you / to figure out what I want in a future mate / because the practice of dating can help me better interact with people - which all make it much easier to identify a gay guy when compared to the answers given by any hetero).

She felt inspired to stick around and "help" me for some reason, and her help was explaining that our dating relationship had been one of the most painful experiences she had ever had in her life, and listing off every issue I had brought to our relationship. Amazingly, in the wake of the extended conversation, where I mentioned autism from a book on tape someone had left in my car a few years prior, she found an article on how relationships are affected by high-functioning autism that matched her experience.

I went in for a diagnosis, and when I got diagnosed, the psychiatrist explained the mood spectrum, and, for the first time in my life, someone told me that having active suicidal tendencies wasn't normal. That the constant thoughts of suicide and pain and depression and angst weren't actually part of being gay. It was because I was bipolar. The loneliness and isolation and difficulty communicating and making friends was because I was autistic.

And I came to (G)MG and felt lost.

I felt like a liar.

All the comments where people had said that I was way too depressed, and way too alone, hit me hard. My posts on depression and loneliness felt hollow. Here I was, what some people expected to be the stereotypical gay Mormon guy, and the bulk of my messed up reality maybe wasn't even due to being gay.

And I couldn't tell anyone.

I mean, how many people get simultaneous diagnoses of autism and bipolar, and are open enough to share them with others? That news would destroy any trace of the anonymity I had held so closely. Everyone in my real life knew, but no one here did.

I stopped blogging for a little while there, because I struggled with the dichotomy of wanting to reach out and share my experience, yet not knowing what part of my experience was really due to being a gay member of the Church and what part was due to everything else. Everything was new to me. And, with the exception of not understanding sarcasm, I knew almost nothing of actual symptoms of autism to be able to interpret my interactions with others.

Then, the summer after the first year of my MBA, my little brother was diagnosed with leukemia.

And my life fell apart.

At some point Google had yet again marked me as a spammer and customer support suggested I start a Google Group and have people enroll in it to send out the email or they would permanently mark my personal email address as abusive. Between that and the stress of taking too many credits in grad school, working as both a TA and RA, writing (G)MG, functioning as the director of spiritual affairs for the MBA program, following a new vegan ketogenic diet I had miraculously found to try to fix my bipolar, driving to LDS Hospital to visit my little brother in chemo almost every day after school, and the I-15 Core project which made it take almost two hours to get home each night... the email that had been sent to hundreds of people every week for seven years disappeared.

The vegan ketogenic diet ended too since it was so hard to make it work, and with the rare food I ate the depression that had been staved away started to come back on top of everything else.

I remember breaking down after realizing I hadn't eaten in days and calling the relief society president and begging for someone to help us with food. I felt so... humiliated. Alone. Lost. Helpless. And that same night I got home at 1 or 2 am, opened the fridge expecting it to be empty, and found it full of Tupperware containers labeled with names. Mine full of salad, and a pitcher of soup. My little brother's best friends' wife had felt inspired, and she walked in the front door while I was gone and put everything away.

I slipped to the floor and cried.

A talk given in the October general conference that year was about being open and honest, especially online. Maybe from Quentin L Cook? His talk was primarily on not engaging in anonymous bad stuff, but it still hit home to me who still felt the pain of a split life. So, after some prayers, I decided to come out. 

I had told my parents only a few months prior. That experience is written here on (G)MG, probably called "I told them" or something like that, and got a spectrum of responses there. I decided I wanted to tell my immediate family, along with my aunts and uncles, before it got posted to Facebook. So one day, when my parents and all (but one, who decided not to show) of my adult siblings were visiting my brother in his hospital room while we played CatchPhrase, the game stopped on me and I told them. I brought up my blog on the hospital projector screen, explained what I had been spending so much of my free time on for the handful of years prior, and asked if they had any questions. The only one was, "Are we gonna play catchphrase?"

I came out here on (G)MG a little while later, and posted it to my personal Facebook as well as the MBA forum at school. The feeling after coming out is sort of weird. There's a definite euphoria that comes from simply being open with people when stuff was hidden for so long, along with perceived differences in relationships. I had classmates and professors and strangers come to talk to me and reciprocate with their own vulnerable stories - far, far more than I expected - and realized the truthfulness of President Uchtdorf's lesson to treat everyone as if they have hidden deep, painful, difficult, isolating experiences beneath their outer shells. 

At the same time, it also felt suddenly isolating. The classmates that were closest to me never talked to me about it, never asked questions. Why? I remember one response, overheard in passing during a conversation with someone else: "It's sorta cool that we can learn so much about David just by reading his blog."

They had a relationship with my blog. They read it, some for hours and hours. They talked with their family members and even printed pieces out to share with others.

But it wasn't with me.

I mean, that's one point of writing though, right? Making it so that I can spend a bunch of hours writing and others spend a bunch of hours reading. At one point google analytics claimed that the average visit to (G)MG was 14.6 minutes long, and as of today blogger shows almost 2 million visits. Which is 55 years of time that people have spent reading here, or at least that search spiders had the page open.

But I felt isolated from some of the people I saw each day because they knew pieces of me, but I didn't know how much. And so I ended up still dividing my life. And just usually not talking about being gay, unless someone asked, but still being out.

The next few years I would sometimes find people who had read my blog. A girl at munch and mingle who knew the dates and facts of my life better than I did myself, since autobiographical episodic memory dysfunction due to autism means I experience life, write about it, and promptly forget most of it within a few days. That made me laugh, and it was the first time someone told me they had read my entire blog that I actually believed them. Having binge-read stuff like omniscient reader and forgone sleep just to get to the next piece in the recent years means that I'm more willing to believe it now, but back then it was a definite shock. But each time it was sort of surreal to meet someone who had a relationship with (G)MG... but not with me.

Then came my dirt years. Not sure what to call them. My sin years? My years of blatantly trying to find meaning in all the wrong places? I spent 3 or 4 years writing almost nothing because I had broken the third suggestion I had gotten so many years ago. I had fallen. And, if I looked honestly at my younger self, I didn't want to read about that. I didn't want to read about a guy who had tried, really hard, to stay close to God, and then had messed up over and over and over and wasn't getting better. 

The combination of extreme isolation from autism, not dating women at all anymore because I couldn't figure out a valid reason to anymore, getting old enough to age out of my YSA ward and suddenly being one of a million forgotten, lonely, mid-single adults... and I lost myself. I felt abandoned. I had spent years building my old ward and suddenly it was gone. My new ward didn't have the feeling of my old one. I didn't know anyone. I was younger than everyone else, which, in my case spanning a generation gap, meant that in most cases we were in entirely different generations. I didn't go to ward council anymore, we didn't have ward prayer, FHE felt weird, my brother wasn't with me, and I felt alone in a group of 300 strangers that spanned a 20 minute driving radius - so far apart from each other compared to the rest of Utah wards that even trying to be friends would be hard. 

And in the mess I somehow had the horrific idea that I could sell my body to connect with someone. But each step took me further and further from what I really wanted. Being around people who wanted my body may have made me feel great about my body, but destroyed my sense of self-esteem about my intellect and morality. No one cared about what I thought. No one cared about my connection with God. No one cared about the real me. Even bringing up my real self was an instant go to jail that would end any potential contact without question.

I tried everything. If there is something you can try, short of actual marriage to a guy and adopting kids or finding a surrogate, I tried it. Falling in love, connecting, different types of relationships and actions and circumstances. 

And it all sucked.

Maybe it works for some people. There's a reason there are different kingdoms of glory - because each of us really does have different goals and hopes and things that we want in life. But I came to it with a memory of being close to God, and a memory of real/true/authentic happiness. And everything was just... meaningless. The closest I got was falling in love, but there's nothing wrong with falling in love. That's something I could bring back home with me. You can fall in love, and have someone that loves you back, without wanting sex. But I saw a whole lot of unhappy people. A whole lot of drugs and alcohol and depression and suicide and abusive behaviors, miscommunication and betrayal and jealousy and promiscuity and body share and prejudice and hurt. Far, far, far, far more than in my experience with the hetero community. I mean, I read a study that the average gay guy has *hundreds* of sexual partners in his life. Hundreds. And that is the average - which means that for each person that has 20, there are others with uncountable. The average hetero guy? I think it was 20. Which is still really high when you factor in all the monogamous relationships of soulmates. Either way so many issues. People who used each other to cope with their unspoken issues, ready to jettison at a moment. Others who were good people caught up in the flow that would inevitably hurt them and others. 

There were moments of happiness. Moments of meaning. Big enough to make it seem real, to make it seem worthwhile to try.

And, for some people, that's enough. That's the reality of life. Making a bad eternal decision, or even a hundred bad eternal decisions, doesn't immediately fill my life with sorrow. There are real moments of happiness and meaning available anywhere, even on pathways leading away from God.

But even those potentially positive moments all strung together weren't enough for me. Weren't worth losing my temple recommend and missing my best friend's endowment. And my sister's sealing. And my little brother's endowment. Weren't worth not feeling worthy to give a blessing to a family member who needed it, or to stand in a circle to give a baby blessing.

So I made the decision to change. To be a good kid again. To talk to my bishop, have a disciplinary council, work through my worthiness, and make a clean break from influences and places and connections with people who were often good people but weren't interested in helping me get closer to God. 

Which was harder and more painful than I thought it would be.

And I got a temple recommend, and my prayers felt closer to God, and made better lifelong goals that include love and hope and family and all the good things and none of the bad ones, and joined an addiction recovery group, and am working on therapy, and got a new calling in my ward, and found motivation to begin working out again, and got a new job... and began writing again.

And that's the history up to now.

Tuesday, July 19

To Those Who Want to Die

Someone talked to me about suicide today.


And I found myself wondering.

I give a little bit to the humanitarian fund when I hear about natural disasters or people in war-torn countries. 

I give to local fast offerings when I see someone homeless on the street.

I volunteer to go to the church welfare farm when my ward gets assignments to go to the meat packing plant.

And then I go about my life. The good and bad, pain that happens in the world hurts for a moment and is easily forgotten.

But when I hear about suicide?

It rips me apart in a way more personal than anything else.

The US National Institute of Mental Health found that people who are gay have a suicide rate 3-6 times the norm.

A national Danish study found that people with high functioning autism who attempt to fit into society through a common process called "camouflaging" - learning social skills and rules, ultimately expending enormous effort and energy to appear normal, make connections with others, and fit in - have a suicide rate up to 9 times the norm.

An Australian study found that survivors of childhood / adolescent sexual abuse have a suicide rate 10-13 times the norm.

Current US research on individuals with bipolar disorder finds they have a suicide rate 60-120 times the norm.

I have all of those. I'm sure that those numbers can't just be added together or multiplied. If they were added, it would be 82-148 times the norm... multiplied would be a number so high it's meaningless.

I've looked up those numbers before. Been shocked before. Being bipolar was that different than being gay? Or autistic? But even numbers can't really explain reality. 

Numbers can't explain what it meant to spend so much of my life simply wanting to die. The hopelessness that seemed like it would never go away. The intrusive, triggering thoughts that appeared every time I saw a staircase, opened a window, or saw a bridge over running water. The constant pressure to drive into oncoming traffic or off the side of a canyon cliff. Research into the fastest, cleanest, simplest ways to die... along with how I could make my body disappear so that my family wouldn't find me dead.

I never attempted suicide. I had a primary teacher who told us about suicide more years ago than I can remember. She said that if we have the ability, we should never commit suicide... that choosing it would put a question mark on our eternity.

I forget most things in life. But that lesson, given only once that I could ever remember, in the corner room of the Arlington Heights 1st Ward building, stayed with me. And when I found myself wanting to die so badly that I contemplated ways to make it happen, I remembered that I wasn't *allowed* to kill myself. And the autistic, rule-following kid that was me was kept alive.

I prayed to die instead.

Every. Single. Night. I prayed asking to die, for weeks or months or years or however long it took until my patriarchal blessing came and told me my life would be "prolonged upon the earth" so suck it up and stop asking.

Didn't make the want or pain go away. But death stopped being an option then. And I guess I resigned myself to figuring out how to survive. And part of me, a part of me I kept buried deep inside, hoped that someday I could learn to thrive.

I'm alive today, over 20 years after my first episodes of suicidal depression. And not just me. I've watched hundreds of people who were attempting, planning, or contemplating suicide, who were able to find hope and choose to keep living. Seen hundreds of people make it through the darkness and despair and find a portion of light.

To my past self, I want to say that thriving is possible. Really thriving. Trusting God, having Him so close that He fills all my needs. Being able to trust in His vision for me for the future. Being able to find meaning and happiness and fulfillment in the everyday aspects of my life. In the little things and the small things. It's possible to find real, true, lifelong friends even if I'm a messed up guy who has more problems than I can count. It's possible to feel the Spirit even though I once was truly convinced that I was forever lost and damned.

And it's possible for me... even me... to be saved, to have my dreams come true, to be really, truly happy someday.

To anyone who finds yourself wanting to die:

Life is worth it. You are worth it. I hope you find this and that it speaks to your heart... or that somehow this gets to you even if you don't. Someday I hope we can look back on this together and see the growth that comes through pain. The meaning that can only be found in sorrow. The holiness that comes to the few of us who choose life while wanting death.

You can do it. I believe in you. 

And, tonight, you are in my prayers.


Last week marked the launch of the US National Suicide Hotline. Call 988 from any US phone to be connected to someone to talk to, at any time, any day of the year, to get help and hope for you or someone you love.

Tuesday, July 12

Sand Castles by the Sea

I want to vent a bit. I had a good conversation today. Started the process of maybe making a friend. And I hate that by tomorrow it will be gone. The issue stems from autism - specifically my own lack of "autobiographical episodic memory." Episodic memory is memory of stuff that happens to me. In simple terms, it means I forget almost everything that happens to me... as well as almost everything I learn about other people... within a day or two of it happening... and, perhaps worse, I forget any emotion or feeling that was associated with any of those events.

So the conversation I had today dies today. Even if I were to write it down word for word, the emotions would be dead by tomorrow. It would be like reading someone else's journal.


And I hate it.

I mean it's great to forget things sometimes. To be able to help someone process horrific events in their life and then not be scarred from it. To be able to survive abuse. To be able to wake up smiling when the night before I felt like all hope was gone.

But I hate it, because I know it's going to hurt me. I'm going to try to build a simple friendship and most likely it's all going to come crashing down since there will never be a solid foundation.

I had a thought not long ago that I have never made a friend. I'm so terrified of people and hurting them and getting hurt that I don't even try to really make friends. It's always someone else making friends with me. Which makes me wonder if I even can.

Maybe?

I hate that I can't remember people from my past. Maybe I have made friends. Maybe they were good friends. Maybe they've even been close to me. Except that I have no memories at all. I probably hurt all of them or made them run away. Or forgot they existed and neglected the friendship until it died.

I tried to capture some of the feelings. So here's a poem-ish thing. 

FYI this is NOT a build me up moment. I know that God makes everything right in eternity, that He is there for me personally, and that the people who are willing to be there with me in spite of the mess that is me are the people meant for me... but the poem doesn't address that. It's sorta depressing and sad. If you want something uplifting or if you need perspective or hope or peace you're gonna have to read a different post.

Sand Castles by the Sea

From the day I woke to living
Til each night I go to sleep
I find myself surrounded
By the dark and angry deep

And then I'm alone with sand

Castles I can build
With walls and turrets rising
Some of them are beautiful
Sublime

Others built too close to shore
Are touched by waves and there no more
Just moments after laying
The foundation

And then

A person stands there next to me
We build a castle by the sea
He says that's sweet
Let's build it higher yet

But each night
My island sinks beneath the tide

Castles don't build higher

Tomorrow comes

And then I'm alone with sand

The person that was next to me
He builds his castles inland
From "stone" and "steel"
And love and hopes and dreams

And next door
There's a castle built by someone else

There's a city
There's a world

Of everyone but me
Who builds castles
While I build sand castles by the sea

The castles that they build
All grow and rise and fall
Each changing as the days or years go on

The simplest ones are stone or mud
Made only days before
The grandest are of gold
Forty fifty years made tall

And everyone is building

Friendships as they talk and laugh
Lovers as they smile
Strangers as they pass upon the street

Castles made of hopes and dreams
Are built in every moment
With every single person that they meet

There's only sand upon my island
No mud or gold or steel
Which makes me think that maybe
None of those are real

Well maybe they are real for all of them

But not for me

I've learned that castles built inland
Can last for ages
That even huts of mud or sticks
Can last for weeks or years

Really?

No matter how I pile up sand
It falls

Even if I fall asleep 
Inside a massive sheltered keep
With walls built tall by many hands

When morning breaks it's gone

And then I'm alone with sand

The people come and go with time
Some build a day or three
But no one ever sees the castles
Drown beneath sea

They think they're built 
Of stone or mud or steel

But mud and stone and steel
Don't disappear

Which means it's me

Perhaps we build a castle
You of wood and I of sand
And days go by and then we meet again

I have no answers to your stories
No insight to your mind
No feelings for your hopes or fears or dreams
No castle made of memory
No proof we ever met
Nothing left but sand beside the sea

So who would spend their days
Building castles that can't be
Except for me?

It's hard to hope that someone
Would choose to live on sand
When others offer mud or stone or steel

It's hard to watch as people build just once
Then walk away
Because sand castles aren't things
They understand

It's hard to watch my castles wash away

Sometimes I end up crying 
As the tide comes in

And then I'm alone with sand