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

Sunday, July 10

Love and a Handful of Soulmates

 Man this is scary.


Well, it was a week ago when I wrote this. I didn't want to double post and had a busy week, so it's going up now. Here's me wearing my heart on my sleeve.

At a fireside last week I started to tell a random stranger about one of my new central goals in life. She looked at me like there was something wrong, and even with my extremely limited ability to read situations I got the feeling that without a whole lot of background, any forward motion in the conversation would cause it to derail.

So background.

Deep inside my soul, there's an empty sphere. In the middle of that is a structure I call my scaffold. Well, there usually is. The scaffold is my own personal purpose. What I live for in life. My sense of existence. My ultimate goal and what I want more than anything in the world. For me, the structure in the middle has always looked like a castle. Or... I guess it actually looked a bit more like a temple. That's awkward. I've thought it was a castle for a long time. Either way, there's a structure made of golden-ish crystal inside this sphere in my soul, and on the outside of that structure hang a ton of little hanging things. Sort of like pendants. Each little hanging thing is a short-term goal, and the ground is littered with them. Every possible short-term goal in reality. Working out is a possible goal, or practicing the piano. Attending more social activities or eating healthily. Depending on the scaffold in the middle, some goals stick and others don't. Stuff that helps to build or achieve the main goal in the center will stick, while anything else won't. A low quality scaffold won't have many goals that stick, or will crumble under the weight of the goals that it requires.

I grew up, as a kid, wanting a family of my own. I'm a diehard romantic and an idealist. I believe soulmates exist even though I know they don't necessarily exist for me. My scaffold as a kid was simple. I wanted to get back to heaven. I wanted to be a missionary. But the biggest part of the structure? I wanted to be a dad. I wanted to find someone, fall in love, and grow old together working through whatever the world could throw at us. My patriarchal blessing even talks about that - that my future wife and I could lean on each other and that together we would be faithful, strong, and able to weather every storm.

Realizing I was gay made that structure seem a bit harder. But I still believed that God could just sorta smudge the lines and make it work. I mean, I've met or heard from hundreds of gay men who have somehow fallen in love with their wives and built families with love.

Yes, there are plenty of gay men who have also married women and ended up ultimately messing up their lives. And often they're far more public. But does the fact that they ended up messing up their lives mean that the miracles God did are any less real? David killed Goliath with the power of God, and ended up damned. God can still kill giants. Solomon received endless wisdom, and eventually turned from God. God is still wise. Just because that guy messed up, doesn't mean I have to. God can do whatever miracles He wants.

But that doesn't mean He's going to.

Most of the guys who've found wives seem to be emotionally stable. I'm not. Most had at least some attraction to women to build from. I'm completely repulsed by women who have any kind of romantic inclination toward me. Most have a group of friends in their lives. Yeah. Let alone the huge host of people who are obsessed with telling me and anyone else they can that happiness and love to a wife when you're a gay guy is impossible.

And I'm getting old. I mean some of the Bible patriarchs were like 100 years old when they found their wives or had kids. Compared to them I'm still a kid. God promises that everyone will have the opportunity for all blessings, which means that if I'm super faithful, I'll find a wife and fall in love in this life or the next.

But hoping that I can have a close relationship sometime after this life is hard. 

All that put together, my scaffold was struggling. There were cracks building throughout, stress and groaning inside the crystal building in my soul. I still definitely wanted to get back to heaven, definitely wanted to be a missionary. But goals started falling off and clinking to the ground. My habits began falling apart. And instead of hope and peace and meaning, it brought me pain. 

So I made the decision to try to be ok with being single. At least for this life. I read that some people have an easier life when they finally give up on wanting marriage or love in this life, or that stuff finally starts turning around for them.

So I took my scaffold - the thing that had always been most important to me - my desire to get back to heaven, be a father, be a missionary, and have an eternal family of my own - and I shattered it to pieces, expecting that I could easily swap something else in its place.

And... yeah.

So it turns out when I shattered the scaffold that held up all of my goals, hopes, and dreams, my life ended up completely meaningless. I struggled to get out of bed in the morning and would honestly rather count the days until my death. My morality went haywire and I made the worst decisions of my life. I accomplished nothing, felt awful, and found it hard to want to survive. Welcome to the last few years of my life. Definitely not an easy swap.

Long story short, trying to rip out a chunk of my soul and be ok being single didn't work. It didn't work at all. It may have worked for some people. Maybe they subbed something specific to their own lives into their scaffold, or maybe I broke way too much of mine when I was trying to remodel it. Either way, in my case, it shredded me to the core and pushed me to dull the pain by melting my soul in hell.

It's not ok. Me being eternally single is not ok. It's pain and awful and I'm not ok. I want a family. I really, really want a family, and that isn't going to go away.

So whatever scaffold I have, it has to include a family. So a wife, and kids of my own. As impossible as it may currently be.

At the same time, I've learned something about myself in the past few years. Truth be told, I'm 100% sure I could have learned it without temporarily losing my temple recommend, eroding my relationship with God, and putting my soul in jeopardy. 

While I want guys in my life, I want *good* guys.

Specifically, I want a handful of guy soulmates.

If I had to use adjectives? Bestest bro buddies. Or polyamorous celibate gay soulmates.

Polyamorous? Sort of. But not really. I've realized that, at least when it comes to guys, I just want more than what a single person can offer. I don't want possessive or jealous guys. I want guys who love each other, who love me.

Celibate? At least in their relationships with guys. I want temple-worthy, forward-facing guys who can be there for me and I can be there for. Guys who can look at each other and love without lusting after the body on the outside. Guys who'll do scripture study on their own, who pray, who put God FIRST in their lives, then their families, then the rest of us.

Gay? They don't have to be. There doesn't have to be romance there. As long as they're awesome guys who are expressive, communicative, and loving enough to be soulmates with a handful of other guys. Lol. As long as. As if that were the easy part. Ideally, they'll also all find their own wives eventually even if they're gay. I mean, I want soulmates - relationships that last forever - so we need to all get to the celestial kingdom. Whether they find them in this life or the next, they should probably have it as a goal for somewhere in eternity.

Soulmates? You know the feeling when someone is so close to you that you can trust them with everything... and know they're on the same page? Where emotional interaction takes almost no effort at all because you know that they'll never assume the worst of you and always figure out what you're really thinking, no matter how hard it is? Where you trust each other, literally no matter what happens, because you are committed to being together for eternity and there is nothing that is going to get in your way. Where you're happy doing anything together, where you want to be better for the other person, where you find that everything you do revolves around "us" instead of me and them? I don't just want friends. Or close friends. I want everything close relationships with guys can offer except for sex. I want guys who will be extra fathers to my kids, brothers to my wife, sons to my parents. I want our lives to be intertwined - one family - so we share meals, share stories, share hopes and dreams. I'm thinking we have a massive house with 5 wings or something like that.

That's my dream. My goal. The scaffold inside my soul that supports the rest of my everyday life. It totally fills my hopes and dreams, and it's both strong and expansive enough to hang as many short-term goals as I want. There are parts that definitely need God to make them happen. I mean... I'm gay and I want to find a wife. That requires divine intervention. Also I'm pretty sure that finding *multiple* gay celibate soulmates who all love each other as an autistic guy with major mental issues, alone without God, is a probability of zero. So my goals surround two parts - before and after. First, putting myself into situations where God can do miracles - being more social primarily, and working to address my own social shortcomings. And second, shaping myself so that when the miracles happen, I'm ready to make them stay. Whether that means having enough money to buy a castle with 5 wings or strong enough to lift a fallen beam if that castle falls apart. Working out daily. Started taking supplements. Praying more. Studying the scriptures more. Being more social. Brainstorming new business ideas.

So that's it. That's my goal and the miracle I'm asking for: Love and a handful of soulmates. 

Who knows where the road will actually lead? I don't know what my future will look like. But, for now, I have something epic to work towards. A scaffold that fills my soul. It's exciting. Hopeful. Peaceful. Something that I can really, truly, honestly want and can motivate every moment of my every day.

And that's awesome.