How I fell in an out of love in one week

Gay internet datingIt all started with two words: “Hi, handsome.”

I was checking my profile on a gay dating site, and there he was with that intro. Now, I know enough about Internet dating sites to often ignore openings like that. Scammers use these lines all the time, and I really do normally look for something more substantive.

But then there was the guy’s profile photo. The all-American guy type that makes me weak in the knees. Plus, in the photo, a baby deer was licking his face. Honestly, who in their right mind would ignore a handsome man cuddling a baby deer?

By now, you probably know where this story is going. And sure enough, it’s going there. But for a few days, our texts and emails were intense. He told me so much about himself: He was an only child. He lost his parents young. He went into the Army to find himself, and now that he’s about to retire from the Army, he wants to find that Special Someone.

All this was so appealing to me. So was the fact that we only occasionally talked about sex. Now, to be clear, I like sex. I really do. But it seems like, on most gay dating sites, sex is all the men are after. Seriously, this was the first guy I communicated with who didn’t ask me about my dick size within the first five minutes.

He told me he loved me. It took another day for me to say I loved him. But every time I thought of him, I felt my heart beat faster. As if that wasn’t enough, he said he was a computer technician. I’m lousy with computers. I need a computer technician! Could my cyber Mr. Right be any more perfect?

But then, he asked me to send him an Army care package. I must say, I got a little suspicious there. But he wasn’t asking for money. And war is hell! Why shouldn’t he want his love to lift his spirits?

But my red flags flew high when I asked him where to send the package — and he told me he did not want it sent through the U.S. Post Office. Instead, he wanted me to go through this website, Wait a minute, I thought. Loved ones send things to servicemen and women all the time through the U.S. postal service, and I’m sure the Army is sophisticated enough to handle U.S. mail.

That’s when I finally Googled this guy. Within five minutes, I knew he wasn’t who he said he was. Apparently, there’s a big trend toward people setting up fake accounts on dating sites, and posing as members of the military. They take bios and photos of real military members to make it look authentic. They get into deep conversations to earn your trust.

Then, they start asking you for things. Obviously, there are a lot of people gullible enough to give them what they want. This ruse is so prevalent that the U.S. Army has an article about it on its website.

In short order, I reported my “love” to the Army’s Internet fraud unit, as well as to the Federal Trade Commission’s Internet fraud unit. In both cases, the guys taking my information were very nice and understanding. At least I didn’t get suckered for money, or give this impostor enough personal information to steal my identity.

That wasn’t enough to stop me from curling up in my bed and pretty much staying there for 2 days, ignoring all calls and texts. Why COULDN’T this be real? It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a meaningful relationship. And I do want a relationship. For a few sweet days, I was part of an “us” instead of just “me.” I loved that feeling. Now, I sure know from my depression and anxiety support groups that it’s not easy for those of us who have a mental illness to be in a relationship. We ask a lot from the people who love us. But I see that relationships are possible, and I need to see that. There have been times in the past few years when I’ve wondered if I still had it in me to have a relationship.

I can say that the answer to that question is “yes.” But I’m still hurt by what happened. I’m embarrassed, too. When I was in the thick of my “romance” I changed my Facebook status from “single” to “in a relationship.” With that, I got more likes than anything else I’ve ever posted. I can’t bring myself to change my status back to single again. I don’t want to deal with all the “what happeneds” and “so soons.”

But the embarrassment isn’t the worst of it. It has always been very hard for me to trust people. Probably, my depression and anxiety have something to do with that. I think my skepticism protects me like a coat of armor. But it also pushes people away. I know, because I’ve pushed a lot of people away. I’m like, “I’m not going to let you hurt me. I’ll hurt you first by ignoring you!” With that kind of attitude, is it a wonder that I’ve been single for so long? This is one of the reasons why I didn’t Google this guy right away. What about trust, I told myself. Why not try trusting this man?

Well, look how that turned out.

Everybody’s telling me to get “back in the game” — to go back on the dating sites and start again. For now, I’m skipping the dating sites and hoping to meet someone the old-fashioned way — in person. This is not easy is such a tech-loving city such as Boston. Here, even when you do see real people, chances are they’ve got their eyes glued to their gadgets. But I’ve got a few social events coming up, and I’m trying to approach them with a positive attitude.

I’ll say this, though. If I do meet someone, I’m damn sure Googling them right away.








How to start running, according to the New York Times

I’m getting back into running after years on the sidelines. Running produces natural endorphins and when I ran years ago, it helped me manage my depression.

So why did I stop? That’s something I’m still trying to figure out. But the point is, I’m starting again. I plan to blog more about this, but for now, I was happy to see this running guide for beginners in today’s New York Times. I’m a beginner all over again — not for the first time in my life.

Check the guide out here.

RIP Patty Duke

I was so sorry to hear that Patty Duke died today. I grew up watching her TV shows and movies. I loved her in The Patty Duke Show, The Miracle Worker and so many other things.

But in later years, I came to respect Patty more for what she did off-camera. Years ago, before it was even slightly acceptable, she admitted her struggles with bipolar disorder. And she did more than that. She wrote about it, and became a tireless advocate for more mental health treatment and research. She changed a lot of minds and opened a lot of doors.

I could put a clip of her acting here, but I think it’s more appropriate to share this video below. Throughout, she’s honest, funny and straightforward. Rest in peace, Dear Patty. You are certainly owed some peace.


A Brief Note from an Economist with Bipolar Disorder — Mental Health Safe Space

By Daniel Bergstresser My name is Daniel Bergstresser. I am an economist and a tenured professor of finance at Brandeis University. I live in Boston and am married, and have two small children. I want to come out into the open about my diagnosis with bipolar disorder. My diagnosis came in 2014, when I was forty years old. I […]

via A Brief Note from an Economist with Bipolar Disorder — Mental Health Safe Space

A tough part of mental illness — dealing with other people’s mental illnesses

It’s been a tough week emotionally, and unfortunately, the place that I normally go to for strength — my mental illness support group — became the root of my anxiety.

More accurately, it was someone who had been attending my group — someone with severe anger issues. If someone set her off, she’d yell and swear at the top of her lungs. She’d also throw things. I saw her throw a laptop. She also threw a remote, breaking a window at the hospital building where we hold our meetings. She was also harassing a fellow group member with vicious emails. She swears they weren’t mean, but doctors and security personnel at the hospital didn’t begged to disagree. They were very concerned about the emails — so much so that they ordered extra security for our meetings. Let’s put it this way, when you send emails and you call someone a cunt and a bitch (and those were some of the milder words) it doesn’t exactly win you points.

We had no choice but to kick this woman out of our group. I understand that for some, severe rage is a horrific part of their mental illness. But you can’t be in a support group — a place where we go to listen to one another and of course, support one another — if you yell, swear, throw things, and send harassing emails. You just can’t. I happened to be facilitating the meeting where this woman threw her laptop and the remote. It was quite scary and alarming.

Fortunately, things like this don’t happen very often. I’ve been a mental health group facilitator for about a year now, and this is the first time I’ve had to deal with someone who was so angry and disruptive. I know this woman needs a lot of help, and I hope she gets it. Maybe it’s just that support groups aren’t a good fit for her right now.

I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this woman. Even with hospital security warning her to stay away, I know she has already called the hospital and demanded that she be allowed to come. The hospital isn’t budging. She can, if she wants, come to the hospital for individual treatment. But she can’t come to our meeting. She cannot compromise the safety of those of us who attend.

After I witnessed this woman’s most recent episode, a friend of mine who attends the group said that I should think about the people I’ve helped; the people whose lives have been changed for the better because they can finally rely on others who know exactly what they’re going through. That was great advice, and it’s been a very comforting thought.

But if I’m going to continue trying to help others with mental illnesses, I must deal with the fact that, at least once in a while, I will come across people who need much more than I can possibly give.

Last night was the first night that the group met since this woman’s latest outburst. I briefly thought of avoiding the meeting. But that would have meant giving into fear. I didn’t want to do that.

I went to our meeting. I found many friends there, and met some new ones. We sat in a circle, talking about meds, frustrations, happy milestones, the good, the bad, and lots of things in between. We were there for each other, just as a support group should be.

Once again, it was the best place for me to be, and I didn’t want to be anywhere else.







Today’s one of my favorite days of the year

I love this day — even though I got an hour’s less sleep last night. Today is the first day of that weird twice-a-year ritual called Daylight Savings Time. This time, with turning the clocks forward, we get more daylight at the end of the day. And as someone with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), I sure do appreciate that.

daylight savings photo

Starting today, there will be more daylight in the late afternoon. The geese in my neighborhood are happy about that, and so am I. 

When my SAD gets to be too much, it often hastens my depression (I’m diagnosed with that, too.) But even though I did have a few episodes this winter, I have to say that I survived the reduced daylight better this winter than I have in past winters.

That could be because I’ve purchased more light-related products (like winter caps with LED lights) to get me through. Also, this winter in Boston has been milder than past winters.

But I’m sure glad that “the dark season” is over. Here’s to more light — today and for the next six months!

For Philip, whose battle with life is over

Dear Philip,

I’m so sorry I couldn’t make it to your memorial service. I really did consider going. But last-minute airfares to Atlanta are ridiculously high (like more than a thousand bucks high) and that just wasn’t in the cards for me.

I’m glad, though, that your friends held the service in a book store. That was so appropriate. So you. The Facebook invite promised “lots of laughs and crazy Philip stories.” I hope there were lots of both.

Speaking of Facebook, I know you’d find it more than a little ironic that Facebook is where I found out you died. I mean, all those times you lamented how social media and technology were robbing us of human connection. But, true to 21st Century grief, your Atlanta friends took to your Facebook page and turned it into a cyber memorial.

The first messages were kind of cryptic. One said “I’ll miss your stories about books and movies. Stay mellow.” What did that mean? I thought maybe you got fired.

But it was something I’d never even heard of — an aortic dissection — that killed you. Even after Googling it, I’m still not sure what an aortic dissection is. But I guess it’s like your aorta just thought “fuck this shit. I’m out.” One of your close friends said you were in pain, but not for very long. I was at least glad to know that.


Philip and I both hated having our pictures taken, so this is the only photo I have with the two of us. It’s from his 30th birthday party. He’s the guy at the far left. I’m in the tan shirt by the presents.


I was also glad to know that your death was not a suicide. After the shock, that was the first thing that popped into my head. It was one of the things you and I had in common — membership in the Failed Attempts Club. I was often worried that you would kill yourself. After all, in the past few years, life sure gave you a lot of reasons. You lost your home to foreclosure, and since your temporary housing was small and didn’t allow pets, you also lost your beloved book collection and your beloved cats, Simon and Schuster. So many times, you told me that if it wasn’t for Simon and Schuster and the books, you would have committed suicide a long time ago. My response was always the same: you had reasons to live, and you knew it.

When I told you about my own suicidal ideations, you didn’t flinch. You related. You were not surprised. I honestly wasn’t shocked when you talked about your past attempts, too.

I guess when you grow up together, there’s a bond that’s always there. Remember how we used to laugh at the name of our apartment complex? It was the Edgewater Terrace Apartments, only it wasn’t at the edge of any water. You used to say that the name was so ironic. I think I learned about the word ironic from you. I’m an only child, but when we were little, I sort of thought of you as a crazy older brother. I mean crazy in a good way. Even when I was little, I knew there was something different about you. While the rest of us kids were Crocodile Rocking to Elton John, you were fiercely loyal to Ethel Merman and Judy Garland.

You were always singing show tunes, but I knew you weren’t happy. I couldn’t blame you. Your mother weighed something like 400 pounds. She and your father always argued. Your sister became rebellious, then became a drug addict. And your home was always filthy. I remember balls of papers strewn all over your living room, and your mother seemed oblivious to it all.

That was a big difference between your mom and my mom. My mom was a neat freak. When we had company, everything was spotless. Still, our moms were best friends. I saw a lot of you. You saw a lot of me.

In fact, you saw much more of me than I realized. You saw through me. Remember your last trip up here to Boston, and that long conversation we had about everything over pastrami sandwiches at the S and S Deli? I told you how abusive my home life was. How I was molested at age 11, and how no one did anything about it because Alex was the grandson of mom’s friend Betty, and mom didn’t want to lose her friend. When I told you all of this, again you didn’t flinch. In fact, you told me how you just knew things were wrong. You heard my mother’s yelling. I don’t remember crying, but you remembered seeing me cry.

At first, I was relieved when you responded this way. Family and friends who lived nowhere near my home told me I was over-reacting. Being dramatic. Making things up. But you — who didn’t live in my home but lived pretty damn close — you knew.

For this, I loved you and hated you. I loved you because you believed me. But I hated you because there were times when even I would tell myself that maybe it wasn’t all that bad and maybe I have a vivid imagination. Your confirmation robbed me of that. Damn you!

I didn’t say this to you, but when you visited me in Boston, I couldn’t wait for you to leave. You were too real for me. Oh, and also, you complained a lot. About the world. About the human race. About the Chinese restaurant that didn’t have a bowl of crispy noodles right there at the table when you sat down. (“How could they not have that! I thought all Chinese restaurants had that!”)

After a few days, I just got tired of all your bitching. But then, when you got back to Atlanta, you called me and thanked me, and you even said this was one of the best trips you’d ever had. I laughed. I realized then that complaining was just your way of dealing with the world. I understood how you’d rather spend time re-reading your favorite classic books than spend time with people. Ruth Rendell, Margaret Mitchell, James Michener, and Harold Robbins (for those times when you just wanted something stylishly trashy.) They were the ones you turned to most. .

Of course, now I miss your complaints. My Facebook feed just isn’t the same without your carping that they don’t make good movies anymore, and that people have become so rude, and that there just aren’t any modern-day authors who know how to tell good stories nowadays. Some people try to hide their depression. You wore yours for everyone to see.

I remember a phone conversation when we both talked about our mothers. We were sure that our mothers both had some form of mental illness. You wondered why they didn’t talk about it. “They couldn’t,” I said. “If they talked about it, they could have been locked up. At least we can talk about it.”

Only now, we can’t. When your sister died a few years ago, you didn’t say that she died. You said she “lost her battle with life.” Those words were just so sad and powerful and raw and honest. You didn’t sugarcoat anything — even in death.

I wouldn’t say that you lost your battle. The last time I talked to you, you seemed pretty content. Well, content for you, anyway. But your battle with life is over.

An aortic dissection. Did you even know what that was? I guess it’s fitting that you died of something unusual. A good old-fashioned heart attack would have been too common for you.

But you don’t have to fight the world anymore. Rest in peace, my friend. If anyone deserves peace, it’s you.

Love, Alan