Monday, 1 September 2014

How Robin Williams Helped Me Come Out of the Depression Closet

The unexpected death of Robin Williams got me thinking – once again – just how tragic depression really is. 

It's frustrating that it takes a celebrity suicide to open our eyes and get us talking.
It fills the heads of its victims with crippling despair, distorted thoughts of self-hate, even the most intelligent, seemingly (outwardly) fulfilled sufferers can’t ignore. Oftentimes it targets our society’s most sensible, talented, passionate creators and producers of society. And worst of all, it's a tragically invisible disability many sufferers can't talk about.

In the Facebook/Twitter/Instagram generation of faux happiness, we’re conditioned en mass not to talk about our bad days, because heaven forbid we be the party buzz-kill.

Well that’s too bad, because it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.

Yes, if you haven’t guessed it already, I very much suffer from bouts of depression likely fueled by bad genetics and a shitty childhood and a few poor life choices. And I want to get this off my chest if I’m going to understand and hopefully beat it. 

Psychiatrists still don't fully understand the causes of depression, so here's my two cents. 
First off, a tiny confession. I almost published a version of this blog post about a year ago, after the tragic overdose of Glee star Cory Monteith. Ostensibly this talent had the life: as the star of a popular show with a loving girlfriend and a hopeful future. But that’s the picture that’s always painted – especially when you have agents, managers and publicists operating the paintbrush.

But then of course I got cold feet. I can’t remember why. I probably got chicken-shit after my mood took an upswing. I certainly didn’t want to shatter the illusion people may have that I’m totally fun and confident, that I’m actually somewhere on the spectrum, bordering on the edge. Eek. Don’t invite that Negative Nancy to the party.

A year later the news of Robin Williams’ death arrived around the same time I’d sunk to an oppressive low of self-defeating thoughts. Then I watched a Ted Talk about the Power of Vulnerability by author and leading social worker Brené Brown. I slurped up her Kool-aid it finally dawned on me. If I truly wanted to beat this, I’d need to open up and be damn honest about even this kind deep, dark shit if I wanted to see positive change.

Brené Brown's Power of Vulnerability in a Coles Notes Nutshell
Maybe you’re thinking: Wow, how more self-centred and self-indulgent can a narcissist get? A celebrity figurehead dies tragically and somehow he once again finds a way to relate it back to himself? Here's the thing, I routinely struggle with seemingly irrational bouts of negative thinking, and I very much work in the TV / film wheelhouse, a bumpy road of feast or famine where uncertain circumstances only trigger or exacerbate the symptoms. Maybe it’s just my hyperbolic nature, but their deaths struck a major chord.

I knew something might be up when I finally started to get my act together – and I’d still manage to spiral into crushing pits of despair. Survival of the Fabulous gets green-lit but that must be a fluke. I got into the CFC Writing Program, the third time applying, I’d still manage to convince myself that I must be a fraud, they’ll figure it out soon enough. Even when I ostensibly attained my personal Holy Grail – an attractive, wholehearted guy who actually liked me back – I’d still have thoughts that it’s an illusion, he doesn’t really like me, I’m still unlovable – and surprise, surprise, cue the downward spiral into Depression Alley. 

Recently an investigation of my family tree for my documentary revealed an alarming, interesting find. Multiple cases of depression and more horrifyingly suicide. My uncle jumped from a high rise about a decade ago. Two great aunts killed themselves via rat poison and shotgun. Apparently another lumberjack actually felled a tree so it would intentionally crush him (okay that one might be an urban legend).

All those black and white portraits are untimely deaths. 
It just so happens depression, alcoholism and drug addiction have reared their ugly heads all over both sides of my immediate family, so it’s certainly hereditary to some degree, so are my demons naturally going to grow up into all-consuming, suicidal Devils?

I sometimes wonder if contemplating the contemplation of suicide even counts. It’s true I probably am too much a drama queen to go out in a quiet fashion. I mean at the very least I’d want to recreate a kill sequence from my favorite Final Destination and make a trashy posthumous reality show out of it.

I used to think I’d dodged the addiction bullet. I’d never smoked a cigarette in my life. I didn’t start drinking until well into university and I’ve never used it to dull the pain. Maybe my family of felons and addicts acted as reverse role models – and saved me from a predestined path of self-destruction.

But let’s call a spade a spade. I may not be addicted to booze or blow, but I certainly do have an addiction for validation, which I’ve chronicled extensively on this blog – and will recap more in part two of this uber-fun depression series, where I try to get to the bottom of why people like us suffer from depression.  

Some addicts "choose" booze or blow. I prefer the Boys, Body Dysmorphia and Validation cocktail 

For the longest period of denial I tried to convince myself that I was in no way like the aforementioned Tortured Artists of the world. I don’t go on partying binge-fests that result in blackouts and shaving my head.

Some of my friends and family even know I have oscillating super-highs and depressive lows. But they think there’s no cause for concern because I’m really just an attention-seeking Drama Queen, too shallow to raise alarm bells. I’d even convinced myself and got really good at concealing my brooding darker side. If you only see me as a vain, vapid pre-law school Elle Woods, that’s because the more confident, more shallow and all-around funner Bryce is clearly more likeable than the real, tortured deal.

It turns out this is Comedy and Depression 101, as this fantastic article by David Wong about Robin Williams illuminates why funny people kill themselves. The seemingly obvious jist of it? Depressed people use jokes as shields to hide their abused souls.  

I’m not crying for help with this post. In fact, I was going to keep all this to myself. Or maybe sugar coat it for a psychotherapist.

But I want to understand the nature and nurture of depression, figure out how it manifests. Maybe even some of the readers out there – you know, all seven of them – would find it helpful to know just how common depression really is, and that it’s okay, in fact necessary, to be candid about it.

Once I better understand this depression business, I’ll formulate a strategic battle plan, so I can beat the shit out of it. The one thing I do know is it’s life-long war, and one that would require a daily regimen of patience, willpower and commitment.

Teaser: if I could go from Chunky to Hunky, I can slay a few pesky mental health demons. 

It’s a bit terrifying that it’s 2014, and we still don’t know the answers. Doctors prescribe anti-depressants like they’re one-size-fits-all cure-alls and psychiatrists disagree whether we should even take them.

But spoiler alert: I know seeking help is possible – and it very much can and does work with time. But it’s an ongoing battle and when symptoms are their most severe, the motivation to seek help wanes, making the vicious cycle continue and the need to talk about it all the more important.

It truly is a tragic shame that Robin Williams and other formidable artists like him never found their answer. But I will say thank you for giving me the courage to speak up.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

My Battle with Elle Woods Syndrome

If you’ve held court with me for more than five minutes you’ve likely heard me bring up or quote Legally Blonde. Maybe you’ve even wondered why any self-respecting writer and filmmaker would cite Legally Blonde as one of his most cherished films.

Story of my life, circa 2001-2013
Part of it is the genuine truth – it’s a brilliantly written comedy with endlessly quotable dialogue and timeless themes. The other reason is perhaps more metaphysical. When I reference Legally Blonde, I’m really subconsciously testing to see if you’ll judge and write me off as vapid and/or shallow, much like the narrow-minded law students of Harvard U did Elle Woods. (If you need a reminder, think Bel Air bombshell in Barbie pink amongst stiff intellectuals in muted, ill-fitting cardigans). I’ve come to identify so much with the protagonist of Legally Blonde, that she’s literally fused into the DNA of my identity, like a parasite, but with blond highlights.

In ironic other words, I’ve developed a meta-disease only Abed Nadir would know how to diagnose. It’s called Elle Woods Syndrome.

Elle Woods Syndrome (EWS) can be defined as the perennial need to cast oneself as the fish-out-water outcast in an intellectual milieu. Usually it involves emphasizing one’s seemingly vapid, shallow and/or douchey traits to lower expectations of one’s ability to perform – so that one can emerge as an underdog-turned-dark horse. The environment should be one where geeks, nerds or intellectuals thrive, so that the stereotypical babe or jock you'd expect to be popular is rendered the outcast, reverse-bullied by the usually dejected.

E.W.S.:  psychological phenomenon affecting dozens of valley girls and hot jocks with untapped potential.

I likely contracted EWS shortly after watching Legally Blonde for the first time during my tenure at Ryerson University. 

I know what you’re thinking: I didn’t go to law school to win back my ex-boyfriend (sadly this was long before I was hunky enough to have a boyfriend) so how could I relate to Elle Woods? As a gay man starved for attention, even (or especially) when closeted, I always stood out and I did sort of decide to go to film school on a whim, when I realized genetically engineering dinosaurs likely wouldn’t be a possible career path. So the next best thing would be to tell my own geeky sci-fi stories, right?

Elle Woods Syndrome is also known to afflict gay writers with delusions of grandeur.

So this freshly and flamboyantly gay science nerd, lover of popular culture, wearer of muscle tanks outside the gym and hopeful creator of Anaconda 2 Anaconda 5 arrived at Ryerson film school. While it was sadly no Harvard (or even the Canadian equivalent of an Ivy League), we did have a pretentious film school in “Image Arts” chock full of stodgy hipsters in muted, ill-fitting cardigans, who wanted to make important art films. 

We had snobby, opinion-recycling Vivian Kensington’s, social-climbing Warner Huntington III’s or Femi-Nazi Enid Wexler’s, all nonconformist conformists. They hated me on first impression impulse because I stood out and not in a good way (at least that’s how I projected it in my head and later Burn Book). Once I decided to embrace my life as Elle Woods – and centre of attention – this track became a self-fulfilling prophecy and full-blown EWS. 

I set a precedent of making people think I was vacuous bumble gum, so I could later prove them wrong. I’d spend my scholarship money on bleach-blonding or perming my hair (a la Justin Timberlake circa the N*SYNC days). I’d wear excessive costumes during my pitches or muscle tanks to my lectures. And I saw links to Legally Blonde everywhere.

Like Ms. Woods, I'd overcompensate with razzle-dazzle.
We had this ruthless film history professor who pinned our eyes open to watch awful Russian films. She made us introduce ourselves via film clips we believed “best characterized” our cinematic taste. After the usual PT Anderson and Coen Bros suspects, I decided to show Elle Woods’ cross-examination of Chutney Windham. After prerequisite scoffing and eye-rolling from the film snobs, the scary professor actually called it a “wonderful example of the village idiot” which I didn’t understand. (I’d later realize our Russian Professor Umbridge was my first Professor Stromwell in a long line of Yoda mentors).

My Professor Stromwell mentor came in a slightly harsher form.
I once pitched a high-concept, high-budget sci-fi short in lab-coat including mock science-experiment for our thesis film (think the equivalent of the prestigious summer internship). In my head, all those ill-fitting cardigans thought I was a hopeless long-shot, but once the list appeared and my film I was selected, this is how I reacted:  

Once I’d contracted EWS, it only festered, especially after I shed my soft-fleshed cocoon and morphed into a douchebag butterfly. Wherever I went, I’d do everything in my power to stand out. Behind the scenes in television production, I was the fit editor who refused burrito lunches with the other tubby editors. Videogame and comic book conventions, where I should be networking, I’d instead be posturing as a nerd-jock in cosplay, so I’d be taken as seriously as the booth babes - only I was neither as hot nor as paid to be there.

What Elle Woods and Bryce get up to when they should be studying.
During my residency at the Canadian Film Centre’s television writing bootcamp, something in me changed. I’d desperately applied to this prestigious program two times before, beginning to fear TV writing was only “for people who are boring, ugly and serious,” that I must be none of those things. But another voice told me I really fucking wanted it. So through perseverance, better scripts and the sometimes reliable need for validation, I finally got in. Immediately it felt like I was back in film school: the outgoing pop-culture guru amongst mostly introspective writer-sorts. I was all ready to prove I write my bubble-gum “genre” TV, while rocking a form-fitting Henley, and probably be judged for it. They even made a 25-cents jar in our writing room for every one of my Legally Blonde references. But each time I added a quarter, it began to dawn on me:

I was stuck in First or early Second Act Legally Blonde, forgetting Elle Woods herself went through a huge transformation. Sure she went to law school to win her boyfriend back, but there she discovered her untapped potential as a bonafied lawyer. Her original motivation was misguided, but it led to an experience that fundamentally changed her.

Elle Woods triumphed in the court room - proving everybody including herself wrong, but where was I?
All these years of embracing an Elle Woods identity, I’d completely missed the point. I was trying so hard to be outcast as different or even inferior, I could never be accepted and never really grow.

But luckily at the CFC I was working with or for the best of the best. All of my mentors were Professor Stromwells with noses that could detect bullshit (and/or the bells and whistles I’d used in the past to hide thin writing). I was forced to dig deeper and to stop being so shallow.

Taken through the ringer at the CFC, I arguably discovered my inner potential for writing drama – something I thought myself previously incapable. I’d always been content with writing derivative knock-offs of Jurassic Park, Anaconda or X-men, but with a little elbow grease, I learned why I really want to write and what I really have to say. I have no delusions that I’ve somehow morphed into a genius writer – I still and always will be learning and developing my craft. But I can say that writing Anaconda 5 is no longer at the top of my career goals.

I'm not the only one to realize the didactic potential of Legally Blonde.
My Professor Stromwell called it right!

The funny thing is, throughout my CFC residency, nobody ever really judged me on all those shallow archetype things – in fact they were embraced and championed as part of my “unique voice.” So look at that, Elle Woods was right after all. Being true to yourself never goes out of style.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

My Dark Days of Dodgeball: Or How I was Forced to Learn a Lesson in Congeniality

Besides storytelling, strong female badasses and videogames, there is probably nothing I'm more passionate about in my simple simple life than Dodgeball, the glorious sport of "violence, exclusion and degradation," made famous and rules defined by the exquisite Dodgeball: An Underdog Story. It's a sport which defined key character building moments of my last decade and led to my one and only concussion.

Now before you go thinking this is my spirited pledge for turning Dodgeball into an Olympic sport, you should grab the kleenex, because this is rather, a very tragic confession of my descent into disgrace and depravity. And to all that have been hurt along the way, my deepest apologies...

The narrative of my connection to dodgeball is a long and storied one. It all began almost a decade ago when I captained a team of underdog artistic oddballs assembled from my Documentary Media MFA program at Ryerson U. We academic wannabe athletes called ourselves Dodging For Columbine and we were as terrible as you could imagine. We were mostly fat or scrawny, some with glasses, and all who threw like girls, except the girls themselves, who were mostly lesbian cannons that should be playing major league baseball.

Our team sucked but at least we were clever.  
We competed against undergrad jock douchebags, all of whom were better than us in most every way. And no team was better looking, more athletic and more douchey than Natural Selection, a cartoon squadron of mega-hot jock bullies who stepped right out of my nightmare wet dreams to antagonize us on the court. But these were villains you loved to hate so hard it was like the living inspiration for Ben Stiller and his Purple Copras.

Aptly named in every sense.
But I must give Natural Selection credit for fueling a fire I never knew I had inside. I’d never played a team sport in my life (unless you count Reaching for the Top), but thanks to their routine, skin-thickening decimations, I learned that while I may not ever be able to throw like a man or a lesbian, but I can dodge, I can strategize, I can survive a dodge-ball catalyzed concussion, I can sure as hell shit-talk like the best of redneck trash, and well, I can also lead. 

We meagre documentarians went from wanting to change the world by finding the cinematic cure to world hunger to having a taste for human bloodshed. After finally learning how to dodge, dip, duck, dive and dodge, we rose up to challenge even Natural Selection a few times (though we never won). And we were once put on probation when a fistfight broke out between out two teams. I kid not, and I realize that this memory should not be fondly remembered, even if it is.

Now fast forward a few years to the Gay Ball Society and the first ever Toronto-set LGBT dodge-ball league. At long last a place where you could meet fellow gays while playing the greatest sport known to man.

We took the fun out of dodgeball!
During the first year, I captained a team called “Cherry Poppers”. Well actually, I should say, I became the captain after I helped orchestrate a mutiny when I realized the first captain wasn’t intense or competitive enough to lead us to victory. The rest of the team seemed to agree, and quickly, week to week we became the team to beat. I had no delusions of being the best or even close to the best player on the team. We were stacked with power cannons and strategic snipers that already gave us an edge. But those like me, who weren’t the most athletic were game and motivated to perfect our throwing, dodging and catching until we were feral animals that dined on bruises, broken egos and bone marrow.

There's no I in team, but there is an I in win.
We left many teams in our dust as we outplayed, outwitted and – forgive this unnecessary Survivor reference – outlasted our way to the top and won the first ever Gay Ball Society championship. The fact that nobody liked our team and that, as one witness recounted, we “took the fun out of dodgeball” didn’t matter, right? Because obviously they were jealous they weren’t on the winning team.

We savored victory and let the cockiness go to our heads. Or at least I did, moving into the second year and a brand new team. I was captain again – this time fairly and squarely – and our team was christened “Red Hot Chili Peckers”. Similarly to last team we had a nice balance of cannons and snipers, and I quickly instructed the noobs on how to be catchers, collectors or dodgers if they couldn't throw. And once again, we were the team to beat and the team to hate.

Take that, Natural Selection!
That is until complaints that we were mean and intense on the court started to come in. I was given warnings to dial it back a notch, because other more sensitive players teams weren’t as competitive and therefore weren’t having fun when they had to play against us. A little birdie from another team told me the one thing our team is missing is a thing called "poise". 

It’s not that I ignored these amber alerts, it’s just I preferred to win, and aggressive passion is just part of my nature right? I can’t be blamed for something I can’t control. Riiiigggghhhhttt?! 

Little did I know, I was fastly becoming this guy.
Alas, after seemingly endless victories, we finally lost our composure during a key play-off game, and just like that we were finished. We came in 7th overall while inspiring a Cinderella Story we'd never live down. The same team, which ironically tried to teach me P is for Poise. Oh, how the mighty had fallen. But it’s okay right, it’s just about having fun, and I’d already won (my first ever) first place ribbon last year.  I didn’t need victory!

But then the administrators of the league pulled me aside after the final game and informed me I would NOT BE ALLOWED TO CAPTAIN in the following year. Why you ask? 

Because apparently I’m “too intense, too competitive" … and perhaps, worst of all, I have a reputation for running my team “like a slavedriver”. A flurry of emotions consumed me: Fury. Guilt. BETRAYAL, from my own people. My gay tribe had rejected me. And no amount of blasting “Let it Go” could make the pain go away. 

But really, me: a Slave-driver?! I sent long-winded inspirational slash instructional emails to my loyal teammates. I encouraged the weak links lesser-skilled players to improve their game. I freaking designed a GODDAMN LOGO FOR OUR TEAM SHIRTS. And this captain was a SLAVE-DRIVER?!

I was about to start a witch-hunt when a wise friend told me, "I’m pretty sure that’s what Hitler said before the whole holocaust thing"

And suddenly it dawned me.

Maybe I did take the spirit of competition a touch too far. Maybe I was a fascist son of a bitch. Maybe I did drop one too many F-bomb-laden shit-talking attacks. 

Dare I say it, but had I, Bryce Sage, former fat-geek underdog morphed into one of the extreme supervillains I used to dread? Forgive my hyperbolizing, but yes, I think I had. 

After being summarily demoted, rank pulled and forced to face my shame head-on, I’m now playing as a civilian on two different teams, in two different leagues one gay and one straight. And I’m doing everything in my power to manage my anger and my liberal dropping of F-bombs and C-units.

My new life goal for 2014.
I’m ready and raring to embrace this whole “poise” thing, too, however fake it seems at first, and win the coveted “Miss Congeniality” sash by end of season. I’ve promised I’ll wear an evening gown if I’m actually crowned, which I know is competitive bribery and probably goes against the definition of congeniality. But c’mon. Baby steps.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Why I wish I read THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY ... 10 Years Ago

I recently had to catch up on a literary classic -- and by classic I mean one written before the 21st century. You know, one of those books you should've read in high school, but only pretend to know by name? Well, had I read this particularly cautionary tale by Mr. Oscar Wilde (the eminent 'mo of his Victorian day), I might've shaved a decade of adolescent learning off my life.     

For those of you like me, who barely knew Dorian Gray by name, I highly suggest you rush out and buy or download The Picture of Dorian Gray for free. This isn't a classic you need to add zombies to make entertaining; Wilde is as witty as Mean Girls.  

You've probably never seen the movie either, it's even more obscure.

That said, here’s my Spark Notes.  It’s about this high-society guy so hot everybody wants to be him or be with him. When a painter captures his hotness in portrait form and his sassy and sinister best friend / devil on his shoulder Lord Henry Wotton puts bad advice in his head (i.e. "the people who love only once in their lives are really the shallow people”), Dorian makes a Devilish deal to ensure the painting ages instead of him. Essentially free of his conscience, Dorian becomes a sleazy, self-absorbed narcissistic hedonist who leaves a trail of heartbreak and suicide in his wake. Until, spoiler-alert, he goes insane, stabs a few people--and then the painting--effectively killing himself.

Modern-day Dorian Grays, and, no, they don't need magic paintings.
It's not very difficult to draw comparisons to today.  Dorian’s basically the 19th century equivalent of a modern day player douchebag. He's gorgeous, likely grew up in the Hamptons, never had to work a day in his life (unless you count modeling), and gets everything in his life served to him on a silver platter. He even has a name readymade for a CW show. Now we may not have magic paintings that can keep us young, but with convincing botox and mad science telomerase-enhancing pills, we're getting pretty close. 

Hollywood movies have taught us that, at least in the heterosexual world, extreme cases of hot assholes who coast through their formative years on their looks generally get eclipsed by smart geeks with robust senses of humor. Eventually these super-hotties get their comeuppance when their looks fade and women become wiser of their disingenuous ways. Or they eventually learn that even though their good looks can get them laid (or better marks, careers and criminal court verdicts), relying on them can be pretty soul-crushing.

Even Mr. Gosling learned that being a hedonist douchebag eventually gets old. 

But if there is one place where this retribution is so delayed it sometimes never even happens, it's the gay world. And this is speaking from experience.  

If you’re young and beautiful you’re immediately ushered into the elitist scene as the belle of the ball – maybe even made the live-in of a richer silver fox “daddy.” (AKA our Lord Henry Wotton). Adolescence into adulthood (the critical period of life where most people learn to stop being shallow, self-absorbed narcissists) is thus postponed. You may not ever need to go through it, depending how good your genes are – and how much capital you’ve got to spend on Botox and steroids.  That’s right, we may not have a magic age-defying mirror, but we do have plastic surgery!

Dozens of ways to become your own Dorian Gray!

Let’s examine some other lessons to learn from Dorian.  Take the Grindr meat market – a dating app that reduces human beings into savage animals – where we select our sex partners for their pretty faces and six-pack abs while callously rejecting the fat, femmy or ethnically diverse, with not a second consideration to how these guys might take said rejections. Sound a bit like when Dorian Gray rejects once-fiancé Sibyl Vane and she ends up committing suicide: "You have killed my love. You used to stir my imagination. Now you don’t even stir my curiosity."? Okay maybe we’re not that bitchy, but you get the point.  

Douchebags of Grindr: if only they read The Picture of Dorian Gray  

And what about our canonization of mean-spirited Über-cunts like Cersei “I’ll have you strangled in your sleep” Lannister and Regina “that is the ugliest F-ing skirt I’ve ever seen” George? We love these bitches so much, fellow homo Ryan Murphy made a whole show about them for us with American Horror Story: Coven. Well guess what, before there was Regina George or Fiona Goode there was Lord Henry Wotton, who had delightful one-liners like: "I choose my friends for their good looks, and my enemies for their good intellects" and "Mrs. Vandeleur was so dreadfully dowdy that she reminded one of a badly bound hymn-book".  

So why do some of us love these bitches so much? Probably because deep down we're incredibly insecure Dorian Gray-types, so we like to put others down to make ourselves feel better. Why is this beginning to sound like an after school special?

Bitches: Why do we love them so much? Probably because we identify with them.

Needless to say, visit any gay scene and you're sure to encounter more than a few vain, self-absorbed Dorian Grays and their enabling, sassy Henry Wottons, and it's a vicious cycle with loads of collateral damage.  Sure to call members of the gay community shallow and superficial isn’t new but speaking as one of these self-absorbed, Dorian Gray Biotches, I think it bares repeating.

I think I'm ready to atone for past sins, and this isn't just my bitter, dried-up cynicism talking. Even if I had read The Picture of Dorian Gray in high school, I probably would’ve rejected the wisdom it had to offer. I still wanted to be older, so I didn’t know what it was like to dread age and I wasn’t even out of the closet, so I didn’t know what it was like to appreciate beauty. 

But now, as somebody who spent the last decade chasing twinks at Buddies, dropping snarky one-liners to friends and foes alike, and leaving a wake of victims in my douchey wake - basically trying to be or be with Dorian Gray - I'm ready for some change.  

And thus I pledge 2014 to be the year I try to become Miss Congeniality.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

"Has anyone ever told you you look like..."

Okay in typical me fashion I’ve neglected the blog and this time I’ve left all six of my readers hanging - I’m only half-way through the 12 Steps For Getting Over a Validation Addiction

Now, instead of moving forward with the rest of the list, I must first do a couple stand-alone posts to show why someone like me can’t just get over this Validation Addiction overnight. Yeah, yeah. I’m really just creating false suspense, much in the way network TV drags out major story developments with boring filler episodes. However, I argue bad habits are like Roman cockroaches, and they can’t be killed in a day or a single blog-post split into two and spread out over four months.

So time for a Case Study in Validation Addiction: How one neutral comment vicious insult can rain on your Pride Parade.

So let’s set the scene. It’s Pride 2013. A weekend of slutty, shirtless free-for-alls, where douchebaggery is at its most fervent. Plastic gays have spent the better part of the year pumping iron and indulging their eating disorders to ensure they’d fetch top prize in the meat markets that ensue.

Normally a mild-mannered slightly above-average former fatty would dread these affairs and the toll they can take on your ego and self-esteem. But I'm transformed and making up for lost time. 

And I was coming off a week of both insane creative and physical validation. My documentary adventures a resounding success and in the can. Plus I’d had the chance to train and diet like crazy to ensure I look the part. Heck, the night before, I even took in so many rape-stares during the army-themed Boot Camp, my Validation meter was full to the brim. 

Of course later that afternoon it was time for Aqua, the sole event set in broad daylight when the unforgiving noonday sun reveals every unsightly flaw, every missed patch of manscaping. Any expectations for validation are dangerous at best. But my Validation Meter was full, so why should I feel the need to posture or peacock?

Aqua: A dangerous place for a Validation Addict

Alas, by the time I arrived, I was dwarfed by prettier Gods amongst men with broader shoulders, more chiseled pecs and rows upon rows of abs. Wherever I turned, there were guys hotter than me.

Okay I just had to regroup. I could find the most flattering light to stand in, next to someone fatter than me, so I'd be hot by contrast. Hold it out until the Magic Hour of sundown when vodka-diet-redbull-goggles had kicked in. But it was a lost cause. It didn’t matter how much fake confidence I tried to muster, I got about as much attention as the ladies washroom. 

Until finally I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen all party with a dude, a Random Asian Stranger I didn’t recognize. Finally, I knew this was my opportunity. I’d be introduced to Random Asian Stranger and he’d stroke my ego with a compliment. Sure enough, Random Asian Stranger pulled me in to whisper something flattering into my ear. 

“Has anyone ever told you look like…” he started but trailed off, drowned out by the circuit beats. 

No big deal. It must’ve been Guy Pierce. Or Ethan Hawke. I've gotten those before. Either way it didn’t matter, I should’ve just heard “a celebrity that’s hot” cause that was the obvious punchline. But no. I was insecure and needed my validation loud and clear. 

Celebrity Recognition as Flattering Compliment
“Sorry I didn’t hear you, what did you say?” I forced him to lean in and say it again.

This time he raised his voice. “Has anyone ever told you… you look like Mitch from Modern Family.”

I really felt like a stake was stabbed through my heart. No, I wasn’t just compared to a ginger – an association I've used a decade's worth of tanning beds and bottle-blonding to avoid (no thanks to South Park) -- but this ginger.

Celebrity Recognition as Insult.
I was speechless with no sassy comeback prepared. Not that it mattered, he was long gong, parading off to destroy another poor, vain douchbag’s self-esteem.

First of all the comparison was ridiculous, right?? I mean, Mitch from Modern Family?! A scrawny, red-headed chubby-chaser?! Okay yes, I've got a little ginger in me, and under scorching sunlight my hair can take a slightly reddish hue. So if you must compare me to a famous redhead, how about Trainer Bob from the Biggest Loser?

I didn’t even know this Mean Girl hater-bitch, let a lone understand his motivation to cut me down. Maybe I rejected him somewhere in the digital realm. Maybe he was on one of the losing teams we absolutely destroyed in Gay Dodgeball. Or maybe, just maybe, this guy didn’t actually mean it as an insult. Maybe this guy really likes gingers, somehow seeing my ginger resemblance as a positive thing. No. Not a chance.

Anyway, we’re losing the point. Which isn’t that some stranger had the gall to compare me to a ginger. 

No, it’s why I allowed the opinion of a stranger get under my skin.

I found my friends and told them I had to leave the party at 6pm so I could prepare for the next day’s documentary shoot at the Parade. Which of course was total bollux, because I was already prepared for the filming, but the excuse probably sounded better than "some random guy unintentionally struck a nerve with an impossibly low blow, so I'm gonna stay in to nurse my wounds". Thus I stayed in on a Saturday night slaying fungus-infected pseudo-zombies with my real virtual friends Ellie and Joel. And they never had the audacity to compare me to Mitch from Modern Family.

So why is it that I can survive a network screening where my blood ends up on the floor, when my creative reason for being is questioned, and somehow not take it personally, but then one harmless remark can leave me crippled? 

Well it's because I can still be a vain, self-doubting guy who cares way too much about what others think of me. I can also have warped delusions of how others perceive me. Not that one shouldn't care what certain others think - lest we swing to the arrogant end of the confidence spectrum - but one should probably raise the bar above the random drones they meet at shirtless dancing parties.

The good news is I did survive the character assassination attempt. I somehow sucked it up and reported to work the next day. I even took Random Asian Stranger off my Kill-Bill black list for Planned Vengenace once I’m rich and famous. How's that for progress?

Which all means to say, that I must be one step closer to curing my need to be continually validated by others, right?? 

DISCLAIMER: Dear Jesse Ferguson, the Weasly Brothers and all Gingers of the world (or people that know/love Gingers): No offense was intended by this Post, which is an historical account from a Former Ginger who now recognizes he's a Blond-Ginger Hybrid.

And Gingers, do have souls, for the record.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

12 Steps for Getting Over a Validation Addiction Part One

Last week I confessed my Addiction to Validation and promised my 12-step routine to get over it. I also outlined a potential Magic Pill solution, whereby an Ultimate Catch can teach you to love yourself by loving you. 

That's right. Ignore the writing on the wall. He really does love you.
Problem is too often this seeming Ultimate Catch is more likely a seasoned Player Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. He finds an unsuspecting and undeveloped soul with limited self-worth to satiate their own need for a relationship power fix. When the player kicks the played to the curb, we enter a dangerous Stage Three Validation Cycle, fueled by broken dreams and cynical disillusionment. All it takes is one douchebag asshole to forever corrupt a naive soul, making them believe true connections don’t really exist. This jaded notion can lead to a Validation Addiction so virulent it could be lifelong. These wounded warriors can become the Players for Life we fear - forever praying on lost souls like you or me. Be weary of these these hope-crushing, insecurity-fueling Incubus slutbags. Fall pray to their dark temptations and you could become one yourself.   

Stage Three Validation Addiction comes with high risk of becoming a Player For Life

Cautionary tales aside, this blog post is, after all, about hope for change. Luckily I have the wisdom to avoid that villainous path and I’ve chosen to call a spade a spade and beat this addiction once and for all. So let's get that soul cleansed and learn how to Validate Ourselves!


Whether you use Grindr or random bars to find your hookups, there is simply nothing to gain from having anonymous, meaningless sex. Besides of course nasty STIs, heartache and/or soul-rot. If you’re ambitious, or fancy yourself the entrepreneurial spirit - especially if you’re even remotely artistic and creative - chances are you could be doing something more productive with your time. You could argue it will train your aptitude in bed, but the empirical reality is that great sex requires an intimate connection, typically formed after repeat, and therefore increasingly more meaningful encounters.

Strap yourself in one of these if you have to. 
Obviously not all sex is bad. As Steven Pressfield says in The War of Art: “you can generally tell by the feeling of emptiness you have afterwards”. This is to say, quality sex with an intimate partner is rejuvenating, even inspiring, and comes fully endorsed. If, however, you’re a Validation Addict like me, you probably try to justify Meaningless Sex encounters as Meaningful. You’ll probably have to go cold turkey for a little while. Consider it like Lent in the Bedroom. The sexual frustration is good for you.


Stop going on lames dates with guys a decade your junior and justifying them as more than what they are. "But I'm not looking for sex or hookups, so it’s different, right?" 

Wrong. An addiction to meeting new potential romantic connections (that you never see again 93% of the time) is the same, if not worse than meaningless sex, because it eats up way more Productive Time. If you’re not just using a “dinner/drinks date” as an appetizer before getting off, you’re probably on the hunt to fill that missing hole in your life. A hole that can’t be filled by another guy (or gal). If it can be filled by a guy, then welcome to the Complacency. And guess what happens to relationships based on Complacency? 

That's right, mid-life crises, temptation for better things and inevitably broken hearts. And guess what those lead to? As yes, Stage Three Validation Addiction
They say 94% of Complacent Relationships End in Heartbreak or Broken Dreams 
To pull off this extreme form of moderation, you may need to delete your online dating presence for good. Not only is E-dating a real waste of time sifting losers from monsters, but incompatible personality, sense of humor or sexual chemistry just can’t be detected on the web anyway. The reality is the vast majority of online daters aren’t amazing “catches” that are "just so busy, this is the only way they can can meet other quality guys". They’re people just like you, with a warped sense of priorities that feel a burning need to be validated by others. 


Okay, so you’ve cut two dangerous temptations from your life: hookups and crappy dates. Give yourself a serious pat on the back. If you’re a Validation Addict, this probably opened up a massive gap in your schedule you can now fill with Productive Activity. Writing new scripts or a chapter in the next YA blockbuster bestseller. Brainstorming new business ideas with your mentor friends (but not fellow validation addicts).  Learning a language, building your portfolio or taking up the violin all count. So if you think you're creatively blocked, then go workout or spend your time un-cluttering the workspace for future, focused working sessions. Take on new instructed classes if you require some kind of dictator to keep you from slipping off the path. This is all time better spent than an evening without a real connection, that likely won’t be remembered a week later.

If you're using the laptop to access hook-ups site, it doesn't count.
Unfortunately, potential Productive Time clearly does not equate to actual Productive Time which is always governed by a unique combination of Discipline and Willpower, things you almost surely lack. Here your restless mind tends to wander, routinely drifting back to dangerous feelings of low self-esteem and a tendency to procrastinate. Don't worry. We'll work on that. 


If you’re trying to stick to a productive routine, nothing helps by trading bad habits in your life for disciplined good ones. This means keeping up with your daily iron-pumping workouts, while avoiding cheats on your diet, to help achieve or maintain your Adonis figure.   

But wait a minute! Doesn’t this just enable your vanity? That preoccupation with looking and feeling good that inevitably leads to Validation Sex and Broken Routines? Well not if you've removed Sex With Strangers from your timetable! The reality is, Discipline and Willpower love company (just like misery). So if you apply this kind of measured routine into your life, the drive to produce work and resist cheap validation will begin to come just as naturally for you. 

It's okay to use beauty to motivate Drive. Meaningless sex isn't the only thing its good for.
I’ve discovered Beauty Gives me Power and not just in terms of confidence. I get my best ideas when I’m working out and are endorphins are flooding my neo-cortex. If eating well and training hard makes me feel so good about myself, why the hell would I slip back to square one, by eating my feelings or skipping the gym? Don’t listen to friends or family who tell you to "relax" or say its okay to “live a little”. These are your Negative Influence Friends. They probably gave up in their own quests for self-validation and they probably don't enjoy that you're better looking then them. Now, what to do about them? 


This might be the toughest band-aid to rip-off of them all. The friends that love you The Way That You Are will want you to stay that way and won't like when you change. They might enjoy your fun spontaneity or delight in the tales of your Boy Crazy Drama. In the worst case, they may enjoy making you the butt of all their sassing jokes, so you get used to seeing your insecurities as normal. Deep down, they're almost surely as insecure and unhappy as you, so the idea of you developing Discipline and Willpower they lack will only piss them off. Unfortunately, being addicted to Validation, you likely prefer these kind of friends, because lifelong masochism attracts you to abusive relationships, even in platonic form.  

Negative Influence Friends. 
I'm not saying you must create drama by publicly dumping all your Negative Influence friends on Facebook. Allow actions to speak louder than words. Hang out with your Positive Influence friends (if you have any) more than the negative ones. Say no to a party night of binge-drinking because you'd rather stay in and work on your book. I know, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) will probably make this task nigh unthinkable (we'll fix that soon), but it is necessary if you want to avoid situations that make you prone to bad habits. Replacing bad friends with good ones probably sounds tough. But if you've successfully begun to take advantage of your quality friends and started to put in Productive Time hours, your Negative Influence Friends will naturally become resentful and probably cut themselves out of your life.


It's easy to identify these friends in your inner circle. They're the busy ones that have real lives and real jobs and aren't partying 3-4 nights a week. You probably didn't see much of them before because you were too busy focusing on your amazing sex-life or finding the one. Well it's time to surround yourself with these motivating forces. 

Positive Influence Friends.

But it's important you spend quality time with these buddies and stop inundating your Positive Influence Friends with tales of your depressing dating and/or sex life. Giving play-by-play commentary of that time you hooked up with the 17-year-old high-schooler and almost got charged with statutory rape (ah, good times). The problem of continually regaling your sexual exploits to your friends, you’re not only tainting your shared experiences, but validating the collective view that you’re a massive sleaze-bucket (and not the Oscar-winning Writer you’d like to one day be). The more air time you give these sordid affairs, the more you satiate your insecurity monsters instead of slaying them. Keep this stuff to yourself. Better yet, stop getting into the experiences you know, deep down, are bad ones.

Instead make a conscious effort to enlist your good friends in the war against Validation. Your good friends (the ones that never condoned your self-destructive lifestyle to begin with) make great Agents of Accountability in the War on Validation. You can brainstorm with these kind of friends, or engage in other kinds of Mutual Productive Time (as long as that doesn't turn into Mutual Masturbation). You can even sign Contracts with financial penalties for cheats, if your willpower is really that bad. The point is, when you’ve made a pact to make positive change in your life, don’t be ashamed to admit it. Your friends can keep you on track.

And whew! That brings us to the end of this week's lesson. I know, I know: we've only made it half-way and we still have so far to go. The thing is, you need some time to digest these first main points. Plus I'm super long-winded and this blog entry is already too long. 

In any event, you'll cure yourself of the addiction in Seven Days Time. 

Sunday, 31 March 2013

I have a Confession to Make...

Okay. First a necessary precursor: It’s been over TWO months since my last blog post. I could say I was busy shooting the documentary and writing my book. Both excuses are based in partial truth so therefore might sound valid. But let’s also be clear: they’re also Bullshit, just like all excuses known to man. The unfortunate truth is I have an addiction, the satiation of which kept me from releasing this next post, which is actually the topic of the very post itself. How’s that for bitter irony?

Writing these blog posts is kind of like an exercise in cathartic release and psychotherapy. Once I use the digital page to exorcise one of my demons, I can’t exactly fall back on my word? That would make me Queen of the Hypocrites.  

If you've slept with any of the gentlemen pictured here, this blog post is for you!
So perhaps, subconsciously, I needed to go through one last cycle of tempting bad habits. Re-downloading Grindr (after I'd pledged to Never be a Hookup Whore ever again) and meeting up with 20-something prettyboys to gorge my need to feel young, hot and desirable. Getting lazy and eating muffins at Starbucks so that I could get fat again (by my standards), so I’d have an excuse to look down on myself, and blame the problems in my life on not being goodlooking enough. I know it all sounds crazy, but these are the Symptoms of a much more virulent addiction. And it’s one I plan to beat.   

So faithful and patient readers. Without further ado, I have a confession to make.

Bryce Pre-Addiction. He didn't smoke, party or do drugs. But he also never had sex. 
I’ve always put myself on a self-righteous pedestal because I lived my adolescence on the straight-and-arrow. I got straight A’s in the 90s. I didn’t drink or go to parties because I was too busy trying to be Hermione Granger and Alex Trebek's love child (okay Hermione wasn't born when I was in high school, so the idea of her sleeping with a man in his 70s is kind of gross, but you get the point). I’ve always resisted the boozing, drugs and even smoking that tempt mere mortals. 

But then I came out of the closet and you all know what happened there. That’s right, I excavated my deep insecurities and transformed into the delayed douchebag you love (or love to hate) today. Problem is, remember how I said I’m trapped in the third quadrant? The phase where one Makes Up For Lost Time where you trade your self-respect and dignity for a six-pack and high-school hookups. Well here is where I discovered an addiction to Validation (of Sexual Desire). A drug worse than cocaine. 

Stage One Validation Addiction: Former Fatties will know it well.
Anybody cursed with an addiction for validation knows it's pretty simple. 

You look in the mirror and hate what you see. So you go to the gym and pump iron until someone tells you "you're hot." It will start with friends, family and colleagues, but their empty compliments mean nothing, because they're not having sex with you. But eventually you'll start to get attention from randoms in the bar. Or you'll put up hot new pictures on Grindr. And just like magic, you'll start having sex with guys you could never have sex with before. You might wake up feeling empty or shameful you didn't do something more productive. But luckily there's always another sexy hookup to make you escape those shameful thoughts! 

Unfortunately, in Stage One Validation Addiction, you will be plagued by unrelenting Self-Doubt. As you break your routine (and lose your sense of discipline), this can subconsciously lead to Shame-fueling Binge Eating. If it's really bad you might actually get fat again, but, either way, that's what you will see when you look in the mirror. You might think the easy cure is simply getting validated. You could tell me I have a great body and mean it - but guess what, chances are I’ll forget by the next day, when I reach the next hurdle in life. When you’re truly addicted to validation, you keep raising the stakes, eventually adding Body Dysphoria and Perfectionism

Stage Two Validation Addiction: PLAYERS FOR LIFE suffer from this.
In Stage Two Validation Addiction, your self-sabotaging Stockholme Syndrome loses its grip, and you realize Upper Echelon Grindr Hotties can only be attained by going to ridiculous extremes of dieting and exercise. You'll believe you've Raised your Standards and adopt a truly visceral Body Dysmorphia. So when you look in that mirror, you'll still see the Fat Monster you always hated. And thus the Cycle of Validation starts anew, as per above. 

The fact that I decided to pursue a career in entertainment makes my validation addiction cripplingly two-fold. It’s sexual and creative! Basically I either need you to say you desire me or you think I’m brilliant! A daily bout of writer’s block can fuel a sense of creative talentlessness. To escape that feeling, I might try to score a (meaningless) date or hookup. If I fail in that, I'll blame my inch of pinch-able fat. If I succeed I might beat myself up for not being productive.  

The thing with an addiction to validation, there isn’t a set paradigm for curing it. How many validation rehab clinics have you heard of? A 12-step regime or Validation Anonymous? Sure you can spend hundreds on psychotherapy (and believe me I have), but chances are that will only solidify the idea that you're crazy, and make you dependent on Therapeutic Validation.  

Holy Grail Cure for Validation: If either of these Chris' falls in love with you, you can skip my next blog post.

The easy cure for an Addiction to Validation is a deeply fulfilling long-term relationship with a smoking hot Ultimate Catch. That's right, to become an Ultimate Catch, you must earn the love of an Ultimate Catch. He or she will accept you despite your insecurities because in their storied wisdom, they can see your unearthed potential. Because they’ve got a 9 face and 9 body, you’ll actually trust their esteemed judgement. You’ll become the effortlessly confidant hunkosaurus Rex pretty much overnight.

Alas (and this is a good thing), we live in a world where you have to love yourself before you can truly be loved. They call this Self-Validation. Now in lieu of magical, meaningful love from Mr. or Mrs. Perfect, chances are, you’re on your own in the big fight. The good news is once you beat this independently, there’s no going back, grasshopper. But if that Ultimate Catch above turns out to be a Player Douchebag and dumps you, welcome to Validation Addiction!

The bad news is I’m extremely long-winded and a bit of a tease. You’ll have to wait until next week for Bryce’s 12-Step Routine to Beating Validation Addiction.