A couple of months ago I was asked if I was having suicidal thoughts. I am not suicidal. I have no desire to end my life. I enjoy television and wine and sleep too much to not be able to indulge in them whenever I please. The reason for my frank opening statement (other than creating drama) is that lately I've been wondering who would miss me if I were actually gone? Who cares that I'm here?
OK, I know the first response to that question is my mom. I know that she cares that I'm alive, as does my dad. I'm sure I have other family members and select friends who also care that I'm alive. So then I ask whether I care. That may seem an absurd question after I've said that I don't want to end my life, but it stems from a throb of feeling unworthy and undesired that pulses through me more often than not. This is not a cry for help. This is just a moment of honesty that is being put into words even though the words are scary to see.
Being desired is such a basic craving. We all want to be desired: by our family, by our friends, by a lover, by our coworkers. What happens when we don't desire ourselves?
I'm beginning to realize that I don't like myself very much. All these years of feeling like I couldn't raise the eyebrow or pique the interest of an attractive man might actually stem from the fact that I'm exuding the pheromones of one who feels unworthy of being loved and therefore thinks he's undesirable to all. Could it be that simple? I'm sure I'm not the only gay man -- or person -- who feels or has felt this way. Do you have to love yourself before you can love someone else or be loved by someone else? Is that a myth?
I keep wondering if I'll ever love myself enough to be loved by another person. I hate being vulnerable, but vulnerability is key to opening one's heart to another person. For years I've told myself, "When the right person shows up, I'll know, and my heart will automatically open." Is that utter bullshit?
Like every gay man I know, I stand in front of my mirror post-shower each morning and apply anti-wrinkle moisturizer to my face. I apply deep-wrinkle eye treatment under my eyes. I make sure that my brows are plucked and even. I add product to my hair and style it as perfectly or as perfectly messy as I want. I choose my wardrobe (i.e., my armor) for the day with perfection in mind. I choose the right bracelet and ring to accessorize my look. I choose the best shoe for the occasion. I put myself together with the precision of an artist. Finally, I apply my lip moisturizer and a spritz (or seven) of cologne then walk out my door with all the confidence I can muster, but it's all fake.
Underneath it all I'm insecure. I've put myself together to attract attention, hoping that others might envy me, desire to be me, or be jealous of me. (Shallow much?) None of this opens me up to be desired as a person, for my conversation or my companionship. No matter. I look good, so that makes me "feel" good. Then I realize that no one's paying attention to my stylish Marc Jacobs bag or my Michael Kors shirt or my Donna Karan jeans. No one cares who made my sunglasses or whether my underwear is merely Hanes from the corner Duane Reade. I care, of course, but all these things are peacock's plumage, beautiful articles that hide the man who feels unworthy and undesirable and therefore questions who would miss him if he were gone. Then just like that, I pierce my own good feeling from inside the armor.
I want to like myself. I want to love myself. I want to be happy with my life. What I'm learning is that I'm uncomfortable in my own skin. That seems crazy to me, but it's the truth. At 42 I'm uncomfortable in the skin of a gay man. I think that has everything to do with my feelings of unworthiness and undesirability. I just don't like myself. I'm looking for outside "liking" in order to feel good about me. That's never going to cut it. I have to be proud of me: my life, my accomplishments, my choices. I have held my head up with pride and confidence and know that I matter, that my ideas and opinions matter.
I recently read a HuffPost blog post by Mark Brennan Rosenberg titled "Are Gay Men a Gay Man's Worst Enemy?" It really got me thinking about being gay, having gay friends, and gay culture itself. I have been that catty queen who snarkily strikes down another gay man with bitchy comments. I have also been the gay man who feels like he's the one being judged by the catty queens. This behavior in our own community, coupled with my own insecurities, has led me to a place of not taking love chances on anyone. I don't want to put myself out there in the world. I'm a bystander instead of a participant. It makes me so angry. That anger, initially used as blame and placed on others, really reflects back on me. I'm the reason that I don't go out. I care too much about what other people think because I don't think too highly of myself. Here's where unworthiness and undesirability come into play and become immobilizing.
I'm not suicidal. I'm a lonely gay man who has let his feeling that no one would care if he lived or died become a room whose walls are closing in. There is no freedom in this room. I'm not saying that I think walking into one of the New York City gay bars -- say, Posh, Therapy, or Industry -- is going to change that. I'm not saying that someone I'm interested in showing me a little interest is going to change that. I'm saying that I know I have to find confidence and worthiness in myself. I don't really know how, but God knows I'm trying to figure that out.
I wish we could bottle up that time in childhood when we feared nothing and were game to try anything. Imagine being able to uncork that bottle and take a small whiff, remembering how it felt to be fearless, to not care what other people think, to know we are loved, worthy, cared for, desired.
Go ahead. Imagine that bottle. Uncork it. Breathe deeply. Find it. Find the courage. Find the confidence. I'm talking to myself here. Breathe deeply. They're there. Breathe deeply, Michael. Now live.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also visit The Trevor Project or call them at 1-866-488-7386.