No seriously, it's been so long since I drafted a blog post that I had to confirm my identity to Blogger. That's beyond embarrassing. Hello world! It's Ethan, and believe it or not, I am still alive. I'm writing today for the first time in... months. I've come to you today with some feels I've been holding in for quite some time that I'm ready to get out into the open. With explanation for my absence and for support from my tribe.
Nine months and two weeks ago, I posted a very important post entitled "Mandatory 'Where the Hell Have I Been?' Post". January 13, 2016 seems an entire lifetime away from me now. I just re-read that post and I can't even see the Ethan that wrote that post. He had such high hopes for this year. He was going to straighten up his ways and blaze a path, making 2016 his best year yet. He was struggling, but he was optimistic. He was confused, and saw darkness on his horizon, but he was determined to fight it.
Nine months and two week later, I now know that Ethan didn't survive the battle.
Life sunk its' claws into that Ethan. And broke him.
Nine months and two weeks later, I mourn the loss of that Ethan. The Ethan with an inkling of hope for 2016. The Ethan who thought the dark times had ended and the time for a new era was neigh.
Nine months and two weeks later, I'm here writing this post. Trying to answer life's most important question:
Who is Ethan Gregory?
|For the record, this sexy mo-fo is Ethan Gregory.|
When I last wrote on my personal life, I was in a pretty dark place. Or, what I thought was a dark place. I was so burnt out on drama, on the book world, on life in general, that I thought I had hit rock bottom and the only place to go was up.
Then I fell into the sub basement. As I continued my descent into madness, I had to let go of the ties that were binding me to my old life. The first one was one of the strongest. The ties to one of my deepest loves and passions: the book world. As I mentioned in that post nine months ago, this blog and the book world have ruled my life for a very long time. I spent more time in front of a screen or my Nook working for someone else, that I forgot who I was. As mentioned before, I began to resent everything about this industry and honestly, nothing really changed.
The emails still continued to build up, the drama became more and more overbearing. The name calling, the snarkiness, the negative vibes coming from all corners of the arena. It became too much. Everything about the industry became too much for me to bear. Ethan was only one guy, trying to make a difference. But then something happened. I realized that no matter how hard I try, how much I stress, and no matter how many nights I stay awake wondering how I can change the industry: I can't. I'm but one person. I can't change the situation. I can only change the way I feel about the situation. I can change my outlook on life. And so I did.
I shrugged off the negativity. I found the root of the issue and I eradicated it from my life. I realized the only way for me to move on and find my footing again was to step back. Hardcord. Remove myself completely from the situation and then slowly find a way to fall back in love with the world that's saved me from the brink on more than one occasion. So I did. I quit.
I stopped accepting review requests. I resigned from my internship. I stopped reading. I turned off my email notifications. I backed out of several book events and conferences.
For the first time in years, I was free. And boy, was it liberating.
I lived life.
I embraced my life. For a few months, I was on cloud nine. My life was finally falling into place. I grew to a level of acceptance with my employment. I spent time exploring my life and finding what made me happy. I got to have fun. I went out, I made memories.
|Third Eye Blind concert with Landon in March. This proved to be one of the most interesting nights of my life.Seriously.|
I lived fully, never looking back or giving myself a reason to say no. I told myself to only say 'yes'. Don't think about the 'what ifs' or the 'how', just 'do it'. I made those kinds of life experiences you hope to one day tell your grandkids about. The kinds where you think 'what was I thinking?' but then laugh until you cry about the stories you can tell. I smile as I write this. I was feeling great. I've done the responsible adult thing for years. I got my degree(s), I worked hard. I was allowed a few months of fun, right?
I was, however, slightly weary.
When would life come crashing down? Could I really let myself be happy knowing that any day, it could come to a screeching halt? I tried not to worry. To live in the moment and take life as it came. I grew increasingly paranoid. I prayed I wouldn't sabotage my happiness. Every day was a blessing.
Until it wasn't.
Life gave me lemons.
Then the whole damn forest burnt down.
My life changed overnight. Literally. My high, all the carefree feelings I had? Everything changed when mortality and responsibility slapped me in the face so hard, I still feel the pain all this time later.
That cold night in February, after a night of questionable decisions and more stories, I got the call. The call that broke me in ways I didn't even know you could be broken. The night I almost said goodbye to someone very, very close to me. The night someone in my life made a snap decision that nearly ended theirs. The moment I realized that people in my life were suffering, way worse than me. Suffering in ways I still can't comprehend. Suffering in ways they didn't see a solution and there was only one way out.
I remember calling my best friend in the middle of the night, so ridiculously broken that I couldn't even speak right. I was inconsolable, scared, and without answers. I couldn't comprehend the decisions that were being made and I felt helpless to stop them.
After a night of no sleep, I spent the next several days in the ICU, watching as that person fought for their life. You never know how fortunate you are until you see someone you've known your entire life hooked up to machines, not knowing if or when they'll leave the hospital the same person. I watched as not only I broke, but all of those around me. I was shattered. As they grew stronger, and eventually left the hospital and sought out help, I couldn't piece myself back together. I tried, but my 'high' on life was over.
My entire mood changed, my outlook on life changed. Everything became a rush. Life was fleeting, and I was wasting mine. I had no direction, I didn't know what tomorrow held. I suddenly felt guilty for every moment of happiness I'd afforded myself as I shrugged my responsibilities. I resented myself and all the time I had wasted. I pulled away from the grey zone and flung myself clear into the darkness.
The next months I spent barely able to pull myself out of bed in the mornings. If I wasn't working, I was sleeping. Or crying. I couldn't pull myself together. I don't know exactly what switch was flipped, but Ethan was gone. That voice in my head that told me to stay strong died. He was overpowered by voices of doubt, hatred, and fear. The needle on my moral compass spun so out of control, it flew into another orbit.
I found the few things in life that tethered me to reality. And I held on. Through all the darkness, I held on. To those two people that saved me from the edge of destruction. They held me as I cried, checked on me every day. Ensured that they'd be here for me regardless of the situation. They never left me alone. Never judged, never prodded. They made sure I worked, slept, ate. I couldn't have made it. They reminded me I was loved. Reminded me I had a purpose. Introduced me to new habits and actions. They welcomed me into their lives with open arms. And sheltered me from further harm.
JK Rowling said it best when she wrote: 'Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love.'
I never had to live without love. In fact, I experienced love in ways I'd never felt before. I made sacrifices and after years of caring for others, I allowed someone to care for me. I let go of everything and for the first time focused on the only thing I could: myself. For the first time in nearly twenty-five years, I cared for myself.
I fell and allowed my friends to care for me. I may as well have had a live-in nurse. Even now there are huge gaps in my memory. Long periods of time I don't remember. Things I've completely blocked from my memory. Anyone who knows me, knows I have somewhat of a photographic memory. I remember everything so this is a big deal for me.
Much like Batman's escape from The Pit, it was a long journey, and it wasn't easy. It's so strange to be writing about this, but I fought as both my mind and body rebelled against me. I thought I was going crazy. The voices in my head, never ceasing. Constantly dragging me down. Becoming physically ill several times a day as I watched my life crumble, bit-by-bit each day. The voices tore at the walls around my psyche, eventually blasting through them. Effectively destroying the few things that made me, me.
Having already given up the book world, I turned to my other passions: broadway, comics, film. Nothing would fill the void. Everything disappointed me. I begun to feel that I'd never be happy again.
I watched as those around me, my friends and family dealt with huge life changes. Births, deaths, marriage, divorce. I watched it all through a window. Like a hazy fog. I couldn't even control my own emotions, how could I bring myself to care for theirs? I hated myself for pulling away from the friends who had been there for me, but I knew then (as I do now) that they not only understood, but applauded me for caring for myself.
After months of sadness, I woke up one day and realized something had snapped. I'd done all the crying I could. I saw what my life had become and I couldn't face it anymore. I had to make a change. I was absolutely ashamed of what I was. So thus I jumped to yet another phase I didn't see coming. The one that would truly be the end of Ethan.
As the depression took hold, I became more paranoid than ever. The voices in my head grew to a cacophony of such magnitude, I couldn't sleep. I talked to myself. Yelled at myself. I punished myself. I was my own worst enemy. And as such, I destroyed the pillars around me. I lashed out at my friends and family. Distancing myself from them in the most drastic of ways. I tore myself apart from anything and everything that didn't involve me being alone in the dark, attempting to fight the demons in my mind.
It was months before I was able to find joy again. I honestly don't know that I smiled for weeks at a time. Between the sleeping pills and energy drinks, I was more zombie than human. I realized in an effort to save myself, I was slowly killing myself. I became sick. Disgustingly so. My body rebelled against me and my new lifestyle. I fought to control myself, but lost the battle. Terribly
The level of fitness I was so proud of just months before, became a sickening reality. I couldn't eat. I shook all the time. I was pale and gaunt. In the span of six months, I lost eighty pounds. Some from diet and exercise, but most from my trials and depression. I'm so happy to say I've kept the weight off and I feel better than ever now, but it was not the ideal diet. I'll be the first to admit.
|Crazy transformation right? May 2014 vs May 2016. Now I look even more different than the pic on the right!|
April was the hardest month of my entire life. As long as I live, I think I may forever remember the last few weeks of April 2016 as being the hardest time of my life. It started out on a high note. I attended the Roanoke Author Invasion (hosted by one of my very best friends, the incredible Liz Long). It was my first book event of the year (after I had already bailed on three). I needed RAI. I needed the ten hour roadtrip and the weekend surrounded by my friends and the world I had loved. I needed it more than I could say. And it did wonders. I had an absolutely amazing time. I remembered why'd I'd turned to the book world and the security it provided me.
|Roanoke Author Invasion with Liz Long, Jo Michaels, Tia Silverthorne-Bach, and P.M. Hernandez|
The last three weeks of April were.... trying. To say the very least.
In those three short weeks, I managed to lose three of the most important people in my life. What little bit of heart and soul I had wouldn't make it to May. In a moment of clarity, I realized the only way to move forward in life was to make amends with those who I'd long blamed for my sorrows. And I tried. With explosive results.
When you find yourself in a dark place, the worst thing you can do is surround yourself with others facing their own demons. You feed off one another. When I realized my darkness was being fed by another, I confronted the other and it didn't go well. I learned the hard way that you cannot help those who don't want help. Everyone has to heal at their own pace. As a result, I was forced to detach myself from one who I'd grown extremely close as they (literally) leapt from my life.
While reeling from this, my second tragedy unfolded. My very best friend in life, the girl I've loved since the day we met, faced her darkest hour. The one person in my life who has always been my constant. My catalyst to life and reality, she lost one of the most important people in her life only a week before leaving for boot camp. Our last moments together were shrouded in sadness. Not only would she have to learn to live life with a part of her heart missing, I'd have to learn to live with a large part of mine leaving at a time when I couldn't even hardly live with myself. I did what I could to be there for her. To shield her from spiraling out of control as I had. Grief and loss were emotions I was becoming close to. Closer in ways I didn't even know existed. Barely having time to recover from her loss, fate ripped us apart. For six long weeks, I had to live without my best friend. It was pure hell. Thankfully she's out now and I'm more proud of her than I can put into words, but man. It was a rough time for us both.
|Hannah's Navy Boot Camp Graduation June 2016|
They also end much more violently.
My mother is a pretty interesting lady. Most of my friends have heard my various 'Melissa-stories'. While we may not get along all the time, I have more respect for her than I can put into writing. The one thing I'll always carry with me is the mantra she's lived by my entire life. The philosophy she's instilled in me that I've learned this year to be more true than most anything I know: 'you can't help who you fall in love with'. Your heart and soul are drawn to who they are and there's truly little-to-nothing you can do about it.
|Melissa (Mom) and Austin (brother). Just for reference.|
Tearing yourself away from your one source of protection is one of the hardest things I've ever done. I literally felt as though I'd ripped my soul in two. Ethan came back to life in a way that didn't come from strength, but desperation. I needed him back as he was all I had left. The light, the dark, the grey. It was all ripped from me. My heart was shattered in more pieces than I could ever hope to put back together. I was blinded.
My life had no light. No direction. I fell. Spiraled into a darkness I never knew existed. Everything about this reality was a living hell. The very air I breathed depressed me.
I tore myself away from any vestiges of my former life. Vowing to spend some time alone. Finding myself. Knowing I could never be happy until I learned to love myself and stopped depending upon others for my own happiness. Much like Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, Old Ethan and New Ethan were inside of me, leaning upon one another, struggling for their very existence. I never knew who I'd see when I looked into the mirror. I didn't know who I was, but each day I grew both weaker and stronger.
Over the next several months, life was a roller coaster of emotions. I didn't feel comfortable anywhere and nothing I did seemed right. I always felt like I was missing *something*. A huge chunk of my heart and soul were missing and no matter what I did, I never felt whole.
With some friends, I managed to attend several awesome events that have become a staple in my life. Planet Comicon (for the fourth year running) was an incredible experience. I met Stan Lee. Well... waved at Stan Lee, but he DID wave back. My partner in crime, Christina Marie (you guys all know who she is) and I really tore up the town and lived the Comicon experience to the fullest.
|Planet Comicon with Christina Marie May 2016|
|UtopiaCon 2016: I was on a panel! People came to hear ME talk! Can you imagine?|
My life that, as you can see, had been trampled upon. 2016 has not been kind to me.
Throughout the remainder of the summer, I worked even harder to maintain a balance, but eventually had to come to a hard decision.
I needed help.
It was clear to me that this wasn't just a rough patch I was going through, and I needed the assistance of a professional. After consulting with friends and family, I sought out professional help for my... problems (if you can't tell yet, I hate the 'D' word. I deplore putting labels on anything!) After some hard conversations with my doctor, we planned a course of action and together found a treatment that best fit my lifestyle.
Treatment hasn't been easy, but effective nonetheless.
Eventually I regained my independence. It's an odd feeling to feel so alone, even when you know you never have to be. I isolated myself. Allowing only the closet members of my inner circle to know anything of what I was experiencing. I talked, they listened. Many offering kind words of encouragement, some listening to me cry, some silent as they just allowed me to vent. I slowly came to realize that the one I once called my worst enemy, was actually my closest ally.
He was in there this whole time. He just needed a break I guess. I still haven't figured out exactly what went wrong. I haven't figured out where he went for all these months when I needed him more than ever. I realized that I didn't hate him. And he didn't hate me. I was proud of him.
Ethan is strong. Intelligent. Hardworking. Ethan has two degrees. Speaks three languages. Has read more literature than he can count. Loves deeply, lives fully. Has an incredible family, and Avi. Ethan has an Avi! What isn't to love about Ethan? I realized that all the things I hated about myself. All the insecurities I'd faced were actually what made me strong. What makes us special, makes us strong.
|I have an Avi. Best pig ever. Seriously. Look at that face. Forreal.|
And so I did.
It wasn't easy. In fact, it was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done in my entire life. To fall in love with myself again. To allow myself to open myself up to feelings and emotions, to love again. To live again.
|Because what's not to fall in love with? I mean have you seen me ? Come on. Damn. The sticker says it all. Oh and Lindsey is alright looking too, I guess.|
|Koko's Wedding (August 13, 2016)|
|Head Broseph Jordan and I (Sept 2016)|
And then guess what happened? I fell in love with Literature. AGAIN.
I'm not back to 100%. Not by a long shot. In fact, to be honest, I don't think I'll ever again go back to the constant level of book worlding I was doing. To be honest, the idea of writing reviews makes my skin crawl, but I do have several to do. The past couple of months, I have started reading on the regular. I've ready about 30 novels this summer. Some amazing new works by my favorite authors and a few of my all time favorites to remind me why I fell in love with the written word. I'm getting away from the things I feel like I 'have' to do and finally working on things I 'want' to do. I'm working with fewer people and not taking on so many large projects, but Ethan FINALLY started getting back into the swing of things.
I'm still here.
I'm still fighting.
Trying each and every day to see the positives in life. Coming to terms with both of the beings living inside me. Old Ethan and New Ethan, finding a symbiotic balance inside my mind. Allowing me to fully embrace both my light and dark sides. And coming to terms with that being okay.
Because it is okay.
Nobody is perfect. Life is messy
Love is messy.
I don't know my place on this Earth quite yet. I know that sometimes we go through rough patches. I know that it's okay to ask for help. I actually consider it quite brave to realize you've reached a certain point and be able to say 'I can't do this on my own anymore'. And finding the help you need. Life shouldn't be dreaded. We only get one.
Ethan's not completely healed yet. But he's on the mend. As for the rest of me, I'm working to face my demons. I'm still looking out for number one, but I've learned more in the last year than I ever learned in 22 years of schooling. Life isn't measured in moments of victory and triumph, it's measured in the moments you find yourself in the face of adversary and how you rise to the occasion. It's not about proving yourself to others, it's about finding your own sense of well-being and self-worth.
It took me 25 years to learn that the key to my success and happiness isn't going to be found on a piece of paper. A fancy car, home, or six-figure salary. It's inside me. It's been inside me all along. It's in the faces of those I love. In those I trust. In my family whom I love dearly and who believe and support me. In my friends who never turned their backs on me. Who never told me to 'get over it'. Who never shunned me.
|Oh I lied. The key to happiness is Funkos. Straight up. I've got well over 200 of these little bastards floating around. I channeled a lot of my energy and emotions into collecting these little guys this year. Time and money well spent, right? I also do Funko photography now.... it's a thing. Go check out my Instagram accounts at @egrgry and @pigandpops!|
I don't know what tomorrow holds. I really don't, and that's okay. I have spent my entire life fearing the unknown. Allowing my anxiety to shape me into something unhealthy. Never able to accept what I cannot see. It's bizarre to say, but actually enjoy spontaneity now. I like not knowing where life may take me next. I love the random adventures I find myself taking, and I'm loving the new memories I'm making each and every day.
This year has sucked. I mean woah holy hell. It's been horrible. But it's finally looking up. And I mean it this time. In three weeks, I turn twenty-five. I'm a quarter of a century old. I'm nowhere close to where I wanted to be at age 25, but you know what? That's okay.
I had a bucket list. Things I wanted to accomplish before I hit this milestone, and believe it or not, I've hit several of them. I've missed a few opportunities that I'm still kicking myself for, but 25 sure isn't the end, it's just the beginning. I survived childhood, my teens, and my New Adulthood. It's smooth sailing from here on out, right?
But let's be honest, now that I've gotten my quarter-life crisis out of the way, maybe the mid-life one won't be so horrible. What's going bald if you get a motorcycle out of it, right? (*prays biggest problems at 45 are going bald and wanting a motorcycle*)
I've thrown a couple of quotes in here already to describe my place in life right now, but I'd like to share another quote from one of my closest friends and confidantes, Bestselling Author Sherry D. Ficklin. This quote touched me from the day I read it and I've never related so closely with a character as I did hers in this moment:
"I have made mistakes that I will never be able to atone for, and I have allowed myself to be selfish in ways you might never understand. I’m not proud of my choices, but neither would I retract a single one."
The funny thing is that no matter how much I love that quote, I'm not sure I completely agree with it anymore. I am proud of myself for the choices I made. I pulled myself away and protected myself at a time when life could have taken a very different direction. While I wish I could alter some decisions, I no longer consider them mistakes of my past, but stepping stones on the path of where and who I am today.
Friends and family, I implore you. Don't give into the darkness. Live your life to the fullest and without regrets. Don't ever be ashamed to seek guidance and never be too embarrassed to say "I need help". There is always someone out there who can help. Don't be afraid to live, and certainly never be afraid to love.
But above all: love yourself. Claim yourself. Don't live in the grey zone.
Embrace the light.
Embrace the dark.
Defy the conventions of society and 'do you'.
As written in my favorite novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire:
“Remember this: Nothing is written in the stars. Not these stars, nor any others. No one controls your destiny.”
Hug your loved ones folks. Never miss an opportunity to share your love and spirit with the world. The world in which we live would truly be a better place if we could all do our part to leave it just a little more positive than we found it.
I thank you all for your kind words, love, and your support this year. I never would have made it through it without you. Ethan is here to stay and getting stronger each and every day. I thank the heavens above for every breath I get to take, Thank you to my family for supporting me and helping me to get the help I needed. Thank you to my brothers and sisters (both biological and not) for being here for me. For giving me strength at a time I had none. Thank you to my colleagues and book world peeps for all the love and messages, reminding me that I am never alone.
I'm healthier than I've ever been and I'm working to make 25 the best year of my entire life.
I've got some huge changes on the horizon that I'm keeping under my hat for the time being, but I know so long as I keep the faith, everything is going to work out in the end.
As for the book world? Don't worry, I'm here. Maybe in a smaller, more intimate capacity, but I'm here nonetheless. I'll start reviewing again, but until that day, I'm here. Reading. Listening. And loving every second. For the first time in a very long time.
|Because eventually I just realized. Some days you gotta put on your robe and beard, grab your fake wand and be a wizard. Because life's too short to be anything less... than a wizard. I'm a 25 year old man in a costume. Your point?|
It's going to take time and I know there'll be good days and bad, but each day I get stronger, and I know deep down, I'm ready to face the next chapter of my life with excitement and open arms.
Here's to you 2016: you may have kicked me down, but you taught me more than I would have ever imagined.
Until next time, Happy Reading!