The Romantic Story

As I boarded my flight the other day, I turned my phone on airplane mode. I wanted to watch a movie to kill time on the 3 hour plane ride,  so I decided to open up the movies app, when I noticed the movies that I had downloaded to my phone and in order “About Time, Annie Hall, You’ve Got Mail, and 10 things I hate about you.” While I choose to watch Annie Hall for probably the 100th time I began to think, why I am attracted to these movies that I had downloaded to my phone?

I’m constantly surrounded by love and romance. I photograph weddings for a living. It’s my job to tell a great love story. I thrive in this business, not because I can take a great picture, but because I understand love for the most part. I can anticipate a moment before it happens, and I don’t chalk that up to being a creative, but a romantic. I’ve witnessed many love stories and I’ve dreamed up more in my head, so you can say I have a high standard for the narrative

I’ve dreamed about my own romantic story for a long time. Longer than I can remember. Some of my favorite movies listed I can recall watching as a kid. My mom used to always watch You’ve Got Mail growing up, so much that I practically have the whole thing memorized. One of the first dvd’s we owned as a family was 10 things I hate about you, so you can see where I’m going with this.

Hollywood has done a great job of showing us this whimsical fantasy that makes you feel all warm inside, where guy meets girl, guy wins girl over, and then they fall happily in love. But is that real? Now I’m not a cynical at all, like I said I’m a romantic. Although I’m wondering as I get older, does this woman and this story I have created in my head exist? Any optimistic person will say “Yes JD, she’s out there!” I know my girl is out there. What I am getting at is, have I idolized this idea so long that I dismiss anybody who doesn’t fit that criteria?

For back story sake, I have experienced my ideal love story. The story goes like this:

One night several years ago at a gala black tie event, I met a girl. We’ll say her name is Taylor. I was asked to volunteer because my parents were attending said event. I remember walking in the door and immediately catching Taylor’s eyes. I was hooked. Little to my knowledge she was there to volunteer as well. To save you all the details we met, sparks flew, chemistry, the whole 9 yards. We ended up ditching our volunteer post and danced for the rest of the evening, then she left. All I knew was her first name. Now this was before you look someone up on Facebook and find out everything you want to know about someone. So I felt like I lost my cinderella and I had her glass slipper.

The next morning I went to a coffee shop to get a cup of coffee and guess who’s working behind the counter? Taylor. I couldn’t believe it, and neither could she at the time. I went into this coffee shop all the time to read a book and write in my journal just to catch her on a break so that we could talk. I went in so much that the manager ended up hiring me. We became close friends and I fell more in love with her everyday. Then one day just like the night she left the gala event she moved away to college. I didn’t get to tell her how I felt and didn’t get to say goodbye.

Fast forward to 4 years later, she moves back home and we run into each other. Granted we are from a small town so it was inevitable. We end up catching up over dinner and come to find out she’s been dating a guy for a few years, and I’m happy for her. But, all of a sudden my feelings for her come flooding back. We began that summer hanging out quite a bit with mutual friends and becoming close again. Until it came time for me to tell her how I feel. I explain everything and she felt mutual feelings. Sounds like a movie you want to watch right? Well..

One night she tells me that she wants to be with me. She was going to break it off with her boyfriend, because she knew she was in love with me. But, her words did not back her actions. Her boyfriend at the time lived 3 hours away. So she was going to visit him and end up having the conversation. So, I waited patiently for her to call me on the drive home. Few days go by and no word from her. I knew that something wasn’t right. She ended up not doing what she said and left me hanging and that was the first time that happened. I tell you all of this to say I’ve had the cool romantic story. It didn’t pan out the way I wanted it to.

Now most of us have all watched the notebook. So when the protagonist Allie leaves her fiancé for Noah, we cheer, but if that happened in real life we would have a lot of skepticism and look at her differently than we do in the film. Now, this is all going somewhere. So bare with me, I’m merely trying to contrast between reality and cinema.

Just recently I watched an interview with my favorite screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. He was asked by his interviewer if how he writes is similar to actual dialogue between people. He said no. How movies and shows are written is far beyond how people talk to each other in real life.

Cats out of the bag…

Cats out of the bag…

Most people who know me, whether we’ve just met or we go back 20 years, find me to be a lovable person to be around (I say this humbly). I enjoy being happy. I love having fun and most of the time I’m looking for the next thing that will make me laugh. I care for others greatly, and  I’m often the one people talk to when they are going through a hard time. You would never know that over the last month and a half I have been taking anti-depressants, because I have been living with crippling anxiety and depression for the last 7 years of my life.

The last year and a half have probably been the hardest out of the 27 – it felt as if it was all  bursting at the seams.


Like I said, I had been living with anxiety for a while now but it started getting worse and worse, until I was no longer in control of it. Now, to be clear, my anxiety, like all cases, is fear based – irrational thoughts that seemed mildly controllable, until just recently.

Last summer I was asked to work in Paris. A friend was going to fly me out there, and pay me to go. I was excited about the idea but, the moment it became a reality I shut down completely. I didn’t eat, didn’t sleep. Both of which are weird because I’ve been there, but this time I would be going alone. I was instantly overcome with fear, so much so I made up an excuse so that I wouldn’t have to go.


Just recently, about a month and a half ago, I had the most severe panic episode of my anxiety career. I was on my way to visit my sister, headed to a concert to see of one of my favorite bands growing up, and I had just spent $100 on a ticket. I left my house sweating profusely because I knew that a panic attack was on the horizon. It was only a matter of time. My sister lives about 3 and a half hours from me in San Francisco, 200 miles away to be exact. So when I reached mile 100 of my trip, my breathing quickened, my heart rate increased, blood pressure spiked, and my palms began dripping with sweat. I was having a panic attack.


If you have never had a panic attack, kiss the ground you walk on and thank your lucky stars because you have been blessed. For me, every time panic sets in I feel as if I’m dying. My brain goes into fight or flight mode and for the longest time I fought it, but now I was resorting to flight. I turned my car around and drove straight home. That drive home was probably the longest drive I’ve ever had. Depression sank deeper in my stomach than ever before, because I felt weak. I was not in control of my own thoughts and body.


After making a giant U-turn on the freeway I arrived home around 3pm and turned my phone off. I spent the rest of the day in my room, blocking out all sunlight, and sleeping till 11am the next morning. My heart was shattered. I felt broken, un-fixable, and quite frankly out of steam. One of the hardest parts of all of this was watching the look on my parents face, knowing they didn’t know how to help me. Throughout my life they have always come to my rescue, and now they had no idea how to solve this puzzle.



One of my closest friends suffered from similar symptoms and sought medical attention and they encouraged me to do so as well. About 3 years prior to all of this, I did just that. I went to the doctor with my anxiety questions, he told me about anti-depressants, and prescribed them to me. Of course I didn’t take them. I remember paying for the medication and throwing them into my nightstand drawer (where basically all things go to die and never be seen again). This time around I was willing to do whatever it took to get better. I was treading water and praying for a life raft.


So a doctor, a psychiatrist, and a priest walk into this bar… That joke seemed to be my reality. I saw a counselor, and we began to talk about where the root of all of this came from which helped for the most part but still felt like I wasn’t getting better. Then I went to the doctor and asked him about possible chemical imbalance that I might have. He prescribed me an  SSRI (anti depressant) commonly known as Zoloft. I was pretty on the fence about taking medication for something I felt was possible to fix myself, and when the doc sat me down and told me all the side-effects I freaked sideways. Especially the suicidal thoughts. Who in their right mind would ever put themselves in a place where they could potentially hurt themselves or take their own life? Certainly not me! I walked out of the pharmacy with my prescription in hand and again felt like throwing the pills in my nightstand, but my close friend really encouraged me to try them considering how much they had improved their life.

Simonis Wedding Preview


I remember the day I swallowed the first pill. I called all of my closest friends and confessed what I had been going through. I was just waiting for one of them to tell me not to get on medication but none of them did. Everyone was supportive and loving. Reassuring me that this was going to be a good thing. Lastly, I called my mom. She works as a therapist in the medical field where medication is often overprescribed and used unnecessarily. Her experience has lead her to believe that medication is generally prescribed as a quick fix to combat the symptoms, instead of dealing with the root cause. She has not always been a proponent of medication, so when I told her I had made up my mind about taking this antidepressant, to my surprise, she told me something I did not know. She had been taking a similar medication to help with her current situation in life. She has been separated from her husband for little over a year now, and was feeling down to the point where the future looked grim and not promising. Even though things are on their way up she still felt too heavy and had been feeling that way for some time. That was all the reassurance I needed.


The first week was the hardest. I was still wrestling with the fact that I needed to take something to help me feel better. It was such a crazy thing to wrap my mind around, it almost felt out of body. I over analyzed it so much that a majority of that week I stayed in bed. After 10 days in I began coping with the fact that this was going to help me and started going about my everyday life. Sure enough, it was no longer a big deal. I began to feel better. The things that normally stressed me out didn’t, my irrational thoughts had all but ceased to exist in my brain. Sometimes they would come, but I had the power to push them out and think rationally.

Earlier, I talked about bailing on the trip to San Francisco. One of the fears leading up to the panic attack on that trip was that I would’ve had to drive over a bridge to get there. I know what you’re thinking. Really? Bridges? Yes, I kid you not. Driving over bridges stressed me out. They never used to, nothing really stressed me out, but as my anxiety got stronger I would build up these crazy scenarios in my mind. For instance, I was expecting an intense earthquake to happen while I was driving over the bridge, it’d collapse and I’d be swimming with the fishes. These crazy scenarios would come when I was about to do something awesome and fun. I love camping, hiking, and being outdoors – to me there is nothing better. When I began to have this crazy fear that I’d have a heart attack in the middle of the woods and nobody could save me, I avoided it completely. I tell you all of this, because this is common with most cases of anxiety. One of my closest friends, the one who encouraged me to seek medication, shared that they had these fears too. They would be afraid every time they took their son to the grocery store, afraid that some estranged person was going to steal their son. If they didn’t see them moving in the baby monitor while they were sleeping, they would think he wasn’t breathing and they’d race in to go check on him to make sure he was still alive. People with anxiety struggle with a wild/scary imagination.


Last week I noticed the medication had taken an affect when I drove over both bridges in San Francisco. Something that bothered me so significantly was now a distant thought in my mind. 40 days into the medication I’m able to control my wild imagination and take hold of this mental illness.

Makhuli Engagement-1

I’ve wanted to be open about my whole process to shed light on this common stigma of mental illness and medical attention for it. I myself used to look down upon medication, something that is truly a gift from God. My well being and quality of life has changed drastically for the better and it feels as though my life has made a complete 180. When I say there is a stigma around taking medication for mental illness, I’m talking about the fact that I wrote it off as “I’m crazy”. I felt I would be seen as a person who people couldn’t trust because they obviously couldn’t handle things on their own. This belief is so false. Recently I watched an interview with Kristen Bell and Sam Jones called “Off Camera”. It’s one of my favorite podcasts, if you haven’t heard it go subscribe. Kristen shared that she struggles with severe anxiety and depression and has been taking anti-depressants for a long time to help her because she is overly emotional. This helps her as an actress to relate to characters but affects her in her day to day life, causing her to live anxiously. Kristen says in her interview “In the medical community, you would never deny a diabetic his insulin. Ever. But for some reason, when someone needs a serotonin [reuptake] inhibitor, they’re immediately crazy.” I was blown away by this, because there was this thing attached to something that could have saved me several years of heartache and stress, and because of it I wrote them off. I fed into the stigma and thought only crazy people needed to be on medication.


To quote the Huffington post, “nearly one in five American adults will experience a mental health disorder in a given year. Despite how common it is, it’s still highly stigmatized — and that’s a huge problem. Research shows negative perceptions can hold people back from seeking treatment and sometimes prevents individuals from revealing issues to their doctors.”


Since I have been open about my condition people have opened up to me about theirs. This is what we need. Honesty, vulnerability, and trust that the world will not judge you. You yourself hold the key to unlocking someone who is trapped in their own mind. All it takes is saying, “I’m with you on this, I struggle with the same thing, this has helped me find a breakthrough”, like my friend who encouraged me. I listened because I trusted them.


I want this to become an open conversation that is as common as the common cold. We need to be willing to say “I’m not ok!”, “I need help!”, “I can’t do this alone!” We get through life together and community is our saving grace. I pray that you find healing in whatever illness you are walking in. Just know that healing may come in many forms. Sometimes in the form of therapy, a friend saying how are you?, or a tiny pill once a day. You will get through this. You are never alone.

What I have to offer is Me.

I’ve been stewing on this post for a while now –  writing it multiple times just to scratch every copy in an attempt to keep this from turning into an autobiography. My life has not been deemed worthy of a hollywood blockbuster yet, so why bother? Recently my heart has been communicating to my brain for the first time in a while and I find myself here.

Like I said, I don’t want this to be a huge blog about how I got here – but we need backstory. I’ll keep it brief.

I just about butchered my reputation throughout my adolescence. If you were to ask anyone who knew me growing up, they would tell you I was the loud outspoken kid who couldn’t sit still and did just about anything for attention. I fed off it. I tried way too hard to find myself inside of what others thought of me.

It wasn’t until my early twenties that I started running with the right people – people who accepted me for who I was. I found my Faith, which helped me to develop characteristics that I value greatly today. The day I picked up a camera  my life changed drastically. I had finally found something that came kind of natural. It was something I felt inside of myself that I really didn’t have to try too hard to understand. And that’s not to say I was a natural at all. I’ve had an immense amount of help getting to where I am today by a large amount of people who I could never repay in a thousand years. And then one day I went from 0 to 100.


I had been given my dream Job/Paid-Internship making films full-time with a respected studio company out of Minnesota. We’ll save the cool/long story of how it all came about for a rainy day but for now all you need to know is I had showed up to Minnesota with two suitcases of everything I had owned not knowing what to expect. Next thing I know I get thrown into the mix with a top-notch team working on projects for big name clients. I had just come from working on small projects for no name clients, so I couldn’t help feeling like I had made it somewhere. In the wake of all of the coolness that had just rocked my life I started getting good at sharing everything that was happening on social media. My world was getting rocked and I needed someone to know, but I felt I had nobody else to share it with. 


In the course of traveling all across the country, working with really amazing people, and doing these really cool things I had developed an internet following. People who once thought I was a complete tool growing up now looked at my Instagram profile and thought I was doing something worthy and hip with my life. I felt like I had finally found who I was, and redeemed my adolescent idiocy by living what appeared to be a cool life on the internet.

So much attention came so fast that I got lost in all the hype. I started sharing things to get people to notice what I was doing. I wasn’t going to appreciate a photo unless someone else liked it. That was my motivation. It got to the point where it felt as though that was all I had. I slowly but surely become so conflicted by how consuming it had become that I had to take a step back and re-evaluate my thought process.

Then, my time in Minnesota had come to an end. It turned out the sweet Job/Paid-intership I was hoping to turn into something long term, wasn’t ideal for the company. I was devastated. I got a shortcut to the top of an industry, then a year later had to pack up my bags and go home to start over. It was a big lesson in humility. 


I thought that if I was the best there was, there’d be no way they wouldn’t want me to be a part of the team. It fueled me. Up until just recently my entire motivation for producing great work was to show the guys back in Minnesota that I was capable of being the best in hopes they’d realize they needed me. That one day my phone would ring, and I’d be offered a spot on their team again… 

But why? 

Why couldn’t I be content with the opportunities that I was given on my own? Why have I constantly felt like I have to prove something to somebody?

These questions kept reoccurring on long flights and drives to photo shoots – so much that I couldn’t ignore them. I felt like all the questions morphed into one. 

What do I have to offer?

I see this a lot with people. Their identities get so wrapped up in what they do, that when they are no longer able to do whatever it is they do best they are lost without a clue of who they are. I’ve heard of professional soccer players who after breaking their legs are never able to play the sport again, and have mental breakdowns. Could it be because they no longer know what they had to offer besides their talents? I thought about this a lot and wondered, “what if I was not able do what I do forever?” Who would I be? 

Ever since I can remember, people have always opened up to me about their deepest and darkest secrets.  Somehow they didn’t feel comfortable sharing with anyone else but me. I have no idea why, but people have always shared things that were really personal to them in hopes I would know what to say. I started asking people why they felt led to divulge certain information with me? And the answer I’ve received from everyone is that I make them feel safe. They felt safe enough to confide in me which is a huge deal. It started when brides would write me after their wedding thanking me not only for my hard work and beautiful photos, but how I made them feel on their special day. “You made me feel secure enough, that I knew you had control. I was actually able to just enjoy the moments that were happening.” 

Just recently I started walking in more confidence that if I were to lose the ability to create or unable share my visual talents with the world, I would now know what I embody. Something  I can’t explain that I carry. A presence that shows up when I show up. I make people feel safe and comfortable. That to me is worth more than anything creative I do, and it will lasts as long as I last.

I hope that others can find what it is inside of them apart from what they can physically do. To know that I am a brother, a son, friend, and hopefully a husband someday. Helps me know that my identity lies outside of what I can deliver. What I have to offer is me.


Definitions of Love..

We all have a definition of Love and to each their own.  Some people may feel that love is this certain thing and, someone can think the complete opposite. Some people define love based on whether or not their counterpart eats a cheeseburger the same way they do thinking to themselves “Surely this person is just like me so I love them.”  But, then again that is what makes us all unique.

At the end of the movie “Notthing Hill” there is this scene where Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant are sitting on a park bench.  While Hugh Grant is reading a book, Julia Roberts is laying on the bench resting her head on hugh staring at all the kids running and playing.  They are not doing anything but sitting.  They know exactly where the other persons heart lies and words simply can’t measure up.  For me this is my definition of love.  That place where you can just be with someone and it’s more than natural. That “Being” is sufficient enough.

You see we work too hard to make things work.  Even times it cost us to not be ourselves.  I was talking to a friend of mine and she was hanging out with this guy and told me “I don’t even know what to do when I’m with him, I’ve never been in a relationship before.”  The best advice I could give her was to just be natural and to be herself regardless of what it costs her.  Because the moment when something is forced, it’s trying to put something in a place that’s not meant to go.

It seems that if we are being authentic with ourselves and with others is when we can have these park bench type moments because the other person knows you for who you are which is true intimacy and the best way to look at intimacy is In to me you see.  Because if you allow someone to fully look into and be in your life. That person loves and appreciates you for who you are and can just sit with you then there is no room for fear.  Which is a peaceful feeling to think regardless of everything this person loves me for me no matter what.

I believe when I find that person for me to spend the rest of my life with she is gonna get the directors cut of JD.  Not the person I want to be or the person I was but, who I am right now.  Fully open and not afraid to hide anything.  Because if she can love me for who I am right now, she will love who I become in the future and love me for who I have been. I want to be able to sit with her on a bench and not have to say anything but, just feel her next to me and know we both love each other.  Because in that moment the state of hoping is surpassed by knowing.

So… Ask yourself what is your definition of Love?

Are you being truly authentic with the person you’re talking to?

Are you trying hard to put a puzzle piece in the wrong spot?

But, most of all can you imagine yourself sitting on a bench with this person and not have to say a word?

How do you like your eggs?

In the movie Runaway bride Julia Roberts plays the character of Maggie Carpenter who has left  3 fiancés at the altar giving her the nickname The Runaway Bride.  With each man she is with, maggie adopts their preferences and in this case it’s how her fiancés like the way their eggs are cooked.  Richard Gere plays the part of Ike Graham, who is a columnist for USA Today.

Ike exposes the fact that Maggie doesn’t really know who she is, or what she wants out of life or in men.  She adopts what looks appealing and makes it her own instead of finding herself.  So with every guy she is with she eats her eggs the same way they do.  In the movie Ike confronts maggie and tells her “You are so lost you don’t even know what kind of eggs you like!”   Until the end of the movie Maggie shows up in Ikes apartment and explains that after leaving groom #4 she realizes actually how she likes her eggs. Benedict. Not scrambled, over easy, or egg whites.  She finally could eat her eggs the way she liked them.  Because she had found herself, better yet she had met someone who appreciated her for who she was and allowed her to be herself.

There are so many ways of looking at this analogy… But, the place I want to come from is that if you like something ask yourself why you really like it.  Why do you like the way you like your eggs?  Because the more you really know why you like something or someone, the more security you’ll have in your awnser.  I’ve heard so many stories of people not really knowing how they like things until it seems too late… Then someone gets hurt or marriages are ruined because that person thought they knew their counter part until realizing that special someone didn’t really know who they were because of the others lack of identity.

Being 23 I don’t know everything but, I can say I have tried a few kinds of eggs and still trying others.  I wasn’t set on just one thing, because how can I really know how I like something until I’ve tried something else.

In the book The Perks of Being a Wallflower the main character Charlie is in love with a girl that is settling for someone who treats her poorly.  Charlie then asks his teacher Mr. Anderson “Why do we make bad choices or enter into bad relationships? Mr. Anderson replies “Because we except the love we think we deserve.”

What if that is all that she knew how to be treated? What if she had never been treated great by a man.  Because all she had known is what she thinks she deserves.  Imagine if she was treated a certain way that was great?! She would never settle again for something that was lesser than what she had already experienced? You would never know until you have had something else…

Please ask yourself how you like your eggs?

Do you even like eggs?

Why do you like them that way?

Have you tried others to know that those are your favorite?

Life is too short to just eat your eggs one way…