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Social Media Helped Me Cope with the Most Devastating Event of My Life

As a natural born cynic, my view of the world around me has always been a bit jaded. Like most people with access to newspapers, cable TV and the Internet, I've been hardened by the seemingly endless stream of negativity that inundate our daily lives. Sure, I crack jokes, laugh with friends and enjoy certain activities with normal bouts of elation but I always wanted more than the happiness status quo.

Ironically, it would take a deplorable act too atrocious to ever imagine to change my benumbed view of the world and finally offer me the solace I've always craved.

When my face wasn't buried in my laptop, it was often sunk into my son's hospital bed covered in tears.

In late December of 2014, I created a community page on Facebook for my 11-week-old son Holton, who had been hurt by his nanny and subsequently laid unconscious in a medically induced coma due to a barrage of uncontrollable seizure activity. My entire world was crushed and depression overtook me. I was a broken man.

The goal of the Facebook page was simply to let close friends and family understand what was happening without forcing me to send repetitive texts and emails typing the same excruciating words over and over again. It was hard enough to witness my son's demise, but to relive each painful moment dozens of times each day was the epitome of pouring salt in a very fresh wound. Although it couldn't have been further from what I intended, social media was about to show me something I didn't know existed in such abundance: pure, unfiltered and unexpected kindness from strangers.

Initially, I was hesitant to put anything about my son's condition out into the dangerously viral world of social media in fear I would expose myself as the emotional basket case I truly am. Against my own better judgment—and with the added nudging of my wife—I began to write daily entries describing what life was like as a parent inside the PICU. To sum it up for those who don't want to read another article: It fucking sucked.

But for me, this written exercise turned out to not only be helpful in letting my loved ones know Holt's day-to-day condition but it was also therapeutic. To have an outlet that seemed (or so I thought) to go nowhere, much like standing on a mountaintop and screaming at the top of your lungs, was the one thing I enjoyed doing each day. When my face wasn't buried in my laptop, it was often sunk into my son's hospital bed, covered in tears.

Well, much to my surprise, it turned out people could hear me screaming from my proverbial mountaintop. And even more frightening, they were listening very closely to every word.

Within the first week of starting my blog about my son many friends began following and offered support through "likes" and uplifting comments. But then something peculiar began to happen—people I didn't know began to follow my son's journey. One hundred followers became two hundred, which then rose to five hundred and then a thousand. To say it was surreal for perfect strangers to become invested in my son's struggle to survive would be a massive understatement but, sure enough, every day more and more people began to follow along as I painfully detailed our family's most personal moments.

And it wasn't just that strangers were following my page, they were offering tangible support and help. People were writing private messages of inspiration to my wife and me. They were sharing their own heart-wrenching stories to give us hope—stories that some would go onto tell us that even their closest friends weren't aware of. We were being sent personalized blankets, clothing and anything that had to do with the Incredible Hulk, since after all our son had become known as the Incredible Holt. Food would be dropped off at our hospital room anonymously. And before I knew it close to ten thousand people were invested in my son's recovery.

Mind. Blown.

I began to realize it wasn't the world that was awful—it was me. Before this happened to my family, I never—and I mean never—would go out of my way to help someone like strangers were helping me. Sure, I'd help friends move or give rides to the airport but I wasn't whipping up a three-course meal and delivering it to a stranger who was down on their luck. I wasn't donating to random causes that didn't directly affect me. I'm not a cold person but apparently I wasn't the warmest either.

When my son was first hurt I believed I had every right to become a stark raving lunatic now that my boy was just another sad news story someone might click through on their way to watch the latest episode of "Real Housewives of Sheboygan." After all, my only son was born perfect but in an instant was robbed the life I always dreamed he would live out. And no matter how you slice it, no matter what your religious belief is, no matter what path our family is now on, there is no explanation of why this occurred to such a sweet, innocent creature.

But I do think there's an explanation as to why two random people saw our lifeless son in this woman's arms and instantly began to perform life saving CPR. There has to be an explanation of why thousands of strangers have reached out to support my family in our darkest times. And certainly there must be an explanation as to why this event inspired my family to begin a non-profit charity that gives back to the community that has helped us more than they will ever understand.

That explanation is quite simple: The world is not what I once thought it was—a dark and shallow planet. It's quite the opposite. It's an amazing place filled with love and kindness. The problem is I had to not only open my eyes wide enough to see it, but I had to open my heart up so that I could feel it. And, once I did that, I was overcome with emotion I didn't know existed. To find this feeling, you must sift through the dredge of society that occupies our headlines and breaking news stories. You must seek it out as it has no way to find you on its own but I promise it's there. I'm proof of that.

For my son's first birthday this past October, a woman we've never met made our family the most amazing scrapbook of our son's first year on this planet by using only the photos and stories I posted on Facebook. Just the other day we received a personalized wall-hanging that spelled out our son's name using personal items that only a true family member would know meant something special to us. Further proof that the community that follows my son's road to recovery are not just strangers eating popcorn, watching my family's life dramatically unfold before their voyeuristic eyes, but instead are caring loved ones rooting for our survival with every fiber of their being.

So while people can bash social media for all the negative ways it presents society, I can proudly say it's reshaped the way I view this world for the better, all the while making me a better person. I didn't just create a blog, I created an extended family.

While I'm far from perfect and fully understand I'll never achieve that status, I feel a deeper connection to the world around me, especially when it comes to strangers. And I have social media to thank.

If you want to learn more about my son or our charity, you can do so at Holton's Heroes or The Incredible Holt – Road to Recovery.

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