Daniel Kaye has battled anxiety and depression since his teen years, but most people didn't know that.
His mother, of course, knew his stomach was in knots almost every day he left home for middle and then high school. His wife was by his side on Halloween 1998 when he hit rock bottom, his heart pounding with panic, his body dripping with sweat because he was convinced he was going to die that night.
But those who encountered Kaye at work, who knew him through his son's school, who admired him for his work as a member of the Abington school board? They were unaware of his struggles. It's not something most people would openly share. Except for Kaye. For the last two years, he has been sharing his problems past and present via Facebook.
The goal, he said, is to give support to others who, like him, once suffered in silence. Indeed, he has found a new community of people who reach out to him - on his public page and through private messaging - to share their own stories, seek his advice, or offer some words of wisdom themselves.
"I think this is the beginning of a great movement," said Kaye, 47. "It's amazing what happens when you tell people, 'I suffered and suffer from anxiety and depression.' It's like it opens up their hearts and gives them a chance to breathe."
It's atypical behavior in this age of "Fear of Missing Out," or FOMO, a syndrome driven by reading overachieving posts about parties, travels, and accomplishments of others' seemingly perfect lives. Many people tend to use social media to mask their pain, not broadcast it. In January, after a University of Pennsylvania student ended her life by taking a running leap off the ninth level of a parking garage, her friends and family noted the teenager's Instagram account showed only the bright side of her life.
To look at Kaye's public Facebook page gives clues to the support system he has built with his posts, which are candid, relatable, sometimes humorous.
A local police officer responded with a semicolon, a symbol of backing for someone with mental illness. An acquaintance admitted that she, too, had problems with depression and now felt that "I'm in great company." A former teacher wondered why physical illnesses were socially acceptable, but mental ones were not.
From Kaye's July 8 post: "Having depression doesn't mean you never smile, laugh, or say something funny. It doesn't mean you can't appreciate a beautiful day, be good at your job, or be the sort of person people want to be around. It's far more insidious and treacherous. Sometimes, it's a voice in your head. Sometimes, it's a growing feeling of unease. Sometimes, it's just fear. And sometimes - on those very bad days - it's as if the whole world has abandoned you, the light of life has left you, and you know that there is no reason to go on. Those days are when people who have depression need you the most."
Elkins Park resident Pam Shefcik knows Kaye and his wife, Wendy, through their sons' shared love of karate. She said she almost quit Facebook because of all the disingenuous posts she saw, but then she started reading Kaye's. She checks his Facebook page frequently, more often on days when she feels overwhelmed.
"When I first noticed his posts, it made me go, 'Wow. That's brave of him to share.' I come from a similar background, and it was refreshing that someone else got it. Unless you've lived it, you don't get it," said Shefcik, 47. "He probably doesn't realize it, but it seems he'll post something just when I need it most. . . . Every day is a little bit of a struggle, but it's nice to know that, if I'm really in a bind, I can call somebody like Daniel."
His private inbox, too, is full. He responds to all of the messages, empathizing and sharing his personal stories when appropriate, offering more general advice when it's not, like: "We all have tough times. Try to remember what happy feels like. You were there before. You'll be there again."
Temple professor Frank Farley, past president of the American Psychological Association and the Society of Media Psychology and Technology, doesn't recommend that people post private struggles, particularly at the time they're still dealing with them. The anonymity of the Web could leave the poster open to "a Niagara of negativity.
"I would worry that he would get negative reactions that could exacerbate his problem," said Farley, who does not know Kaye or have access to his Facebook page.
Some of Kaye's friends have asked him, in person and via messages, if he is certain he wants to be so open about mental illness, an often-taboo topic.
"My concern," said Bill Donahue, a friend and former coworker, " was how exposed he was, sharing so openly. . . . I'll shake my head and say, 'I can't believe he's saying that, for professional reasons or things like that.' A lot of people pretend they don't have problems. ... 'Look at me, how great my life is.' He's doing the complete opposite, showing his worst days some days."
Kaye understands those worries, but his job as "director of life enrichment" of Rydal Park, a continuing-care retirement facility, is safe. Russell Mast, the facility's executive director, said Kaye talked about his Facebook activities during a summer leadership meeting.
"I looked around the table, and what I saw was admiration for what he was doing, using his experiences to help people here and in the broader community," Mast said. "I'm very supportive. He does a fantastic job."
And if voters don't want to give him another term on the school board because of his posts, that's fine with him. He said he'd enjoy a Tuesday night at home.
"Somebody on the periphery said, 'You shouldn't tell people this because you're an elected official,' " Kaye said. "I said, 'No, no. I'm me, and I happen to be on the school board, but being me is much more important.' "
He's also not worried that his revelations would negatively impact his family. Wendy Kaye said she, too, has anxiety problems, even if she's not as vocal about them. Her husband's openness is helpful for him and, apparently, for many others.
"He's always trying to help somebody. I see his impact everywhere," she said. "People are always telling me what a great guy he is. . . . He's genuine."
The couple's son, 11-year-old Aidan, has seen his parents get through their anxious times and emerge whole.
This summer, Aidan had to miss a few days of camp because he was sick. Already feeling off-kilter, the boy was more needy at bedtime and wanted his parents around. They reassured him: "I said, 'Buddy, that's anxiety,' " Kaye said. " 'It's completely normal, but remind yourself that not only are you OK, but we're right here. It might take a while, but you'll be back.' "