From being homeless to having a YouTube channel and exponentially growing followers on Instagram, Nate powers through mental health stigmas with every post.
by Portia Ladrido
At 25, Nate Proctor dropped out of university and found himself in LA making a little bit of money through photography – a job he did to purely fund his party, drug, and alcohol addiction. He eventually ended up homeless with his stripper girlfriend; a relationship that was founded on the fact that they needed each other to literally survive.
“I was a very immature kid. I was really only concerned with short-term pleasure,” Nate said.
A trip back to his family in San Francisco and his mom’s intuitive advice suddenly knocked him back to his senses. He realised that he had two choices: one ends in death or jail and the other to a path that leads to a purposeful life. The recognition of choice was a step to his recovery; admitting his mistakes was another.
“I also didn’t want to admit to all the mistakes I had made and it took me many years to admit my drug abuse and my alcohol abuse. It took me many, many years to admit the fact that I was homeless because there are certain stigmas around homelessness that I didn’t feel like I identified with. At the end of the day, I was lying to myself constantly about who I was.”
As soon as he picked himself up from the rot that he was in, he started looking for opportunities to finish school. He took an intro level writing class at a local community college and their final output was to write a 5-page essay about their personal experiences. It was the first time that he had to think about the toxic life he led when he was in LA.
He had always managed to avoid confronting the mistakes he had done, but a good look into himself was inevitably what he needed. “It was a huge, huge struggle. Back then, I had great difficulties putting my thoughts into words. It probably took me 20 hours to write. But at the end of the day, I felt so empowered by this and I fell in love with writing; I fell in love with literature and I kind of just dove in fully,” he said.
During his time at the community college, he promptly realised his obsessive behaviour. He thought to control it but also knew in his gut that his obsessive quality will still show on some other level. Again, he recognised he had a choice. He told himself that his obsessive behaviour can either be directed towards something negative or he can turn it into something positive. He chose to turn into the light.
Nate wrote constantly and incessantly; never stopping until he liked what he read. This perseverance to practice and perfect eventually landed him a place at Columbia University’s English Literature program. He graduated at the top of his class and it seemed as though his bright future could never dim again.
But the story does not end there. “When I moved back to the bay area, I got a job, a really good job in the film industry. I was kind of like a Netflix for foreign independent films. It seemed like a dream job at that time because I thought that I was gonna get into film. But a few months in, I hated the job, I hated who I worked with, and all of a sudden I felt that I had no purpose,” Nate remembered.
“I fell into this huge depression because I thought at the time, I reached the pinnacle of my success, and now I just have shitty jobs to look forward to for the rest of my life.”
Nate felt lost again. He started applying for odd jobs, boring jobs, high-paying jobs, grad school, and more jobs. But he couldn’t find what was right and it made him even more depressed. He felt hopeless knowing that it was up to him to figure out the rest of his life and he had no clue what to do. The massive student loans that he had incurred didn’t help his state of mind. He had to take jobs he didn’t like just so he could pay his debts; sacrificing one of the key proponents of a good life: happiness.
He was in this constant search for what felt right to him and it seemed like an endless pit, but through the process of searching, he accidentally found a calling. When a friend of his had to go through something difficult, he would share literary quotes to get that friend out of despair. He would write the quotes on notebooks and eventually, he turned this practice into an Instagram account.
“It was a way for me to deal with my depression and my struggles at that time but I very, very quickly realised that it was a way for others to realise that they’re not alone as well,” Nate explained.
“When someone puts words on an image in front of you that you resonate with, that’s empowering and can help you get through the day – whatever you may be going through. I just saw the enormous impact and my Instagram kind of took off. I’ve now branched off into doing YouTube channels, talking about my own story, and just really trying to engage in conversations that I think are missing.”
Now that he’s also doing a YouTube channel, he is making sure that he is speaking to those particularly unhappy with their lives, whether it may be a serious mental illness or the whole anxiety of people in their mid-20s who do not know what to do with their careers. He focuses primarily on self-love as he believes that when we better love ourselves and we act more kindly towards ourselves, we better understand who we are.
Through his posts, he’s had people reach out to him; thanking him for making their dark days brighter. Even if Nate is continuously battling his own demons as we all often are, he’s been satisfied with his platforms particularly by the way he’s positively impacted people’s lives.
“I had one woman who sent me a video shot on the phone thanking me because she’s had a lot of thought about suicide recently, and she’s been able to take this thought out of her head because she said my posts gave her hope.”
He curates his Instagram account through matching an artwork with a literary piece, most of which tackle the complications of the human experience in a very honest and authentic way. He stressed that it is important that these issues on mental health not be only about hope and inspiration, but also about honesty and clarity.
“A lot of the motivational and inspirational talk out there is about positive affirmations. That can be a useful tool but the problem that I’ve found is that it ignores and sweeps to the rug very real mental states; very real circumstances with which we’re going through and I personally believe that hope arises from confronting and talking about those.”
Portia Ladrido is a multimedia journalist specialising in social justice, culture, and the arts. She is a human rights journalism fellow at the Philippine Human Rights Information Center and the Metro Manila hub coordinator of the Solutions Journalism Network. She currently writes speeches for the Philippines’ first female socialist senator. Previously, she worked as an editor and writer at CNN Philippines.