How to Turn the Tide in the Battle Against Anxiety and Depression
Let’s talk about anxiety and depression.
On the surface, anxiety is the distant cousin to depression. They’re in the same family, but depression is almost always at the forefront of the mental health discussion. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a medical afterthought.
I think this is true because anxiety appears to be so easily curable. Google “anxiety” and it’ll turn up a wealth of random listicle articles detailing “15 different ways to overcome your anxiety.”
“Feeling anxious” is a common sensation that everyone experiences at one point or another. Here are a few scenarios that might ring a bell:
- That job interview that leaves your stomach in knots the night before
- Welcoming a new baby into the world and the weight of a thousand suns illuminating the reality of your new role as father to a human
- Clenching your fists while hoping your favorite team’s quarterback can nail that touchdown pass with 2 minutes to go in the game
For many people, moments like these amount to little more than a temporary “bug in the brain.” Countless writers even suggest “in the moment” techniques for dealing with anxious moments—like intentional breathing and meditation.
I mean, they are all just in our heads anyway, right?
In reality, however, anxiety often serves as the precursor—or fellow ailment—of depression. They aren’t distant cousins after all. They’re more like siblings that play off of each other to render your mind a mess.
To help paint a real-life picture of anxiety-turned-depression, I want to share my personal story.
Many may relate to what I share here. But many more might have a totally different experience with anxiety and depression. My story is not THE story, but if it helps you understand your own struggles and fight your own battles more effectively, then it will be worth sharing.
Before I dive in, however, I want to be clear about something: This is not a broad-stroke cure nested in 11 easy-to-follow ways to cure what ails you. This is a serious look at a terrifying experience and how I’ve managed to deal with it in my own way.
My hope is that it encourages others who struggle in similar ways to seek out help and keep up the fight. Because if you do, you will win.
The hidden demons of an ideal life
For almost 10 years, I spent every waking minute of my life dedicated to one of the most “manly” careers you can imagine. I was a TV sports anchor.
For many, this is a dream job. I got paid to watch sports and then deliver my own viewpoint on the day’s action for thousands of viewers every single day.
One thing I got accustomed to watching was failure. Everybody lusts for success, and for some teams, it was just a never-ending crusade for greatness that always turned out badly.
That failure can seep into everyday life. It can infect your conversation, your relationships, your public and private image. The feeling of constant defeat wears on you, as it did for many athletes during my time as anchor.
The most talented athletes I had ever known became “lovable losers”—sometimes overnight—enduring the relentless onslaught of season after season of “Ls” on the scoreboard.
Still, most of us say, these are men and women who earn 7 figures in a year—an amount easily doubled with sponsorships and advertising deals. So they lose a few games. So what? They’ve still got it made.
Eventually, I left that life behind. But what stuck with me was the experience of losing—of failing so epically in a public forum that it’s hard to step back into a place of confidence. Nevermind 7 figures or a Nike sponsorship.
It wasn’t long before I, too, began to feel the ache of anxiety and depression.
But it wasn’t the result of some monumental loss in life. I didn’t go to war and lose a friend. I didn’t suffer an agonizing injury. I’m not on the streets.
In fact, my life is pretty amazing. I’m a successful entrepreneur by most standards. I’m a husband to a fantastic, beautiful, and loving wife. I’m the dad to a gorgeous daughter who fills my day with energy and joy.
I’m also living my dream in New York City and have little to agitate me outside of cliché #FirstWorldProblems.
But I have a confession to make: I’ve suffered with anxiety and depression for years.
About one in eight men men is diagnosed with mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. I’d wager a good portion are under the stress of trying to be awesome dads and pretty terrific partners. Still others are playing up to the macho business man stereotype or rugged, work-with-your-hands paragons.
And sure, society tells us that to be an awesome dad, we really only have to strive to be better than a babbling moron in a sitcom. But for those of us who want to go above and beyond this narrative and actually become a meaningful person in the lives of our kids and families—not to mention the community—this can be an immense burden.
You see, there’s this thing about admitting to the emotional toll that comes from stress, anxiety, and depression: Men simply don’t do it.
We’ve been taught to suck it up and be men. The toxic culture of over-leveled testosterone and road-rage-like intensity of masculinity tells us that a man who seeks help and can’t battle his own demons is a coward. A crybaby. A failure.
That was my story.
So I “sucked it up.” I’d managed to live life long enough to overcome a multitude of problems, so surely I was equipped to handle a little bout of sadness.
I could handle the anxiety and depression, I vowed. I was stronger than it.
But then, it began to attack me when I least expected.
The battle begins
Imagine sitting alone in your living room late at night. Perhaps you’re enjoying a nonstop binge session on Netflix or reading for fun. Suddenly, you feel something. Your heart skips a beat. You inexplicably need to catch your breath. You start shaking.
And then, your mind goes wild. It must be the worst possible health crisis, you imagine—a heart attack, a ruptured ulcer, a stroke. You’re dying.
But it passes.
And then it returns—always when you least expect it.
You never tell anyone. Who would believe your crazy, illogical fear? But you don’t know where it comes from. You just want it to stop.
And yet, the more you focus on it, the worse it becomes. The rush of adrenaline, the heart palpitations, the irregular breathing.
Still, you manage to function. You work past it. And most of the time, you can hide your symptoms from prying eyes—even those that care.
Welcome to the endless battle of chronic anxiety attacks.
But that’s not all. This fear, this negative anticipation of the worst possible outcome, often tumbles into depression.
I remember when I realized this was happening to me.
I was sitting on the couch with my daughter, who was bouncing around doing her normal toddler-type activities, when the overwhelming emotion hit me like a linebacker shooting the gap and blowing up a play before it even starts.
The thoughts of the day were more like a montage of negativity playing in mind.
My failures rolled on steady repeat while flash-forwards of failure gripped every future moment I could imagine. I was stuck—right there in my beautiful Brooklyn home while my beautiful toddler was singing some song she picked up from “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” in the center of my beautiful life.
She was happy. I was terrified.
It was crushing. And I wanted nothing more than to be out of that internal chaos. We live 17 floors up in a downtown Brooklyn apartment building overlooking the rest of the borough. For a split second, I thought… “Jump?”
No. Jumping was never something I’d even consider, despite the release it promised.
But I so desperately wanted it to end, to have someone else end it for me, to have some else end me…
Owning the anxiety
As you might have guessed, I decided to do something about this plague of anxiety and depression.
I tested the waters a bit and reached out to others going through similar struggles. While I didn’t explain the extent of my pain, it was obvious to them that I was in a dark place.
John Romaniello, my business mentor and friend, who’s shared his own experiences with depression and attempted suicide, encouraged me to find a therapist immediately. He explained how it was incredibly helpful for his own journey and even offered to help me look for a professional.
Fellow dad blogger Doyin Richards said the same. His piece on experiencing the battle with depression resonated with me and I was moved to get his advice.
But I hesitated to do anything else.
I don’t think it was because of my manly manliness complex. Rather, I suspect my hesitation came from an internal guilt—a shame that I needed to ask for help. For the longest time, I honestly thought it was a great idea that everyone see a therapist at some point in their life.
But that meant sharing my struggles with my family. And when you’re consumed with being a great husband and father and cannot fathom resting until achieving perfection on all fronts, the thought of bringing a loved one into a web of mental anguish is a fantastic barrier to overcome.
I mean, why hurt the ones we love the most by sharing this incredible burden and making them worry?
Fortunately for those of us who suffer, this is flawed logic.
Our family and friends are here for this exact purpose—to hold each another up and catch us when we stumble and fall.
So I told my wife. She wasn’t oblivious to my suffering, of course; she knew for a while that I had been sliding into a dark place. But it wasn’t until she read this post for the first time that she knew how desperate I was for a solution.
So we started looking for a therapist together. But here’s the rub: Finding help is a part time job.
On top of my business, taking care of my daughter every day, and fighting to stay mentally afloat, the search for help was an enormous burden. That’s why I needed my wife. She was there to help me organize thoughts and research, and to help me make decisions that were difficult because of my fog of depression.
We worked hard to find someone. And we did, but it took time—and many visits to therapists. The truth is, the first professional you interact with may not be the right fit for you. Keep looking, keep talking, and keep the fight going. You will find the support you need.
The ongoing battle
It’s been over a year since I started therapy.
Every session I have with my therapist, we manage to talk about everything and anything. We talk about my failures in my personal and professional lives. We talk about my effort to become a fantastic husband and father. We talk about my relationship with my mother. And we talk about how uncomfortable I feel in my skin as a biracial man living in a climate of deep ethnic divisions and prejudices.
We also talk about the things that bring me joy and happiness. These color my mental state as much as any negativity—and give me a force to counteract the negative absurdity running rampant in my mind.
Some days, my sessions work. But my therapist has made it clear that conquering anxiety and depression is not a once-a-week affair. That’s why I write. And meditate. And journal. I make sense of the madness and seek out the good in the bad.
With all of this effort, you might be surprised to read that I’m not winning the battle today. But I’m still fighting. And I have support and methods to quell the growing fear of failure.
And tomorrow—well, tomorrow I might be back to my mostly perfect, beautiful life in New York City. Or I might not.
But as long as I keep fighting, keep working, I believe I will have more good days than bad. And on that journey, I will become exponentially more grateful for the good in my life that sustains me in the darker days.
How to get help
If you’re suffering from anxiety or depression, I strongly encourage you to seek out help from a professional. Knowing others in your walk of life who have done the same will give you courage to follow through, but if you know you’ll hesitate, then bring in a loved one to help you take the right steps.
Here’s what I recommend:
- Check with your insurance provider for a potential list of mental health professionals covered by your plan.
- If you don’t have mental health coverage, consider TalkSpace.com (https://www.talkspace.com) — an online solution for anyone who cannot afford in-person options for therapy. Licensed therapists are available by text message, which breaks that potential mental barrier of having to meet someone face-to-face.
And if you or someone you know is having thoughts about suicide or feel like you might harm yourself, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
With help, you can unshackle your life from anxiety and depression. Commit to the work, and let go of ingrained fears of weakness and failure.
Please believe me: Not treating these illnesses will absolutely be the bigger failure.