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When Anxiety and Depression Take Over

For almost 10 years, I spent my life and every waking minute of it dedicated to what seemed to be one of the manliest careers. As a television sports anchor, I got paid to watch sports and then deliver my own viewpoint of the day’s action to thousands of viewers every single day.

I got accustomed to watching the failure of teams in their never-ending search for the perennial success that teams like the Patriots achieve on a regular basis. Failure is one hell of a fucking drug. It snowballs into this overwhelming sense of defeat when not addressed. It can pervade a locker room, front office and fan base and turn the most optimistic and talented athletes into lovable losers who can never find a way to overcome the onslaught of continuous “Ls” that losing seasons deliver.

Without warning, it’s been years since a franchise has made the playoffs, let alone enjoy the concept of a season with at least a .500 record. Then, it’s decades or longer in between championships.

Sports echoes life in many ways. It’s part of what drew me to the industry as a career choice. Within this concept of losing taking hold and festering, there’s a significant metaphor for the human psyche. The agony of defeat after too many Ls can weigh down even the smartest and most successful man or woman of the class. It can grab hold of our lives from a mental perspective and then tear at us piece by piece from a physical perspective, too.

Losing a loved one, interpersonal struggles friends and/or family, career failures, even just stagnation from the mundanity of life can drag on us. Suddenly we feel a lot like that locker room that’s developed a losing attitude and culture.

Years after walking away from my role in front the camera talking about how franchises deal with losing, it was my turn for introspection to realize the stranglehold and totality of anger and guilt and sadness had taken on me. My life was amazing for being pretty average. Yet, I could not defeat my inner demon of lingering doubt and despair.

I’ve been a successful entrepreneur by most standards. I’ve lived a meaningful life. I am the husband of a fantastic, beautiful and flat-out amazing wife. I’m the dad of a gorgeous daughter who fills my day with energy and joy. I’m living my dream in New York City and have nothing to fear or worry about outside of the usual #FirstWorldProblems that grip the average Gen Xer and Millennial.

If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” – Lao Tzu

On the surface, anxiety is like the distant cousin to depression. They’re in the same family, but depression takes the forefront of the mental health discussion. Likely because anxiety is the one that appears to be so easily curable. Google “anxiety” and it’ll turn up a bevy 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:

  • That job interview which 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 quarterback can lead your favorite team down the field to score with under two minutes to go

 

As a result, for many people—unless our ongoing condition was a full-blown bout of depression that led to total despair and grief—anxiety was merely just a nasty little bug in the brain. After all, Google told me that practicing simple breathing tricks and meditation would level it out. It was really all just in my head anyway.

When you’ve overcome the anxiety of the new job or battled through the crazy of new fatherhood, the worsening symptoms can easily be talked down with each recurrence. You’ve done this before. You can beat it again.

However, the truth of the matter is that anxiety and depression are much closer in relation. They aren’t distant cousins after all. They’re more like siblings that play off of each other to render your mind useless. In many cases, anxiety is the precursor to depression.

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About one in eight men are diagnosed and suffer from 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.

Sure, society says 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 provide as a meaningful person in the lives of our kids and families, this can be a terrific burden.

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 a man. The toxic culture of over-leveled testosterone and roid-rage-like intensity of masculinity says a man that seeks help and can’t battle his own demons is a coward.

Perhaps some of this bullshit was seeping through my brain waves, preventing me from making a serious effort to make a change. Instead, I “sucked it up.” That stupid age-old phrase that is handed down from one man to another finally reared its ugly head in the way of my personal health journey.

I’d managed to live life long enough to overcome a multitude of problems, I was surely equipped to handle a little bout of sadness. I could handle this anxiety. I was stronger than this. For months I thought it was a struggle I could overcome on my own until anxiety and depression got the best of me.

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When Anxiety Gets the Best of You

Imagine you are sitting alone in your living room late at night. Perhaps you’re enjoying some nonstop binge session on Netflix. Maybe you’re digging into a good book. Or even just browsing the internet on some questionable websites.

Then you hear something. You don’t know what it is you heard specifically. But it was not normal. It was loud enough to perk your attention and set off the small signal in your brain to be alert. You’ll need to investigate the situation to determine if this was something as silly as a squirrel knocking over a pot outside. Maybe it’s a neighbor just slamming the garage door a little harder than usual. Or perhaps it’s the worst-case scenario. Perhaps it’s an intruder. Something alarming that requires action.

The fluttering in your stomach and uneasy queasy feeling only add to the paranoia. But, you’ve got to figure out what’s going on. You’ve got to get to the bottom of this random sound that struck at a random time.

The fight or flight response system that sets off in our body is the mechanism that preps us for battle. It primes our senses. It focuses our vision. It clears our mind. It allows for even the faintest, slightest sound to be recognized once it kicks into full gear.

This is a good thing. Your body is now on full alert to determine if this intrusion is just an illusion. Chances are, it probably is just a silly noise and you’re all good. Once you determine that no threat is imminent, it’s back to enjoying the rest of your night and laughing off this 15-second drama.

But what happens when this feeling doesn’t go away? What happens when the body is constantly firing on this nonstop high-alert system? That’s the endless battle of nonstop, chronic anxiety disorders. Over time, this constant overdrive of the mind leads to incessant questioning of every single thought.

Something isn’t quite right. There is always that random sound that just went off in the other room. It leads to overthinking everything. It’s a perpetual state of paralysis by analysis; second-guessing every single decision until you’ve failed to take any action whatsoever. Everything can be sunshine and roses and totally fine. Yet your mind has taken control to convince you otherwise.

Sure this is a mental health disorder. But it is much more than the mind playing the role of trickster. The power of this debilitating illness can hamper even the most normal of physical functions of the body. As this fight or flight response system continues to operate without rest, the body goes into overdrive trying to keep you in a constant state of readiness. The stomach churns constantly as if food is not being digested properly; largely because in many cases, anxiety leads to digestive distress in many individuals. Sleep is impacted when the mind refuses to ease up on the nonstop worrying.

Fathers hoping to expand the family find it difficult to reproduce. Testosterone, the male chemical hormone that powers our baby-making procedures and influences the captain in the pants, is down-regulated to help the rest of the body fight this surge of unneeded adrenaline. The mood shifts. If you’re in never-ending preparedness, the little things can make you jump. The happiest of moments can still have you in worry.

Oftentimes, anxiety sufferers will continue down this path of despair and hopelessness and lead right into the throes of depression. The teammates join forces to wreak absolute havoc; not only on your body and mind, but it can impact every single aspect of life.

Work. Play. Family. Friends. Sleep. Everything is affected. Everything is different. Nothing will be the same. It took a long time for me to realize that this was my battle. I am on the front lines of a war with my mind. At times it feels like a losing campaign.

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The Moment it Came Together

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 on steady repeat while flashforwards of defeat gripping every passing moment. I was stuck.

Here in the middle of my Brooklyn home while my toddler was singing some song she picked up from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. She was happy. I was terrified. My fight or flight system, the one that never moves to the “off” position, was telling me that it was time to take flight. I needed an outlet.

So the boulder I was lifting finally overpowered my strength and crashed down on my entire body with overcome emotions. I started crying. Not like the Denzel one tear down the cheek cry as a show of strength. More like the Matt Damon bawling on Robin Williams’ shoulder in Good Will Hunting kind of cry. It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t care. It sure felt like my fault. It felt like my world was coming down on top of me.

The waterworks poured on in a storm of grief and guilt. It was crushing. I wanted nothing more than to be out of this internal chaos. We live 17 floors up in a downtown Brooklyn apartment building overlooking the rest of the borough. No. Jumping was never something I’d even consider, despite the finality of the measure and the ease of escaping this hell.

Instead, I prayed that someone else would do it. I wouldn’t be the one to end this horror. But I’d give anything for someone else to be the one to put an end to me at that very moment. An end to me was the end of the crazy. An end to me was a chance to finally unleash this exhale that I’ve needed in order to hopefully breathe easier.

Even now, as I type this, I’m ashamed to even have had that thought process enter my mind. But when you’ve battled the inner demon and feel as the maze of anxiety and struggle of depression is too much to bear, even this conclusion is inevitable for so many.

It was then that I knew it was time. I needed help.

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Finally Finding Help

Perhaps it wasn’t really the idea of being this tough manly man that can put on his big boy pants and fight his own battles that kept me from finding help.

Rather, I suspect it was more out of internal guilt and shame for asking. For the longest time, I honestly thought it was a great idea that everyone sees a therapist at some point in their life.

We’re all jacked up in our own little way. We all have battles and issues and demons in the closet. We can all benefit from at least a few sessions with a pro to break down those issues and find some true introspection. Seeking help because it is a cute way to clean up some cobwebs is far different from truly needing to talk to someone.

When you’re consumed with trying to be a great husband and father and cannot fathom resting until achieving perfection on all fronts, the thought of bringing a loved one into this web of mental anguish is a fantastic barrier to overcome.

Why hurt the ones we love the most by sharing this incredible burden and making them worry? But, this is flawed logic. Our family and friends are here for this exact purpose: To hold one another up, to build one another up, to pick one another up when we stumble.

That boulder weighing me down was finally too much for me. It was far more than I wanted to place on the shoulders of my wife, who had put up with my raging asshat behavior for far too long. But given that increasing urge to “take flight,” I was finally scared enough about how much further this would go and ready to tag my teammate to join me in the ring.

Instead of talking myself out of the idea of seeking help, I enlisted the services of my wife to assist. She knew for a while that I had been sliding into a dark place, yet it wasn’t until she read this post for the first time that she knew how desperate I was for a solution.

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Get Help

Many may relate to what I’m spelling out here. Yet so many more might have a totally different journey and battle to fight that churns out entirely different effects and scenarios.

There is not one single way to battle depression and anxiety. It’s important to encourage anyone going through bouts of severe stress and unrelenting anxiety to seek help from a professional. Check with your insurance provider for a potential list of mental health professionals under your plan.

Finding help is a part-time job.

On top of my business, taking care of my daughter through the day and then the mental gorilla smashing my soul like Donkey Kong on a barrel, the search for this thing was far too much for me alone to take on.

We poured through websites and listings looking for mental health professionals together. Apparently, a lot of people need a lot of help in the Greater New York City metro area. The list of potential pros was overwhelming. Overwhelming is not something that a frequent anxiety sufferer wants to deal with.

Don’t do this search alone.

Find a confidant, friend, wife, husband, sibling, parent, whomever you can trust, to help conduct the research. Understand that the first professional you interact with may not be the right fit for you. Living with anxiety and depression is maddening in itself; spending hours doing the due diligence to find the right practitioner is enough to make you throw up your hands and give up the search altogether. I know because I actually did this a few times before my wife found someone for me.

Admitting you need help is a major accomplishment.

Finding a professional is the next progression and a worthwhile achievement. Actually scheduling that first appointment and going to therapy is the next level that packs a major anxiety-ridden punch to the gut.

My wife accompanied me to the appointment. Not in the session. But, just having her in the nearby room was enough to help me take that much-needed leap.

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The Ongoing Battle

It’s been over a year since I started therapy and sought help. We talk about everything. We talk about my failures in my personal and professional lives. We talk about my strive to be a fantastic husband and father. I explore the cliched conversations about the relationship with my mother. I share stories of how I struggle daily to find the full comfort level with my blackness as a biracial man living in a current climate that is less than forgiving of multiculturalism.

I even talk about movies and things that bring me joy and happiness. Whatever comes to mind, I’m bringing it up in my weekly Wednesday night appointment. As a result, I’ve found the right process that works for me to overcome the depression and manage my anxiety.

That doesn’t mean I’ve won this war of attrition. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I may never experience the ticker tape parade. In fact, I’m writing this now under the similar patterns of gripping anxiety. Over what? Who the fuck knows. This stuff just comes and goes sometimes for no real understandable reason. That is what therapy is for. That is why I write. This is why I meditate and journal and seek out the good in every moment of my life going forward.

Some days this works. Other days it’s a laughable attempt at quelling the impending disaster. Today, I’m not winning that battle. The anxiety is getting the best of me and I’m battling that urge from my mind to second guess everything. So, my hope is to channel this higher sense of alertness and tuned-in senses to help bolster my creativity and write the fuck out of this piece.

My hope is that you will read this and realize that you don’t need to “suck it up” or try to defeat this thing on your own. My hope is that you’ll step up and do the courageous thing, the hard thing, the thing that really takes some balls, and seek help.

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TalkSpace.com is an online solution for anyone that cannot afford in-person options for therapy. Licensed therapists are available by text messaging, which breaks that potential mental barrier of having to meet someone face-to-face.

For additional resources and potential solutions for therapeutic help, visit:

Anxiety and Depression Association of America
National Institute of Mental Health
American Psychological Association

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).

It’s not a show of weakness to get help, it’s a sign of courage and strength.

A version of this post was published on DaddyMindTricks.com and is republished here with his permission.

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