The author holding hands with his daughters.

When Living With Depression and Anxiety, Sometimes It's OK to Steal Joy

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I have had a unique opportunity to enjoy three different events I would not have previously been able. These events have been documented on my personal blog, but I will summarize and detail why I would not attend them in the first place.

1. The Zoo Run: I am not a morning person. I had to wake up myself, and the family at 6:30 a.m. to attend. I also do not like to run, or in this case walk, any distance. Combine that with my anxiety in crowds and this was not where I wanted to be.

2. The theme park: I normally enjoy theme parks when it’s not a busy day, but in this case it was “bring a friend free” day. The park was packed with people. Lines to get food were an hour and a half long. Crowds we know are an issue so that was not fun. This was immediately following the zoo run so I had already walked 5k, so what’s another 10 for my legs?

3. Wrestlemania. OK, I have not watched wrestling since I was a kid in the 90s. This was one that was way outside my comfort zone. A friend called me last minute and asked me to go. I am not a last minute guy by any means. Crowds, loud noises and sweaty men grappling each other are not my cup of tea. I had no vested interest in going.

Why did I do all these events?

For joy.

More specifically, the joy of others.

I made a mental decision to go to all these events not for me, but for those around me. My family loves going to the zoo and we had friends who went with us. My daughters love going to the theme park as my youngest was able to ride more rides because she was taller this trip. My friend wanted someone to share the Wrestlemania experience. These were all acts that brought joy to others.

And in doing so reciprocated joy to me.

I found that joy can directly combat the effects of depression and anxiety. I stepped out of my comfort zone and shared in the experiences. I grasped the joy that came off my family and friends and held it close. I used their joy to inject some back to me. I stole their joy to increase my own happiness. In doing so I was able to fight of the depression and anxiety that vexes me so often.

These are things, as I have said, I would not do under normal circumstances. However, I felt compelled to do them. I was presented with the option of doing or not doing these activities. Instead of my usual “thank you, but no” response, I decided to take a risk.

And it paid off.

During the Zoo Run, I was able to get my exercise, increasing blood flow and help fight off depression. I got to laugh at the silly costumes with those around me. I got to see my daughters running and chasing their friend while their mother and I gasped for air running to keep up with them. I got to see the wonderment that came across their faces when we got to the zoo portion and the joy fill their bodies when they got to see lions and tigers and bears (oh my!). I felt fantastic at the joy around me.

At the theme park, I was able to again see the excitement on the faces of the children (both mine and their friends) as we got to go on roller coasters and merry-go-rounds and log flumes. The ear piercing screams were a bit much but were almost magical in and of themselves. They laughed at the excitement and cried out in terror. The second to last ride of the day was my eldest daughter’s “favorite ride ever, Daddy!” More joy to seep myself with.

At Wrestlemania I did not have my family, only a good friend. Instead of just one person, I was swept up in the 100,000 people cheering, booing, laughing at the antics in the ring. Seeing everyone hiss and boo as the wrestler with a bad reputation comes strolling into the ring with a unique unification that amazed me. I had one little boy break down crying in front of me as his favorite fighter lost while his sister put her arm around him to comfort him. It didn’t last though, because by the next match the action was back again and the crowd was cheering. While I knew almost nothing about who was who or what was going on, the excitement was infectious. The joy of people enjoying themselves was thick in the air. I drank it in, stealing a part of it for myself.

As a known introvert, it was difficult to say yes to these events. I am more at home with a good book and a nice cup of tea or coffee. I made the decision to break out of my comfort in order to find the joy I was lacking in myself.

The author and his wife.
Daniel and his wife.

So I ask, dear reader, are you lacking in joy? My pastor defined Joy as something that wells up inside us and is consistent. Happiness can come from joy, but it will fade and leave emptiness. Words I took to heart when setting this up. I was seeking joy. And I found it.

In places and activities I would never have gone too.

When was the last time you took that plunge? When was the last time you said yes to something you could do but you really just didn’t feel like it? You can sit it out.

Or.

You can go and look for the joy in places you didn’t expect. Try and seek it out. Judge not o, least ye be judged. Someone is having fun. Share in that fun. Someone is experiencing joy. Steal some of that joy for yourself. Take up the fight with your depression. Stand up to your anxiety.

You may be surprised at what you find with an open mind and a willing spirit.

Oh, and bring your plushie or something that comforts you. There were several times I needed a moment to fight the anxiety, but the willingness and the strength I got using my coping mechanism helped me through it.

#hugapony my friends. Go find joy.

 Follow this journey on My Stuffed Little Therapy.

The Mighty is asking the following: What was one moment you received help in an unexpected or unorthodox way related to disability, disease or mental illness? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When Anxious Fears Control Your Daily Thoughts

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I’ve always lived in the land of the overly cautious: I try not to break the rules, I wait a few extra seconds before crossing the street, I go back upstairs to make sure I turned off the stove. In other words, do nothing to cause danger and do not take risks. Fear is the driver of it all.

One experience pushes my level of fear into overdrive, and it looks like this:

“This turn is too tight.”

“We’re not going to make it.”

“Who thought a two-way tunnel was a good idea?”

These are the unspoken thoughts that travel through my mind as my boyfriend is driving us to New York City for my 28th birthday. I am sitting in the front seat and enjoying the ride until things get uncomfortable.

I do not talk about my fear, but I do tell him to slow down and move out of the left lane. I remind him, gently, I think, to stay away from the cars ahead of us recklessly switching lanes.

He doesn’t complain but suggests I try to take a nap.

My body goes into a slight panic, which he can sense even if I try to conceal it. My heart beat increases, my foot presses down firmly on the car floor as if I’m pushing down on my own safety passenger brake. I grip the handle of the door tightly, and if it’s really bad I will shut my eyes.

We do not go on road trips but a few times a year. I cannot pinpoint when my anxiety got so bad. In the car, my mind goes into high alert. I sense danger. I am fully aware of the fact that I have no control over the cars speeding by. Sometimes I glance over and monitor the speedometer. Sometimes, I just close my eyes again.

I have used public transportation as my main way to travel since I moved to the Washington, D.C. in 2006. I even use it when I travel back home to New Jersey. My ultimate preference is the Amtrak train. Maybe it’s because I feel safer in larger vehicles. Maybe it’s because I know the train is on a track and the odds are in my favor.

I go straight to the cafe car and search for a “safe” seat. The ideal is to have the whole section to myself, but usually there is at least one person across from me with a table dividing us. I sit in the blue leather seat and put down my oversized purse. I take out my books, sunflower seeds and my headphones. I breathe. I can completely relax because I don’t see a threat to my safety.

I’m surrounded by people but still feel like I’m in my own world. There are four large windows on each side of the aisle allowing me to observe the scenes outside and let my mind drift.

None of this serenity is part of a car trip. The difference here is I am not in control. I can’t simply wait a few extra moments to cross the street just to be safe or run back upstairs to make sure I turned off the stove before I leave the apartment. In this situation, all I can do is close my eyes and wait for it to stop. It is the same way with life; as hard as I try to control my thoughts, there will be ones that slip through the cracks.

The Mighty is asking the following: What is a part of your or a loved one’s disease, disability or mental illness that no one is aware of? Why is it time to start talking about it? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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23 Messages for Anyone Who Just Received an Anxiety Disorder Diagnosis

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Everyone experiences anxiety. Not everyone lives with an anxiety disorder. And for those who do, getting an “official” diagnosis can be scary, confusing, intimidating — or all of the above. But just because you have an anxiety disorder doesn’t mean you simple can’t “handle” anxiety like everyone else. Anxiety disorders are real, and naming it might be the first step to giving it less control over your life.

We asked people in our mental health community who live with anxiety to tell us one thing they’d want someone who was recently diagnosed to know.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “Never let anyone tell you it’s ‘just your anxiety.’ It’s a diagnosis that blurs the lines between what you can and cannot control; you are always allowed to feel whatever you’re feeling without being marginalized for it. Your diagnosis is not a weapon for others to use against you to silence your concerns.” — Kelsey Whiting

Quote from Kelsey Whiting: "Never let anyone tell you it's "just your anxiety."

2. “There’s nothing wrong with you. Having a diagnosis will help you to learn how to cope. I found being diagnosed is actually pretty great.” — Aoife Gray

3. “The most genuine people I ever met I met because we had anxiety disorder in common. It’s scary, but there’s so much more to you than a diagnosis.” — Nancy Jaimes Reyes

4. “Here’s what I was told: Everyone gets anxiety, it’s normal to feel anxious.
My advice: Just learn about you, keep a journal about abnormalities in your personality, mood, emotions. This will help you understand what is anxiety and what isn’t.” — Catherine Ward

5. “Nothing is different about you because you have a diagnosis. You  are the same person you were before you went to the doctors office. You have already made it through 100 percent of your toughest days, now there’s just a label on it. Take advantage of all of help that comes along with your diagnosis.”  — Amanda Camara

Quote from Amanda Camara: You have already made it through 100 percent of your toughest days, now there's just a label on it.

6. “Treat it, medicate it, do what you need to do for you. It’s OK to be #openlyill” — Kiera Schmierer

7. “Not everyone is brave enough to face their diagnosis or even brave enough to get diagnosed. I won’t tell you to get over it because I know it doesn’t work that way. Healing is a long and difficult process, yet it is possible. Getting diagnosed is, I believe, the first step of healing. There will be good days, and there will be bad days that will almost make you want to give up, but hold on. Please always try to hold on because I believe you can make it. I’m also struggling, but I’m starting to get through healing. We can make it. I am so proud of you for facing it and trying to help yourself.” — Kaloy Aquino

8. “Don’t let your anxiety define you; you are not your anxiety. You will be able to cope, it just takes time and effort to take control of your brain again. Stay hopeful.” — Hailey Danielle

9. “Just because you experience a lot of anxiety, it doesn’t make your anxiety any less real. Your feelings are valid. Always.” — Jennifer Ashley Hoffmeister

Quote by Jennifer Ashley Hoffmeister: Just because you experience a lot of anxiety, it doesn't make your anxiety any less real. Your feelings are valid. Always.

10. “Try to stay in the present moment, and be kind to yourself. Your thoughts, are only just that — thoughts. Thank your anxiety for giving you a chance to show caution, and be more aware of your surroundings. Reward yourself for those little steps you take with something you enjoy, even though you’re scared. You will learn how to cope with it, and you will find the calm hidden within the chaos.” — Kai Zilli

11. “Getting a diagnosis is the best part because at least you can now put a name to this weird, scary feeling, this slow spiraling into madness, the unexplained, inexplicable sense of worry and panic that envelops you out of nowhere, even on a good day, even on your best days. The diagnosis means the uncertainty part of our illness is over. It’s easier to explain to yourself and your loved ones what’s wrong with you. Take your diagnosis and make it work for your recovery.” — Soonha Abro

12. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Learn how best to manage and even conquer it. There will be good days and bad, but don’t let the bad ones take over. Talk to others who have anxiety, it helps. No triggers are wrong. Everyone is an individual and everyone gets anxious, just on different levels and to different extents. Love yourself, be compassionate, give yourself time.” — Gemma Hall

13. “Your life may feel overwhelming and out-of-control right now, maybe even more than before your diagnosis, but know this: being diagnosed is the first step toward more times when you’re able to manage your anxiety rather than it managing you.” — Monica Mongiello

Quote from Monica Mongiello: Being diagnosed is the first step toward more times when you're able to manage your anxiety rather than it managing you.

14. “You are never alone within this struggle, even when you feel like you’re losing the battle. People may leave you, but they just don’t know how strong you are. Never let a dream disappear. You may have to face different obstacles than others, you may not get things right away or need better explanation, but never be afraid to ask. I’m here for you.” — Adrian Torbenson

15. “Some days will be harder than others, but that is life with or without an anxiety diagnosis. Learn your triggers and when you can be courageous, confront your fears. On the days when you can’t do that, it is OK, and you will be OK. You are not alone!” — Nelson Carrington

16. “There are medications, cognitive behavioral thearpy and counseling available to you. Learn about your disorder and educate your support system. Group therapy helps us realize we are not alone and coping skills are shared. You are not your anxiety and with this new awareness and dedication, you’ll start to feel the shift back to peace of mind.” — Flurp Smith

17. “Don’t judge yourself when you know your thoughts are irrational. Instead, recognize that it’s part of your anxiety, and that it’s not a reflection of your character. Be kind to yourself.” — Tamara Lavoie

Quote from Tamara Lavoie: Don't judge yourself when you know your thoughts are irrational. Instead, recognize that it's part of your anxiety, and that it's not a reflection of your character. Be kind to yourself.

18. “Don’t let a diagnosis alter your spirit! Be strong and determined to find the best course of treatment. Let others help you because it can be a lonely place.” — Sharon Emslie

19. “You are not crazy, do not be ashamed and try to hide it. You will be just fine. Believe in yourself and know that no matter what life throws at you, you are stronger than your diagnosis.” — Cheryl Moore

20. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s still possible to do anything you want to do. You can learn to succeed despite a mind that is turned against you.” — McKenna Guegold

Quote from McKenna Guegold: It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's still possible to do anything you want to do. You can learn to succeed despite a mind that is turned against you.

21. “It may be a hard road ahead, but you were brave enough to take the first step in getting better. You can do this!” — Paige Johnson

22. “Your life will still be amazing, you will experience joy and peace. And your story will inspire hope in others.” — Alicia Nelsen

23. “You are never alone, you are never a burden, and you are never worth less than the person standing next to you.” — Laura Sanscartier

If you live with anxiety and need more support, there are resources that can help. Visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of American to find a therapist, local support groups and more information about anxiety disorders.

*Answers have been edited and shortened.

Editor’s note: Not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way. These answers are based on individuals’ experiences.

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16 Things I Wish I Could Tell the People Who Walked Away Because of My Anxiety

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To the friends, family and even strangers whom I have affected,

I would like to say I am sorry, and I guess I am to some extent, but apologizing for my anxiety is like apologizing for being me; my anxiety is a part of me. My anxiety has doomed a lot of my friendships, and even romantic relationships have been ruined because of my anxious thoughts and sense of worry that hovers over my existence. Instead of apologizing for this part of me, I will personally say to you: I’m sorry I was hard to handle, and I’m sorry my anxiety affected our relationship.

To the people who walked away, I feel like I should give you an explanation to justify my behavior, but I really don’t have one. Instead, I have a list of 16 things I personally wanted to tell you about my anxiety from my point of view.

Here are the 16 things I wish you would have known and understood:

1. It’s not that easy to just “chill” or “relax.”

2. I can’t help it. I overthink and overanalyze a lot which often leads to overreacting.

3. It’s easier said than done. You can control anxiety, but you cannot just cure it.

4. It doesn’t help when you tell me I’m “out of my mind.” I need you to be understanding.

5. Anxiety is not like a light switch; I can’t just turn it on and off as I desire (even though I would like to).

6. I don’t want to have anxiety.

7. My anxiety is a part of me whether you (or I) like it or not, and I am sorry if it is too much to handle; it is me.

8. I am not overdramatic because I’m having an anxiety attack I cannot control.

9. I am aware I ruined a lot of relationships through my anxiety, like ours, and it makes me miserable every day.

10. Trust me, it sucks.

11. I constantly need comfort to fight off the negativity bursting inside of  my mind.

12. I always have my guard up and expect the worst to happen.

13. I know you did not always see where I was coming from, and I didn’t always need your advice; I just needed you to listen.

14. My emotions pull me into various directions.

15. I get it, my thoughts are not logical right now, but they are real.

16. I wish you didn’t give up on me.

Please keep being a part of my life if you have already managed to stay afloat on the rocky sail so far. To those who have slowly and surely drifted away, I am sorry for my behavior which may have seemed to be irrational, but like I said, it’s not irrational to me.

Sincerely,

My Anxiety

A version of this post originally appeared on University Primetime.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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A Letter to My Therapy Dog, Who Guided Me Towards Recovery

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Dear AMP,

I lived for 26 years thinking I would never want you. The idea of having the responsibility of a living creature was terrifying. I was barely getting myself through life so why would I dare add another life to those shenanigans.

I was waking up every day full of dread and emptiness. An average day consisted of waking up and immediately regretting it. I would lie in bed trying desperately to fall asleep again or fight the unknown force that kept me pinned to the mattress. Usually, only one thing could get me out of bed — needing to use the restroom. Sadly, this was my main motivator but happily a solution found me.

One day I got the text, “Chloe had puppies!” My niece continued to keep me informed. “The last one born was a struggle, he barely survived. I don’t know why but I think you should keep him.” I was completely against the idea for weeks! To appease my niece and persistent roommate, I let you come over. You had trouble breathing, an extra toe, an under bite hiding two rows of teeth and you pooped in my closet. As I scrubbed the carpet, I started shaking and crying. I was beginning to have an anxiety attack.

I held my breath while yelling at myself inside to just breathe. I tightened my fists and sat on my hands to avoid hitting myself. When anxiety and depression both fight for the spotlight in my mind everything hurts and tightens. My only solution was self-harm or dissociation.  I was sitting on the floor of my closet next to dog poop, you were staring at me and my roommate was calling my name downstairs. I covered my ears and lay down trying to shut out the world while stifling the thoughts inside. I was consumed with pain and you could tell.

The author and her dog.
Allison and her therapy dog, AMP.

All you did was put your paw on my head and I let out a big breath. You kept your paw there and I continued to breathe. I inhaled and exhaled while you settled in next to me on the floor after you did your “circle before you sleep” move. You sighed, settled and slept. That was the first time you took care of me and it was then I promised to take care of you. six years later and we are still taking care of each other! Now an average day consists of waking up and immediately seeing you jumping around to get my attention.

I still have days when I feel pinned to the mattress, but now I have a better motivator: needing to take you outside. Our mornings outside keep me hopeful and positive. The mornings I woke up in the hospital without you were a true test of all you have taught me, but that’s a story for next time. For now, I can only say: Thank you for waking me up!

Your human,

Allison Rose Maldonado

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When I Can't Make Sense of Being a Husband and Dad With Mental Health Issues

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finn crying in a ball pit
Finn

I had one of my meltdowns Sunday night. It has been a while since one made a cameo appearance in the movie of life, but when it came, it was a 5-star performance.

Sundays are fairly relaxed, and this one was no different. Instead of dinner at the in-laws combined with my baby boy Finn getting smothered by his loving grandparents, football took its place.

Exhausted when we got home, I did not think I had the energy to even feel anxious. But boy was I wrong.

Midway through stirring the chicken for our red thai curry, I felt an old friend return. My chest felt like it was being squeezed between a human-size vice, and after moaning or making a flippant comment to my wife Carolina as we bickered over something trivial, the dam came tumbling down.

The trigger words are always the same: “What’s wrong?” — the tone changing completely when Carolina realizes something is not right.

I turn to look at her holding our baby boy, and the tears start falling. She reaches in closer to hold me, and the second she does and we semi-embrace, my other arm stirring the chicken trying to regain composure, the heaving shoulders begin their cycle.

Within seconds I am arched over the countertop sobbing as heavy tears hit the granite. Yes, I am a sensitive guy, yet I have not watched “The Notebook” yet.

In this moment I’m ashamed, vulnerable and child-like. Carolina is somehow still strong, and as she does in almost every scenario, what every person should do, reassures and just is there.

As I try to fathom what is happening, I can only shout inside my head, “What the f**k!?” I worry my boy would think I was pathetic. I must be a shit husband and dad.

Some deep-breaths later, I am attempting to serve our dinner, blowing my nose into the kitchen roll. The tsunami wave has crashed and passed, and now it is just lapping at my ankles. Exhaustion sets in, and a strange calm returns. I feel pretty empty.

After dinner and being deadly quiet while Finn sleeps, Carolina smiles and tells me everything I needed to hear. I still feel lousy, but for the first time in several months, I have no interest in answering emails and helping others, working on Mr. Perfect or doing “life admin.” I fully intend to go to bed as soon as I can.

I bath our boy, and it helps hugely. I have missed just one day of bathing him in almost 10 weeks. It is our time. His big blue eyes stare at me silently, even when I deliberately try to move out of his vision, he follows. It doesn’t make sense. I have this boy, a supportive wife that keeps me pushing forward, a job and some great people around me.

Then I was truthful with myself, something I have worked on over and over again in the past few years.

We have a 10-week-old boy, I am back playing football and working out regularly, we have multiple projects on at work, my site Mr. Perfect is taking off, and I am helping several other people with making sure they are OK and happy.

Combined with the fact I talk more openly about my struggles, I thought I had ticked off the four or five key strategies I use to get by.

Don’t get me wrong, I love all of this. And as much as I can be machine-like at times and continue to perform at work, at home, as a dad, as a husband, I am not a robot.

The other issue, that I conveniently pretend is not there, dawns on me. I have stopped taking my medication. Although it was only a small dose, I made a decision I was doing well. My psychiatrist, no matter how good he is, became more of a listener as I quite cheerfully updated him on my life since my last visit.

Regardless of this I made a massive rookie error. I live with my relentless mind every day. But the cloudy spells and meltdowns are a fairly obvious reminder to shape up. I do not know better than my doctors and already I have booked to see my GP this week, cap in hand like a naughty schoolchild to confess and work out a better strategy.

Monday was a new day. So was Tuesday, and so is today. I feel better, not great but much better.

So if you are reading this thinking it sounds like you, that you wait for the storm to pass and worry about the damage later and think the next storm is never coming, go look up your doctor or mental health professional. They did not go through the stress and debt of medical school and training for nothing. Despite the barriers governments put in front of them, they did it, and with a bit of hard work, it can all make sense.

Follow this journey on Mr. Perfect.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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