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The Smartphone App Helping Me Get 'Smart' About My Emotions

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Clearly, for better or worse, Emojis are here to stay. The word “emoji” has entered the dictionary. The little faces and symbols have begun to undergo social and linguistic study. This year, they even came to life on the big screen.

This time last year, Emojis were also inspiring me with an idea for a mobile app promoting mental health by facilitating user-friendly emotion identification.

You see, one day a therapist asked me (as therapists tend to do!) how I was feeling about something. And I was stumped.

You’ve been there, haven’t you? Those moments when you say you feel “blah” when you mean sad, “meh” when you mean tired or “fine” when you mean any number of things.

According to psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett, it’s important for our mental and physical health that we identify our emotions as specifically as possible or, in psychological terms, that we practice “emotional granularity.” Barrett writes: “Emotional granularity isn’t just about having a rich vocabulary; it’s about experiencing the world, and yourself, more precisely. This can make a difference in your life.”

To help with my emotional granularity, the therapist I was talking to pulled out a piece of paper containing a chart of 30 cartoonish “feeling faces.”

“That’s used for kindergarteners, isn’t it?” I asked suspiciously.

“Well, yes. But it can be used by anyone…” he replied.

As I adjusted to using the feeling faces chart, I started thinking that not only can anyone use feeling faces but perhaps, without even realizing it, a large portion of our culture already does — in the form of Emojis.

So, I set to work replicating a fairly standard feeling faces chart into the language of Emoji, and suddenly it didn’t look all that childish. It looked like something meant for me, for my Insta-happy teenage cousins, for my technology-professional father or for anyone, quite frankly. I wondered what it would look like to load up that chart into a mobile app with the following simple instructions (excerpted from the product’s website):

1. Once a day EMOJI CHECK sends you a friendly mobile notification.

2. Open the app and select the Emoji that best represents how you’re feeling.

3. Feel free to write an explanatory note in the textbox if you want. Or not.

4. Go about your day – just a little more in tune with your mind, body and soul!

The 30 Emojis in the chart provide enough options to get some emotional granularity going — but not so many options as to be overwhelming. Not to mention the feelings in the chart have a history of proven use in the mental health care field.

I’m happy to share that in January 2017, EMOJI CHECK was released to the public.

And, I’m happy to share that it’s helped me — a person living with chronic mild-moderate depression and anxiety myself — on my journey of health and happiness as well.

When I had a hunch I was hitting a rough patch, I was selecting “overwhelmed” and “exhausted” in EMOJI CHECK on a daily basis for at least two to three weeks. That tipped the scale for me to make some calls and get some help. Now, some months later, the act of honestly selecting “hopeful” and “happy” in the app most evenings for at least two to three weeks tells me I’ve experienced improvement and may be ready to talk to my therapist about terminating treatment.

Whether or not EMOJI CHECK has such direct decision-making effects on its users, I’m confident we can all use more emotion identification. Each time we identify our emotions with more specificity than a shrug and a “fine,” we build habits of self-awareness into the very fibers — and, yes, the phones! — of our lives.

EMOJI CHECK is currently free and available for iPhone only, with the possibility of Android expansion based on demand. Search “Emoji Check” in the Apple Store or click here to download.

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Thinkstock photo via Blackzheep.

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When Robin Williams Died, I Realized the Greatest Lie Depression Had Told Me

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As someone struggling with depression, there are many lies I tell myself to get through each day. I tell myself I believe things will get better. I tell myself I believe life is worth living. I tell myself I believe someday I will be happy. All these lies I tell myself in the hope they will eventually ring true and I will come to believe them. But there are some lies I tell myself without even being aware, and it wasn’t until the suicide of Robin Williams that I discovered I had been telling myself the greatest lie of all.

When I learned Robin Williams had died by suicide, I was devastated. Not because I knew him personally or because of some mistaken sense of starstruck familiarity. I knew I would never have to carry the burden of grief his close friends and family would bear. His sudden absence would not alter the course of my daily routine and I would not mourn the missed intimate conversations we would have otherwise engaged in. The truth is, I was devastated because he was 63.

Robin Williams was 63 when he killed himself. After all that he had accomplished, all that he had challenged, survived, learned and conquered, it appeared to me that he couldn’t move beyond the ghosts that tortured him. Success, no matter how you measure it — whether by money, fame, accomplishments or family — none of it seemed enough to chase away the nightmares that doggedly pursued him throughout his life. It seems he never discovered the secret to conquering his inner demons so they would remain in the dark and let him live unencumbered. I was devastated because if Robin Williams, with all his age and experience, could not beat the odds, what possible chance did I have?

Somewhere in the back of my mind, in the fragile, sheltered box of light I keep tucked beneath the oppressive darkness that is my depression, I realized I had been falsely clinging to the desperate notion that some day, perhaps with the help of medication, meditation, self-awareness and therapy, I would eventually get a handle on my own demons and, once in control, I would sweep them aside to live the rest of my life in a fiercely negotiated peace. I wasn’t so naive as to believe I could erase my depression completely, but I would build a cell strong enough to keep it bound, cornered, out of sight and literally out of mind. Once I had paid my dues and learned my lessons, my life would be mine to live as I pleased.

This was the greatest lie I told myself about depression. I had believed that some day I would find a permanent solution to my plight, but I realize now that no fortification can bar its return and hold it at bay while I live the idyllic life I deeply desire. There will always be a need to maintain vigilance, like a keeper at the gate. I can build a cell but from time to time, but when it is least expected or I am least prepared, the despair inside me will leach through the cracks and force me to drive it back or lose myself forever. Just as I imagine it had done with Robin Williams.

It is not my intention to suppose what had been going through his mind in his final days or to make assumptions regarding the inner workings of his life. I have no privilege to information beyond what was presented in the media and I will never claim to personally know who he was or understand his unique struggles. But I know depression and I find myself thinking about him almost every day. I can’t help but imagine his loneliness and the heavy heartbreak which likely traced his every step. Whether in fact or only in my mind, I can’t help but feel connected as only someone who has experienced the hopelessness of despair can, and at the same time, I thank him. He will never know the impact he has had on my life but I like to think if he did, it would bring him some peace to know he had helped someone — he helped me. He opened my eyes to the lie I was harboring and gave me a chance to find a new truth for myself.

I try to lie less and less these days. I still tell myself what I need to in order to survive, but I also look for reasons to prove myself wrong when I can. I try harder to recognize the things that make my life worth living and I pursue the things that will make me happy. I don’t always catch them but sometimes, just the chase is enough. Most of all, I look forward to the day I turn 64 and I can raise a glass to Mr. Williams, sharing with him my gratitude, as I blow out the candles on my cake.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo via wikimedia commons.

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Robin Williams Movie Quotes That Have Helped People With Depression

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This Friday August 11 is the third anniversary of Robin Williams’ death. For fans and people who may be struggling with depression, suicidal thoughts or loss, anniversaries like this can be really tough

For many, Williams consistently shared messages of hope, especially in his movies. As a tribute to his memory, we asked our mental health community to share movie quotes that have helped them through depression. Williams may not have written these lines himself, but his delivery of them always appeared genuinely heartfelt. Though he is no longer with us, his memory lives on, and the impact he had on the world will stay with us always.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” — John Keating, “Dead Poets Society”

robin williams
Screenshot via UsSkyPic YouTube channel

“It reminds me what I stay alive for. Art was one of the things that got me through it when nothing else was. Movies, art, poetry. They’re all important and I think it truly is one of the reasons we stay alive.” — Becky R.

2. “To live will be an awfully big adventure!” — Peter Banning/Peter Pan, “Hook”

peter pan robin williams
Screenshot via YouTube movies

“This was his last line in the movie ‘Hook,’ which I grew up watching, and still do watch it regularly. I got it tattooed on my shoulder years ago, before he passed. Robin Williams has always reminded me of my dad, so I guess that’s why I’ve had an extra love for Williams. I think the quote speaks for itself.” — Morticia A.

3. “It’s not about understanding. It’s about not giving up.” — Chris Nielsen, “What Dreams May Come”

robin williams
Screenshot via YouTube Movies

“I, like most humans, want to have it all figured out. I want my dreams to become plans with little to no obstacles, and that just isn’t the reality of life. This is a reminder that although it may be hectic, I am not meant to understand life, but to enjoy it and live it.” — Jazmyn K.

4. “I believe in destiny. There must be a reason that I am as I am. There must be.” — Andrew, “Bicentennial Man”

andrew bicentennial man
Screenshot via YouTube Movies

“It reminds me that although I battle depression and suicidal thoughts, it must be for a reason. Even if I don’t quite know what that reason is yet, it’s what keeps me going and helps me get through my worst days, almost like a beacon of hope amidst darkness and despair.” — Katy F.

5. “But oh, to be free!” — Genie, “Aladdin”

genie aladdin
Screenshot via Movieclips Coming Soon YouTube channel

“I feel chained and trapped by my illness, it feels like it’s been 10,000 years…” — Shannon D.

6. “But if there’s love, dear… those are the ties that bind, and you’ll have a family in your heart, forever. All my love to you poppet, you’re going to be alright.” — “Mrs. Doubtfire”

Mrs. Doubtfire
Screenshot via YouTube Movies

“Whenever I watch ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ and hear this line at the end, something about the way it’s said truly resonates with me. It does give me hope things will get get better, no matter what mental hardship I’m going through.” — Rachel S.

7. “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.” — Sean Maguire, “Good Will Hunting”

good will hunting
Screenshot via YouTube Movies

“The whole movie but these specific lines [especially].” — Tania B.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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To the One Who Saw Past the Mask That Hides My Depression

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I walk in the room with a smile on my face.

The mask I wear so well is indistinguishable from my very being.

It has become a part of me and I dare you to try taking it off.

I sit down in the seat across from you, still smiling as I tell you about my hurts and painful happenings.

It’s easy for me, this pretending. I’m used to it, you see.

The mask fits me comfortably and I barely even notice it’s there anymore.

But you see past the mask.

Perhaps something gave it away.

Something in my eyes or the way I exhaled too deeply after that last sentence.

I quickly smile once again, trying to cover up anything that may have shown.

You pretend not to notice and I’m thankful.

My mask protects me, keeps me safe and in control.

My mask has become my worst enemy and my best friend.

But as you speak words of empathy and compassion, I can feel the edges of my mask loosening, curling up ever so slightly.

Could it be, that you have seen beyond the mask? Even after I have masterfully kept it under wraps?

The glimmer in your eye and the patient silence is deafening.

You wait, with kindness and understanding, you wait.

I can feel the mask start to itch.

I suddenly feel trapped yet exposed.

I long to tear off the mask that is holding me captive.

I long for someone to see me for who I really am.

And still, you wait, and you watch with warm eyes.

Meeting my gaze only to ask, “How are you feeling?” which fees like a thousand questions wrapped into one.

  

And with this one question, you beckon me into the light.

With your patient waiting, you silence the voices telling me to hide.

With your smile, you remind me I am not too much, but more than enough.

With your peaceful demeanor you tear down my walls, brick by brick, session by session, never rushing or criticizing in the process.

My recurring head nods and long silences in between discussions are never met with judgment, but with acceptance.

And moment by moment, we are conquering this mask together. Slowly untying that which has left me blinded for years.

With each passing moment I am safer and yet more exposed than I have ever been before.

My mask will not go away so easily.

It is a long process that is only just beginning.

It has taken years to build up and will take years to undo.

And yet we continue together, to conquer that which challenges me every day.

And so as I sit here, stiff, smiling, hiding all that is begging to be released. I thank you.

Thank you to the one who saw past my mask — and decided I was still worth fighting for.

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Thinkstock photo via Stockbyte

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When Depression Becomes 'Comfortable'

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Thinking of the word “comfort” often brings a sense of peace. It makes me feel at home. I don’t like to leave the moments when I feel comforted. Does anyone? There are many things that bring me comfort, such as writing and talking with loved ones. There are many people who bring me comfort such as my husband, my family and my closest friends. Who or what brings you comfort?

Comfort is a very positive aspect of living. It also brings a lot of other feelings along with it, such as feeling protected or loved. I put comfort, protection and love all in the same category. However, have you ever been mislead by comfort? I have, and it took me quite awhile to realize it. Side note: this post isn’t about the cliche of stepping out of your comfort zone — I am talking about a different aspect to comfort.

For me, when depression gets low and has been around for some time, it starts to feel like home. I’m not saying this just because most crying spells usually happen at home, but because depression began to bring me comfort. It brought comfort I thought I wanted and needed. I remember waking up mornings and the first thing I thought of was when I would be able to come back home and be alone. I looked forward to being alone because I could cry as much as I wanted. I also then began to look forward to crying. Crying spells began to feel so familiar that it gave me anxiety when I wasn’t crying. If you’re reading this and you don’t have depression, this may sound confusing, weird or pathetic… I get it. Now that I am not in that kind of place anymore, it seems confusing to me too. However, I wanted to bring up this confusing dilemma because it was once my reality. I’m sure it has been someone else’s reality too.

This depressive comfort is almost the opposite of anxiety because there is nothing comforting for me about anxiety (besides when it’s not present). I’m not sure if I could ever even have misleading comfort from anxiety because of all the physical symptoms it brings along with it. The hyperventilating, sweating, shaking, etc. is like a mini hell for me. Depression, not so much.

When I’m feeling depressed, I love to sleep. It’s one of my favorite things. I’m not saying I love to take naps, because I do and so do a lot of other people. What I’m talking about is sleeping my days away, so I didn’t have to feel or think. I spent days waking up going to work and then coming back home to sleep until I went to work the next day. It was like taking never-ending naps… I was spending the majority of my time in sweats. It felt beautiful! Days started to turn into weeks living this way. I enjoyed living this way because I felt comforted by my bed, protected from my negative thoughts by sleeping. I thought this was the perfect solution to not feel so crummy anymore.

I didn’t start to realize I was being mislead until I started to vocalize it to my husband and to my therapist. I told them I felt at home when I was feeling depressed. I was fine sleeping the majority of my time. I felt the best when I was crying. If you haven’t figured it out by now, these are all major red flags. The only way I realized this was talking to someone else about how I was truly feeling and thinking. This was a reality check for me. A very necessary one.

Getting out of this depressive comfort wasn’t easy because it felt like I was taking away a positive from my life. I felt like I was taking away that comfort, love and protection. Who would ever want to willingly do that? However, this comfort, love and protection I was receiving did not have good intentions. It didn’t have my best interest in mind… even though it was my mind! Comfort, love and protection are only a positive if it is coming from a source with good intentions. So make sure the comfort you are getting is comfort you actually need. You may want that misleading comfort, but in the long run it will just keep tearing you down!

Please try to recognize when you’re being mislead by depressive comfort. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts aloud because once you speak them, it takes away power from those thoughts!

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via marzacz.

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On the Days I'm Not Emotionally Ready to Fake a Smile

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When some people say, “I’m not feeling well,” most tend to think it’s a physical sickness. Like a cold or a headache.

Just like the times when I wake up in the morning and find it hard to get out of bed because I need to battle my anxiety and depression first.

When it’s almost 7 a.m. and my class is about to start in five minutes and I’m still stuck in my bed, I’ll text my friends to let them know I can’t make it to school. I say I’m not feeling well. They say, “Is it the stomach thing again?”

Every time I’m not feeling well, they tend to think it’s my stomach problem that’s keeping me from going to school. But sometimes not feeling well goes beyond just the physical sickness. Sometimes not feeling well means I’m not emotionally well. I’m still in the constant battle with my self and I’m not emotionally ready to go to school.

Not feeling well may also mean I can’t meet you today because I’m not emotionally ready to fake a smile.

But not feeling well doesn’t just mean I need medication — I just need a hug or maybe just a comforting hand. So every time I saying I’m not feeling well, I hope someone would just look beyond the physical pain and say, “It’s OK if you can’t make it today, just know that we’re here for you.”

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via monzenmachi

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