On Instagram, depression, and anxiety

Regardless of what my Instagram feed looks like, I want to write about the fact that my life is not all infinity pools and explorations through Asian cities and exotic markets.

To start, I’ll note that I do believe I have a wonderful life. I feel very privileged to be able to move freely through the world and explore new people, places, and cultures. The freedom Arielle and I have been granted in this world is absolutely incredible, and arguably the best gift one could ever be given.

However, right now, as I’ve been contemplating my travels and reflecting on my journey, I feel compelled to share that my life is more often than not consumed by mental health challenges that do not show up regularly in my Instagram Feed or the stories and photos I post online. I’ve always wanted to change this, and find ways to share the darker, tougher, more challenging side of life, but have not thus far found the right way to share “in the moment” clips of the mental hardships the way that so many of us feel compelled and excited to share the more positive, exotic, and joyous moments of life. If we’re being honest, I don’t think anyone really wants to see anyone inside of a mental swirl down the drain, yet these things happen so frequently, and go unshared so often, that I really want to find a way to tell stories of mental health, in effort to help others embrace their whole selves and live more wholesome lives, without fear of the shame and stigmatization that frequently accompanies anything surrounding mental hardship.

As I write this from the most beautiful hotel one could ever ask for, I cannot help but think about all the battles with mental health I’ve experienced—and am currently experiencing—over the past several years.

At home in Philly, much of my life is consumed by learning how to live with depression, learning how to ride the waves of anxiety, and continuing to process the grief delivered to me when my mother passed away several years ago. The grief that unlocked a depression that I believe has been buried and dormant for decades.

This stuff is not easy to show online, nor is it easy to talk about with everyone, but that’s exactly what’s making me want to write right now: a desire to normalize the importance of embracing, discussing, and exploring mental health and wellbeing. After all, every one of us has it, and we all have to learn how to live with it. No matter who you are, you have a mind sure as the world turns. And with that mind comes a host of wondrous beauty, along with myriad challenges, barriers, and hurdles discovered along the journey through life. What’s often not spoken about, and what I believe should become commonplace, is verbal discussion and ongoing exploration of people’s mental health and wellbeing.

When I look back on what I’ve shared online, I see beaches around the world, foods of all different kinds, adventures I used to dream of, and places I’ve never thought I’d go.

Yet what I explicitly notice lacking are the mental breakdowns I experience on a regular basis. The anxiety that keeps me from social gatherings. The depression that leaves me curled up in a ball and makes it impossible to get out of my bed, or get off of the floor, or come out from under the blanket.

I am a strong man who is building an independent life, and I have an incredible support system of friends, family, and colleagues, all of whom are in my corner when I need someone to lean on. Yet I simultaneously suffer from the throes of anxiety and depression, which researchers more frequently say are the flip side of the same coin.

Anxiety and depression are tough. They can ruin lives. Even take them away from us. If not addressed, and left unchecked, they can eat away at one’s mind and overwhelm one’s being, leading to life experiences that are way too tough, way too challenging, and way too unspoken about. They are often the bottom of the iceberg; people see 10% of your life, yet 90% (probably more) is going on under the surface, not visible to those who are passing by.

Arielle (my partner) and I took a yoga class the other day, and the teacher shared a quote that’s been resonating with me ever since. One that struck him, stuck with him, and now has been passed along to me, and the other folks who were present.

“If you ignore the dragon, it will eat you. If you confront the dragon, it will overpower. But if you learn to ride the dragon, you will harness its strength and its might.”

This resonates deeply with me, as for the past few years I’ve been thinking about my therapeutic work as a “battle” with depression and anxiety, and now I see there is a better way: learning to accept who I am, embrace how I am, and work to be at peace with the entirety of my existence; even those parts that are challenging.

Learning how to live with depression and anxiety is a major undertaking, and something I am still working through on a daily basis. From therapy to medication to meditation, yoga, and a multitude of support systems, I’m always seeking to find balance within my mind and throughout my body.

Going back to where this started — my desire to post another beautiful photo I took while wandering and exploring Southeast Asia — I want people to know that the lives of other people are not always what they look like. In fact, I feel pretty confident making a guarantee that they are not.

This may sound basic, but we often forget some of the most basic and cliche snippets of wisdom in life, which is how my body felt compelled to write through my thoughts and, and maybe even find something comforting for those of us learning to live with these conditions.

I love traveling, and I hope the adventures will never end. I’ve fallen in love with photography, and increasingly love being connected with my friends across the world, so sharing things online has become a way of staying in touch, embracing my hobbies, and squeezing more joy out of life. However, I also recognize that it’s a trap, and a double-edged sword, because of the image it projects to others who do not know me well, and do not see into what really goes on behind the scenes. And that’s most people in my life.

I never want anyone to see me in my mentally weak states. I hate it when Arielle is there to witness it, yet I love it when she is there to comfort me at “the right” time. I hate having so much anxiety, but I love that it’s part of what fuels me. There are catch 22’s everywhere; a yang for every yin.

From what I’ve experienced and learned along the way, it’s all about accepting what is, embracing how things are, and learning to ride the dragon through continuous practice, patience, and self-compassion.

In closing, I want to thank you for reading through my thoughts. If you’ve made it this far, I imagine you either a) really want to support me, b) really like what I have to say, and/or c) have your own dragon you’ve been learning to ride over the years. Whichever it is, I thank you for your time and your attention, and appreciate you and the whole of your being.

If you ever want to talk about mental health and wellness, in any capacity whatsoever, I encourage you to feel comfortable reaching out to me anytime.

Let’s change the stigma around mental health, and bring transparency to the field, the same way transparency has been brought to so many aspects of life in the 21st century.

Much love from a beautiful balcony in Bali, Mike Tannenbaum Just a guy who wants to help others embrace the wholeness of their humanity