It was a Saturday when my life changed.
I woke up later than I wanted and in a hurry to get out the door, forgetting that I had nowhere to be. My heart raced, and my mind was foggy. I was just as tired as I had been the night before.
This morning routine had become a habit. The sweats. The jitters. The fear. The fog. I had experienced the same scenario over and over again for the past eighteen months with no end in sight.
However, this morning would be different. It was on this day that I finally relinquished victimhood and learned about the deep power stories have to change lives.
Sitting outside of Heritages, one of my favorite coffee shops in Chicago, I clicked a Vanity Fair story a friend had sent me, unknowing that this single act would change everything. It was the title, Bonds of Battle, that caught my eye. It is an essay written by Sebastian Junger about PTSD and mental health in America intertwined with his own story of struggle.
His story resonated with me and created a newfound sense of belonging that I hadn’t felt in years. I needed that story to be able to tell mine.
Stories have the power to shape and direct our lives. They have the power to open doors. They have the power to inspire and heal.
Below are the distilled central themes, with exact quotes, from personal correspondences and daily diaries of over 100 men of all colors, nationalities and creeds. If you learn anything from this piece, it’s because of their words, not mine.
1. We feel alone.
“When panic strikes the whole world around me keeps moving, but I’m stuck in a haze. Slowly moving through the days. Alone. Without someone to truly listen. Why is this happening to me?”
2. We are grateful for gratitude.
“Tomorrow, my only child will turn 14. Tuesday, we will have our 19th wedding anniversary. I’m glad I learned about gratitude. If it wasn’t for gratitude, I’d be miserable all the time.”
3. We have a hole in our soul.
“I had a giant hollow spot in my soul that was barely consolable.”
4. We have no idea how or why this started.
“I’ve dealt with anxiety and stress for just about my whole life. So, it’s hard to know how or when this all started. I’m just so confused.”
5. We use busyness as a distraction.
“I always felt behind. I continued to keep my life busy though, probably as a distraction from how intense my life was feeling. The house of cards came crashing down soon after my 26th birthday, when I finally couldn’t handle all of the demands of my life.”
6. We feel like a fraud.
“For reasons I can’t figure out, I severely doubt my abilities. Despite evidence of my success (finishing a PhD, publishing papers, being invited into collaborations), I still feel like a fraud.”
7. We doubt our abilities.
“I worry that this may not be the right choice. Applying to go back to school again, what if I don’t get accepted? What if I fail? What If I don’t find the suitable job? What If I don’t make enough money to pay the bills. What if it is not what I expect it to be and I end up in the same situation that I am in now?”
8. We beat ourselves up.
“Good job, kid, you fucked that up about eight years ago when she wasn’t good enough for you and you ditched her for some smoke show that was out of your league. Sounds like this job I’m going for right now. You just can’t be comfortable. You had her where you wanted her, but you didn’t realize it. You ruined it.”
9. We are rarely content and think peace is one decision away.
“My mind starts to race. Should I be moving to Denver? Why am I not happy with where I am right now? Why is this chick giving me space? I told her to give me space, but she’s not actually supposed to do that…”
10. We second guess any progress.
“Why can’t I just focus on what I need to do and move forward? I always have to make things difficult…maybe I was a little harder on myself after that interview than I should have been? Or am I just trying to give myself relief?”
11. We regret past decisions.
“I scroll through Twitter at work and come across a press release from my old company. They’ve just hired a new full time broadcaster. I served as the broadcast intern just one summer prior. I start to doubt myself and have regrets.”
12. We are always tired.
“Tonight, I wanted to study, but I kept dozing off because it appears I’m so damn tired. I really wanted to do this, but my body is way too tired to carry on. Talk about being disciplined. After about 30 minutes, I throw in the towel and jump into bed…how disappointing.”
13. We fear our thoughts.
“One thing that scares me about writing out my thoughts is just how crazy I seem. I don’t want to see the darkness. Maybe it’s better to just hide from it.”
14. We put too much pressure on routines.
“I feel like if I don’t start the day off right and have the morning go well, I won’t be successful with the day.”
15. We think mental endurance cannot be learned.
“Ugh. It’s morning again, and I don’t want to get out of bed and do any work. ‘Normal people’ have the mental endurance to show up to work five days a week, and I don’t really think I’ve ever been able to do that.”
16. We dread mornings.
“There were times when I would wake up in the morning with severe pain in my stomach and would throw up immediately upon awakening.”
17. We love the snooze button.
“Since I quit my job four weeks ago, I’ve set my alarm every day for 7 a.m. I’ve maybe woken up at this time once. Waking up this morning at 9:30 really made me anxious to figure out what’s going on with me. I got a great night sleep, more than ten hours of it. Why am I so tired?”
18. We fear each day.
“I could only manage to stay asleep for six hours, and the second I wake up, my heart rate is through the roof. Am I gonna make it today? I’m start to feel faint and getting tingly feelings. I tell myself to focus on my breaths or I’ll make myself have a panic attack.”
19. We constantly worry our progress is fake.
“This method (journaling) has been working well for me recently, but I’m starting to get worried that it will lose its effectiveness at some point…I’m afraid that I won’t have anything to help me snap out of an unproductive spiral if this method starts to not work.”
20. We are obsessed with productivity.
“[S]ome days, like today, I find myself wanting to do everything. Make a t-shirt for this. Design a poster for that. Create those graphics. I sometimes find it hard to slow myself down and take projects as they come instead of trying to do everything at once. Having it all rush through my mind doesn’t allow me to concentrate and commit to one idea.”
21. We have everything but feel empty.
“I can feel myself getting anxious as I’m writing this journal, because I’m imagining people reading the entry and judging me. I can hear it now: Why is he complaining about his life? His life doesn’t seem stressful at all. Why does he consider this anxiety?”
22. We fear our anxiety will make us horrible fathers.
“I’ve focused for awhile on getting to a good mental place, and I still don’t have the stamina to work five days straight. Will I ever? And how am I ever going to have kids and have the stamina?
23. We feel guilty all the time.
“I constantly feel guilt. After asking for something. After eating the wrong food. After waking up late. After sex. After taking a break from work. It’s a constant state of mind that plagues my happiness and makes me feel like I can never do anything fucking right.”
24. We set unrealistically high expectations for ourselves.
“The pressure that I have put on myself to be successful has been the key to living with an increase of stress and anxiety.”
25. We spend nights overthinking.
“Every time I’ve started to drift off during the last couple of hours, the loop of all the things I need to do and people’s reactions to my not accomplishing these tasks begins again.”
26. We are afraid that anxiety is a death sentence.
“I was ‘diagnosed’ with anxiety. I felt like a victim. Like I had a death sentence. An incurable disease. I believed there was nothing I could do to help myself.”
27. We wear a mask to hide the pain.
“It was masked for years. Everything in my life looked great from an outsider’s perspective, but on the inside I was dying. I was anxious about if I’d be successful. If I’d make it. No one knew. That was the most insidious part about it.”
28. We overanalyze everything.
“I am suffering because I overanalyze everything.”
29. We are constantly chasing money and status.
“I’m not a finance guy. I’m good at it, but is this really the life I want to live? My life has SUCKED! Why do I keep chasing money and status? Fuck.”
30. We have no faith in ourselves.
“We had a pleasant reunion, but there’s something ominous, foreboding and concerning about it because I don’t have much faith in its sustainability…I spent much of the weekend with my ex, and though things went well, I had this nagging that the positive vibes we were having would only be ephemeral.”
31. We care too much about what others think.
“How people think, react and talk about me creates a great deal of anxiety that can become crippling when no one is looking.”
32. We need constant affirmation.
“…We texted a few more times throughout the afternoon. Now it’s late at night, I’m at work, and we haven’t had any communication in over six hours. I’m feeling anxious, paranoid and lonely. These emotional waves come in cycles. Maybe she’ll text me tonight, maybe not.”
33. Our success causes more anxiety.
“The more successful I have become, the more stress and anxiety have entered what I do and complicated my everyday life. As one becomes more successful, you would think that you become less stressed and anxious. This has never been the case [for me].”
34. We can be triggered by anything.
“In the morning things went well, but of course a phone call from a colleague triggered another out of control anxiety attack that had my heart pounding through my chest.”
35. We feel weak.
“I’m also taking anti-anxiety and depression meds although I will admit that I do not like taking them as I feel it is a sign of weakness.”
36. We fear losing external validation.
“I realized that I not only have a fear of failure, but I fear losing the external validation of those closest to me. This has led to a career path where my job was sure, conservative, and everyone around me validated my life.”
37. Our pain is invisible to others.
“The changes in my life are invisible to others, but I feel them in subtle ways that are powerful to me. Simple changes like receiving fewer texts and Snapchats than my friends around me [causes anxiety].”
38. We can’t control the waves.
“During this time I began reading an email about the mindfulness challenge for the day. For some reason, I began to feel extreme anxiety. My heart pounded and I felt light-headed. I could feel a panic attack in the distance and that only made things worse.”
39. We drink, even if it makes things worse.
“I don’t even really want to do anything, but I’m in my 20s and that’s not acceptable. I’m going to have a few beers beforehand while I’m eating and getting ready…social lubricant.”
40. We try drugs, but we know they solve nothing.
“I feel asleep at 7 p.m. and woke up at 2 a.m., unable to fall back asleep because I had gotten a lot of sleep the night before and I was too anxious to be alone with my thoughts. Finally at 6 a.m., I smoked pot to get myself tired, and fell asleep rather quickly.”
41. We use ambition as a mask to cover our wounds.
“My anxiety is mostly manifested out of the stress of me being successful and happy.”
42. We constantly compare.
“I always saw how better other people were and wanted to be as good as them. And it took a great toll on my confidence…by the end of university I saw all my friends excelled and moved on and here I was struggling and trying to figure out what’s next.”
43. We’re afraid to share our emotions with other men.
“I never attempted to tell my friends what I was going through because I feared they would label me a pussy.”
44. We’re unable to move when it’s strong.
“I know I can do better and I’m just making myself feel less worth of what I want in life. Feeling angry and sad ultimately leads to anxiety, making me incapable of getting off the couch.”
45. We question our decisions.
“All I’ve done today is watch The Office. It’s 75 degrees and sunny outside, and all I’ve done is watch a show that I’ve already seen. Why do I do these things?”
46. We spend most of our time waiting.
“Wasn’t I going to make this year my year to start my own business? It isn’t going to start itself. Why am I waiting to make a move? It’s only been 10 years that I have made everyone else richer.”
47. We fear death more than most.
“I think I’m struggling with my anxiety as much as I am simply because I am scared. Scared of what the future brings, scared when my time to die will be, scared to die because I will miss life and this Earth and all my friends and family.”
48. We long for impact, to be loved, and to love.
“Every day I try to remind myself that what I want out of this life is happiness and to love other people and leave behind a legacy of love.”
49. We make decisions based on fear.
“A lot of time fear is what controls my decisions in life.”
50. We feel stuck without an exit.
“In my life right now, I feel so stuck and in limbo, because there is so much I would rather be doing right now than sitting at this damn desk.”
51. We feel it in our body.
“No matter what I’m doing, my jaw and chest are always tense, like I’m preparing for a fight. A fight with what you may ask? My mind.”
Are you ready to wake up and find more happiness in your life? If so, sign up for my free 21-day mindfulness email course. I’ll be sending you an email every day that will help you reduce stress, increase focus, and find more happiness!
Benjamin is the founder of Fully Rich Life, a blog that is focused on helping men decrease stress and anxiety, find more focus, and be more present. Benjamin also helps businesses tell better stories with authentic content strategies. Join thousands of readers in his free 21 Day Mindfulness Challenge.