Goodbye and good luck

In October 2020, I got sick and was diagnosed with viral meningitis. I then suffered a complication from the process used to diagnose the meningitis (spinal tap) which resulted in a second and then third trip to the ER and finally a small procedure. It was about 3 weeks of being sick, 3 separate trips to the ER (amidst a global pandemic), getting poked and prodded with IVs and needles in my arms and in my spine, and head pain that came with not being able to eat or be upright (which is pretty challenging with a full time job and two small kids) before I finally started to feel better physically. Less than a week later, I got hit with the strongest and most severe panic attacks, anxiety and depression of my life. I’m tying these two events together as part of my story because I very much believe they are correlated. I’ve managed some level of anxiety for most of my life (I think most of us do these days), but this was different. It was 9 days straight of hours-long debilitating panic attacks. I couldn’t think straight, I felt physically ill and shaky, I couldn’t eat, and I bounced between feeling emotionless & empty or crying uncontrollably. I lost 15 pounds that I frankly didn’t have to lose. I was surrounded by my family – my husband, my kids who needed me, and my parents who came to help us to manage the daily routine (thankful for all of them). Even with all this support, I’ve never felt more alone or hopeless. I felt like I as in a bad nightmare that I couldn’t get out of. I couldn’t even see a reality where things got better; I literally had moments where I did not think I would be around for Christmas… at one point, I shared this thought with my husband and mom who were trying to be strong and supportive, but I’m sure they were equally scared and confused.

When I was in the thick of it during this 9-day panic-attack stint, I called and tried to visit every medical professional I could (my OB/GYN, primary care doctor, psychologists, psychiatrist, counselors, neurologist), because I knew if I didn’t there was real risk to mental well-being, and my life. There are 4 (FOUR!) distinct situations during this time that I was turned down for help when I reached out. Turned DOWN! That’s right, turned down as in: “we can’t help you, goodbye and good luck” (or never hearing back). I wasn’t referred to another resource, I wasn’t asked how dire or urgent my situation was, I was just turned away… to feel more alone than ever in fighting my battle. Eventually I got the help I needed, but it took time, persistence, self-advocacy, and support/encouragement from my family.

I couldn’t help but think about people suffering who DON’T have the support I had during this time (family, supportive employer, close friends to talk with), or people who aren’t able to advocate for themselves and give up after hitting those dead-ends. Those people die. And no, I don’t think I’m being extreme in saying that.

It wasn’t until after I started feeling better and got connected with the help I needed that I learned about some of the urgent care support for mental health, including The Beautiful Mind Project. This is the reason I want to share my story. What I learned through my experience is that mental health support and resources are still severely lacking, and that the stigma is still very prevalent. During my darkest days, I vowed to find a way to help others, to be part of lessening the stigma, and to continue finding ways to share and contribute to this cause, because it’s still so needed.

I know this experience is something I will always carry with me, and anxiety is something I will need to continue to manage, but I also know there are effective ways for me to do this, that I’m not alone, and that there IS hope. I want others to know and feel this, too. You are not alone. There is always hope.