It was around 2004 and I was sitting in a waiting room at a doctor’s office, this was a very normal occurrence for me. From the age of 11 I was in and out of waiting rooms, doctor’s offices, and operation rooms. I was used to the dull background noise of Home Shopping Network or a local news station while people hurriedly waited.
It always felt like something was wrong with me, I had been hesitant to even tell my mom about this new issue because I could not handle more surgeries that didn’t work. I noticed it when I was walking down the hall at school, no matter what I did I could not seem to get a full, deep breath of air. It felt like I had to force myself to yawn to feel as if I had a full breath of air in my lungs. I allowed this feeling to linger for weeks thinking it may be remnants of a cold but when it wouldn’t go away, and I was continuously forcing myself to yawn or sigh I finally sought out my mom. There we are in the waiting room, waiting patiently for someone to incorrectly say my name and call me back.
As soon as we were called back, they placed us in a tiny room and immediately ran through a list of questions without looking up at me. Once they were done with the initial intake, we then did the second round of waiting for the doctor. I always got so nervous for the doctor to come in, after my surgeries, I was always worried that any doctor I encountered was going to find something wrong that would turn my world upside down again. The doctor eventually made his way in and asked me why I was there. I told him that I can’t get a full breath and the only way I can feel relief is by yawning or sighing, without a response he put a pulse oximeter on my finger. He asked me to look down and read the number to him, it was 98. “There’s nothing wrong with you, you probably have anxiety and there’s nothing I can do for that.” This was my first step into the world of mental health.
Over the next 15 years I would struggle trying to understand my own mental illnesses and navigate the complex mental health industry. It all came to a catalyst on July 4th, 2019. There had been “episodes” before the July 2019 episode, and I would beg everyone around me to not put me in a mental hospital. I couldn’t be that person who ended up in a mental hospital. The episode before July 2019 lasted 5 months and during it, I lost 80 pounds (I couldn’t eat and when I did, I couldn’t keep it down), didn’t sleep for days, almost lost my job, pushed away a lot of friends, and almost lost the love of my life.
“There’s nothing wrong with you, you probably have anxiety and there’s nothing I can do for that.”
When those same feelings crept up my spine and rooted themselves within me like a young redwood preparing itself for a thousand-year journey, it terrified me. All the symptoms came back, I would jolt awake terrified, I would be starving but the sight of food would make me nauseous and my mouth would dry up, my body was tense and tired all the time. It was starting again, and I couldn’t do it. I stayed up for six days straight sleeping for maybe an hour or two at 15–20-minute intervals. During all of this I was going to work and pretending like everything was fine because I could not risk my job. This was the first real adult job I’ve ever had, I’m good at it, and I love it. I can’t let them know that I’m weak.
The internal pressure inside me was building steadily. On the night of July 3rd, I took a sleeping pill in hopes that it would knock me out and a good night’s rest would solve all my other problems. I remember sort of falling asleep and immediately waking in a panic about 15 minutes later. I grabbed my stuff and went downstairs I didn’t want to drag my husband into my night of restlessness. I spent the night sitting defeated on my couch, crying, watching The Golden Girls. I just wanted to do basic things like eat and sleep. Why couldn’t I do that? Why couldn’t I be a good wife to my husband? Why did I have all these problems? Wouldn’t the world be better without me? The thoughts, the questions built on top of each other and they broke me down. I made a plan and as soon as that plan formulated in my head, sirens started going off internally. I was a danger to myself, I needed to get help.
The sun had just started to come up, it was the 4th of July and we were supposed to have a BBQ that day to celebrate moving into our new house. I woke my husband up, crying, telling him that I was a danger to myself and I needed help. He rushed to get up and get dressed, he looked at me and said, “where do we go?”
We stumbled around for a bit having no clue where to even start with this. I had never gotten to this point where I had admitted I needed help. I didn’t know who to call or tell. We agreed that going to an emergency room would be the best option and they could tell us where to go. When we got to the ER, they put me in a room with nothing in it except a mattress on the floor and a chair. I got assigned a social worker who walked me through the steps of getting a bed in a mental health facility, I am so grateful for her kindness and patience. In between doctors and nurses coming in to take blood work or understand my mental state we were frantically trying to reach all of my family members to let them know that while I won’t be gone for long, I would be gone for a good reason. We were finally able to get me a bed at UNI, I was gathering my things and they let me know that Shane wouldn’t be able to take me. Since I had expressed an intent to harm myself, I had to go by ambulance. I said goodbye and was loaded into the ambulance to start my journey navigating once again through the mental health system.
I was in the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute for a total of eight days during that time I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder with recurrent episodes, C-PTSD, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I was able to tackle little milestones that turned into big milestones. My first big milestone was finishing a full meal, then sleeping a full night. At UNI I allowed myself to be truly vulnerable and begin healing past traumas. I got on medication for the first time in my life. I had always viewed medication as being weak, I guess that’s part of the stigma around mental illnesses and mental health still. I dove headfirst back into therapy and continue to go to this day. Asking for help instead of internalizing those feelings saved my life, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t reach out.
Thank you so much to the Mind team for allowing me to reflect on my journey here. There is so much work to be done with advocacy and mental health. Getting people the tools and resources they need through therapy is a big first step. I hope that my story helps others in knowing they are not alone and there are others out there trying to find a balance as well.