I remember it happening for the very first time. I was coming down a hallway towards an office where I was scheduled for a consultation. I’d done these a thousand times before and then, I stopped, frozen. I had never felt such intense fear, ever, and by then I was a person acquainted with fear. I fought for my breath, and I knew I was done. I knew I couldn’t do the consultation, I couldn’t finish the work day. I called Joe. I went home. We had driven over 500k to do that day.
From there my life went straight to hell. I soon lost the ability to go out in public, I now had a fear of collapsing that had turned to dread. I got to an airport, by force of will, about to fly to give a lecture. The noise and the rush was too much for me, Joe walked me back to the car, we called them and cancelled at the last minute. I had never done that before.
I knew I was going to lose my career.
I knew I needed help.
But I was afraid. Afraid of acknowledging that I’d developed a mental health problem. Afraid of it getting out and harming my career. Afraid of what that ‘help’ may entail. Afraid of being asked to dig to deep through the layers of fear to get at the source of the panic. But most of all I was afraid of appearing weak. Like someone who couldn’t just take control and march on.
But an ultimatum came. I was scheduled to go on a lecture tour. This is what I did, I was in private practice back then, I had no other form of income.
I went to my doctor.
I cried before I spoke. Fear. Embarrassment. Shame. I felt all of them. I wasn’t sitting alone in front of the doctor. Luckily she was a strong and patient woman. Finally, I spoke. I told her about what had been happening to me. She listened for a very long time. I felt unburdened. I felt heard. But I didn’t feel judged.
I was one of the lucky ones.
But getting good care from a health professional shouldn’t be luck.
She diagnosed me and introduced me to a procedure called ‘Stress Inoculation’ and she prescribed a medication for me to use and gave exact guidelines for it’s use.
I got my life back.
I still live with those panic attacks, but they are milder and they happen now only just before giving a lecture. That’s the only time I take that medication.
Yes, I have an anxiety disorder.
Yes, I have difficulty with depression.
Yes, that’s true. It’s part of who I am.
And I like who I am, all of it.
Today in Canada is Bell’s Let’s Talk day. It’s when we are encouraged to speak about mental health, to work towards desigmatizing those who experience mental health issues or concerns. People like me. People like you maybe, or at least people you know.
Silence is never the solution to prejudice or stigmatization.
I broke my silence, will you break yours.
Let’s Talk, and find commonality.