Today is my birthday and I’m acknowledging it by sharing this part of my story. 

I sit in the bathroom, lips numb and fingers tingling. I can’t breathe and while I know I’m not dying, I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. I know, just know, that something bad is going to happen. What it is, I can’t vocalize. I wait for it to  reveal itself. My chest is so tight I cling to the front of my shirt as if my fingers could pry the iron bars encasing it apart. My mind is buzzing like it is full of bees, my thoughts are warped and slow as if I am under water.

That is a panic attack. It feels awful.

I used to work at a nonprofit organization devoted to helping people with mental health problems. Screening for Mental Health invented National Depression Screening Day. I helped launch the National Alcohol Disorders Screening Program and the National Eating Disorders Screening Program. I championed youth suicide prevention and even testified in front of a Senate Subcommittee about our program, the SOS Suicide Prevention Program. I handled questions from multiple Senators including (and this is not a political post) the then Senator Clinton. We got an appropriation passed and distributed hundreds of videos and collateral materials to schools across the country. I attended the private White House signing of the bill and shook the President’s hand (Bush, 43) when he thanked me for my contribution. I stood in the Roosevelt Room and knew I had done something good.

So why wasn’t I seeking help? Because anxiety is sneaky and even when you know the facts it is hard to see the sun.  But I did it. I talked to my primary care doctor, got started on a treatment plan, added yoga to my self-care routine, and focused on healthy eating and a regular sleep schedule. I got better and have been better since.

I’ve spoken to innumerable people who suffered with various forms of mental health issues. What I learned is  that many high-achieving people deal with these problems. No one is safe. It can be a part of your family history or the result of a traumatic event. It can develop slowly so you don’t realize it is happening until you are at the bottom of a tunnel and can’t see the top. The moral? Get help. Talk about it openly. You’ll be surprised how many people will share their stories with you.

About the campaign:

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Home for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. I would also add Screening for Mental Health at www.mentalhealthscreening.org

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