How to Determine When Your Health Needs to Take Priority
The Story of a Tough Decision I Needed to Make for My Health
This past weekend I came to a crossroads where I needed to make an extremely difficult decision. I was attending the international convention for the sorority I am a member of and volunteer for. In fact, my roles include Convention Co-Chair and Vice President on our Board of Directors so I was there helping run the convention. The first two days of the convention were great, stressful, exciting, exhilarating, challenging, and anxiety-inducing.
Then I woke up the third day and my anxiety was way out of check. Like so far gone I didn't even know what to do. I was physically throwing up. I was having back to back to back panic attacks. It was so far out of my league I could barely even think. I took the morning off from the convention because I was physically unable to participate. My co-chair and fellow board members were amazing, supportive, and concerned.
Then I made the decision to go home a day early. This decision was hard and by hard I mean it practically shredded my heart. I am SO emotionally invested in my sorority and its convention. I had spent an entire year working with an amazingly dedicated committee to plan it. I was collaborating with board members I don't get to see in person very often and I was having a great time!
BUT at that moment, my health needed to come first. I knew I needed to get home to my safe space, my family, and my pets.
I would like to share with you a journal entry from that day. Some of you reading this are family and friends and might have even been in attendance at this convention. You need to know this is not my norm. This is not what I truly think about myself BUT this how controlling mental illness can be and that is why I want to share it with you. (PS: I am terrified to let all of you into the deep depths of my anxious brain but if even one person learns from this that it is OK TO PUT YOUR HEALTH FIRST and that you cannot be ashamed of your mental illness, then I will be happy).
"It is 2 AM and I am panicking. I am exhausted and anxious and my brain is running two million miles a minute. I feel like I am going to be sick. I feel like a bad person. A bad friend. A bad volunteer. A bad leader. I feel like people just pretend to like me or aren't honest with me. I feel like I am too quick to get defensive and don't have tough skin. I feel like I take everything too personally. Ultimately, somewhere in one side of my brain is berating the other with things like 'you suck, you don't deserve respect, it's a mistake you have these roles, you suck.' The logical side of my brain is fighting a valiant but losing battle because there is no logic to anxiety. There is no logic to depression. Sometimes not understanding is the hardest part."
I look back at this entry and I honestly don't know how or when my brain got to that point. But one thing is clear: that I needed to put my health first, and fast. Once I made the decision to drive home (about a 4.5 hour drive), I was able to focus on tasks at hand: packing, communicating with Dan and my parents (who offered to meet me part of the way so I didn't have to drive alone), telling the necessary people at the convention, and getting myself home safe.
I learned several very important lessons this weekend:
Having a true support system is key - as soon as I realized that my health was at risk, people came from all sides to help. The board committee members I worked with, friends, family, acquaintances, everyone came. I got calls and texts and some people even came to my room to check on me and make sure I was hydrating and doing ok. I am TRULY BLESSED to have these people in my life and if you are one of them - thank you from the bottom of my heart. I would not have been able to make the decision to go home or get myself home safe without each and every individual who kept me up throughout the way.
Your health comes first, EVEN WHEN IT IS NOT A PHYSICAL INJURY OR ILLNESS. When I was debating going home, I kept telling myself that I was weak, that it is 'just' anxiety. But there is no such thing as 'just' a mental illness. A close friend of mine reminded me that if I had fallen and broken my leg or come down with the stomach flu, people would be sending me home. It should be no different for mental illness.
There is no repercussion that should ever take precedence over your health. This goes hand in hand with number two on the list, but it was a serious worry of mine. I kept thinking about if there would be consequences to leaving the convention early. Then I realized that there was no repercussion that could possibly come close to my health. I can take any potential consequences in stride but avoiding consequences and continuing to push myself could have had very bad results.
It is ok to ask for help. There is no explanation needed for this one. It is ALWAYS ok to ask for help.
I am going to very blunt with my call to action for everyone reading this:
Always put your health first, whether it is physical or mental.
If you see someone not putting their health first or who just needs some help, do what you can to help them. The deep depths of mental illness can be very scary and even just simple acts can make a huge difference.
Don't be ashamed of mental illness. The only way to break the stigma is to have the tough conversations.