My Mental Health Breaking Point

Kathleen Sheffer avatar

by Kathleen Sheffer |

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On Jan. 2, 2014, I stayed in bed for the third day in a row. I cried, slept, researched ways to die, and starved myself. Late that evening, frustrated and hysterical, I disconnected my life-sustaining continuous intravenous medication in front of my exasperated mother, who immediately called 911.

Hugging my legs to my chest, I cried in my pajamas as 10 enormous firefighters, policemen, and paramedics entered my room and began asking a series of mundane questions, each one more humiliating to me than the last. “Twenty years old,” I said. “Yes, I go to college. UC Berkeley.”

The previous semester I had officially given up on the architecture major I had been literally killing myself to keep up with. Weeks with multiple all-nighters that turned into dizzy mornings added up and I dropped my studio class.

My boyfriend broke up with me, telling me that I was manipulative to my core; that I was the source of all the problems in our relationship, and I was crazy if I thought he shared any of the blame. Part of me believed him.

My other relationships were suffering, too. I was having anxiety attacks and I knew I wasn’t in control. I needed help.

Maybe there’s a medicine that will help me just calm down so I can step away from things and think before I act. I see all the things I’m doing wrong and I want to change them, but in the moment I can’t take a breath until I get what I want. I can’t recognize what I’m doing until it’s too late.

Providentially for the writer I’ve become, I started a journal in December 2013. I wrote in the first entry:

I can’t believe so many adorable little kids are getting transplants and/or dying! I still don’t know how to deal with death. I know I’d completely lose it if someone closer to me lost their fight. I’m scared I might lose mine. I don’t want to need a transplant. It’s terrifying that this is out of my control.

I was still reeling from the loss of two young girls with pulmonary hypertension, not knowing three months later I would lose the first of four close friends in five months (and gain resilience instead of “completely losing it”).

After the first responders watched me reconnect and start my medication pump, they brought in two angels — women who validated my anxiety and taught me techniques to calm my mind and regain my breath. They helped me start difficult conversations with my family, who would go on to support me through our mutual trauma.

Over the next couple months, I told my closest friends about the incident. I found that telling them about my depression didn’t change how they saw me as a person. Concerned, my friends reminded me of my importance in their lives. The divide between the person I was and the person I wanted people to think I was began shrinking.

On Jan. 2, 2015, I got out of bed early to go to Golden Gate Park with my boyfriend (a different guy than in 2014). We sipped tea in the Japanese Tea Garden, explored the de Young Museum, and took a boatload of pictures. After a delicious sushi lunch, I drove home to Santa Rosa, visited with my friend from high school, and ate dinner with my friend from college. I played cards with my parents and fell asleep watching TV with my sister.

When I started therapy, I believed there were fixed aspects of my personality that were inherently bad. I believed parts of me were unlovable. I believed I would never know happiness.

I wrote part of this post a year later, stunned at the speed of my transformation. Medicine gradually got my anxiety under control. Despite my full schedule of classes and extracurriculars, I made time every week to sit in my therapist’s office for an hour, even on days when I wasn’t in crisis. My parents are supportive and have the resources to take my mental health as seriously as they take my physical health.

My winter break crisis was not the end of my battle with depression and anxiety. But I write this confident that I will never have a crisis of the same scale because I have the tools to rescue myself before the situation escalates.

I remember, reflect on, and write about that day, not because I relish reliving the worst day of my life. Reading my journal entries is painful. Publishing this is scary, but it further shrinks the divide between the person I am and the person I want people to think I am, and I like that. Living authentically is a gift I never want to take for granted.


Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


Andrea Rice avatar

Andrea Rice

Beautifully well written. Sometimes a person has to go thru the depths of hell just to see the light of day.

I'm glad you have all 3, supporting family, friends and therapist.

I can brag and brag about seeing a therapist. I love seeing one because I value the different set of skills they have that I don't have and they give their opinions even if I don't agree with them I learn something new.

Getting your family into therapy to understand how serious trauma is and to see how it affects you is extremely important.

I, to, have tried unsuccessfully to get my family to go to therapy so they to can understand the seriousness of trauma and mental health, but they weren't interested and continue to live in denial so I had to make the decision to leave them behind. Painful but necessary.

I have a wonderful son, my best friend, and my medical team of doctors rooting for me all the way to feeling and getting better through baby steps.

It's OK to panic. It's OK to have anxiety. Learning the tools to dealing with it so it doesn't overwhelm and control you is a key to optimal health. Learning to deep breathe (therapist taught me and son) how to calm yourself when things are spiraling out of control works wonders.

I'm so glad you are in a better place now. I want to give you some advice about death and how I see dying. I don't fear death and see it as an extension of life. I have no regrets where I currently am in my life. Everyone goes eventually and I don't sweat things that are out of my control especially having PH. I am doing everything my cardiologist asks of me and take the medicine recommended and my body has never felt better. Fact, this is the best I have ever felt in my life up to date. You could seek out and talk to a chaplain, minister, priest to explore death and maybe this idea could help.

Good Luck!!


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