In Gratitude & Catharsis

I’ve spent the last several days deep in thought… In my head, writing drafts – all of which reveal the many inspirational, motivational, & sometimes painful details of my weekend with the #HealtheVoices 2019 Conference. As I finally begin to write this, I’m keenly aware my story is a multifaceted reflection of events, all of which left quite an emotional impact on me. Before I go any further, I must express my overwhelming gratitude to everyone responsible for making HealtheVoices19 an unforgettable experience for all! THANK YOU to Janssen for making it possible for all of us to come together. THANK YOU to the entire HealtheVoices team for creating an unprecedented event of genius & perfection. THANK YOU to the 2019 advisory board, all speakers, media, partners & everyone who worked their magic behind the scenes to pull it all together.

I live in Dallas – The HealtheVoices conference was in Dallas. Come Friday morning I was giddy with excitement & filled with nervous energy as I made the short trip from my house to the hotel via Uber. I checked in, draped my badge around my neck & entered the conference room. Instantly, I was overwhelmed by the electricity buzzing throughout. Still excited, yet feeling somewhat discombobulated, I took a seat at table #11 & met my table mates (Julie, Jim, Joel, Jen, Kelly & Wendy).

There was much to absorb & lots of activity going on… all at once. Towards the conclusion of the “Rising Through Resilience” session, I began to feel somewhat disconnected with my surroundings. My mouth became dry & I was having a difficult time swallowing. I tried to consume plenty of water, yet still found no relief. I was now beyond uncomfortable, fidgety & distracted by the anxiety moving in. Lunch was coming soon, so I kept telling myself, “breathe, just hold on, it’ll be ok, just a few more minutes,” yet I’d already begun to tumble down the rabbit hole.

The next several minutes are a blur as tunnel vision, ringing in my ears & a racing heartbeat all but consumed me – I felt everyone was watching. NOW, I was deep in the throws of the worst panic attack I’ve ever experienced. No matter how hard I tried to calm myself, I was too far gone & couldn’t break free.

Sensory overload is a bugger for many of us with chronic illness & it’s not always possible for us to predict, nor control the environment in which we often find ourselves. Therefore, if we’re prone to anxiety/panic, it’s crucial we try to be prepared for the unknown by learning various tools, triggers & coping skills needed for self care & preservation. I lost track of such tools that day.

I became somewhat “paralyzed,” speechless & felt broken beyond repair. I felt I had no other option but to gather my belongings & leave the room. I made my way to the hotel lobby, collapsed into a chair & began to sob. Cathy Chester (a dear friend of mine) came up to the lobby & sat down next to me. Knowing/understanding exactly what I was going through, she was a comfort to me like no other! Dawn Gibson (another beautiful friend) happened to come up too & she too came to my side. The three of us sat together, chatting until it was time for Uber to arrive & take me home. I still couldn’t breathe – not until a few hours later did I finally exhale. Thank you also for Teresa Wright Johnson who continued to text, checking in on me during this time of distress.

In the quiet solitude of home, I crawled into bed, tried to relax, but couldn’t. I was thoroughly exhausted, yet restless & riddled with self inflicted guilt. Unable to rest fully, I started to peruse the conference handouts & got to know various people via the directory of attendees. I still wanted, needed to be able to participate with HealtheVoices in some form or fashion, so I found comfort sitting in with the live streaming sessions. I also found I could actually engage via virtually & through Facebook & Twitter. This opportunity made me feel a bit better & upon nightfall, I was looking forward to taking part in the events planned throughout the weekend.

I had every intention of returning to the conference Saturday morning, but my body had other plans. The intense stress of the day caused my GI system to react accordingly. A couple hours later, trigeminal neuralgia & spasticity kicked in. All of this occurred in the middle of the night, so my sleep was minimal to none. Frustrated, in pain & dealing with the return of guilt & emotional distress, I knew I would be forced to stay in bed all day. I allowed myself a brief pity party as I texted Barby Ingle the details of my unexpected absenteeism. She was absolutely wonderful & understanding of my situation & I’m forever grateful for her. Still, I couldn’t rest, determined not to miss out on anything more than I had to. So, I went back to being a virtual attendee for the day & was pleasantly surprised with the experience as a whole. It was possible to be quite interactive on many levels & I even found myself being able to engage with others, one-on-one!

Finally able to get some sleep on Saturday night, I hoped & prayed I’d feel good enough to attend the last few hours of the conference on Sunday. Although feeling still a bit fragile, I gathered myself together & made my way back to the conference. My full intentions were to catch up with all my people, share hugs & participate in whatever way possible to make up for lost time – to some degree, I succeeded & was able to breathe again.

I’m forever grateful to those who took the time to be there for me. Such acts of kindness from friends & strangers alike meant the world to me then – and now! Thank you all for the ongoing reassurance, comfort & support – I’ll never forget this.