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“My mom always said, life is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you are going to get.”

–Forrest Gump

I was recently invited by a group of mental health professionals to do a 90-minute presentation on law in the mental health arena.  I had not spoken to a group of this size in several years, and I wanted to make a good impression.  I wrote some jokes and attempted to make my presentation fun and accessible.  But, truth be told, I was a bit anxious.  I did well, and the audience seemed to enjoy the presentation.  I was relieved, and simultaneously energized and exhausted.

So, late that afternoon, I laid down to take a nap.  As I began to decompress and unwind, I just happened to glance over to the nightstand and saw that my mom was calling.  I knew something was wrong.  While I wish it was different, my family rarely calls for idle conversation. A feeling of dread overwhelmed me.  My stomach tightened into proverbial knots. I immediately felt nauseous.

“Blaine,” my mother said somewhat stoically, “we think your brother has had a heart attack.  He is being Life Flighted to San Antonio.  That’s all we know at the time.”   If you have ever received news like this, you can understand the flood of emotions.  I was shocked.  My brother is 50 years young and should not be in the market for heart problems.  I was sure this was a mistake.  The difficultly of the situation was compounded by lack of communication of pertinent information.  I figured if he was being transported by helicopter, the situation was dire.

Over the course of the evening, as my brother was being tested in the hospital, I began to face my own issues of mortality.  Life can be fleeting – here one day, gone the next.  I had already been experiencing a great deal of anxiety lately.  And, while I have lived with a high level of anxiety over the course of my life, I was feeling it more than ever.  If you have never known severe anxiety, it can be paralyzing.  Shortness of breath.  Racing thoughts.  Chest pains.  Heart palpitations.  In short, the symptoms of an anxiety attack mimic myocardial infarction.   The fear of death, which suddenly had become much more real, was not helping. 

Fortunately, after two days, my brother was released from the hospital.  But, I suspect neither of us will be the same.  Life’s box of chocolates had given us an f’in Circus Peanut.  The silver lining of this little story, though, is that for the first time in years, I found the courage to tell my brother I loved him. 

The news from the weekend didn’t get much better when I learned one of my daughter’s cousins was seriously injured in an accident.  He’s about the same age as my brother and one of the most genuine, kind humans I have ever met.  I have been thinking about him all weekend and the difficult road to recovery he faces ahead.  Life can be cruel.  I’m not sure what candy is worse than a Circus Peanut, but we got one here.

These two crises have forced me to really look inward at myself.  For the first time in my life, I can say I am living authentically.  I am doing the work as a mental health counselor which I was born to do.  I have softened emotionally and opened up to the idea of intimacy.  But, as I have become true to myself, my Shadow has risen.   I am overeating and not taking care of myself in ways I should be.  This is the first time in years I actually desired having a drink to “take the edge off.”  I chose not to go down that road.

I am fortunate to know myself very well.  Therapy and introspection have made me a better man.  Sometimes, though, life hands you a box of chocolates filled with dog shit.  This weekend was one of those times.  The message I want to convey is this:  even with the best resources available, we all suffer.  For me, it is high level anxiety.  For you, it may be depression or some other form of mental health issue. 

I have learned to lean into the fear and anxiety, to breathe deeply.  But, even with all my professional skills and a cadre of coping skills, anxiety can still get the better of me.  It is something I have learned to live with, but that does not mean it is easy.  If you suffer from anxiety, you can certainly understand the sentiment.

My simple point is this: You are not alone.  I am not alone.  We are not alone.  Sometimes, it takes a crisis to ask for help, but we are all better off when we do. If you are facing a difficult time, a good therapist is just an email or a phone call away.

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