I braced myself against the door of the locked bathroom stall, sweaty palms flat on the cool painted wood, my chin dangling toward my chest.
I told myself to breathe.
In, out. In, out.
About 15 minutes before, despite a decent night’s sleep and a lovely day strolling in the sunshine, the strangest curl of drag-me-to-hell exhaustion had tethered itself around my chest. Within minutes, it had yanked me up from the table where I’d sat chatting with my husband and sister at one of our favorite restaurants in Chinatown.
A Panic Attack in the Bathroom of a Chinese Restaurant
By the time I reached the bathroom, my racing thoughts were already crashing against each other violently; about my business (then experiencing a tricky downturn), my future, my failures, my self-loathing, the 14,080,345 tasks that all felt stranglingly urgent.
Any therapy tools I’d learned to stop or slow those thoughts down were now useless against the deafening din in my brain.
I wondered, as I hovered strangely above myself and my own labored breathing, if I was going to throw up, or faint, or die. Maybe all three, all at once?
As you might suspect: I was having a pretty gnarly panic attack.
When Your Tools Stop Working…
I have no idea how long I stayed in that bathroom stall, wiping beads of sweat off my forehead with my fingertips, my box breathing technique as effective as tissue paper against a hurricane.
But eventually I returned to our table, pale, shaky, and oddly guilt-ridden, explaining I’m so sorry. I think I need to go home.
To their immense credit, my spouse and my sister (who was in from out of town) asked for the check without a single protestation.
As we waited on the street out front for a Uber, my big sis cocked her head at me.
“I think it’s time,” she said gently.
I nodded, still dazed, counting the cracks in the concrete.
She meant: time to face the music about what had been going on in my brain chemistry for a long, long while.
She meant: time to accept that all the tools in my kit (like working out, eating right, talk therapy, meditation) were no longer effective against my faulty serotonin.
A Revised Mental Health Toolkit
And so, almost a year ago today, crying with relief as I admitted to my psychiatrist that I hadn’t been doing well for a long time, I finally chose to try medication.
It’s not the right choice for everyone. But it didn’t take me long to realize: man oh man, was it the right choice for me.
I’m not just calmer, and finally able to close the screeching anxiety drawer that had been constantly open in the cabinet of my mind.
I’m so much more present. I can make better decisions for myself and my business. I’m more resilient, focused, and receptive.
Halfway through what’s been an immense year of growth for the business, I find myself telling this story a lot.
Because I’m often asked: “What do you feel was the greatest catalyst for it all?”
And while they might expect me to mention a coach, or a secret strategy, or an offer… I tell them about the little pill that makes my mind a safer place to be.
A “Safer” Mental Space Isn’t One Size Fits All
And they almost always reply, with confusion: “But you seem so confident, I never would have known! Was it all a front?“
Hell no! An air of confidence isn’t always phony. For me, it was an anchor that kept me afloat despite the noise in my head.
My confidence and boldness are learned adaptations for my giant personality. I find it’s always better to just let the big be big, from the loudness of my voice, to my rowdy, dorky passions, to my ever-driving curiosity and obsession with self-expression.
Besides — any attempt to shrink myself made my mind’s environment significantly worse. Clumsily embracing my urgent zest for life is how I kept going.
You Too May Need More Help Than You’re Getting
I’ve hesitated to tell you this story for the last year.
Not because I’m ashamed, but because I’ve got that doctor’s kid’s problem of knowing a diagnosis doesn’t make me an expert, so I should be careful what advice I offer around it.
Everyone’s mental health story is unique. And all of us — especially entrepreneurs — struggle to take care of ourselves in our own special way.
And not everyone has an older sister who’s also a trusted best friend, to gently tell them when it’s time to face that music.
So I wrote this to remind you. Friend: sometimes, taking care of yourself isn’t all yoga retreats and journaling and massages.
Sometimes, it takes sweating in Chinatown bathroom stalls, and crying in front of doctors, to make you finally accept that you need more help than you’re getting.
But making your mind a safer place to be (whatever that looks like for you) is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.
And if I’m honest? I’ve discovered… it might just be the key to the whole damn thing.