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"Without Esther's suggestion that a doctor could help me in ways she could not, I wouldn't have even considered going to the walk-in. And without Ann's support and presence at the clinic, I may not have had the courage to walk through the door."
"Without Esther's suggestion that a doctor could help me in ways she could not, I wouldn't have even considered going to the walk-in. And without Ann's support and presence at the clinic, I may not have had the courage to walk through the door."

"Without Esther's suggestion that a doctor could help me in ways she could not, I wouldn't have even considered going to the walk-in. And without Ann's support and presence at the clinic, I may not have had the courage to walk through the door."

Be There Stories
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Michael McGrath on how those close to you can connect you to help

Lying on my couch sobbing, I called Esther. She picked up and, from my first teary syllables, knew something was very, very wrong. It was January 1st, 2019, and I had just finished the worst shift of my life where I’d endured multiple violent incidents in the shelter I was working at. My chest had tightened to the point of hyperventilation – I was having my third panic attack of the fresh new year. It was a terrifying, unfamiliar experience and I needed someone to be there for me.

Esther is my go-to. She's my emergency contact, my closest confidant, and my best friend. We've been through many ups and downs, particularly in the tender years after my coming-out. She's proven herself to be dependable, wise and emotionally intelligent. As I struggled to communicate over the phone, she listened patiently and encouraged me to breathe. In, out, inhale, exhale. It's okay, it's good to cry, let it out. 

As I gained more control over my breathing, I confessed that I didn't know what to do. The prospect of going back into my work environment that night caused my chest to tighten further, but not going in and possibly having to quit my job also terrified me. 

Esther continued to slow me down and comfort me, reassuring me that I didn’t need to make any big decisions in this heightened emotional state. She broke down what I needed to do in small, manageable steps. Yes, you need to tell your supervisor that you can't work tonight, because you need to take care of yourself. First, take a shower and focus on your breathing, then we can prepare to call your supervisor.

After Esther walked me through the call to my supervisor, I got some much needed sleep after my night shift. Esther came over in the evening to support me physically and, before she left, gave me one more crucial piece of advice: I really think you should go to the walk-in clinic tomorrow. The thought hadn't even crossed my mind. I was comfortable talking to a friend, but a stranger? Trust me, the doctor will be able to help you in ways that I can't. 

At first, I was hesitant. I hadn’t had good experiences talking with doctors about my mental health in the past. But, considering that my chest was still tight and my breathing shallow 10 hours after my last panic attack, I conceded that it would be wise to get some professional guidance. 

Esther was working the next day, so she was unable to come to the clinic with me. I was pretty anxious about going alone, so I contacted Ann -- another dear friend. When I told her what had been happening, she offered to look up a nearby clinic and come with me.

The next morning, Ann held my hand, fed me snacks and sat with me in the waiting room at the walk-in clinic. You're doing a great job, this is the right thing to do. I felt much calmer knowing that whatever happened inside the doctor's office, Ann was right outside ready to support me. 

This time, I was fortunate to have a great experience with the walk-in doctor. She was very kind and gentle, listened to what I had been experiencing, and confirmed that I had undergone a series of severe panic attacks. She asked insightful questions about my current and past mental health. We discussed panic attacks and how to cope with them, as well as accessible therapy options and medication for anxiety and depression. Together, we developed a plan of action and set a date to follow up.

Looking back, I can confidently say that that first appointment at the walk-in changed my life. Five months later, my mental health is the most stable it’s ever been and I’m feeling well. I have learned invaluable coping techniques and have been able to find a medication that works for me. 

This would not have been possible without the support of Esther and Ann. When I needed them, they exemplified all of Be There's Golden Rules beautifully, but I especially want to highlight Golden Rule #5: Connect to Help. I learned that it isn't healthy, or realistic, to expect your friends to provide all the support that you need and that it’s important to get professional help. Without Esther's suggestion that a doctor could help me in ways she could not, I wouldn't have even considered going to the walk-in. And without Ann's support and presence at the clinic, I may not have had the courage to walk through the door.

But I am so glad I did, and so thankful for friends who’ve been there for me time and time again.