My mental health story started going into my sophomore year of college in the state of Michigan, I was still with Mark, the guy who I went to prom with. Mark was already a freshman at the private college in my hometown, when we met. Two years later, I was still with him, though I was now a second-year student, away at a different school that was an hour west of home and his school.
I admittedly was not embracing the college experience of partying and meeting new boys, like many young women do. I spent a lot of my free time, back at Mark’s school, just to escape being around my dorm roommate.
Mark was in a fraternity at his school. In fact, he lived in the fraternity house, and with all my regular escapes from my campus and dorm, I got to know a lot of the fraternity brothers that he was friends with. Every new school year, freshmen young men, would pledge the fraternities, hoping to be accepted into the Greek system of brotherhood. As a new pledge, you would have a “big brother” within the fraternity, who would be a mentor to you.
I met Ken that fall while staying with Mark. Ken was Mark’s “baby brother” of Sigma Chi. Ken was a fun, creative artist. He painted and wrote poems. Mark and Ken clicked right away, and I had fun when Ken hung out with us too.
Over the first half of the semester, Mark was becoming busy with school work, and all of his clubs and organizations. So much so, that I was frustrated that I wasn’t a priority.
It was Halloween and I was at the Sigma Chi costume party. Mark was there but I barely saw him. Annoyed, I found him and told him he still needed to take me back to my dorm that evening. There was an obvious disconnect between us and he asked Ken if he could drive me back to my school. As Mark’s “little bro” of the fraternity, Ken was more than happy to assist.
During that hour drive with Ken, we talked the entire time. It was so easy to share and listen with him. I was surprised by how much I liked his company, and appreciated him driving me an hour each way while a party was going on.
Ken sent me a message a few days later, asking how my exam went. He was checking in to ask how I was doing! A couple weeks went by and I was back at Mark’s fraternity house, hanging with him and Ken. When it was time for me to head back to my school, Ken volunteered to take me back. Mark looked relieved, and to be honest, I was kind of giddy about it. It was starting to snow, so I really appreciated him being willing to take me.
Once again, we had engaging conversation. We talked about our families, and art. What movies we loved. What concerts we’ve been to while we sang songs together on the radio. When we got back to my dorm, I offered to let Ken crash on my couch. It was late and the snow was getting worse. He agreed. I liked his company. The next morning, he offered to take me for coffee before hitting the road. I am going to confess, at this point I was feeling a connection with Ken.
Over Thanksgiving, Mark and I barely spent time together. Things weren’t going so well between us. He had a lot of friends he wanted to hang out with and I was hurt that I wasn’t one of them. My mental health at that time was not a focal point, but I felt my anger growing and I ended up telling him that I wanted to take a break. While we were both sad about this, we both agreed it was a good idea.
The next few weeks leading up to Christmas, Ken would call or check in to see how I was doing. I was so excited to hear from him. After my finals, I came back home for our winter break. Ken was still at his school when I got back into town. He asked me to go sledding with him and his friends that evening. We had so much fun. That evening, we fell asleep together on the couch at his apartment.
The next morning, I woke up from the couch, and he was still there. We shared a quick kiss, and he took me back to my family’s house. He decided to stay another night in town before heading back to Ohio, to be with his family. That evening, I invited him to spend time at my parent’s house. We watched a movie altogether. At the end of the night, I walked him to his car, for a goodnight kiss.
The following morning, he came by my house. He was going to head back to Ohio soon. He asked me if I wanted to go Christmas shopping with him before he hit the road. I was baking with my mom, so I told him I couldn’t go with, but to call me over Christmas.
The next day, it was Christmas Eve. My mom and I just returned home from church that morning. When we walked inside the house, my sister asked to speak to my mom privately. A few minutes later, they called me into the room. My sister told me that Mark had called while we were at church. He was calling to let me know that Ken died in a car accident, 10 minutes away from his house in Ohio.
Everything went silent. The blood was pounding in my ears and I couldn’t hear. It took me a few minutes before I heard the rest of what my sister had to relay. I didn’t know how to respond. My head and my body were disconnected from each other. My family wasn’t sure what to say to me either. I just went to our Christmas Eve family party that evening per usual. My cousin awkwardly said “I’m sorry about your friend”. And then we went back to holiday festivities.
After Christmas, Mark took me with him to Ken’s funeral. It was surreal. I found out that Ken was close to his home, and there was a younger driver, a 16-year old boy, who had recently gotten his license, who was struggling to stop his car. Ken moved out of the way to avoid a collision, and hit black ice. He went head on into a tree and died instantly. It was a closed casket. Which in some ways is even harder for your mental health.
My Mental Health Story continued
On New Year’s Eve, I drove to a party and stayed the night. My mom had insisted I take her car, an SUV, instead of my little sedan. The next morning, I was driving home to my family’s house, when my mom’s car, that I was borrowing, skidded on black ice. I spun on an overpass, and like a pin-ball, ricocheted from one side of the guard rails to the other, before coming to a stop, facing the wrong direction.
Again, my ears were pounding. I was physically ok, but my adrenaline was in overdrive. There was another car on the same overpass that had also just crashed a few minutes before me. They helped me call 911.
I ended up driving home, and when I got into the driveway, I just started honking the horn. My parents came out of the house and as I started walking towards them, I felt the warm tears start flowing down my face. I hugged them and told them how sorry I was that I crashed my mom’s car. My mom was crying, saying she was just happy I was ok.
A week later, I was back in my dorm. Everyone was excited to see each other and catch up. Inquiring how each other’s Christmas break was. While everybody compared gifts they got from their significant others, I was the buzzkill who shared “my friend died in a car accident, leaving my house”. No one really knew what to say to that. Hell, I didn’t either.
The next couple of days, I walked to and from classes, with my headphones in. I didn’t engage in conversations if I didn’t have to. To be honest, I don’t think I had fully processed my grief and feelings about Ken. And I definitely hadn’t processed what had happened with being in a car accident right after that either. Needless to say my mental health was suffering.
One night, lying in bed in my dorm room, I woke up and thought I was having a heart attack. My heart was pounding, I was gasping for air and sweating, I couldn’t shake this horrible feeling in my chest. The next night, it happened again. I called my mom and told her what was happening. I was scared to go to bed at night, because I did not want to keep experiencing this.
She came and took me to doctor. They ran tests and told me I was healthy. But I was having panic attacks. I had no idea what that was. They just smiled and told me to learn to relax more.
Mental health awareness has come a long way. I know there is much more progress to be had. The last 25 years since this all happened, I struggled with more mental health issues. Anxiety, depression, agoraphobia, OCD…they all developed and at times were debilitating in my life to function. It is imperative to feel all the feelings when we experience something traumatic. Do not ignore the pain and grief, because it will show up in your body and mental health in many other ways.
I truly believe our life experiences, especially in everyone’s formative years, leaves residue in our central nervous system. Some of us need help in how to regulate this. I have received help from prescription medication, I have found relief from herbal supplements. I have benefited greatly from cognitive therapy and coaching. Extreme healing has come from EFT (tapping), journaling and shadow work.
Our mental health is the backbone to our physical health. Stress and trauma create disorder and disease. Approaching your mental health the way you might approach getting physically in shape, requires various exercises. What you consume – your diet, your conversations, the books, songs and shows you take in, the company you keep – all affect the frequency we vibrate at.
Which in turn affects our attitude and our physical health. Keeping THIS in shape, aides greatly when hardships in life happen. Loss of a loved one and post traumatic stress from an event, such as a car accident, can be devastating but we are able to heal from if we have the support and practices in place to work on our recovering emotionally.
If you or anyone you know needs help, there are resources available. 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24/7, just text 988.
If you are interested in coaching through issues, please feel free to contact me.