“A Random Encounter with a Beautiful Soul”
About a week ago, I made a pledge to write an article for the Change Direction Campaign. It is funny how things work out sometimes because I was contemplating the many different ways I could approach this subject as it is very dear to my heart and it is something that I am extremely passionate about. Because of this, I was thinking about what information and examples would be best to discuss, which stories may be the most relatable, and which “Direction” to go. Writing is something I love to do, but unfortunately, don’t do enough. So, I figured that I would make time to do this on my 10-day trip to California where I was going for a little work, but mostly to relax and play. Oddly enough, the answer presented itself on the flight from Ft. Lauderdale to LA. On this flight I had an experience that validates the importance of mental health. While the circumstances are not ideal or fortunate, I was able to meet a beautiful soul who just needed a little help, support, and someone to listen so he could be heard. As it turns out, a group of medical professionals, who were doing what I believe to be their best to help this young man, were making an already traumatic situation worse by “trying to fix” “label” “diagnose” and “figure out the problem or what was wrong with him.” What they were not able to see or understand, was that this was not helping. Rather, it was increasing the distress this beautiful soul was in. The purpose of sharing this story is not to invalidate the medical and physical components that clearly are valid and need to be looked at, but it is to validate that the mental health components are equally as valid and also need to have the same consideration.
So, while this story was unexpected, it is something that needs to be shared so people can learn from it. I would say that for me, the story started after an extremely stressful couple of weeks that I am happy are over and I made it through. After barely making it to the airport on-time, I am actually very happy I was able to board my late-night Spirit flight to LA. Somehow, I pushed through all the chaos and was sitting in my crammed window seat (near the back of the plane) contemplating what to do with the next 4-5 hours on the flight. After the usual delays on this particular airline, I decided to make the flight as relaxing as possible and do some educational reading that was long overdue.
A couple pages into my reading…I noticed a lot of people in the aisle and commotion at the back of the plane. I reminded myself of the polish proverb, “Not my circus, not my monkey,” in an attempt to re-focus on my reading. Less than a minute later over the intercom “If there are any doctors, nurses, or EMT’s on board, please come to the back of the plane because we have a passenger who needs medical attention.” “So that is what all the commotion is about…not my circus not my monkey…they did say “MEDICAL” attention?” was the inner dialogue I heard in my head in an attempt to rationalize not getting involved. Of course, since I was sitting in the back of the plane I figured it couldn’t hurt to at least turn around and sneak a quick look. Immediately my eyes focused on a younger adult male who was clearly in distress, in what looked to me like either a panic attack or possible pseudo-seizure. I then looked around him and saw the large crowd of people and about 4 medical professional taking his vitals. Next, I couldnot help overhearing bits of the conversation “His blood pressure is really high!” “Does he have a history of Diabetes?” “He doesn’t seem responsive!” in addition to a bunch of other unnecessary labels and assumptions that only seemed to increase the symptoms I was noticing in this young man.
At which point, the helper in me instinctively raced out of my seat and pushed myself towards the young man. Regardless of what was happening, we are talking about a human being…who looked terrified…surrounded by bunch of people who were focusing and having loud conversations about what was “wrong” with him. Finally, when I got up to the front, one of the medical professionals looked at me and asked “Are you a doctor?” “No, I am a Trauma Therapist and a lot of my work has to do with identifying if symptoms are physical or emotional,” I am pretty sure he stopped listening right after he heard therapist and went back to his conversation with the medical professionals. Honestly, his opinion of me didn’t bother me…what bothered me was that nobody seemed to be talking to this person, who was suffering, and attempting to help him through his pain.
Luckily I am not easily intimidated by people like this and this young man’s needs clearly outweighed the opinions of the other professionals, so I pushed by them and asked the young man “May I sit next to you?” He looked at me and shook his head yes. I then climbed over him and into the middle seat. I introduced myself and asked him if I could touch and press lightly on his forearm a little bit higher than his wrist. He again nodded yes. I took his arm and did my best to find and press on his “Outer Gate” and “Inner Gate” acupressure points which increase energy flow to the body and protects the heart from access stress and anxiety, encourages deep breathing, and relieves nausea. When I did this I noticed his eyes widened and he looked me straight in the eye and seemed more alert. I asked him then if I was hurting him or if I was making him feel uncomfortable. He verbally said “No” softly. I asked him if he was able to talk and answer a few questions. He shook his head yes, so I began to talk to him like a human. I first asked him “If he was going away from home or back home” and he replied “I am going to see my family.” Then I asked, “What is your favorite kind of pizza?” I noticed a questioning look, but also a hint of a smirk and he said, “Pineapple and Pepperoni.” “Me too, I don’t know if anyone I have ever asked, has answered this question with my favorite pizza too!”
I then began to ask him a bunch of random questions to help distract him from all the chaos around us. After a few minutes I heard, “His blood pressure is almost back to normal.” From there the chaos began to dwindle as people started to return to their seats. After he was medically stabilized and his vitals were back in the normal range, I asked him about some of the things going on in his life lately. At first he was shy, soft-spoken, and guarded…and understandably so. I asked him if anything stressful has been going on in his life…which he minimized and said “not really.” Then I asked him if he has been physically sick at all lately. His response said so much, “Well I have been having tightness in my chest and chest pains for the past two to three months. I went to the doctor, but they didn’t find anything.” Through the conversation I learned that he had had a chest x-ray, full lab work and even an MRI, I believe, And there was no indication that anything was physically “wrong” with him.
I informed him a little about anxiety and my work as a Trauma Therapist and asked him if I could ask some further questions. I learned that he has been stressed out at work lately, that he hasn’t really made close connections with friends living in Florida like he had in other places he has lived, that he has been trying to find connection through church, that he feels bad for some of the things he had done back in his “partying years”, and that he often overextends himself and has trouble saying no to people. I also asked him how he has been feeling lately and he responded, “Not much of anything, kind of numb or disconnected.” I briefly informed him that a lot of times when we are disconnected it is hard for us to feel and it is also hard for us to be aware of how much the stress of life is really impacting us. Further, that sometimes anxiety results from that and one of the main symptoms is chest pain and dizziness. I then told him the difference between anxiety and panic attacks…and said it appeared to me that he seemed to be experiencing a panic attack when I first saw him on the plane. I gave him my business cards for both my private practice and for the business I own, which provides a variety of outpatient therapeutic services in group, individual, and a family settings. I further told him that if he ever needed or wanted additional support with this issue to call or come by and I or one of the clinicians on my team would help him regardless of whether or not his insurance covered mental health.
I sat and talked with him for about another hour about random things, like how he loves Bob Marley, reading, and even our zodiac signs. By the end of the conversation we were laughing and just simply having a nice, authentic, and real conversation with a beautiful soul. His walls came down…and I was lucky enough to experience this young man who less than two hours ago looked like his life was in danger…begin to come back to life. His eyes lightened up, his body relaxed, he didn’t filter his responses, and was even smiling and laughing. What an amazing and beautiful thing to experience!
In case this article happens to be read by the beautiful Bob Marley loving soul I met on the plane…thank you for allowing yourself to have such real conversation with a stranger on a plane. I hope you can understand why I chose this story to share. I couldn’t think of a better example of how to show and prove that physical symptoms can have many causes. Regardless of whether they are caused by a “physical” or a “mental” reason, the symptoms are real, scary, painful, and exhausting. It isn’t fair that people can only get the help they need if there is a medical or physical identified problem.
Furthermore, many people don’t even realize that physical symptoms can have a mental component as often times they aren’t educated on this or there is a negative stigma attached that prevents them from even considering this. Sadly, I don’t believe you are the only beautiful soul who has experienced this and I hope that hearing it this way helps you and other souls like you, experiencing these symptoms, to get the help that you need and not endure unnecessary suffering due to a lack of resources or the lack of finances it takes to at least look into the “mental or emotional” component of these physical symptoms. Additionally, the positive aspect of looking into the “mental/emotional health” component, is people usually don’t need medication to “fix” the “problem.” Rather, they need to be heard and to learn the skills to deal with their emotional pain which they never learned as our society often puts a stigma on it and prevents us from either getting the help we need or being our true authentic self. Both of which further perpetuate the problem.
So, if this isn’t proof that we need to CHANGE THE DIRECTION of the way our culture views mental health, I don’t know what is. If you still don’t understand, perhaps put yourself into the shoes of the young man and consider his experience on the plane…only imagine you didn’t have someone there to help you through it because you weren’t open to it. Therefore, this plane incident starts happening more and more and you have less control over it. At what point would you consider the possibility you may be wrong about the importance of mental health? Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy and healthy?