Bonus post: A bunch of anxiety in the newsroom

Why I started this newsletter & my journey with mental health.

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s to savor life’s moments. It can be gone in an instant — whether it be an experience, a job, or even a life.

Journalism is a high burnout job.

I’ve seen so many people leave to go to PR or elsewhere for higher paid work, better benefits (including mental health) and a workflow that isn’t quite demanding.

That’s OK, but the Fourth Estate is vital to a democracy.

We need to work together to ensure the journalism industry is sustainable and remove the mental health stigma. Not just for ourselves, but in our coverage.

That’s why I started this newsletter. Right now, it’s a weekly round-up of stories that touch a nerve at the intersection of mental health & journalism, resources, discussion and inspiration.

I hope to develop this into something useful for my colleagues in the U.S. and across the globe. Contact me if you’re interested in contributing.

Your next *actual* issue will be out Sunday, so please invite your friends and colleagues to subscribe.

Share Journowell - Newsroom Mental Health

So, to reduce the stigma, below are two writings I’ve made about my mental health journey.

If you’d like to share your story, I would be honored to hear it.

Leave a comment

Why I went to a mental health hospital to get treatment for anxiety

Written in August 2019

This weekend I took time for myself to just read and relax at a local arboretum. A few weeks ago, I was hospitalized inpatient at Avera Behavioral Health for five days. I have been battling severe anxiety for years now. That, plus depression and several other factors, brought me to the hospital.

It was a big moment for me. I haven’t stopped to breathe. To take care of myself. To see what’s causing me these anxious thoughts.

One of the nurses called it a “mind spa,” and that’s exactly how I took it. It was five days unlike any other for me. I learned A LOT. From Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to how the mind works.

It was also super challenging.

I didn’t have my phone.

I didn’t watch the news.

I was completely unplugged.

It turned out to be incredibly refreshing.

Our brains are a funny thing, how the imbalance of one chemical in our brain can cause such chaos in our life.

Every day is still a challenge and I’m taking steps to grow from this experience. Treating your brain should be no different than your heart or pancreas. There is a very bizarre stigma attached to mental health that I myself can’t seem to get over sometimes.

It shouldn’t be that way. Getting the help you need is essential. I didn’t listen to the warning signs. I just kept going 1,000 miles per hour, and finally, I broke.

I’m sharing my story hoping that maybe someone suffering from depression or anxiety or any other mental health issue gets the help you need. I’m here to talk or just listen. It doesn’t make you weak (I’m not weak 💪🏼). Taking action only makes you stronger.

No matter what, take time for yourself to explore nature and relax. It’s well worth it!

My anxiety & how the skills learned translate to a more fulfilled life

The following is a speech I delivered at the HeARTS in Healing event by the Avera Foundation in Feb. 2020.

My name is Michael Geheren. I’m a digital reporter at a local TV station. First, I think we have to acknowledge the incredible nurses and care team on the floor the night of the tornado.

PAUSING FROM MY SPEECH: In Sept. 2019, several tornados hit Sioux Falls, South Dakota and probably the place with the most damage was this behavioral health hospital, which had be to closed for several months.  

My heart broke when I was sent to Avera that night because just a few weeks earlier, I had one of the most transformational moments of my life in that building.

First, let me explain how I got there.

On April 12, 2018, my brother turned 13. It was also the day he died

Charlie was the best thing that ever happened to my life. He was one of three adopted siblings I had. All were born with special needs, but Charlie’s was quite expansive including 95 percent brain damage. He was my best friend. I had to grow up fast to help take care of him, but he took care of me by sharing his incredible strength, unconditional love and beautiful smile.

Just a few days before that, I was in the middle of an election day and I got a call from my dad that Charlie wasn’t going to make it. So, I maxed out my credit card and booked the next flight to Chicago to say goodbye. I was home and I was there for his final moments.

Shortly after he died, I decided to throw myself right back into work. At this point in my life, I had thrived under pressure, which made working in a newsroom a natural fit. We have a news cycle that is right now at warp speed and a job that can completely change in a matter of seconds.

But it was catching up to me. My body was giving me little signs that I was not functioning at my best.

Instead of this anxious voice in my head saving me from making minor typos or preparing for breaking news, I was starting to break. I stopped going to counseling… which I had just started the year before and I was calling in sick to work.

It all caught up to me. On a Saturday morning, I decided I was going to Avera Behavioral’s free assessment. Honestly, I had very little money in my bank account and hadn’t been to the counselor in a few weeks and decided I needed an emergency counseling session. It turned out I needed more than that, and I was admitted to the hospital. I went up to unit b, turned in my phone and began to feel trapped.

A tech on my floor named Szara gave me the advice I needed to hear. She told me to treat this experience like a mind spa, a relaxation from the real world. That was key. We had the TV on, and many of the patients wanted to watch the news. I would simply walk out of the room and ignore it.

That set me up for a very successful stay. I soaked up a ton of information, took part in almost every activity and got to know some of the other patients. Several days later, and after countless therapies, it was time to be discharged, which was hard. This space had become truly an oasis from a crazy life. I’m not here to say Avera Behavioral Health cured my anxiety. That’s not possible. It did, however, give me a toolbox of strategies from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to relaxation techniques and a start on much-needed medication.

I have since continued weekly counseling and monthly psychiatry and have my anxiety under much better control.

I didn’t fully realize how much Avera changed my life until a few weeks before Christmas (2019). I got a similar call saying my mom was on a ventilator. As you can imagine, I was having deja vu and hopped on the next plane.

She was sedated while fighting a severe lung issue. In the ICU, she would become agitated sometimes… fighting through the sedation. This was dangerous since she was on life support. I simply said to her… this tube is not permanent… it will only be in while you heal… over and over.

She did heal and was taken off the vent a few days later. When I returned to South Dakota, we talked one night on the phone. She said she remembered me saying that over and over and how calm it made her feel.

I realized at that moment I was practicing CBT, which I learned in-depth at Avera, and I was using it on her.

The tools I gained at Avera haven’t just helped made me a better person; they helped the world around me.

I am so thankful for all of the people at Avera Behavioral Health.

I also couldn’t have gotten through it without my partner Nathan who is here and colleague Angela (Kennecke), who you may know is on a mission fighting substance use disorder and the stigma around it. She is my South Dakota mother and I’m lucky to have her.

Thanks for reading. I’ll see you on Sunday for our next issue.

-Michael