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Amanda Retzer's Story

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

My name is Amanda Retzer and I am from Aurora, Illinois. I am currently a high school health and physical education teacher and I am in the process of obtaining a Master of Social Work with a specialization in addictions through Aurora University. I am also interning with NAMI KDK, the NAMI affiliate for Kane-South, DeKalb, and Kendall counties.

Mental health has been prevalent in my life, both personally and through family members. I am living with generalized anxiety and taking medication to control panic attacks. Although my diagnosis was recent, I am no stranger to how mental health conditions can impact people and their daily functioning. Both my parents experienced mental health conditions, specifically anxiety and depression, and my brother had a long battle with addiction to opioids.

My story started with a plane ride. My husband and I were returning home from a two-week trip around different European cities. Halfway through the flight I started to experience this uncomfortable feeling in my chest. Suddenly, my heart rate was climbing; I felt a pounding in my chest, numbness in my fingers, muscle weakness and shakiness, nausea, and clamminess.

At that moment, I thought I was going to die.

My smartwatch said my heart rate was 158. These feelings went on for what felt like forever. Eventually, the feelings passed and having a nurse for a husband helped me feel comfort. As we got off the plane, I reflected on how strange the situation was, and how it was probably a one-off experience. Three weeks later, the same situation occurred while I was coaching at a camp.

This was the day I checked into the emergency room with concern that I had an issue with my heart. Mental health was not even a thought. After tests and a 30-day EKG, nothing pointed to a heart issue.

As I consulted with my doctor, the term “impending doom” seemed to fit everything I have experienced.

I started out taking a type of antidepressant called an SSRI, short for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. The moment I felt better, I stopped taking the medicine thinking that I would be okay. Yet again, the feeling of impending doom and my panic attacks returned. And, one more time, I restarted my medicine. Thinking I was doing much better, I began tapering off the medicine again. After the third time of restarting my medicine, I accepted the fact that medicine was helping me at this point, and that I needed to acknowledge my struggles and talk to a professional.

After talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and learning skills to recognize feelings of anxiety and cope in the moment, in addition to using an SSRI, I have been able to gain control and intervene early.

Am I cured? I do not think I will ever be, but I am managing and doing well. Each day is uncertain, but I know I have the skills and experiences to get me through whatever comes my way.

Today, I am able to share my story and help others through facilitating NAMI KDK’s Connection Support Group. While my story is unique to me, there are many people with similar stories who may also face challenges living with their condition. Some may not recognize their triggers, or some may not have access to the help they need. We all come together with our own experiences in support and solidarity.

Spreading awareness, fighting the stigma, and expanding access to resources can do wonders for people experiencing their own journey.

Interning at NAMI KDK has been nothing short of wonderful. Through community outreach, facilitating support groups, and advocacy, I have learned the valuable role NAMI plays in ending the stigma. I have witnessed the impact NAMI has on not only individuals experiencing mental health conditions but also on their family members and loved ones. As I mentioned, though many people are still struggling with their mental health,

NAMI is a vital resource, freely available to support and empower the conversation around mental health.

Thank you for listening to my story, and I hope you can continue to spread awareness and advocate for mental health.

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