The following is a speech I delivered at the 2020 HeARTS in Healing event by the Avera Foundation.
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.
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 12th, 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 and this made working 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 little 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. 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 serious 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 in 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, 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.