As her career was taking off, staff and faculty member Lucy Greenberg started experiencing odd physical symptoms. Discovering she had an invisible illness; she dedicated her career to help others feel seen. She shares her story here.
I knew something wasn't right.
I was at a conference for work, stuck in the middle of a session about interpersonal communication. Everyone around me was hyper-focused on the speaker's words, their pens scribbling furiously. I looked down at my pen and notepad. The paper seeming to get larger and my hand smaller.
“Just take a deep breath; listen to the speaker,” I told myself.
I took another gulp of oxygen, but it felt like I wasn't getting any air. Then the dark spots appeared. Soon, my entire vision was those dark spots. No sight, no air. I fumbled to the back of the room and stepped into the hallway, leaning against the wall. I had to get to the hospital. I was having a heart attack.
I texted my colleague who was still in the room. I didn't want to cause a scene or seem unprofessional, but I needed someone to guide me to a car. Someone to drive. Tina quickly stepped into the hall and asked what was wrong.
“I think I'm having a heart attack,” I said.
We were in her car, then on the highway, eventually pulling into the emergency room. My friend walked me to the front desk, and they took my blood pressure.
I had been in the hospital a few times with something that was usually nothing, so I was used to sitting in the waiting room for hours, watching all the people who were really dying go back before me. I was annoyed but grateful. I knew if something were wrong, they wouldn't let me sit out there.
But tonight was different.
After they rushed back a man with gunshot wounds to the chest, I was second. I had never been second. Nothing had ever really been wrong with me.
For hours, doctors came in and out, running test after test.
“The ECG isn't showing a heart attack, but your heart is responding like it's had one,” the doctor said.
“Can that be a panic attack?” I asked.
“Well, if it is, it's a pretty impressive one,” he responded.
They checked my heart, my brain and anything else that could be causing lightheadedness, loss of consciousness and a heart rate of over 180 bpm.
The next morning, a doctor flung open the curtain to my room and declared I had won a referral to their best clinical psychologist.
“It was a panic attack,” he said.
“Are you sure?” I asked. I'd had panic attacks before, but none ever landed me in the hospital. I was positive I'd had a cardiac episode.
“Well, you may have had an episode,” the doctor said, “but the cause wasn't a heart attack.”
I had struggled with anxiety for a while.
There were panic attacks in high school, a lot in college and plenty in graduate school. But now I was a working professional. I was on the other side. I was working in a job I loved. Why was I gasping for breath at a work conference?
Could I look anymore ridiculous?
I had passed the time in life where it felt normal to have panic attacks. My friends and I would cram for finals during college and talk about the panic attacks we were having over the material. But for me, I really was.
I always thought when I graduated and got my dream job and got married, life would just sort itself out. It seemed like it did for other people. Surely the nerves and worries I carried for years would dissipate.
Instead, they got worse.
Mental health is less stigmatized today, but still, when you're an adult and responsible for other people, it feels hard to admit that sometimes you're falling apart.
How do you fall apart as a leader? How are there still so many questions when you're the one who is supposed to have the answers? It's taken me time to realize I am employed as a communicator and a professor not because I have my life perfectly sorted, but because I am a great writer. And perhaps, I am a great writer because my life is not perfectly sorted.
I think a lot of adults believe the more accomplished you get, the fewer issues you're supposed to have. You're supposed to be a finished product. At the same time, the older you get, the more suffering you see. The more responsibility you have. The more people you must care for.
And in this unfolding narrative of success, our anxiety is supposed to decrease as our responsibilities increase.
It's quite ridiculous when you really think about it.
After my trip to the emergency room in 2017, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and a panic disorder. The universe was apparently running a two-for-one special.
But rather than perceiving it as bad news, I felt relieved. After years with increasingly disruptive symptoms, it was empowering to have a name for what was happening. If you have a similar diagnosis, you know it can feel like something worse. Cardiac episodes, even strokes. You wonder what's happening to your body.
So, while the symptoms didn't go away, my anxiety became a bit more manageable because I knew I wasn't actively dying.
But in the years following, life continued its uphill trajectory.
I went through a divorce as well as other trauma that only exacerbated my symptoms. Sometimes there would be deep depressive episodes if the anxiety became too much for my body.
And yet, my career was taking off. More publications, more awards. I was president of this, director of that, and I was teaching more than 400 students.
The juxtaposition of my professional and personal life felt humorous at times.
To say there was major imposter syndrome would be an understatement. There were lurking fears that if my colleagues or students found out how much effort it was taking just to pull off the status quo, well, no one would want to be around me.
Toward the end of my first semester teaching, I was crawling to the finish line. Lots of anxiety attacks, bursts of depressive episodes. I was exhausted and trying not to look it. I was doing the work; talking with a therapist, taking walks, drinking herbal teas, even trying yoga (though I found it to be incredibly boring).
The last week of the semester approached, and I was visiting with my students after class one day. I was stacking some papers up when a girl approached the podium.
We had talked a few times, enough for me to remember her name, but I didn't know much about her.
“I just wanted to say you were my favorite professor this year,” she blurted out.
I was a bit taken back and honestly assumed this was something students tell all their professors at the end of the semester, building up a bit of good will before we submit final grades.
“Oh, well thank you, that's nice,” I replied.
I suppose she sensed my skepticism because she pressed on.
“I mean it,” she said. “I know this was your first semester teaching, but I hope time doesn't change the way you teach because you act like a real human being, and I hope you always teach that way.”
The Intangible Special Something
As staff and faculty, we're not hired because we have our lives in perfect order. We're hired because we show talent, excellence and promise in our areas of expertise.
The humanity we bring with us though is the intangible special something that makes Texas Tech exceptional. It's filled with people who've battled unimaginable loss to achieve greatness. There are people here solving the world's biggest problems because they've been affected by those same problems.
If we take the humanity out of what we do, we take the spirit out of a university that is very much built on human spirit.
We don't mistake humanity for defeat, though.
Every day, we use our talents to make sure students succeed. But it's important to remember our success means their success. They're interlinked. One of the best things we can do for students is take care of ourselves. That may look different for you than it did for me.
I found a therapist provided by the university.
I joined the rec center to get endorphins when I fell into depressive states.
I put in effort to get to know my colleagues better.
I eventually told my boss about my anxiety and imposter syndrome.
Day by day, I've become more adjusted to being a professional who sometimes just doesn't have it together. I've learned the balance of being a “human being” and a teacher. And I've leaned heavily on my own humanity while writing stories of the many exceptional people who make up Texas Tech.
Six years ago, my massive panic attack wasn't what scared me. What scared me was my colleagues discovering I was having a massive panic attack. In my mind, there could be nothing worse.
I'd be found out.
People would think I couldn't hack it, or maybe, God forbid, they'd think I couldn't handle a promotion. Any glimpse of my humanity would be career suicide.
But I have now decided, and am quite sure, that it's in fact the opposite.
My humanity has built trust with sources and interviewees. It's led to the best stories I've ever told. My humanity has gained me more respect from my students than any emphatic authoritarian appeal ever could. My humanity has brought out the humanity in others and has opened doors for us all.
So, my fear is no longer that those around me would discover I have issues – we all have issues. My fear now is that they think they're the only ones.
For faculty/staff resources and support, visit the Beyond Okay website or call the Texas Tech Crisis HelpLine at 806-742-5555 or the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988.
Resources for Texas Tech faculty and staff:
- Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
- Employees who are experiencing personal problems are encouraged to seek the private and confidential services of the EAP who staff of trained professionals are committed to providing quality counseling and assistance for individuals, couples, families and work groups.
- Human Resources
- Virtual and in-person training and development focused on developing employees.
- Therapy Assistance Online (TAO)
- TAO Self-Help is a platform of tools and information organized into self-help programs with engaging videos and exercises to help you learn a variety of cognitive-behavioral (CBT) and mindfulness-based skills. This resource is free to all employees.
- Texas Tech MindSpa
- Even faculty and staff experience the stressors that each semester brings, so the Student Counseling Center has opened its MindSpa up to all campus community members.
- HealthSelect Mental Health Virtual Visits
- Employees who participate in HealthSelect are able to consult a licensed mental health professional any day of the week online.
- Faculty and Staff Clinic
- The clinic is designed to serve the needs of faculty and staff who are sick at work and need an urgent care appointment on campus.
- Family Therapy Clinic
- One of the few accredited Couple, Marriage and Family Therapy (CMFT) doctoral programs in the nation is located on campus and is a place of hope and healing.
- Military & Veterans Programs (MVP)
- MVP assists veterans and their families in achieving academic, personal and professional success.
- Psychology Clinic
- The clinic is located on campus and is a training and research center that provides psychotherapy and assessment services to the university, Lubbock and neighboring communities.
- Texas Tech Police Department
- TTU Police help prevent crime on campus and disseminate safety information. They provide 24-hour law enforcement and security services for the Texas Tech and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center communities.