Catherine Toth Fox: Life Is Overwhelming So Take A Breath - And Get Help - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Opinion article badgeA few years ago, before the pandemic, I was attending a media tasting at a local restaurant and feeling uneasy about it. There were too many people, my dress didn’t fit right, the room felt stuffy.

I had a doctor’s appointment right after the event for an unusual sensation in my mouth, like I had rubbed hot chile peppers on my tongue, then drank a bottle of mouthwash. The pain was almost unbearable.

I was standing outside the restaurant when a friend of mine walked toward me. She looked concerned. “Are you OK?” she asked. “Yes,” I said, as I backed into a wall, holding my breath and hoping she would go away.

This wasn’t like me.

Suddenly, I was in tears. I ditched the event, drove to a parking garage and sat in my car and bawled for an hour. By the time I arrived at my doctor’s appointment, the internist took one look at me, closed the door and said, “You’re having a breakdown.”

Breakdowns don’t happen to me. Like many women, I’m a master juggler. Give me a task — seven, even! — and I’ll do them all, then bake homemade cinnamon rolls. I work two, sometimes three jobs, manage our household, take care of the bills, plan trips, volunteer, tend to my garden. I even make home lunch — by choice. My Google calendar is filled with meetings, deadlines, doctor’s appointments, birthday parties, soccer practices, swim lessons and Costco runs. I really, really don’t have time for a breakdown.

But here I was, in the midst of a mental health crisis that was likely the cause of my weird mouth issues, chronic headaches, ocular migraines, chest pains, trouble sleeping, stomachaches and a strange episode in a public bathroom that a neurologist likened to a seizure.

The doctor told me to stop working immediately — for months — and take care of myself.

“What does that mean?” I asked. Because I honestly didn’t know.

“Rest. Take a break. Do what makes you happy.”

That didn’t help, either.

So I called my therapist.

A depressed woman sitting in a dark tunnel with her reflection in the water.
Problems can seem overwhelming, but people are much more frank than they used to be about getting help. Getty Images/iStockphoto

I’ve had a therapist for decades, going back to when I had left my job as a newspaper reporter and wanted help redefining my career path. I felt lost. Everything — all the pieces in my life — didn’t seem to fit, and I couldn’t understand why. Turns out, after weekly sessions and boxes of Kleenex, it wasn’t about my career at all. I was struggling with severe self-doubt, deeply rooted insecurities and a warped view of myself.

Growing up, therapy wasn’t a common conversation topic. At the time I didn’t know anyone who had seen a therapist, even once; it felt so distant to me. Like you had to suffer an intense trauma — death, divorce, abuse, jail, homelessness — or live such an extravagant lifestyle that you could afford to see a therapist for far less traumatic reasons. There was a certain kind of person who went to therapy, in my mind, and I wasn’t it.

But that’s not true. Not at all.

Trauma is relative, and how we cope with that trauma is unique, too. I may not have experienced racial aggression or repeated sexual abuse, but that doesn’t mean what I may be dealing with — guilt, neglect, anxiety, financial worry, the stress over never having enough time to get everything on my perpetual to-do list done and just trying to survive another day — isn’t real or important to me.

I used to think if I had problems, I could talk to my friends about them. But that wasn’t true. I rarely opened up to anyone, friends included, and it took months before I stopped sidestepping difficult conversations in my therapy sessions to feel comfortable enough to share.

Today, therapy — and other ways to improve wellness — is more common. More and more people are opening up publicly about their personal struggles with mental health, from Olympians Simone Biles and Michael Phelps to celebrities Chrissy Tiegen and Demi Lovato, making it OK to not be OK.

Many of my friends have been in some form of counseling, a couple do EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy, a few subscribe to meditation apps like Headspace and Calm, and a lot consider Amazon splurges and marathons of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” as forms of therapy. (I don’t judge.) But the difference is we talk openly about it. There’s no shame or stigma in getting help — because we all need it.

I followed my doctor’s orders — though I took off only a couple of weeks instead of a few months — and hiked, walked my dogs, read books and sat in my garden, all without worrying about missing deadlines, skipping meetings or checking my phone every two minutes in a panic that I needed to do something, like, now. It was the break I needed, to stop, take a breath and reset.

Did it cure me of breakdowns? Not even close. I must’ve had several mini ones during the pandemic alone. But the experience did help me identify when I need to slow down, close my laptop and take a walk outside. Or text my therapist. And to me, for now, that’s enough.

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About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Latest Comments (0)

This topic is so important, especially now. Thank you for covering it. Sadly, taking weeks off is not an option for many, if not most, people for most people health insurance, and this mental health assistance is tied to employment.

JGetty · 10 months ago

I have been going through some of the same issues but caused by different circumstances which started before the pandemic lockdown. Started seeing a doctor last October and she told me I was definitely suffering from anxiety & depression. Unfortunately I found out I had breast cancer so I took a break from therapy. I’m done with treatment (caught early, good prognosis) so I called my doctor to start up again. Reading stories like yours helps me to feel I’m not alone. We all need to learn to care for ourselves otherwise we can’t live or take care of the people we love. I hope you continue getting help & feeling better.

im62 · 10 months ago

Awesome commentary. It's so important to talk about this. Thank you!

alohaj · 10 months ago

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