We had just returned from a week-long warm weather vacation. Over the span of a day our bodies and spirits had experienced a nearly 80-degree temperature drop. We were tired from a day of travel and exhausted from a week’s worth of less than restorative sleep. There was a deep sense of appreciation in simply being home.

We discovered the food in our freezer had thawed at some point in our absence which meant the frozen pizza we’d planned on for dinner was likely not safe to eat. After throwing away the contents of the freezer I ventured to the grocery store for some essentials. We ate dinner and sorted some laundry. 

I put our son to bed and came back downstairs to watch some TV from under a blanket and enjoy being home in the way you only can after being away from it. We had just gotten settled in and relaxed when my husband caught a glimpse of flashing lights outside. We went to our front door and watched as police, then fire, and lastly, an ambulance arrived at our neighbors’ home. 

Neighbors who we’ve lived across the street from for 20 years. Their children are grown, their yard always perfect, and both eager to exchange a wave in passing.

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We speculated as people do in such situations. My stomach knotted and pulse quickened. I prayed it was nothing serious. 

I felt compelled to go over, thinking perhaps one of them would need a ride to the hospital or at least I’d offer to take their dog. So I bundled up and headed down our driveway into the swirl of red and blue lights. A fireman had just come out and was putting his medical bag into the truck. I approached and asked him what was happening. He assured me that everyone was going to be fine, “It is just a panic attack.”

Just?

It was bad enough that my neighbor felt she was on the verge of death. First responders were called in to save her. Her breathing erratic. Her chest tight. Her mind out of control.

Just?

Is that like having just a mild heart attack? It sounded so dismissive. There was no just about it. She feared for her life and her sanity I’m certain. 

This was the first time in all of the years we’ve been neighbors that I learned she battles anxiety. We exchange pleasantries, not realities. I’ve had a few times when my own anxieties have gotten the better of me. Once I felt on the verge of needing someone to rescue me. Feeling as if catching my breath or slowing my thoughts were impossible. Both raced out of control and fear that I couldn’t get that control back was unnerving. I knew if I were her I’d find it painful to have all those flashing lights announcing to the neighborhood that something was wrong. 

One by one the first responders left, the street went dark, and my neighbor headed to the hospital. The next day everything appeared to be normal. I have said nothing since. I haven’t offered cookies or camaraderie. Not because I don’t care, but because I assume she hopes the late hour and the bitter cold kept her secret. That’s the thing though, isn’t it? Keeping it hidden minimizes the significance somehow. That’s where the “just” creeps in.

The fireman meant no disrespect as he calmed my concerns. We have a long way to go in treating mental health with the same respect we do physical health. He most likely shouldn’t have shared anything more than everyone was going to be OK.  

But now I know and am left wondering if she is better served by my silence or my solidarity? For now, I choose silence because I want her to have control of what she shares. I will listen closely as we cross paths with dogs and mail. If she chooses to share I will let her know she’s not alone. I really hope she knows that already.

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