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Dana Pappas is busier than most people. Her duties as Commissioner of Officials include a calendar with multiple Zoom calls and webinars each week for a family of statewide officials to account for. She also has responsibilities such as the NMAA Activities Council and Student Leadership Advisory Council.  Pappas also heads up statewide activities in music, student council, scholastic publications and English Expo.  Let’s not forget, she also has a husband and friends and family to check in on.  She has more on her plate than a CEO of a Fortune 500 Company.  In spite of that full workload, she seems to have it all put together.

You wouldn’t know by looking at her, but she hurts like most.  She gets depressed like many others.  She suffers from anxiety and can feel overwhelmed at times.

But her entire life changed when she realized it’s okay to not be okay.

Pappas works with the NMAA Student Leadership Advisory Council and it was this group of high school students that helped Pappas in her process.  The SLAC teens wanted to make mental health awareness a focus among schools across New Mexico.

“I was sitting at my desk one day and the idea popped into my head,” said Pappas.  The idea was to write down what she was going through.  She decided to put her thoughts and her story down on paper.  Pappas wrote a two-page letter to herself titled, ‘I’m Not Okay’.

“The more you realize you’re not different because you have a mental health issue, or because you suffer with anxiety or depression, the more you realize there are other people in that same boat, the easier it is to normalize it and realize it’s okay to not be okay.”

Pappas had no idea where her written story would go, or who would read it, but it was important for her to do it for the kids she works with. She concluded that a person can’t get through all the challenges in life alone.  Even though her written letter contained some personal details others might choose not to share, Pappas wanted to openly tell her story with the hope it might help others.

“I realized we all have a journey, a struggle, and something to share,” said Pappas.  “Sometimes the only way we can get better is to realize we’re not alone.”

Working out more, eating better, yoga, walking, and writing; they all help Pappas with her mental well-being.  “Paying attention to what my physical needs are has helped the balance with my mind,” she said.  “You’re not being selfish because of self-care.”

Pappas, like many others, found that with so much going on in her life, combined with all the focus she put on everybody else, it was hard to focus on herself.  Three words made a difference, Ask For Help.

“It’s actually quite empowering when you realize that asking for help isn’t a weakness, it’s one of the strongest things you can do,” she said.

Pappas knows she’s not the only one who feels overwhelmed or anxious.  She wants others to know they aren’t isolated from help.

“I just hope people understand they are not alone in this battle,” she said.  “There’s always somebody else who is going through the same struggle.  It may not be for the same reasons, but if you feel like something is off, talk to someone.  Make sure you aren’t trying to fight the battle alone, because you don’t have to.  Sometimes that support comes from unexpected sources.  It can be a friend, it can be a doctor.  Know that every battle you face, you don’t have to face it alone.  Be strong enough to get help for yourself.  Be strong enough to have those conversations, because you’re worth it. Make yourself a priority and address what might be going on with you.”


I’m Not Okay

Dana M. Pappas

“It is okay to not be okay.”  We have all heard that saying time and time again but I don’t think I had a full understanding of it until I was living it.  Let me explain…

About three years ago, I started suffering from very intense and often incapacitating vertigo.  It was originally attributed to my allergies and inner ear congestion and inflammation. I went on different medications to address those issues.  I felt temporary relief but still found that the vertigo would recur in certain places and situations. The vertigo was also attributed to issues with my neck and back (which were part of the issue for sure) so I started getting regular chiropractic adjustments to deal with those issues.  The adjustments seemed to alleviate some of the vertigo attacks…until they didn’t.

One day at work, I began to experience vertigo, left-side numbness, tightness in my chest and impaired breathing.  Having a family with a history of heart disease, I went urgent care because I thought I was having a heart attack or even a stroke.  Blood pressure was 104/72 and I passed the stroke assessment with no problem.  I was diagnosed once again with an ear infection and put on ear drops to ease the vertigo.  This continued on until I went to my primary care physician to talk to her about what could be going on.

She asked me what my symptoms were and I told her – vertigo, numbness, tightness in my chest and impaired breathing.  She checked my BP and did a stroke assessment and again, I passed, with a reading of 103/70 and no indications of a stroke. We began to talk about my personal life, my job, my stress level and my health and fitness regimen.  As we talked, I began to break down.  Before I knew it I was sobbing in my doctor’s office and I had no idea why.  After I stopped crying, my doctor looked at me and said, “You have situational depression and anxiety.”

I have what?!?!  Not me! I have my stuff together at all times.  I am a task master, I keep things running personally and professionally, I am the fixer of things.  Not only do I not have depression and anxiety, I don’t have time to have them!  I am laid back and I deal well with stress.  Or, do I?

Once I got over the initial shock and dismissal of her diagnosis, I started to really listen.  She talked to me about the manifestation of stress in our lives and how anxiety attacks often look and feel like heart attacks or strokes.  As she spoke, I became more attuned to what she was saying and started realizing that she had hit the nail square on the head.  Not only did I have anxiety and depression but my denial of having them was causing them to be worse.  I wasn’t taking care of myself mentally and, by trying to convince myself that I and everything else around me were okay, I was only making it worse.

I had to really check my pride and my ego and realize that I needed help.  Asking for help and embracing the fact that I need it are not what you would call my strong suits.  I asked her…what can I do???  Her answer was simple – start taking care of yourself mentally and physically.  For so long, I thought that taking care of everything around me was the most important thing, not realizing the damage I was inflicting upon myself.  In that moment, I took control, committing to an exercise regimen, eating better, reading, practicing yoga, finding peace and beauty around me.  I started journaling and writing again.  I actually resigned myself to the fact that I needed to be on medication to get control of my anxiety and agreed to go on a very low dosage or an antidepressant to take the edge off.

My stubbornness, for the first time in my life, did not defeat me or put me in harm’s way.  I got scared – scared by the fact that I thought I was dying.  Then, I got help.  When you are a strong Type-A personality, getting help is usually not an option for you because your mantra in life is, “I’ve got it taken care of!”  Just like when I went through my infertility journey and found a specialized counselor who saved my life, I had to set aside my pride and find someone else to help me get ahold of what was going on inside of me.  This time, it was my physician. Admitting that I, in fact, was not okay was the best thing I have ever done for myself and for everyone around me.

It really IS okay to not be okay but don’t let your pride get in the way of reaching out for help.  Find ways to get better and know that seeking help is not a sign of weakness.  It is actually one of the most amazing signs of strength.  In the words of Kahlil Gibran, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”  The battles you go through today will only prepare you for the rest of your life and will strengthen your resolve to conquer any obstacles in your way.  Remember that you cannot fight every battle alone.  Talk to someone, ask for help, know that you are not alone. Do every one of those things for the mere fact that YOU ARE WORTH IT!


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