Struggling and on the brink of suicide, Mark Markham turned to an expert team of mental health professionals at Mayo Clinic to help him regain his footing. With their guidance and care, Mark has been able to find his way back to a fulfilling life of purpose.
note: It wasn’t that long ago that Mark Markham found himself with little will
to live. Mark, a medical administrative assistant in Mayo Clinic’s Department
of Neurosurgery, sought help from the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology
at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. He credits the compassionate staff at Mayo, the
power of mindfulness and meditation, and the unwavering support of friends,
family and co-workers for where he is today: thriving in a life he loves. Mark
shares his story here in his own words.
I am a 34-year-old who suffers with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder. But I am not just that. I also am a 34-year-old who is a creative musician, a husband, a father to the cutest Yorkie you could ever meet (Dolce), a devoted staff member in Neurosurgery at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, a compassionate and kind friend, and an individual who finds joy and laughter daily.
This story is about dealing with a mental illness and still thriving with a job and life I passionately and deeply love and care about. I do this with the help of Mayo Clinic as an institution, its staff, my friends, family, and most importantly, Generose (Department of Psychiatry and Psychology).
need to share this story comes from a place of strength, compassion, honesty,
and care for self and others like me. I feel like I — and we — need to take
steps to break the silence on what people think of mental illness and suicide.
The worst part of the disease for me is the panic attacks. It’s like being choked, having your heart protrude out of your chest as if you had just run five marathons at what feels like 10,000 beats per minute. You can’t catch your breath. But at the same time, you are breathing faster than you ever thought you could. You start to shake. You begin to have chest pains. You start to sweat. You start feeling dizzy like you are going to pass out. And you begin to feel like you are floating out of your body — looking down at your body from the sky wondering, “Why? Why me?”
Everyone around you thinks you look great as you have a mask secured to your face — a mask that smiles and hides the truth, one that has been there for years. But inside is a tangled web of blackness, the unknown and impending doom. Some days, you wash, rinse and repeat these symptoms times 10. That’s what brought me to my breaking point: suicide.
a word that through societal beliefs and teachings brings shame and disgrace.
But until you get to that point of helplessness and hopelessness, you have no
idea you would have even stated the word in your head — and truly meant it.
“Mental illness has a funny way of pinning you against yourself.”
had to find help. And I did, at Generose.
primary care provider recommended the Transitions Program, a three-week
intensive therapy program offered as an outpatient at Mayo Clinic’s Generose
Building. I called my supervisor, scared and in tears, letting her know the
plan, all the time thinking that nothing could help.
next morning, my husband drove me in and walked me up. I was terrified as I
checked into Generose 2B, where I scored myself on the check-in sheet:
your wish to live: 0.
your wish to die: 5.
require us to do this daily to see the progress being made.
I made my way to a roundtable of what should have been a black cloud of six
people and a licensed therapist in front. There was no black cloud. There, for
the first time in a long time, I could feel hope and the desire to get better.
where the magic began: being around like individuals who are all going through
something similar to you. Who all have felt suicidal or have attempted suicide.
All unique, strong, creative, compassionate, yet desperate individuals, with
care for each other.
piece that seemed to be missing from us all? Care for self.
illness has a funny way of pinning you against yourself. Telling you lies that
you are not worthy, that you do not belong, that you cannot do this, that you
are not strong enough to withstand this — not another day.
where the intense therapy with mindfulness begins to retrain the brain and the
neural pathways. Mindfulness is a way to slow the brain down and
to focus fully on the present moment — not focusing in on your to-do list for
tomorrow, not worried about that thing you “shouldn’t” have said
yesterday. It is simply living in the now. Easy, right?
Imagine you are driving yourself home from work. Do you remember the entire drive home? Likely not. It is likely you were focused on things you needed to do or things that happened earlier. The practice of mindfulness along with meditation is something I have been practicing now for months. I like to do it when I am not bothered by the outside world — out in my apple orchard, watching our chickens run around, looking at apple blossoms on our trees.
in times of a panic attack, it means simply counting something on the wall in
front of me.
are five photos on this wall in front of me.” I nonjudgmentally describe
is wearing a black suit with a white-striped shirt and a red tie in the
photo.” “The frame is silver.” Doing this for even five minutes
can take me out of a panic attack. Slow. Things. Down.
for someone who doesn’t suffer panic attacks, even higher-than-normal anxiety
could be an instance where you try this practice.
“A life of passion came back to me through the support of my Mayo family.”
are many other skills and tools Generose teaches, but mindfulness and
meditation were by far my favorite — so much so that I created my own song and video to be used by anyone who may need
are so many more things I learned from the caregivers at Generose — so many
more examples of care and compassion, understanding and resiliency training
that the team there brought to me.
Department of Neurosurgery where I work was integral in getting me back on my
feet, as well. I could not have done it without them. The second week into the
program I received a letter from our department chair wishing me well and
telling me that everyone has my back. My operations manager sat with me,
caringly, to discuss what he could do to help. My supervisor made it extremely
easy for me to complete the family medical leave of absence and short-term
disability process, and continues to sit with me one-on-one to make sure
everything is running smoothly, and that I have all the help and resources I
need to make it through each and every day.
have truly felt embraced, cared for and supported by Mayo Clinic.
the support of Generose and Mayo Clinic, I have been able to accomplish things
in life I did not think possible. I have put on an education course through my
department twice. I chaired and assisted a fundraiser for the Neuro Hospitality House. I sang the national anthem at a
Rochester Honkers baseball game this summer. I work out daily. And I continue
to write music and enjoy photography. A life of passion came back to me through
the support of my Mayo family.
certainly isn’t a fairy tale or about “look at how great I am doing,”
and it doesn’t end with puppy dogs, rainbows, glitter and ice cream. Each day
is a struggle, and for those of us that deal with mental health issues, you
know there isn’t a magic pill. But with the right therapy, medications as
prescribed by a physician, and exploring mindfulness and meditation, I have
found that you can live a fulfilled life — even with painful moments.
know that mental illness is a forever thing. But for right now, it is in the
an amazing psychologist told me at Generose, “Put your disease in the
backseat of the bus, and you drive.”
your wish to live: 5.
your wish to die: 0.
Note: If you or a loved one is
thinking about suicide, get help. In the U.S., call the National
Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor.
Use that same number and press “1” to reach the Veterans
Crisis Line. Or seek emergency medical care by calling 911.
- Learn more about overcoming the stigma of mental illness.
- Read about anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder.
- Explore the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology.
- Connect with others talking about mental health on Mayo Clinic Connect.
- Check out Mayo Clinic.
- Request an appointment.