This September, #YOUMATTER was not just a professional project of mine. It wasn’t something that only occupied my mind, Monday through Friday, from 9 to 5. This September, #YOUMATTER, became personal.

I’ve shared before about my struggles and successes in battling my own posttraumatic stress and anxiety. 

We all have scars that make us who we are, and I certainly am no different. 

Most of the time, the symptoms I experience are under control and well-maintained through a healthy diet, adequate sleep, regular exercise, consistent rest and a low dose antidepressant. 

But one Sunday morning this September, they weren’t. 

My clock read 3:32 am when I was jolted awake. I sat straight up in bed and felt my heart racing. At first I thought it was a bad dream that had ripped me from my slumber, but after a stroll to the restroom and a few deep breaths, my heart was still beating what felt like a million beats a minute. I started to feel lightheaded and my palms were sweaty. I knew what was coming next.

This is only the second time that I have experienced an anxiety attack while sleeping, clinically known as a nocturnal anxiety attack. 

Typically, when I feel anxious or irritable, I turn to tried and true breathing techniques: box breathing, belly breathing and resonance breathing. This time, none of these worked. My heart rate seemed to accelerate instead of slow down and my mind raced to match its speed.  

For what felt like forever, but was really two hours, I toiled in bed. I tried a cold washcloth on my head. I walked slowly back and forth to the restroom, around my house and even went outside. I tried lying on the bare wood floor. Nothing seemed to work. 

That’s when I remembered another technique that a psychotherapist once shared with me. Breathing in and out and touching each finger to your thumb with a breath while either counting or spelling something out. 

Y-O-U-M-A-T-T-E-R

Again. 

Y-O-U-M-A-T-T-E-R

Once more. 

Y-O-U-M-A-T-T-E-R.

I don’t know how many times I repeated the simple mantra of spelling out the nine letters of YOU MATTER. But, slowly I felt my heart returning to its normal rhythm. The nine letters that make up the two words and three syllables helped me restore my anxious heart. 

Ultimately, #YOUMATTER has a multitude of meanings. What it means to you could be different than what you matter means to me. When shared, when seen, when said, when read, they give the helpless hope and help others, like me, cope. 

Men, women, young and old, veterans, civilians, brothers, sisters and friends have seen the passion behind the project and also propelled it. Celebrities who shared the message on social media have also separately shared with me personally their stories of struggle. I’ve heard from strangers about how meaningful seeing the two words together touched their hearts. Veterans — recently separated or years since retired — have told us how they didn’t think they needed to hear it but then shared they used the same words with their battle buddy who is still fighting a war within. 

Some may think it vulnerable to share my September story. While others might roll their eyes. But if we do not speak up and share, a stigma that shouldn’t exist in the first place will persist. On this World Mental Health Day, I want others to know this these three things: 

Asking for help should be seen as a strength not a weakness. 

There is no shame in seeking support for your mental health.

YOU MATTER.