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Darkness Before the Dawn

Published on Jun. 25, 2020

Employee Sandi Honigfort found her way out of a dark place – but not before facing her depression and trauma head on.

Sandi Honigfort had been struggling with her breath for a few days. But not for reasons you might think. 

“I had had a really traumatic summer. I was very stressed and really had not been taking care of myself,” says Sandi, who manages the laboratory at Paul Oliver Memorial Hospital in Frankfort, where she also serves as an Infection Prevention Coordinator and Emergency Preparedness Coordinator.

Sandi was coping with the recent loss of her brother while at the same time trying to keep a strained relationship with her then significant other held together. It was all starting to crumble, but Sandi kept hoping that if she held onto the broken pieces long enough, they would somehow magically take shape again. Outside help – even just confiding in a friend – was not her M.O.  

As she fumbled around in the darkness, holding tight to the broken pieces, Sandi leaned on anything that might help her avoid the feelings of despair that had been long well up inside of her. Burying herself in work helped numb some of the pain, as did alcohol. In the meantime, it became increasingly hard for Sandi, who suffers from pulmonary embolisms, to take her blood-thinning medication on time – or some days at all. As her heart continued to ache, blood clots were forming in her lungs. 

Then suddenly, the pieces Sandi had clung to so strongly shattered.  

“I was actually on my way to work at Paul Oliver Memorial Hospital and I couldn’t breathe, so I knew I had to go to the ER.”

Sandi began to walk across to the front entrance, when she suddenly passed out, hitting her face hard on a nearby bench as she collapsed. Front desk staff who saw the fall immediately called for help. Inside of the ED, it was clear that many of her vital signs were off, on top of a severe head injury.

“It was a horrific experience, but I’m thankful it happened when it did because who knows where I’d be if I hadn’t been admitted,” Sandi shares. 


An Unexpected Beacon

Sandi was quickly transferred to Munson Medical Center in Traverse City. It was there where a concerned nurse made a fateful decision that would prove to be a turning point. A ray of light in the darkness. 

Behavioral Health Munson Healthcare

“She was worried about me because I had said something to the effect that I didn’t care whether I lived or died,” Sandi admits. “She realized that I had more than just physical problems.”

Sandi’s care team quickly notified Behavioral Health Services. 

“I was really just worn down. Besides the lung clots, I had suffered so much emotional trauma. But I had continued working because it took my mind off things.  I realized that I had not taken any time to really take care of myself – and had missed doses of my medication.”

While her family buried Sandi’s brother, whose funeral service had already been delayed due to travel logistics, Sandi found her way out of the darkness with the help of Munson Healthcare’s Behavioral Health Services, where she voluntarily admitted herself. 

“At first I was terribly embarrassed, thinking ‘This is horrible – I should know better than this. I shouldn’t be on the Behavioral Health Unit.’ But it saved my life. It really did,” Sandi explains. 

“The people I encountered were so gracious and understanding and knew what I needed more than I did myself. They gave me a lot of coping skills. They were so supportive that I lost the feeling of embarrassment pretty quickly.” 

Once Sandi elected to participate in a daylong, two-week outpatient program and began seeing a therapist, she came to a critical realization. 

“I started realizing that I couldn’t take care of anyone at my job or in my family until I took care of myself.”


Steering a New Course

Today, Sandi says she feels better than she has in thirty years. She has lost a hundred pounds, no longer drinks alcohol, and eats healthy to help nourish her body. She also still sees a therapist once a month. “I’ve had a lot of things to overcome, including PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). My therapist has had a lot of great suggestions, and we have found things that worked for me – including an antidepressant.” 

Munson Healthcare Behavioral Health

Another new breakthrough for Sandi? Her therapist is not her only confidant. 

“Once I started back into my life routine, I told my friends and coworkers my story, and it really freed me to be able to share all of that. I don’t have to be afraid of anything now because people know my story,” she says. “You always think people are going to talk about you or condemn you, but everyone has been so supportive. It’s been freeing to be able to say, ‘I struggled with alcohol and depression problems, and I was able to take care of those and be treated and now my life is turned around.’”

Sandi shares her story because she wants to spread the word: Mental health problems can be as devastating as physical problems. 

“I think people are afraid of their mental health and don’t realize it’s such a big part of their overall health,” she says. 

Sandi knows that fear and the avoidance that often follows all too well. Without the help she received that fateful day at Munson Medical Center, she isn’t sure where she’d be. She is just grateful that she received care from a whole-person approach.

“They are so well-trained to recognize the whole person rather than just the blood clots in my lungs. They realized that there was a lot more going on and helped me get where I needed to be.” 

Fully free and equipped with an array of stress coping skills, she is back to doing things and connecting with friends, which she mostly avoided during her battle with depression. 

“I was pretty much just a hermit – I worked and came home. And that was it. Now I socialize much more. I go out to the movies with people more, museums. It’s just about getting out and doing things. And I feel deeper bonds with people because I’m not hiding behind things anymore.”

Now looking back on her darker times, she can hardly relate.

“It’s just been a really good journey. I hate that I had to go as low as I went, but I found so many people who helped me get my life back and on track.”

If you or a loved one are suffering from depression or hopelessness, sadness, anxiety, substance use disorder, or any other emotions that just don’t feel quite right, help is available. Find your own ray of light by exploring the many resources available to you.


Help is Available 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free, confidential, 24/7 emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Call 1-800-273-8255 and speak to a counselor today.