From Inflamed Brain to Advocating Brain Health — From Despair to Grit — Building a Better World through Wellness Advocacy
Disclaimer: Most folks that will read this, will know me in one way or another, and if you do not, then hi! I’m Inna, and I have just jumped off of a metaphorical cliff to chase my dreams. What you’re about to read is a personal story on how I took adversity and Depression as a chance to self-reflect and pivot my life and career to find happiness again. It’s a story about grit. It’s a story about change. And it’s also to do with advocating brain health and mental health awareness.
If you appreciate, comment or reach out directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It starts with the Brain❤
When I was 12 years old, I had Meningitis. The doctors told me that if I came three hours later to the ER, the chances of me being brain dead or paralyzed were about 90%.
What was supposed to be a vacation to Florida, ended up as a nightmare. My dad and stepmom planned a trip to Disney World for my 12th birthday, and I was so excited to go on the Tower of Terror ride. Upon arrival, we went out to dinner and all I remember was pizza and a peculiar feeling. I felt like I wasn’t standing straight, lacked coordination and my head felt heavy. Imagine being told to stay home and not experience your first day at Disney World, a child’s dream come true… I didn’t peep a word.
Day 1 at Disney World, in line for Tower of Terror — I vomit. Then, I pass out. Waking up in the hotel, I couldn’t move and saw my dad on the phone with the local doctors. Florida doctors told me I had Strep Throat and prescribed antibiotics. Fast forward to 24 hours later — I’m sent out on the earliest flight back to Philadelphia (Amoxicillin doesn’t work for brain inflammation) and midway throughout the flight my face goes numb, paralyzed, my eyes bug out like two slinkies, and I can’t move my neck.
Touching down, I walk outside of the airport with my Mickey Mouse luggage, meet my mom who’s in tears and I feel nothing — I couldn’t smile.
We go from the airport to my family doctor, get yelled at that we’re not at the hospital, and then an ambulance takes me to St. Mary’s Hospital. One spinal tap later, an ambulance takes me to CHOP and I wake up in-patient, bacterial ward, wet sheets, no fear, no feelings.
What happened after that was a month-long treatment program of MRIs, fMRIs, bed sheet changes, and lastly, conversations with Neurologists about brains. The conversations sounded like this:
Doc: “Inna, hello! You’re such a trooper! Want to see what your brain looks like?”
Me: “Oh, why thank you (with a crooked smile and certain bell’s palsy charm) — I’d love to.”
I was asked to participate in figuring out what was wrong with me by comparing normal brain scans to my own, like a game of Sherlock Holmes.
At 12 years old, I told myself everyday that if I made it out alive, I was going to be work with other minds like a Sherlock Holmes. Coming out of the hospital with a PICC line and crooked smile — I told my mom I was going to be a neurologist and part-time comedian when I grew up (so I can make people smile, especially since at the time I couldn’t smile on my own.)
So fast forward to now — I’m a stubborn creature of sticking to my dreams.
Here is how I got to my Round 2, and why I think we all need to re-evaluate and self-reflect our Rounds in life.
The feeling you get when you know you have to pivot in life — typically starts with a gulp, then a gasp, and hopefully ends with action.
So to understand the full picture of what your dreams were as a kid and where you are now — you have to think about what happened in between. Examine the full cycle. Here’s my story, and I urge you to think about yours as well, if you are at all feeling stuck in your journey.
Round 0: Year 2002
From realizing what I wanted to be as a child, and then facing the harsh reality — a lot changed. I was bullied incessantly in middle school, and later in high school for my crooked face, however the bright side was I got the chance to keep to myself and develop empathy for other teens facing adversity. I was the girl that befriended other kids that were ostracized, and then started a fundraiser for anti-bullying teen programs at age 15.
Round 1: Year 2008
I started my educational journey at Fordham University in Psychology. Finishing at the top of my class, I bulldozed through to my Bachelors without any meaningful reflection, or even thinking about what my dreams were, due to the pressures of feeling like I had to race to some sort of finish line.
Round 1.5: Year 2012
Got my MBA, went into strategy and communications and began working as an consultant with clients ranging from Fortune 500 businesses, advertising agencies, branding firms, tech startups and other founders and CTOs. This is the part of my life where I was pretty sure I had it good. Bringing in over $2M capital in business, maintaining an 80% conversion rate for closing contracts, and getting in the door with prominent VCs to pitch new business ideas — it was everything I could ask for, right? No.
It took a death in the family, my first real onset of Depression to hit me when I realized — what happened to the 12 year old girl with a dream to make people smile and feel confident? All my fears, decisions, and actions led me to a complete state of confusion and despair.
Round 2: Year 2018
The gulp, gasp, action happened in February 2018. I felt purposeless in life, recognizing I wasn’t making an impact. Self-reflection takes effort and persistence. Not an hour a week, but everyday of our lives — we should ask ourselves hard and reflective questions.
Present-day. I have chosen (a keyword that marks control and action) to focus ALL of my work and expertise towards social good, instilling confidence in others and promoting wellness.
Am I scared? Yes.
Am I happy? Yes.
Are grit, self-reflection and optimism key factors here? Yes.
When I started to realize that the answers to my questions were now “Yes” instead of “No”, I knew that this was it.
My mission was to make people smile and feel confident.
My company Small Meet Large focuses on working with businesses that have the objective to improve people’s lives.
Ask yourselves the hard questions, daily and recognize failures for what they are — not who you are.
Rejection is good for you and so are the imperfections in your life. When you embrace failure and continuously work to improve, that is the true formula to success. If you feel stuck, or are faced with a challenge in life, do the gulp, gasp, action method and self-reflect.
To succeed and overcome obstacles, practice positive thinking with a healthy dose of realism. Practice grit. Practice self-reflection. Practice meditation. Exercise at least 3x’s a week. Read everyday. And practice self-❤.
We’re all on the journey together, and we all have the right to live out our dreams.