While most seven year olds were enjoying ordinary days at school, Jenn Konjoian was sad, constantly in tears and in an ongoing battle with her feelings. Jenn’s family recognized her struggles and took her to a number of healthcare providers for medical intervention and therapy.
“As a little girl, your biggest priorities are making sure you have the latest American Girl dolls, hoping that your friends call you for a sleepover, learning how to ride a bike without training wheels and exploring which after school activities will excite you the most,” said Jenn. “But because of the meltdowns I had, I was on countless medications with constant medical exams and tests, and that quickly separated me from the average second grader.”
To most people, Jenn appeared to be a smiling and happy child. But what people couldn’t see was on the inside: the pain and fear behind her smile. Jenn suffered from ongoing anxiety and depression. It scared her and created an unsafe environment at home.
“I felt so lost and disconnected. I couldn’t cope [with my feelings], even with the incredible support from my family,” said Jenn.
“[My family] didn’t understand me, mostly because I couldn’t even understand myself.”
Jenn’s emotions escalated over the years despite a number of medical and therapeutic interventions. She couldn’t climb out of her downward spiral. Finally, at 11 years old and in the fifth grade, Jenn and her parents desperately turned to doctors for another answer, leading them to Franciscan Children’s.
When Jenn was admitted to the McLean-Franciscan Child and Adolescent Inpatient Mental Health Program, she was in crisis, and she was scared. Her entire family was frightened, unsure of what was next for their daughter and sister.
“I watched the reactions of my siblings, and they looked confused, scared, and hopeless,” explained Jenn. “They were watching me ride away in an ambulance, not understanding why, or when I would back.”
“Whether you are struggling with a mental illness, or just scared about where your future lies, you are never alone.”
Jenn distinctly remembers her sense of anxiety when she arrived at Franciscan Children’s, but she was quickly surprised by the environment.
“It was bright and welcoming, but I didn’t understand why I was there or the process of an inpatient program,” said Jenn. “I had my own room. It was empty, but there was a big window in the center and a bathroom attached. I had the opportunity to dress my room up, so I arranged my books, stuffed animals, and other meaningful objects that I brought from home. The doctors and social workers immediately greeted me and made me feel more comfortable. There was something about Franciscan Children’s that made me feel safe.”
During her stay, Jenn took her medicine; attended classes and meetings; and worked with doctors and social workers. She especially loved the positive reinforcement from staff and remembers using the progress points she earned to pick out a toy car for her brother.
“My parents would alternate days to come visit me, and although they were heartbroken to see me in the hospital, they were amazed by my progress,” said Jenn, whose siblings, friends and teachers also visited during her stay. “My Mom would snuggle up next to me in my bed, and I would tell her about the things I learned. She took me out for pizza a few times, and she got to know the staff very well too. It was always difficult to say goodbye.”
When Jenn got clearance to go home, she couldn’t believe it and felt like she had won the lottery.
“This is the place that made me fearless.”
“In a matter of weeks, I had transformed into a more confident, strong, and happy girl. I learned a lot about myself, and I learned how to manage my emotions and channel them in a positive direction. I think this is part of the reason why I’m known as a very optimistic and upbeat person today. I took the tools I learned at Franciscan and implemented them into my everyday life.”
Jenn credits the team at Franciscan Children’s for helping her discover her inner strength. She recognizes that all patient stories are unique, and she thinks that the environment and experience at Franciscan is one-of-a-kind, too.
“I’m at the stage of my life where I want to give back,” said Jenn, who recently graduated from University of Massachusetts Amherst with an undergraduate degree in public health sciences and now works in a hospital practicing medical simulation. “I want to talk about Franciscan now because it changed my life. It is the place that has opened up so many opportunities for me. It made me proud of who I am and confident that I will continue to grow and make a difference.”
Today, Jenn is working towards a career in nursing with the hope that she might give to others in a similar way that staff at Franciscan Children’s helped her more than ten years ago.
“To my forever favorite Franciscan Children’s, thank you for catching me during my free fall and giving me the chance to share my story. You are my miracle. This is the place that made me fearless.”
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