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Who Made You The Judge

Erin Brekke-Conn  (she/her)

“The anxiety is always there – but a panic attack feels like you are literally dying.” – Erin Brekke-Conn

A night, just like any other, in May of 2019, Erin woke up terrified that she was dying. Confronted with debilitating fear, racing heart rate, disassociation from her body, nausea, dry mouth, shortness of breath, and extreme dizziness, she lost consciousness. When she woke up again, she was paralyzed.

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. Similar episodes had happened since Jr. High, some lasting minutes, hours, or even days. These episodes, along with a lifetime of excessive worry, anxiety, and persistent thoughts of guilt and shame, had reached a critical point. She wanted to get away from it all, permanently. She knew suicide was not an option but couldn’t stop the thoughts.

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Twenty years earlier, in 1999, Erin experienced a panic attack resulting in loss of consciousness. For the next three months, while her family doctor struggled with a diagnosis, she lived with a crippling fear of leaving the house (agoraphobia). She experienced excessive sweating, dry heaving, and loss of appetite causing extreme weight loss. Eventually, Erin was diagnosed with Anxiety & Panic Disorder. There is a negative stigma attached to living with a mental illness. Still, this diagnosis was a massive relief for Erin. Giving it a name meant understanding it and starting to treat it with medication and lifestyle changes.

Erin married and had two beautiful boys. Life went on, full of happiness and challenges. In 2013, her husband was diagnosed with cancer. She now had a toddler, a newborn, and a husband who required surgery and chemotherapy. Physically and emotionally overwhelmed, they wondered how they would cope. Together they fought through and beyond cancer. Soon after, their eldest son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Parenting isn’t ever easy, and raising a child on the spectrum is additionally challenging. These years of demanding circumstances led to Erin’s anxiety getting increasingly worse.


Erin’s current treatment looks vastly different from when she was initially diagnosed. There is a deeper understanding, and treatments have evolved. In 1999 medication was used to mask the symptoms. Today the focus is on a combination of medication and several other therapies.

In August 2019, Erin attended a six-week outpatient program, which was the scariest and the best thing she could have done. This program included group, individual, and cognitive-behavioural therapy. She continues to attend weekly therapy to unravel her childhood and young adult traumas. Limiting caffeine and alcohol and regular meditation has also proven helpful. This new combination of medication, lifestyle changes, and therapy has equipped her with the tools to live her best life.


Despite the complexity of Erin’s life, she received her Interior Design Degree and has become an established artist. Her creative process is a form of meditation, and painting has helped her through life’s biggest challenges. Erin’s unique twist on pointillism involves thousands of raised dots embellishing each work of art. Her portrayals of wildlife, landscapes, and forest canopies are showcased in galleries across North America. In 2022 Erin opened her own art space, Tiny CONNtempo Gallery, “the world’s tiniest art gallery,” in Crossfield, Alberta. A working studio, gallery space, and lifelong dream.


“Mental Illness is not shameful, and it does not discriminate. There is so much help and so many tools available to improve your quality of life. Talk about it, share your experiences and reach out for help.” – Erin Brekke-Conn

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