People at the Center: Are you a Story Caretaker?


“Oh my gosh, I was having a total panic attack! I was running so late to the meeting and I thought I’d never make it!” Many people have been there before. But after hearing a recent speaker that visited GCI Health’s New York offices, the phrases “anxiety attack” or “panic attack” have taken on a whole new dimension.

An integral part of GCI Health’s signature initiative, People at the Center, is identifying individuals who have compelling stories that help shed light and elicit empathy – on what it’s like to live with a health condition, care for someone with one or even work to cure it. From researchers to parents to people with rare diseases or those with end-stage cancer, we ask “real people” to share their experiences with us and offer insights into how we can better communicate with them.

What an incredible privilege it is to hear their truth and talk with them about their experiences so that we can develop authentic and sympathetic strategies that reach and activate people in need.

We recently had the pleasure of hearing from Samantha Schutz. A native New Yorker, Sam, like so many young women, was excitedly heading off to college when she was figuratively and literally struck down by anxiety attacks. She had no idea what was happening to her – she literally thought she was dying. In fact, at times she wanted to die – for
the feelings to stop, for it all to be over.

Sam, the author of I Don’t Want to Be Crazy and the blog You Make Me Feel Less Alone, impacted our team deeply. When she talked, you could have heard a pin drop. When she finished, the same silence. As Sam shared her very personal journey of struggling with an anxiety disorder – the inexplicable, paralyzing, heart pounding fear of a panic attack that is distinct from and goes far beyond the everyday stress and anxiety many of us feel – we really got a sense of what it must feel like. It was terrifying yet, at the same time, touching to hear her tell her story with such strength and hope.

Sam shared that, indeed, we are “all special snowflakes, but that also means we are all made of frozen water.” What a great way to say that we are fundamentally connected and that we can learn from each other’s experiences.

Through her social channels, she not only reaches people with her stories, but asks people for theirs. This simple act of sharing, asking and listening has led people to say time and again, “You made me feel less alone” or “Your book saved my life.” Her personal voice and passion for helping others has allowed her to move beyond being just a story teller to become a story caretaker. By sharing her journey, she has created a place of trust for others to be open and candid, helping them shine a light on their experiences – just as important as hers – to help themselves and others.

As healthcare communicators, we often hear from people impacted by myriad diseases, their loved ones, health experts, advocates and care team members. In a way, all of us at GCI Health continue to evolve as story caretakers. Sam’s experience with anxiety disorder and what she has learned from others serve as a powerful reminder of our purpose to:

• Realize that behind every data point is a face
• Put the needs of people and care partners at the center of our communications
• Tap into our unique opportunity to serve as story caretakers and to become stronger story tellers
• Sharpen our vision to “see” the whole person, not just their health condition, and consider their unique challenges and opportunities

We thank Sam for her honest truth, which helps those of us at GCI Health become better communicators for the people we reach every day. And in a larger sense, we thank her for helping others see that they are not alone and there’s a world out there ready to listen and help.

Wendy Lund
CEO, GCI Health