How losing voice helped Portia Bruner find her balance
ATLANTA - Portia Bruner is a familiar face to many FOX 5 viewers.
So, when she disappeared from the air last fall, many Atlantans wondered what happened.
For years, as a reporter, and a mother of two sons, Portia was always on "go."
"I can be a control freak, right," she laughs. "Engines revved, all the time."
She admits she set some impossible standards for herself.
"But, I still thought I was handling things just fine," Bruner says.
Until October 11, 2017, when her speech slurred, and she began to sound like she was having a stroke.
It had been a typical morning.
"I dropped off the kids at school," she remembers.
For days she'd been on a difficult assignment.
The search for a missing newborn had ended the with the arrest of the baby's father on murder charges.
"And everything, really, was fine," she says. "And then it wasn't."
Because minutes before airtime, she couldn't speak.
"All of a sudden, it-it-it-it-it sounded like-like-like-like, and I couldn't force it out, I couldn't get it out, I couldn't smooth it out. I was thinking, 'What is this? What is this."
That's when it hit her.
She'd been driving herself hard, not just to be a good reporter, a good mother, a good person, but to be perfect.
Behind the scenes, her marriage had ended, and she'd been trying to adjust to being a single parent.
"There was this sense of feeling like I had fallen short, right?" she says. "You're divorced. You're now a co-parent, as opposed to an every-day, involved mother. If my son's brought home a B or a C, I'm thinking, Ugh! This is what I've done wrong! If I had just done this. If I'd just made better use of the time on my nights, or if we'd just done something differently."
And now, something was clearly wrong.
"I sounded like I was having a stroke," she says. "And I was, like, "No..no...no...no. I'm f..f...f..fine."
In the ER, her brain scans were clear.
"There was no sign of a stroke, no aneurysm, no blood clot," she says.
At Emory University Hospital, for more tests, neurologists found nothing wrong with her physically.
"One neurologist said, ‘Your scans are fine; it's not your brain, it's your mind,’" she says.
Portia was diagnosed with psychogenic stuttering, or stuttering brought on by trauma.
That's when her team asked her to tell them about her life.
"The conclusion was, 'That's a lot of stress. That's a lot of emotional trauma. And it sounds like you're not managing it well. It sounds like you're not managing at all," Bruner says.
So she took medical leave.
"I was off the air for about 3 months," she says.
She began working with a speech pathologist, a family therapist, and a meditation coach.
"Learning how to turn down the noise and the volume in my mind," she says. "It was very hard because I didn't realize how much my distracted mind had control of me."
Gradually, she realized how much pressure she'd been putting on herself, and how toxic that stress had become.
"And I had to learn to forgive myself and realize that just because things don't always work out doesn't mean you've failed."
These days she regularly climbs Stone Mountain to meditate at the top.
But, instead of running up to the top, as she used to, she stops and takes in the view.
"Out there is the city I love, and the stories I love to cover," she says.
When Portia Bruner makes it to the top to meditate, a little bit of the old competitive Portia seeps through.
"There is this sense of accomplishment, that sort of goes back to the old Portia," she smiles.
But, then the "new' Portia Bruner closes her eyes, centers herself, and gives thanks.
"Because I made it up here to the top and I'm thinking in a way that I wasn't before," she says. "And, I'm calm in a way that I wasn't before. And, I'm not stressed in a way that I was before."