Novelist, Speaker, Teacher and Co-Founder of Seattle7Writers
Living with anxiety disorder and depression

The result of childhood trauma, Jennie’s anxiety and panic attacks often left her paralyzed with fear. Years of therapy, and eventually medication, helped her clear away the symptoms and learn to deal with her disorder. Today she is healthy and feels successful in her life, her career and her relationships. Most importantly, she is “true to herself.”

Jennie’s Story

When were you first aware of your condition?

When I was 14, I had my first panic attack, but I think I’d been experiencing anxiety for quite some time before that. My mother (deceased) had bipolar 1 with psychotic episodes and borderline personality disorder, which was misdiagnosed and mistreated for most of her life. As a child, I worked very hard to deal with her behaviors and varying mental states, including suicide attempts and homicidal ideation (focused on me and my infant sister.)

What was your most difficult time?

When I was 23, my long-term boyfriend was stricken with lymphoma. I became his caretaker through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. We didn’t know if he’d make it or not. When he was cured, I fell apart. I could no longer sleep. I had constant anxiety and panic attacks. It affected my work. And it brought up all of my issues around taking care of my mother, who also was getting worse and worse at that time.

How did you get through it? What helped you move to stability?

I began what would become seven years of therapy, which helped me understand that I wasn’t “crazy” and gave me tools to handle my anxiety: breathing exercises, visualization, meditation and physical exercise. Later, in my 40’s, I experienced another crisis and turned to therapy again. This time I also tried medication, which cleared away most of the rest of my symptoms.

How do you manage your condition and stay healthy?

I stay aware and conscious of my emotional state and try to deal with it in the moment. I regularly get 8 – 9 hours of sleep. I try to stick to an anti-inflammatory diet, with breaks to eat something wonderful and delicious on occasion. I express myself through writing and I have people in my life I can talk to. I get regular exercise, mostly walking and stretching. I have my own spiritual practices that help me feel connected to the great unknowable everything. I take my medications. And recently, I began therapy again – it is such a gift, having a kind expert to lead you through the tough stuff.

What words of encouragement would you give to someone struggling with a condition similar to yours?

First, it is not your fault. Second, you’re not crazy. Third, get expert help from a medical doctor and counselor. Finally, be willing to try many different solutions (as in medications and counselors) until you find just the right ones.