Tag Archives: anxiety

Kamrin Baker

January 27, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The common trajectory for aspiring journalists is that you work at the school newspaper, get into college, work at that college paper, graduate, then take a lowly entry-level job somewhere and work your way up from there. Then, after years of amassing a portfolio, maybe, just maybe, you can get a gig at a place like The Huffington Post

But thanks to a quick reply to a call for contributors on The Huffington Post’s Twitter feed, Kamrin Baker, 18, pole-vaulted past all those traditional, dues-paying markers and landed a spot as a contributor for the popular news site…all while still working on the high school yearbook at Millard West, where she’s a senior. She co-edits the yearbook with Keegan Holmes (also a senior).

The first major news story Baker remembered was the September 11 terrorist attacks. She was a pre-schooler in 2001. In kindergarten, Baker said she wrote a picture book, and in third grade, she brought stories to her Georgia Wheeler Elementary class.

Kamrin-Baker-2Now sitting with her mother, Grace, at Stories Coffeehouse, Baker says she originally thought about being an English teacher.

“Then, I started realizing I was really impatient. And don’t love children. Or ignorance,” Baker says.

Baker has written blogs both serious (a call for schools to better handle mental health issues) and not (a eulogy to Parks and Recreation). Like many Huffington Post bloggers, she is an unpaid contributor. However, the freedom to write about the topics she wants, and the site’s flexibility with her busy schedule, were worthy trade-offs for her.

“I’m not super keen on the politics and the economy of The Huffington Post,” she says, “but I like what they’re doing.”

Stirring a strawberry Italian soda, Baker recalls one of her most popular posts, one about living with anxiety.

Though Baker and her mother went back-and-forth trying to figure out when her first panic attack occurred, Baker definitely remembered the first one that sent her to the school nurse. It was during an intro to behavioral sciences class. She was watching the movie Mockingbird Don’t Sing.

“I was watching it…and then I couldn’t breath. I thought I was just sick,” says Baker.

She went to her teacher, who quickly sent her to the nurse.

“I sat there for an hour, and I just shook,” she recalls. “I had no idea what was going on.”

Baker was diagnosed with panic disorder. She used her position at The Huffington Post to unveil her Joy is Genius campaign, which is an online resource on Tumblr for teenagers struggling with anxiety.

“I’m at a point where I don’t think it’s smart or cool to ignore it,” Baker explains.

In our post-newspaper media landscape, the mode you select is almost as important as the content. Like many savvy journalists, Baker quickly toggles between Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and, yes, even print.

“I usually use Pinterest for yearbook design and dog pictures. I’ll post more comedy-based things (on Twitter). I like Instagram because I can tell more of a story with it. The caption content is longer.”

Baker is currently weighing going to UNL or UNO to study journalism. She’s sure to find new role models in college, but for now, she explains, ”The two people that inspire me the most, and are not on the same spectrum whatsoever, are Diane Sawyer and  Taylor Swift.”

Visit huffingtonpost.com/kamrin-baker to read her work.

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EMDR

July 28, 2014 by

Jane tried to kill herself three times. In rapid succession. She came to Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska (LFS) after being hospitalized following her third try. First, she received therapy to stabilize her mental health. Then she entered long-term therapy to address the root causes of her suicide attempts.  She was successful at achieving sobriety and ending suicidal thoughts.

But she continued to live as a victim, anxious and depressed—and not really knowing why. Although she had a college degree, she worked a dead-end part-time job.  She had no money, so she continued to live with an emotionally draining family and date an abusive person.

Jane (not her real name) began working with one of the LFS therapists who provides specialized trauma therapy called “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing,” or EMDR. EMDR is most widely known for treating post-traumatic stress (PTSD), but LFS therapists recently completed a pilot project that found it also was highly effective in working with other kinds of trauma. With EMDR, Jane’s therapist helped her identify a sexual assault from her childhood. Within two months (eight EMDR sessions), she showed dramatic improvement in the level of distress from this memory.
Within two weeks of completing EMDR therapy, Jane had found a new, full-time job, moved into her own place, and broke up with her abusive boyfriend.

Jane credits the image she first saw during EMDR: her adult self, protecting her “child self” from harm.  Jane says she never realized how powerless she once felt. Now she realizes that she is not responsible for other people’s actions.

When someone experiences trauma—a car accident, a sexual assault, witnessing violence—whatever it might be, the brain tends to freeze that moment in the person’s mind so it never gets resolved or processed. Any event that triggers this memory brings back the entire trauma—the sights, smells, sounds—every time. Such memories have a negative effect that interferes with the way the person sees the world and reacts to other people.

EMDR essentially works to unfreeze this memory, allowing the brain to process it the same way as it does non-traumatic memories. The specific eye movements and light configurations used in EMDR allows the person to break the connection between the memory emotional impact of the trauma, which then allows them to release the emotional pain associated with it. Eventually, they can remember the experience and process it intellectually without reliving it every time, or allowing those emotions to guide their current behaviors.

For Jane, EMDR was truly a life-changing therapy. A very positive one.

Experts say one in four adults and one in five teens experience mental illness within a given year. If you know someone who might benefit from this type of trauma therapy, please contact your local LFS office.

The Real Bogeyman

December 14, 2013 by

When I was a little girl, I knew my house was going to burn down. I didn’t just fear it. I knew it. I didn’t know when. I didn’t know how. But I just…knew. And in my young mind, the only thing I could do to prevent it was to think about it. To worry about it. If I worried about it enough, it wouldn’t happen, right?

I had to wait. Just wait. I had to be ready so I could get everyone out of the house in time. At night, that meant that I positioned my bed near my door so I could lie awake and look down the hallway toward the kitchen to see the first licks of flame. During the day, it meant having a stomachache so bad that I had to stay home from school. That way, I was home and could be there to rescue my mother.

What it led to was a loss of appetite and undiagnosed stomach pains that frightened my parents and pediatrician. I was hospitalized for a week while they ran test after test, trying to figure out why I couldn’t eat and why I was constantly complaining of an upset stomach. I was finally diagnosed with a “hyperacid stomach” and handed a bottle of Mylanta®.

I felt like such a fraud. I knew why I was “sick.” I had literally made myself sick with worry. And paralyzing fear. I was 11 years old. Old enough to understand how ridiculous my fears were. Still too young to realize the power of talking to someone about it, no matter how embarrassed I was.

Finally, I found enough courage to confess to my mother, who was wonderful and kind. It was the beginning of my healing. My father later asked me how I was and assured me that, “We can replace anything in this house. That’s why we have insurance.” Which was fine, but it really wasn’t my concern. I was worried about losing my family. I had this horrible image in my mind of me opening my parents’ bedroom door and the two of them lying there as the bed burned. I couldn’t get past it. While the adults in my life really wanted to help me, they didn’t grasp the depth of my anxiety. It was real. It was constant and consuming. I almost felt I could touch it.

It was at that moment I vowed to myself—if ever a child comes to me expressing their fear of something, I will listen. I will get them to talk it all out. I will reassure them and give them tools to cope.

“Children can react to trauma in ways that adults don’t expect,” says Ryan Suhr, Statewide Administrator for Children Services at Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska. “Avoidance, anxiety, depression, and acting-out behaviors are just a few. Those behaviors have a function, and it is really up to adults to sort through that and try to understand what is happening.” Suhr goes on to say that a child’s ability to recover from trauma is directly related to the quality of their adult relationships.

What finally brought me a peaceful night’s sleep was talking things out and a spiritual quote that encouraged me to “go to sleep in peace.” It took months, but eventually I could get through a full day—then two—without thinking of my house burning.

Looking back as an adult, I know that I was picking up on subtle signals from my parents’ failing marriage. We had also helped with the recovery for one of my father’s co-workers who lost their home to fire just a few days before Christmas. And I had actually witnessed a mobile home burning a few weeks after that. I can see now how it all added up to a kind of trauma that I wasn’t able to process well.

I share this story because adults can forget how real the bogeyman can be for a child. Even a smart fifth-grader who “should know better.”

There’s much in this world that can frighten a child (or an adult, for that matter), and dismissing or discounting those fears can only make the child feel there’s something wrong with them and doesn’t help his or her recovery. Plus, there may be underlying reasons for unexplained physical ailments in children, especially when they just don’t “feel good” or they have a stomachache. Make sure to consider whether there might be something seriously troubling them and know that love, kindness, and conversation might be the best cure of all.

Getting Through the Emotional 
and Physical Challenges of Breast Cancer

September 24, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Even when it’s over, it’s not over, says one cancer survivor, who recently completed her treatment. The emotional turmoil and lingering fear of what’s going to happen next—Am I really cured? Will it come back?—continue to haunt many breast cancer survivors during and well beyond the treatment process.

The fear was so overwhelming for 39-year-old Melissa Holm that she decided to have a double mastectomy. This was despite her doctor’s assurance that the cancer cells were limited to her right breast and the chance of the cancer spreading to the other breast was very slim.

“I didn’t want to live with that fear for the rest of my life,” says Holm, a mother of two young girls and a boy. “I just wanted them to take everything and start from scratch. I know others who have had a lumpectomy, and they worry before every appointment. My diagnosis came after a year of watching. I didn’t want to continue that waiting game.”

“The number of women choosing double mastectomy over a lumpectomy has doubled from about 3 percent to nearly 6 percent over the last 10 years,” says Margaret Block, M.D., a medical oncologist at Nebraska Cancer Specialists. “We don’t really know why, but a lot of it may stem from the fear and anxiety following a cancer diagnosis.”

The fear and shock of a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, notes Patti Higginbotham, APRN, AOCN, nurse practitioner with the Alegent Creighton Health Breast Health Center. “The first thought of 90 percent of women is that they are going to die.”

Even after getting through the initial shock, women still have to endure another year or more of treatment, which may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and breast reconstructive surgery.

“The number of women choosing double mastectomy over a lumpectomy has doubled from about 3 percent to nearly 6 percent over the last 10 years.” – Margaret Block, M.D., medical oncologist, Nebraska Cancer Specialists

For Holm, dealing with the loss of her breasts and then her hair were two of the biggest emotional challenges during treatment. “You go through a period where you don’t even feel like a woman anymore,” she says.

Then, there was the constant fatigue, malaise, and missing out on her children’s events, like plays, basketball and volleyball games, and school meetings. “I slept a lot on the weekends following chemotherapy,” recalls Holm. “My children barely saw me the entire weekend. Thankfully, my husband was there to take charge of the kids, but still care for me. He was my rock.”

While a cancer diagnosis is never easy, there are several steps women can take to help ease the physical and emotional impact of a breast cancer diagnosis, cancer experts say.

One of the most important of these is the support of family and friends. “Women who try to do it alone usually don’t do as well physically or emotionally,” says Higginbotham. “Part of our makeup as women is that we need to talk about it. If you don’t have someone that you can lean on, we encourage women to seek support through a cancer support group, our social worker, nurse navigators, or other members of our staff. It’s also very important that you have a health care person you can connect with. If you don’t have that partnership, then maybe you have the wrong provider.”

“I couldn’t have made it without the support of family and friends,” notes Holm. “There is strength in numbers. They gave me strength through some of the most difficult times. I had to lean on so many people. I couldn’t have made it without all of their help.”

“Women who are informed and have the facts also do better and make better decisions,” says Block. “Faster is not always better. Once you get the diagnosis, you need to take some time to get through the initial shock and then ask questions and do some research. Otherwise, women tend to make decisions based on emotions rather than facts.”

“…we’ve found that physical activity will help with the emotional [and] the physical side effects.” – Patti Higginbotham, APRN, AOCN, nurse practitioner, Alegent Creighton Health Breast Health Center

“We encourage women to stay engaged throughout the entire process,” adds Higginbotham. “Ask a lot of questions, let us know if you are having side effects, ask what you can do for yourself, and seek support.”

Exercise, sleep, and good nutrition can also help with physical healing. “I remember the days when we suggested to women to take a leave of absence from work and to rest as much as they can,” says Higginbotham. “We’ve done a complete 360 since then. Now, we tell women to keep working if they want and to start exercising after surgery, as we’ve found that physical activity will help with the emotional [and] the physical side effects.”

Depression and anxiety are also “side effects” of breast cancer that should be discussed with your provider. “Women shouldn’t be afraid to seek additional help if they have a significant amount of depression and anxiety,” says Dr. Block.  “Sometimes, an anti-depressant can help a woman get through a really difficult time. While most women experience depression and anxiety following a cancer diagnosis, studies show that depression diminishes after treatment and recovery. Anxiety, however, can sometimes continue to linger.”

Life is getting back to normal for Holm. She completed breast reconstruction in late 2012 and says she is now focusing on turning her experience into a positive one by reaching out to others.

“I have volunteered to be a spokesperson for cancer survivors,” she says. “That regular interaction with other women and encouraging them to get mammograms or talking to women who are in the midst of treatment gives me strength.”

And she hopes to pass on some of that strength to others. “I’ve become a stronger person than I thought I was,” she says. “I have become more confident. I want to give other women hope—to let them know it isn’t easy, but you take one day at a time and count your blessings as you go.”

Help For Behavioral Health Issues is Just a Few Doors Away

August 16, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Getting help for a child with behavioral health problems is just a few doors away at your pediatrician’s office at Boys Town Pediatrics clinics. All of the Omaha-area clinics staff one to two psychologists who are available to work closely with your child’s pediatrician to provide a comprehensive, seamless plan of care.

“Working in the same clinic allows us to communicate more closely with the on-site psychologist so that we both understand each other’s perspectives and can work together to develop a game plan for each child,” says Nancy Vandersluis, M.D., pediatrician at Boys Town Pediatrics. “It also allows us to stay up-to-date with the child’s progress and readily provide input when appropriate. In the end, we think it results in better outcomes for the patient.”

More importantly, the parents and children love the setup, notes Dr. Vandersluis. “It’s been a very successful arrangement for us and the family,” she says. “Families love to be able to come to their pediatrician’s office for counseling because it’s familiar, more comfortable, and less stressful for the child.”

“Working in the same clinic allows us to communicate more closely with the on-site psychologist so that [we] can work together to develop a game plan for each child.” – Nancy Vandersluis, M.D., pediatrician at Boys Town Pediatrics.

The easy accessibility of the psychologists relieves some of the apprehension and stigma of seeing a psychologist, notes Tom Reimers, Ph.D., director of Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic with the Center for Behavioral Health. “We’re seeing a greater willingness among families to reach out for our services.”

Parents often discuss their child’s behavioral concerns with their pediatrician, says Dr. Reimers. That makes the close relationship we have with the pediatrician’s and medical clinics so important. The Behavioral Health Clinic treats a wide variety of behavioral health problems in children, from infants to adults. Some of the problems treated include defiance, tantrums, toilet training, learning problems, anxiety and depression, bedtime problems and sleep disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), peer relationships, phobias, habits, and eating disorders.

Determining when it’s time to seek help is something that should be discussed with your pediatrician. A good rule of thumb, notes Dr. Vandersluis: If there is a disruption of your family’s ability to function on a normal basis due to your child’s behavioral health problems, or it is affecting your child’s ability to be successful in his or her daily activities, it may be time to seek help.

“If you’re concerned with your child, whether it’s academics or behavioral problems at home, don’t be afraid to seek help.” – Tom Reimers, Ph.D., director of Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic with the Center for Behavioral Health

“By the time they come to us, parents have likely been concerned about a problem for some time. They’ve reached out to family and friends and exhausted most of their accessible resources,” notes Dr. Reimers. “In some cases, waiting can make the problem worse. We encourage parents to seek advice early rather than later.

“We use evidence-based interventions with the goal of providing the most effective treatment in the shortest amount of time possible,” says Dr. Reimers. “If you’re concerned with your child, whether it’s academics or behavioral problems at home, don’t be afraid to seek help. In many cases, we can provide help easily and readily and get your child back on the right track.”

The Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health offers three services, which include the Behavioral Health Clinic, Chemical Use Program, and Assessment Program. Children may be seen in their doctor’s office or at the Center for Behavioral Health’s main office at 13460 Walsh Drive on the Boys Town campus. For more information, visit boystownpediatrics.org or call 402-498-3358.

Family Success Story: The Dotsons

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Date night” is not a term often used in the Dotson household; however, “family” is. After 11 years of marriage, David and Susie Dotson have experienced more than any parents should, but they still find time to come together as a family and cherish the moments they have. “Our marriage has shaped us to be better parents,” Susie explains.

“Strength” is another word thrown around a lot when discussing the Dotsons. Their first child, Noah, was born with autism. “He suffered from anxiety [when he heard] any loud noise growing up. He didn’t develop his speech to explain his fears and anxiety until around age 4.” Susie became focused on trying to help Noah by going to autism events, getting involved in discussion groups, and doing her own research. The Millard Public Schools district was able to get Noah started with homebound help at age 2, and eventually into Halo, a gifted learning program at Wheeler Elementary School, where he continues to build his communication skills.

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A couple years after Noah’s birth, Lily was born five weeks early and had to stay in the NICU for two weeks. She went home on a heart monitor and eventually grew into a healthy baby girl. Five years later, however, Lily was suddenly diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer common in childhood and characterized by the overproduction of immature white blood cells in the bone marrow.

Susie remembers the day they found out. “I felt all summer long that something wasn’t right with her. I had mother’s intuition.” After complaining of stomach aches and her legs hurting when she played sports, Susie took Lily out of gymnastics, soccer, and swimming. She thought the schedule may have been too daunting for her little girl. “After a couple of weeks into school, I noticed bruising,” she says, “After about two weeks of the bruising getting worse and showing up in places that you normally don’t bruise, I made an appointment.”

“I feel like we are still figuring it all out. There are days that are not pretty. One of my favorite quotes for my family is, ‘We may not have it all together, but together, we have it all.’” – Susie Dotson

The night before Lily’s doctor’s appointment, Susie decided to google her daughter’s symptoms. Every result came back the same: cancer. Susie’s heart sank. “I took a photo of her eating breakfast before school that morning, knowing that this is what a normal day looked like before cancer.” Later that day, after five minutes of examining Lily, their pediatrician told Susie that her daughter had cancer and needed to go to the emergency room immediately. “Within 24 hours, she started blood transfusions, chemo, spinal tap, and a bone marrow scan. She has had over a dozen platelet and whole blood transfusions. She was put on high risk and only a 40 percent chance of making it the first year. She is now up to 65-70 percent.”

Lily’s fight not only took a toll on her but also on the Dotson’s marriage and Susie’s relationship with Noah. “Communication is key, and we are slowly finding that. During the heavy treatment, it was very hard to have a meaningful relationship [with David or Noah] with the high demands of Lily’s cancer treatment. But we are now learning how to heal as a married couple. I’m also loving my ‘Noah time.’ I feel like I missed a whole year of his life. I missed him.”

Lily’s treatment doesn’t end until January 2014, but the heavy treatment portion concluded last July. Lily can now do daily chemo treatments at home and go to school.20130407_bs_0015 Medium Copy

While life is far less stressful than it was a year ago, Susie says, “No matter what day it is, cancer doesn’t let you forget you’re fighting it. Once your family is hit by cancer, you are constantly in the battle…You never get to leave the battlefield.” The Dotsons still find time to be a normal family, with Lily dressing up the family Maltese, Santana, and Noah writing letters to the family beta fish: Patrick, Sandy, Rainbow Buddy, and Red Nose Clown Nose. And maybe soon, Susie and David will finally get that date night.

“I feel like we are still figuring it all out. There are days that are not pretty. One of my favorite quotes for my family is, ‘We may not have it all together, but together, we have it all.’”