Since the age of five, it was clear that there was something different about the way Kallie interacted with the world around her. At school, Kallie was extremely particular, needing special attention to ensure things were done in a way that she agreed with, but otherwise generally well behaved. At home, her mother remembers her behavior as anything but good mannered with Kallie spitting on the floor, throwing furniture and demonstrating other aggressive, angry behaviors that were shocking to see from such a young child. Kallie’s mom struggled with how to react and sought help from a therapist.
Because of Kallie’s young age, initial therapy focused not only on Kallie but also largely on ways for the family to cope with and appropriately react to the behaviors that Kallie was exhibiting. With these tools, the family was able to help Kallie better manage how she experienced day-to-day life. While these new concepts and frameworks helped dramatically with controlling some of the more damaging behaviors, Kallie still struggled internally with common stresses. While her family was learning to control their reactions to Kallie’s behavior, Kallie was learning how to mask many of the more problematic symptoms. Her mother spoke of Kallie’s increasing tendency to sleep for most of the time that Kallie was at home.
Kallie herself doesn’t remember truly feeling anxious until the seventh grade. A popular student, Kallie played basketball, ran track and got along well with most people at her new school in Prague, Oklahoma. Despite the healthy, outgoing Kallie that most people saw from the outside, she and her family were in the midst of an extremely turbulent transition in their lives. Kallie’s sister had come forward earlier that year to tell her mother that her dad was sexually abusing her. The entire year leading up to the move to Prague was filled with detectives coming in and out of the house for interviews and a singular focus on the trauma that her sister experienced. Kallie suffered from her mother and sister’s shifting focus from Kallie’s anxiety to her sister’s trauma. While certainly understandable, losing focus on many of the coping skills that the family had learned to help Kallie allowed her anxiety to grow unchecked.
Attempting to start fresh in Prague, Kallie found that people were far more eager to be her friend than people in Oklahoma City were. Her mother agreed, noticing that people who were practically strangers would approach her in public asking about her and her family’s life. Initially, both were pleasantly surprised, but as details of their past and their current lives became public, Kallie and her mother learned that many of those who showed interest in their personal lives were more concerned with being “those in the know” in Prague as opposed to having a genuine concern for them as individuals. Kallie, in particular, made an instant friend and immediately began opening up to her about everything in her life. It wasn’t long thereafter that this friend started rumors about Kallie throughout the school. Kallie and her sister were bullied about the rumors and Kallie began to notice the increasing anxiety present in her life at all times. Not long thereafter, the school counselor had been informed about a troubling note that had been thrown away. She dug it out of the trash and compared the writing to students’ work before identifying that Kallie was likely the person that had written the note. Kallie’s mom was called to the school and told that her daughter had written about cutting herself in the note. It was devastating for her mother to find out that even after a fresh start in a new town, her daughter was struggling to cope with the turbulence in her life. It was only a month later that Kallie told her friend that she wanted to kill herself.
Fortunately, Kallie’s mother received a call from her friend’s mom later that night informing her of what Kallie had said. By 3:00am, Kallie had been checked into Cedar Ridge Hospital, a psychiatric treatment center located in Oklahoma City. It was initially an extremely anxiety provoking experience in and of itself for Kallie; at the age of 12, she was the youngest in the group, and the required full body check for self-harm revealed that she was still cutting herself. However, after seven days of treatment, it turned out to be one of the biggest turning points in her life. Kallie’s biggest takeaway was learning that there were others that shared in her experience. “I wasn’t alone, that was huge. There were a lot of people in there just like me; struggling with anxiety and just feeling like they didn’t fit in. I still stay connected with some of them through social media.”
It was clear after Kallie’s inpatient experience that she needed access to the resources necessary to handle her illness. Having made strides at a young age with therapy, they began to search again for a therapist that would be a good fit. They weren’t prepared for the frustration of going from therapist to therapist trying to find someone that was not only highly skilled at her job, but also connected well on an individual level with Kallie. She remembers taking a timed 300 question test that resulted in a diagnosis of OCD. Another therapist said that Kallie displayed signs of depression. None of them connected with Kallie in a way that made her feel comfortable enough to open up about her life. In a moment of serendipity, Kallie’s mom was at an art show when she ran into Brittanie, the same therapist that had helped them when Kallie was 5-years old.
Brittanie, who was then providing therapy services to homeless individuals in downtown Oklahoma City, worked Kallie into her schedule. She diagnosed Kallie with generalized anxiety disorder and found the right balance for her in terms of medicine and in-person therapy. It made a world of difference for her and Kallie soon found herself enjoying life again. While Kallie still experienced many of the ups and downs of being a teenager and going through high school, Brittanie was able to help Kallie with the appropriate coping skills which allowed her to live a manageable life. A key discovery for Kallie was finding that healthy outlets kept her mind from spiraling into endless anxiety. She started working 40 hour weeks over the summers in high school and became an active member of the FFA. Now in her senior year, Kallie says she is having the best year of her life, holding a job, sitting on student leadership boards for two different banks and serving as an officer in FFA.
Kallie credits Brittanie in addition to her family with the progress that she has made in managing a successful life with mental illness. To others sharing a similar struggle, Kallie wants them to know that there are resources available to those who ask. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Not everyone has the support system or a mom like mine to help; I know I wouldn’t have asked for help and I needed it.” Because of Kallie’s experience, she makes a point to notice those who may be struggling and do whatever she can to help. She will often offer a hand to the school janitor who works year-round and lost a nephew to suicide. One day, she noticed a boy in her class had been wearing the same clothes and shoes with holes in them every day; Kallie went to friends and family and gathered four bags of clothes, shoes and gift cards before delivering them to him at his home. It is an empathy that she has developed through her own struggle and one that she hopes will continue to make a difference as she grows older. Kallie will be graduating high school in the spring and plans to attend UCO in the fall. She is already attending college classes and will pursue a degree in Sociology. After college, her hope is to continue to help others in need by working for the DHS in child welfare.
Authors Note: Kallie is my first cousin once removed (the daughter of my cousin). Speaking with Kallie and her mom, it was enlightening to hear her story of confronting her struggle with anxiety and relating to so much of it. It is increasingly apparent that many people in my family suffer from various forms of anxiety and depression, but it has never been openly discussed. It has been easier for me to discuss my own struggles with mental illness with the outside world than with my family. I don’t think I’m alone when it comes to difficult family dynamics when it comes to uncomfortable topics. However, as important as it is to break down the stigma of mental illness with the world at large, a family that is honest and open with each other when it comes to not only mental illness, but all of the hard-to-talk-about things, can be one of the most meaningful drivers of understanding and seeking help for those that suffer. Take the time to listen to and be curious of those who are most familiar to you; it may help you understand your own journey better.