Hannah had always been anxious, but at 13 it became overwhelming. She was terrified of failing in school, and sure that her friends didn’t like her any more. She lashed out at her friends and fought with her mother constantly: “The smallest of things would make me scream and cry.’ Finally, her mom, Jill, took action. Treatment with DBT — dialectical behavioral therapy — enabled Hannah to learn to manage her emotions and become a confident, positive person. “I’m a hundred percent a happier person,’ she says. ‘I’m a better student, I’m a better friend, I’m a better daughter, sister — everything, really.”
Hannah, tell us a little bit about your story.
Hannah: I was always very anxious. It affected me a lot in my schoolwork. It affected me a lot with my friends and with my family. But when I was about 13 it got really hard to handle. It amplified a lot and it turned into sort of a depression without me realizing exactly that it was a depression.
What did that look like day-to-day?
Hannah: It was hard for me to go to sleep. It was hard for me to get up in the morning. Taking a test was terrifying to me. Everything about it was overwhelming. I never thought I was going to do well even if I had studied four hours the night before. And it got to a point where I wouldn’t even study because like, there’s no point. I never thought I could do it. I was very hard on myself. Nothing I could do would be enough. And I never really wanted to be around friends anymore. Everything my friends did was always frustrating to me and I was always convinced that they didn’t like me for no reason at all. I was always paranoid that they were mad at me or that they were secretly talking about me all the time.
How were you getting along with your family?
Hannah: I would lash out all the time at my family members, especially my mom. We fought all the time. I’ve always been very close with my mother, but that kind of turned into me taking things out on her and my other family members as well. The smallest of things would make me scream and cry. I never wanted to go to sports practices or things that I had committed to or my mom had committed to. It definitely caused a lot of strain on my household as well.
Jill, what were the things that were red flags for you?
Jill: Well she was really having a hard time functioning in her daily life, going to school, doing her schoolwork. She would just sit in her bed watching her computer. She wasn’t really participating in her daily life. Every time I had to have her do something, I spent hours trying to figure out how I was going to get her to do it. I realized that wasn’t normal because with her other siblings I’d say, okay, it’s time to do this and they would get up and do it. With Hannah, you would say it’s time to do this and it would be hysterics. It would be crying. It would be panic attacks and I recognized that wasn’t a normal reaction to mundane things like going to school or going to sports practice.
Hannah, how did your friends react to what was happening?
Hannah: My friends definitely knew there was something wrong. One time I was studying in a classroom with my friends and they were being really loud. And I just started screaming, I started screaming at them “can you just shut up!” I freaked out and they were so taken aback. I’m not a very angry person and it was such a surprising thing to hear from me. They all sat me down in a classroom and they were like “you need help. You need to talk to someone, you need to figure it out.”
“It was hard for me to go to sleep. It was hard for me to get up in the morning. Taking a test was terrifying to me. Everything about it was overwhelming.”
Was there a turning point?
Hannah: The first moment I really realized was when I got into this fight with a boy. He was poking me in the back of my head in my math class and I got so upset about it. I had a crush on him. It was just a typical thing but I remember just crying, crying and crying about it. Thinking I was not worth anything and that everyone was always going to hate me. I remember saying that to my mom and her recognizing that this just wasn’t normal.
So what happened when you talked to your mom about it?
Hannah: My mom is a big advocate for therapy so that was the next step for me. I started going to therapy and it worked a little bit. The first therapist I went to it was more just talking about my problems day-to-day and just venting and less about how to deal with the problems. I think it helped a little but it wasn’t a long-term fix.
So you started going to a therapist who practiced DBT — dialectical behavior therapy. How does DBT work?
Hannah: Basically the difference between DBT therapy and other therapies is that it teaches you not how to live a perfect life but how to cope with everyday problems in your life. To accept who you are as a person. Not try to change who you are. Basically, learn ways to deal with the problems in your life, like this is not perfect, everything is not the way it’s supposed to be, the way I need it to be, but you acknowledge that life is messy, there are problems, and that you just need to learn the ways to make it easier on you.
Give us an example of something you learned that worked for you.
Hannah: One of the biggest things is something really simple but it changed everything for me. When I get really overwhelmed or really angry and I realize that I’m really angry right now, I count back from ten out loud, which is very simple but I’d never been told that in my life. It helped me through so much. I would be in huge fights with my mom and I would start counting back from ten and we’d be able to figure out a solution in way quicker time because I wasn’t so worked up and angry. I didn’t let my emotions get the best of me as much.
Overall how have you felt since you’ve been doing DBT treatment at CMI? How has it changed your life?
Hannah: I’m a hundred percent a happier person, I’m a better student, I’m a better friend, I’m a better daughter, sister, everything really. I think I have a much better perspective on the world and I’m a much more positive person in the world. And I have much more confidence, which is the biggest thing for me. Although I still have moments when I struggle, I really think that by learning to believe in myself and learning to appreciate what’s going on in my life, I’ve become a much happier person. Everyone deals with hard things but a happy person will get through them and understand them.
“I would lash out all the time at my family members, especially my mom. We fought all the time.”
Jill, how do you think Hannah has changed?
Jill: I really didn’t think that Hannah was going to be able to have a functioning life. She wasn’t really able to participate in school. She wasn’t really interested in doing anything. And she was at a point where she didn’t really have a lot of hope for her future. And going through the program, it completely changed our relationship. And even now, when we do have our arguments, we kind of joke about it. You know, use your skills. Because we both got so much out of it. And it just changed the entire dynamic of our family.
How is she doing now?
Jill: I’m going to cry when I say this. I am so proud of her and the woman she is. She’s an incredible person and she’s so insightful and I think that the struggle has helped her so much. She has so much empathy and understanding for other people. This is life changing. It really is.