Local News

What anxiety looks like: A mother shares her daughter's story in hopes of helping others

Posted January 17, 2019 10:25 a.m. EST
Updated January 17, 2019 8:15 p.m. EST

Like many mothers, Dawn Woody enjoys bragging about her daughter.

"I could not be more proud of her," Woody said. "I mean, she is the adult anyone would want to be."

She is so grateful to see her 26-year-old daughter, who did not wish to be named in this story, back in college and on her way to a career. Woody can remember a time when things were not going as well. It started sometime around her daughter's senior year of high school

"Just some changes in behavior. Some changes in her interactions with us. Drug experimentation. She went off to college and everything fell apart," Woody said.

Her daughter was struggling with substance abuse stemming from a mental illness. She spent many of the next years searching for help.

"Collectively over about seven and a half years, she was in 29 inpatient treatment facilities in 11 states," Woody said.

Doctors diagnosed her with bipolar disorder, but she didn't respond well to the treatment. A few years later she got a new diagnosis: severe anxiety. That diagnosis proved to be the answer the family was looking for.

"At one point she was on 13 different medications. (Now) she's on one -- one pill a day," Woody said with a big smile.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the country, but it can be hard to know when it's time to seek help.

"Are we anxious about being hit by a car? Sure -- so we look both ways before we cross the street. Are we anxious about missing a deadline? Yeah -- so we turn things in on time. The question is, At what point does it impede our lives when it's functionally affecting us in a negative way? That's when it becomes of clinical concern. Is it holding us back rather than being functional," said Caitlin Kline, a pyschotherapist at Third Wave Psychotherapy in Raleigh.

"She didn't have the language to express it," Woody said. "We were not educated. The irony in that is I have advanced degrees in education. My entire career has been spent working with adolescents."

Now that she knows what severe anxiety looks like, she wants other parents to know what to look for.

"If your kid tells you their tooth hurts, you don't hesitate to take them to the dentist," Woody said. "You don't. No one says, 'Oh I wonder if I should check into that.' They don't ask 10 other moms if they should do that and they aren't embarrassed to get their kid out of school and take them to the dentist. We should feel the same way about their mental health."