In this interview, Jamie shares her challenges with anxiety, how she has developed practices to support herself and how she leads with empathy with others when they may be experiencing overwhelm.

Shamis and Jamie Connecting in Conversation

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If you prefer to read, here is the transcript.

Shamis:

Hello everyone, and welcome to the newest installment of “Let’s Live in the AND”, a wellbeing discussion with me, Shamis Pitts of Pitts Leadership Consulting LLC, and wonderful people that I know and meet along the way. Today’s participant is Jamie. Jamie is from Chicago. She’s been in New York City for three years. I had the pleasure of meeting her a few weeks ago at an Ellevate Network event, which is a professional women’s networking organization. And Jamie was so open, she’s an uber connector. She’s all about bringing people together, which is why we were attracted to each other that day, and she is passionate about tech equity and so she’s been working in that space for a few years now. So welcome, Jamie.

Jamie:

Hi. Thanks for having me.

Shamis:

I’m so happy that you were open to talking with me today. So what is the wellbeing challenge that you want to share with us?

Jamie:

Yeah, so I feel like wellbeing, I mean, there’s different challenges every year, and you’re always trying to build. But I think the one topic that really is close to me is mental health. And with that, dealing with anxiety. So it’s something I’m continuously working on, but it’s basically, so I’ve struggled with anxiety pretty much my whole life, and not just anxiety like, oh, is this person going to call me back? And then you forget about it. Like, anxiety where you cannot function or you’re doing too many things to make up for it. But it probably took me until I was like … So I’m 25 now. It probably took me until I was 22 to even realize that that was a thing, because anxiety is a weird thing. It’s not always super apparent that you have something that’s not right. You’re like, everyone’s anxious. We’re all, especially when I was in college, we’re all trying to get a good grade, we’re all trying to get a job.

Shamis:

But when did that start for you, the feelings of being anxious? And if you can help us understand what that meant for you.

Jamie:

Yeah. So I think when I started realizing it was something that was bigger than just a normal anxiety was probably when I was in one of my first relationships after college. And it wasn’t even a super serious relationship, but it was something that I was with a partner, and I was just with that person more than I was with friends or family, and so I could really see my anxiety. They told me I can feel it, I can feel your anxiety even when you’re not saying anything out loud, and I can tell that you’re not moving forward with some parts of your life because you’re nervous, or you’re doing way too much because you’re nervous about not accomplishing goals. And a lot of my anxiety was really time-based, so like if I do not do this all today, I’m going to be a failure, or if I don’t apply to 40 jobs today, I’m just not going to get a job. Instead of being rational, where it’s like, okay, let’s break this into pieces and you’re going to get a job, I don’t know when it’s going to be.

Jamie:

And so it led to me, like there was kind of two spectrums. Sometimes something would make me so anxious that I just wouldn’t do it, like, oh, there’s this event going on and I’m too anxious to even figure out who’s all going to be there and if I have time to talk to everybody, so I’m just not going to go. Or it’d be the complete opposite spectrum, where I’m like, I have all these things to do, I’m going to do them all today, so I’m going to work all through the night to get them done. And so really also what made me realize is I journal a lot, and so reading some of my prior journal entries, it was like, wow, you were really thinking like crazy. You were overreacting about this thing.

Jamie:

One example is I remember one of my first jobs that I was going to get, they said I had to do a drug test, and I hadn’t done drugs before, so why would I not pass the drug test? And I couldn’t sleep, because I was like, what if I like, I don’t know, smoked a cigarette and there were drugs in it? It was really messing with me, and so yeah, it took me a while to realize that that was actually something that was affecting me.

Shamis:

Who did you talk to about it, other than that person in your relationship? Had you ever talked to somebody about how you were feeling before?

Jamie:

Not really, to be honest. It just felt like it was my own thing I had to figure out, which now I don’t think is the case. But I think with something like anxiety, and I don’t know, other people might feel like this if they have anxiety, you kind of think everyone has this so I’m not going to burden people with what’s troubling me, because they’re going through the same thing. Which is true in a sense. Yes, everyone’s having anxiety. But since mine was at a level that was a lot higher, I could’ve confided in someone, but I just thought they were going to be like, okay, I’m going through that too. But after figuring out this was an issue, I started seeing a therapist and that’s when I could actually talk to someone about it and break down what is a normal reaction and what was an overreaction.

Shamis:

And how did that support you?

Jamie:

It was awesome. So I started going to therapy, I talked to them for a while. After a bit, and this is so different for everyone, so I would never encourage or not encourage this, but I started taking medicine, and that really helped me, to be honest. So I started taking medicine for anxiety, but I paired that with also seeing a therapist, and taking medicine allowed me to kind of mellow, not mellow myself out, but be able to decipher what was a normal anxiety and what was a little too much.

Shamis:

So how would you characterize how that feels in your body for you, your normal anxiety versus too much?

Jamie:

Yeah, so now it’s a little bit easier for me to see, and I’ll explain. Flash forward, I’m actually not taking medicine now. I’m all just going to therapy and eating right, and I do a lot of herbalism, but so what I can explain now when I feel anxiety is, for example, yesterday I told my boss I was going to get something done by Monday, and I didn’t get it done, and she stopped by my desk and was like, “Hey, where is this?” And I was like, “Oh, I didn’t finish it yet.” Back in the day, if that were to happen, I would not go to my yoga class after work. I’d go home and be like, I’m going to get fired. I didn’t do the thing I told her I was going to do by Monday. I should just do it now. Let me just start doing it now. And I would start doing it. I would probably email my boss at like 9:00 PM and be like, I did the thing that you asked me to do, and then I would probably not sleep all night because I’m worried that I’m going to get fired.

Jamie:

Whereas now, I was like, yeah, I should have managed my time better, and I wish I didn’t tell her that I would’ve gotten it done by Monday. But she’s honestly, she’s going home right now. It’s 5:00 PM. So there’s no point in me doing it now. I’ll do it first thing in the morning, and that’s that. So I think having that initial nervousness is fine. If you don’t have that, then that might be another issue, too. You should feel nervous sometimes, and you can feel anxious about deadlines, but it’s like…..

Shamis:

How do you make the distinction? I know I’m inserting myself.

Jamie:

No, you’re fine.

Shamis:

How are you making the distinction between how it feels to be nervous in your body with how it feels to be anxious?

Jamie:

And I think that’s a really hard thing, because without figuring out I had some issues with anxiety, I don’t know if I’d be able to make the distinction, because I would think that how I was reacting before was just like the normal way. I think how I’m able to make the distinction is having severe anxiety, then seeing a therapist, taking medicine, getting off medicine, and now looking back, I’m able to see and rationalize what is normal and what is a little irrational.

Shamis:

So what occurs, what happens for you today, though, if you’re in that moment?

Jamie:

Yeah. So it’s still a lot of work. It’s something that, and I think this is with any mental illness, I mean that’s a harsh way to put anxiety, but it’s kind of what it is sometimes. It’s not like you take medicine or go to therapy, and then that’s it, you’re never going to feel it. So it still could get to an extreme level if I let it, but I think now I have the tools that if something’s making me anxious and it keeps replaying in my head, I need to stop and think about it. Sometimes I write down what the thought is, what my feeling is about that, and how I feel about that feeling. And then I kind of decipher like if that’s, I think it’s called CBT techniques.

Shamis:

Okay. Cognitive behavioral therapy?

Jamie:

Yes. Yes. That’s what it is. So I’ll do that sometimes.

Shamis:

In the moment?

Jamie:

In the moment. And if I don’t have time to do that, or I’m like talking to someone and I can’t whip out my notebook, what’s really helped me is to just think like, is spending your energy thinking about this, is it helping? There’s some situations it might be, like you’re thinking a little bit harder about it and you find the solution. But a lot of the time it’s not, like me continuously thinking if my boss is going to fire me, it’s just making my night horrible. I missed my yoga class. I am not getting sleep. And it’s going to go into the next day. So I think just stepping back and thinking about, like, is having this negative thought going to help me in the end? If it’s not, then tame it down a little bit.

Shamis:

That’s great. So those are two very clear tools, practices that you use to support yourself. Are there any others? Are those your primary go-to?

Jamie:

So when it comes to thoughts, those are my go-to. A third one would also, now that I actually do reach out to people I trust when I’m having trouble, and this won’t always work depending on who you’re asking, but sometimes I’ll explain the situation to them and ask if they think it’s rational, how I’m acting. Why I say grain of salt is the person that you’re talking to might also be struggling with anxiety, and so they might amplify it. So I’m careful with who I’m talking to about these things.

Shamis:

That makes sense.

Jamie:

And then more, this kind of goes into physical wellbeing, but I’m really into nature and herbs. So I have a lot of herbs that I use, like passionflower or kava or just green tea that I will mix up in the morning to calm me down a little bit.

Shamis:

So those three things together?

Jamie:

Yes, I have a whole drawer of herbs I use. So those are the three that come to mind. But, oh, lavender, lavender as well. I just put them in a little infuser and make tea with them. And I’m also a gardener. So growing plants makes me really happy. Seeing green when I wake up is really amazing. So those are some smaller, tangible things that I use.

Shamis:

Yeah, that’s wonderful. I appreciate that you brought that into this space, and it’s like there’s so many components to wellbeing and how you’re able to look at the harmony of all these things that can support you.

Jamie:

Yeah. Well, and I also think, too, I’m pretty hippie, and so going, taking medicine was not something I actually really wanted to do. I do think it helped me, but I knew that taking it, I didn’t want to take it forever. So I was wanting to come up with how I was going to wean off that and what I was going to do in the meantime. So things like teas and different herbs were really helpful to me. So I think that was good going in, like I had a plan to not take these things anymore.

Shamis:

A plan before you started about what you wanted to do?

Jamie:

Yeah. And that’s just me. When I would talk to my therapist, they were like, I mean, you might have to take this forever, and like, what’s the problem? And I mean, that’s fine, too. I just didn’t like, I don’t know, I’m weird. I’m always like, if I want to live in an island somewhere and don’t have access to these things, how am I going to deal with this? And so that’s kind of what happened.

Shamis:

I don’t think that makes you weird. That makes you you, and you get to choose what works for you.

Jamie:

And there’s something just really beautiful about using nature to kind of calm yourself. I don’t know, just looking at it holistically, you’re like this is a root that came from the ground and it calms my anxiety.

Shamis:

Yeah, talk to me about how your garden supports you.

Jamie:

Yeah. So there’s two different pieces. Having a garden, one, can actually help me grow the things that I use to calm my anxiety, like lavender and mint, but that’s a small piece of it, because a lot of those things I have to buy, because I live in New York. I don’t have a huge thing. But I feel like planting and gardening and growing gives you a sense of creating, so it’s almost like an art form. It’s something that calms you down, when you’re watching something grow. And I feel like in a place like New York where you don’t always have access to beautiful nature, being able to provide that for yourself is something that is really good for your mind.

Shamis:

That’s great. I’m curious, is that a practice that you had before? When did you connect with the gardening?

Jamie:

Yeah, so not really. I remember growing up, my mom had a really beautiful garden, but I never appreciated it. I just thought like, those flowers just grow here, not knowing all the work she put into it. But about a year ago … So I use this app called Couch Surfing, where I let people from around the world sleep on my couch for free. Another story, but through that, I met this guy named Sydney who is one of my dearest friends now, and he runs a space in Haiti where he’s from that’s like all basically sustainable farming. And so I went to visit him last year, and just helped him plant, and just basically hung out in this amazing oasis he has. And I just felt so good there that I wanted to bring that when I came back here. A little harder in New York, but in this place I actually have a backyard, so once I got that backyard, I was like, I’ve got to do something with this. So yeah, that’s a new thing. That’s probably the past year and a half.

Shamis:

Wonderful. High fives on that. That’s awesome. So I told you I use my hands a lot.

Jamie:

I know, I’m like trying not to shake the computer.

Shamis:

As I knock into this thing. Okay, so I’m curious, how has integrating these practices to support your wellbeing, your mental wellbeing, how has that carried over into how you are leading at work in the things that you’re up to, or leading in other domains?

Jamie:

Yeah, definitely. So I think once I got more comfortable, well that’s actually interesting, because anxiety in some parts has actually helped me be a better employee, because I think I’m like, so before it gets unhealthy, for the healthy part of anxiety, I’m really on top of my stuff because I am nervous about getting it all done. So I’m really good at scheduling and having calendars and following up with people, and so I think in that way, having something that’s not the best, whether it’s anxiety or even depression, if you understand it, you can use it in ways to be productive. But then there’s that level, of course, when it becomes unhealthy and then that’s not good.

Jamie:

So there’s that. And then there’s also the piece of, once I was able to figure out anxiety and be healthier, it’s led me to be a lot more playful, because everything isn’t like do or die anymore. It’s like I’m going to do the best I can, but I’m also going to do things that make me happy. And so I think with my work, I’m just a little more, like if someone else is stressed out, I’m able to kind of be more fun and playful, and like, hey this isn’t the end of the world. Let’s figure out what we need to do, and you’re not going to get fired. Because other people are dealing with these things, too. So I think, yeah, it’s definitely on one end helped me be an organized human. But dealing with it has helped me to be a lot more playful at work.

Shamis:

Yeah. Thank you for that. That’s a great nugget, that you’re able to, because you’ve been on the other side but you now have practices that support you, you can then support other people.

Jamie:

Totally. And it’s even like what we were talking about before this recording, about the sense of urgency everywhere. Being able to deal with anxiety has made me realize what is actually things that are urgent and what is not as urgent. And so having that mindset when I’m working with other people has helped me be able to work with them better and prioritize, and also do good work, because we’re not rushing everything. We’re trying to create and also hit deadlines.

Shamis:

Wonderful. Thank you. So what would you say is your biggest aha learning moment from this journey that you’ve been on the past couple of years, now that you’ve acknowledged it, you identified, like, oh I have something I get to work on. You’ve pushed through, you got support, you developed practices, now you’re supporting other people. What’s the big learning takeaway for you?

Jamie:

What is the big learning takeaway? So trying to think, what would be the biggest one? I mean, there’s probably a few.

Shamis:

You can share a few if a few come to mind.

Jamie:

Yeah, I would say one is you’re a lot healthier, and you also create better work when you honestly don’t take life so seriously. And I think I’ve always had the notion before I kind of struggled with this or realized it was an issue, that hard work is only if you’re doing all the things that you have on your list, and you’re like working 80 hours, and you’re climbing that ladder. But you can still climb the ladder and be a successful human even when you’re taking a break and not doing everything on your to-do list in one day. And I think I’m a better employee because of it, too, because I’m just happier. And you’re more creative when you’re happier. So I think that would be a big piece.

Jamie:

The other thing is not to be so quick to judge people. I feel like there’s got to be times when I was struggling with anxiety at work that I may have been snappy, or just like head down because I couldn’t deal with people, and I think I’m better, like I don’t know what anyone’s dealing with. So if someone’s a little snappy or not getting something to me on time, or what have you, it’s a conversation, because I know what it’s like.

Shamis:

That’s wonderful. And I think that can help a lot of people, because we are in such a frenetically paced world right now where so many things are on demand. Being able to recognize that other people may be having challenges that you’re not aware of. It may have shown up before, but now you’re giving people space, recognizing that they may be where you were before.

Jamie:

Definitely.

Shamis:

That’s really powerful. Wonderful. This has been great.

Jamie:

Thank you.

Shamis:

Thank you so much, Jamie, for being so open and honest.

Jamie:

Yeah, of course.

Shamis:

With your journey. I really think there’s so much power in sharing, especially the things that are part of what makes us us, the unique us. Being open about and being vulnerable about those things, I think it’s really, really wonderful. So grateful that you shared this time with me today.

Jamie:

Of course. And yeah, I hope more people share. Mental illness is so taboo, and it shouldn’t be, because we’re all dealing with stuff and we’ve just got to talk about it and we’ll figure it out together.

Shamis:

Yeah, definitely. Fabulous. Thank you so much to Jamie for joining today, and thanks to you for checking in and listening to Jamie’s story. Please engage with me at Shamis2020.com for more content. That’s Shamis, that’s S-H-A-M-I-S 2-0-2-0.com. Subscribe to my newsletter, like my stuff. We’re in this together. Let’s live in the AND. Take care.

Jamie:

Thanks.


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