Season 1 Episode 2 – Megan Street
John Bateman (JB): Megan, how are you?
Megan Street (MS): I am well John, how are you?
JB: So I’m wondering, what is your anxiety story Megan?
MS: Sure. I have generalized anxiety disorder, as well as OCD and I exhibited symptoms at a very young age. Obviously I wasn’t diagnosed at a young age; people just thought that I was quite earnest – an excessive worrier. So at a young age I recall having a lot of worries and concerns. For example, I had to wave to both my parents from the school bus. Otherwise I was convinced something terrible would happen. If that routine was interrupted – if both of them weren’t there – it would be very upsetting for me. Later, I couldn’t do things spontaneously if there were a change in plans, I couldn’t just go with the flow. I was constantly worried people were angry with me, or upset with me.
MS: I constantly sought reassurance from people and it just continued from grade school through high school, through university. I’ve heard people today echo the same sort of comment about actually thinking it helps them succeed in a way. I do think it helped me scholastically be a high achiever because anxiety was constantly driving me; I was unable to stop studying because I could never trust that I knew what I needed to know. I would just drive myself forward and forward and forward. And it wasn’t until my second year of law school, in the summer I believe, I was referred to a psychiatrist and he told me that I had wall-to-wall anxiety and he wasn’t quite sure how I functioned.
MS: I remember thinking this psychiatrist was really quite rude, and I was offended. But even though previously intellectually I had understood the feeling of anxiety, it was the first time it was applied to me. And it was the first time that I had an appreciation of maybe how unhealthy some of my behaviours were. And so it was the first time I accepted or even heard that maybe my life could be different if I could make some changes and I could get some help, um, that I didn’t have to live the way I was living.
JB: I guess you could say you’re hiding in your schoolwork and scholastic pursuits. Did you experience anxiety physically when you were going through what you consider to be obsessive compulsive?
MS: Oh yes. At my younger ages I would not have known that’s what it was. As opposed to being told I was a Nervous Nelly or a worrywart, or highly sensitive or oversensitive. I got that a lot. But absolutely there were times when I would feel physically ill if I was going to be late for something. It would be physical symptoms that far surpassed what one could really account for as maybe the ‘ordinary’ anxiety that we might get in certain situations. I recall times in university where I would have panic attack and have to sit down on a bench because it felt like I was having a heart attack. So absolutely I had a lot of physical symptoms as well as the, just the general torment and rumination that often accompanies anxiety.
JB: Right. So what did it look like when you decided to get help for this?
MS: CBT is really helpful for me, but therapy didn’t start off that way. Like I said, that psychiatrist was the first person to introduce the concept to me. And he prescribed me medication. I was naive and at the time I thought it was simple enough: I would take this medication and things would be better. And I can’t lie: I did feel relief with the medication. Once, I remember there being an exam the next day and me sitting on my bed watching a movie and wondering what was wrong with me, why I wasn’t studying and the why I was so relaxed. But eventually I wanted to be off that medication. And I fought with the psychiatrist about it, and then went off it and I thought that I could manage this on my own. I thought as long as I was a productive member of society and I was excelling in my job, that I was fine. That turned out not to be the case. So I sought out therapy and started doing CBT work with a private therapist. And that has proven to be the way to go for me.
JB: What aspects of CBT resonate most with you?
MS: I do some exposure work, which is really uncomfortable because it amps up your anxiety at the beginning. You end up basically learning how learning how to sit with that anxiety until you realize that what you’re fearing isn’t actually going to happen. So that has been helpful. Also, I’m really great at catastrophizing.
JB: Right? Yeah, I’m good at that too.
MS: You’re good at that too, right? I’m really good at that. So if I’m catastrophizing, the technique is for you write the thought down at the top of the page and then you draw a colour or a line down the page and you divided into two; on one side you write all the evidence for that catastrophic thought. And of course that would be the part where the anxious mind is brilliant and it can come up with all kinds of evidence and support. And then on the other side, you’re supposed to come up with evidence against the catastrophe occurring. And it’s in that process of thinking and writing down the evidence against that you work your way out of the rumination and the catastrophe that you’ve allowed to develop in your head. I also took a CBT, mindfulness meditation course here in Vancouver; since taking that I find that if I do some square breathing, sometimes it helps me.
JB: I’ve never heard of square breathing. How do you do it?
MS: You breathe in for four and you hold your breath for four, you breathe out for four and you hold for four. So then the idea is like, it’s four sides, like a square. And it helps activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which then helps calm down the sympathetic nervous system, which is our fight or flight response.
JB: Megan, you have what many considered to be a pretty high pressure job: you’re a prosecutor. How does anxiety fit into that? And how does CBT fit into that?
MS: It’s tricky, right? Because I’m very open about having generalized anxiety disorder, I often feel like I might as well wear a placard.
JB: Maybe we should start making those.
MS: Hello. My name is and I have GAD.
JB: Yeah, exactly.
MS: So I’m quite open about it at work and so most people know that. The key for me is catching myself, when anxiety’s amping up for me or when I’m engaging in anxious behaviour. So it’s hard to know because sometimes you, like for example, I write a legal argument. And they proofread it, you know, and I proofread it a few times. Well that’s normal, but when it’s getting to the point where I can’t sign the document because I feel like I have to start reading that document 10 times before I’ll put my signature on it. Um, each time that I go back and reread it and I’m not trusting myself that I just increased my anxiety.
JB: Yeah. That’s pulling into a bit of the OCD, I guess.
MS: Yeah, exactly. So there’ll be times like that, or sometimes I’ll be in court and as you know, a judge will say something and I’ll get really tripped up on maybe the tone and then afterwards when I’m debriefing to myself or to my colleagues I get fixated on it.
JB: Yeah. Yeah.
SB: So I can get sidetracked by things that other people don’t get sidetracked by, and if I expressed my concerns to them they’ll be like, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it’. Or ‘no, don’t be silly’, but they don’t realize that I can’t just not worry about it.
JB: Yeah. If that was the case, then you wouldn’t be in the first place.
SB: Exactly. It’s not like I want to spend the time ruminating on it, but I’m stuck and I need a way to get out. If it’s, if it’s like being stuck in an endless cycle and unless it’s on how broken, you’re just not, you’re not going to get out of it.
JB: Yeah. So how did you connect with Anxiety Canada?
SB: Well as most people with anxiety I’ve had times where things have been under control and times when it hasn’t been. I had a real problem in January of 2018: I ended up having a significant anxiety crisis. I hadn’t had something that bad in a long time. My colleague started noticing it, and I started becoming more open about it. And then I started realizing that I wanted to do something. I figured that if I had this lived experience that I could do something positive with it. And I started trying to figure out how I could volunteer.
SB: Then I stumbled across this website for Anxiety Canada, and eventually I got in touch with Judith Law, I met her and I expressed that I really want to volunteer and I really want to help de-stigmatize anxiety. I want people to feel able to talk about it. And I would also like to at some point volunteer directly to help other lawyers.
JB: That’s great. And Anxiety Canada certainly appreciates what you do, and I certainly appreciate what you’ve done today by sharing on #OurAnxietyStories so honestly and candidly about your journey through anxiety. It’s really important, and it’s important for people in your discipline and it’s important for people everywhere that they hear people from all walks of life talking about what they’ve been through. And I really appreciate you sharing your story with me, Megan.
SB: Well thank you and thank you for having me, John. I appreciate you doing this even though I know it’s making you a little bit anxious.
JB: Thanks again Megan. Bye.