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Crossing the Gulf: Leanna Weaver Learned to Calm the Waves of Terror and Take Back Her Life

26 July 2006

By Leigh Woosley

Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of five articles looking at the complex problem of anxiety disorders, the most prevalent mental health disease in America.

Leeanna Weaver is toasting with a glass of white wine at an outdoor café in southern France. Her curly auburn hair is pulled away from her smiling face, and her green eyes are glowing.

She is there and in the moment, an event to be celebrated after fighting anxiety for years.

The picture taken on a March trip to the Cote d'Azur with girlfriends is testament that the 46-year-old Weaver has control over the generalized anxiety and panic disorders she was diagnosed with more than a decade ago.

Even more vivid is Weaver's description of her anxiety - because it still comes - compared to years ago when a salvo of worry sparked a drawn-out wave of panic attacks and depression.

Today, worries float in and out of her thoughts, but she doesn't cede control. Panic comes. She doesn't give in. Anxiety stirs. She won't allow it between her and the nectar of life.

Weaver proves that an anxiety disorder can be deposed from power. She manages the problem without medication and instead takes a natural approach of exercise, yoga, meditation and relaxation exercises.

These are tools she first learned in therapy and has since honed.

Natural remedy

Studies have proven medication is successful in treating anxiety disorders, and many of those affected find remedy in various prescription drugs.

Weaver hasn't sworn off medicine and remains open to it if the anxiety bubbles over.

But for several years, she has controlled the spills while dealing with life's tribulations. She recovered five years ago from thyroid cancer that required surgery and radiation.

She had to accept her son's struggle with depression and anxiety.

"I'm pretty high-strung, and I'm well-organized," Weaver said over coffee at a local café. "I like to know what's coming. Of course life is not like that, and it's hard for me to accept that. But little by little, and with more life experiences, I'm more willing to let go of that control."

Years of work to manage her anxiety have paid off in the peace she feels today.

Weaver celebrated a 24th wedding anniversary recently with her husband, Jim. He lights up when she walks into a room, and brags about her wonderful pies and a dip so good a friend asked to be embalmed with it.

Now Weaver travels overseas. At one point in her life, she made last-minute excuses to avoid an evening out and more than once was too overwhelmed to stay in a grocery store.

Weaver is a librarian at Marshall T. Moore Elementary School. She in Broken Arrow. She and a dozen other book-loving women have met and read together for 11 years. She organized the book club as a therapeutic goal, part of her campaign to puncture the bubble of isolation that her anxiety created. Hope came 12 years ago when she began seeing Jane Vantine, a therapist and director of the YWCA of Tulsa's Women's Resource Center, where she specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

Weaver took a year off work - a financial sacrifice for her and her husband - and saw Vantine for individual and group therapy.

Through the process, Weaver learned the "growing feeling of doom" - a manifestation of anxiety she's carried since childhood - was not her fate but a treatable condition.

The condition was an anxiety disorder, a term Weaver had heard little about at the time. People just didn't talk about it, she said.

Since childhood

She was an anxious child and teenager - anxious in crowds, at restaurants, anywhere in public. Her incessant worry was explained away as the attribute of a "nervous child," she said, instead of the budding anxiety disorder it turned out to be.

"I remember not really knowing what was wrong with me but knowing something wasn't right," she said. "Of course it was never diagnosed. There was no medical recognition, I think, of anxiety disorders."

Instead she lived beneath a hum of anxiety that culminated in panic attacks when her only child, now 20-year-old Dylan, had serious health problems as a young child.

"I felt very overwhelmed and afraid," Weaver said. "I started having all the body symptoms you get with anxiety - the fast heartbeat, the pounding and crushing feeling in your chest. My blood pressure would go up. I had some real issues for a while."

Fueling the pressure was Weaver's intense schedule filled with motherhood, graduate school and part-time teaching at Tulsa Community College, then called Tulsa Junior College. She once had a panic attack during class.

"I remember shutting myself in the bathroom stall, shaking uncontrollably and thinking I was going to have a stroke," Weaver said.

It grew more difficult for her to go the store, show up to appointments or see friends. She knew she needed help.

"I felt like there was a veil between me and the world," Weaver reflected. "Things were just not right. I felt very different from everyone else and like nobody really understood. I could remember times when I was taking a shower and all I could think was, 'Am I crazy? Am I crazy? Am I crazy?'

"It was really horrible. I just thank God I found Jane (Vantine) and heard stories from other people, and started doing the work, and reading and just taking baby steps."

Never give up

Vantine teaches clients that fear and anxiety are reactions that can be controlled with relaxation, self-examination and changes in lifestyle. The therapist supports the use of prescription drugs, but Weaver chose not to use any medications.

She began to talk anxiety down instead of letting her mind run with it.

Weaver took up exercise, and it reduced her anxiety. Now she works out six times a week for at least 30 minutes and practices yoga.

Her progress was frustratingly slow. Weaver at times felt like giving up.

She would become enraged at the work, the effort, of dealing with an anxiety disorder.

But giving in wasn't a viable option.

Panic still comes and tries to take control, but Weaver doesn't allow it. She has the mental tools to fight. The difference today is a shift of power.

This may not be a cure, if a cure even exists for anxiety disorders, but it is a remedy that allows her to travel to beautiful places.

Some are in cafes across the Atlantic Ocean, and others are with people just across her kitchen table.


If you or someone you know struggles with anxiety, help is available.

The Mental Health Association of Tulsa offers resources to treat anxiety and an anxiety disorders support group, which meets at 6:30 p.m. the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at 1870 S. Boulder Ave. It is free and open to the public. For help or more information, call 585-1213 or visit

Other helpful resources:

Anxiety Disorders Association of America:

National Institute of Mental Health on anxiety disorders:

American Psychiatric Association:

Freedom from Fear:

Copyright 2006. Used with permission from Leigh Woosley and Tulsa World.

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