Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Crippling Anxiety

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 25, 2010

     “Dr. Vollmer, you have no idea how hard it is for me to sit in front of you,”  my patient Jane says. Jane is a 45-year-old woman who I have worked with intensively for 15 years. By intensively I mean that for ten of those fifteen years I saw her multiple times a week. Yet, despite our many hours together, each visit still brings up overwhelming anxiety. Fundamentally, Jane does not feel entitled to be part of the world. She is the youngest of four children, but her three older siblings were born close together. There is eight years between her and her next sibling. Her mom was profoundly depressed when Jane was born, since Jane’s maternal grandmother had passed away when Jane’s mom was pregnant with Jane.

     I have theorized that Jane is crippled with anxiety, partly for genetic reasons,  partly because her parents never made her feel like an important part of her family. Jane always felt, and she still feels, like her family was burdened by her birth. This feeling of being a burden has spilled over into every other aspect of Jane’s life. That is, wherever Jane goes, she feels that other people do not like her.

    I want to help Jane. I have gone to many hours of supervision, looking for new ways to work with Jane so she can feel more comfortable in my presence. Jane remains unbelievably anxious. At the same time, Jane and I both look forward to our time together. Jane reads my blogs, and like many of my folks, she finds them to be comforting for her. She appreciates looking into my thinking process in a way that helps her to feel connected to me in between our sessions. She looks forward to coming in and talking to me about my posts. I look forward to seeing her. Each visit I wonder how I can help her to feel comfortable in my presence so that we can go deeper into her dynamics.

     Years of working with Jane has taught me that I cannot take away her anxiety, not even her anxiety about our sessions. I need to tolerate her anxious and uncertain state. I need to tolerate that sometimes, more times than not, Jane cannot finish a sentence because she is too busy worrying what I am thinking. I used to try to fix that. Now, I accept it. I used to challenge her anxiety by asking her why she so firmly believes that I think negatively about her. Now, I realize that challenge is not helpful; it only makes her more anxious. I feel Jane’s anxiety. Jane appreciates that. It is a first step.

6 Responses to “Crippling Anxiety”

  1. Shelly said


    Once again your blog gives me insight into myself and how our behaviors as parents can have long-term effects on our children. It must be conforting for Jane to know that you care about her and want to help her feel comfortable in your presence.

    The most interesting parts of your blogs are when we get to see the thought processes behind the psychiatrist.

    • Shirah Vollmer said


      • I really feel jane`s pain, I was the youngest of 10 and i don`t ever remember getting hugs or anything that would make me feel loved. My mother was always too busy with household chores, cooking and you never heard the words i love you, you were just supposed to know that you were loved even if you never heard it. my father whom i loved with all my heart, died when i was 7, and on boxing day, 1972. After my father died my mother tried committing suicide a total of 4 times, two of which i found her unconious, i have numurious stories of pain, in mine and my whole family`s life. Im 47 now and still have those terrible fears and feelings that go back to when i was really young. I would love to tell my story if only someone had the time to listen.

  2. April said

    I am intrigued. My childhood sounds strikingly similar to Jane’s (youngest of four, older siblings born close together, I came 7 years later, my grandmother died when i was 3 and my mother was very depressed and seemingly burdened by my arrival), and I am Jane’s age. I, too, suffer from anxiety, though I do not feel as anxious with my therapist as Jane appears to feel. I ahve a career and a daughter, yet I still have issues with anxiety, now compounded by PTSD from an abusive relationship. I would like to know more about Jane and about coping with anxiety.

    • Hi April,
      Welcome to my blog. It is nice to have your input. Thanks for sharing your story. I will think about how to continue with the Jane thread. Coping with anxiety is a life-long process, so I am glad you are pointing me in that direction. Thanks! Shirah

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