When Katie Hawkins-Gaar becomes anxious her brain won’t shut up. It plays out the worst-case scenario on a continuous, lurid loop. The worry, the self-doubt and self-criticism all vie to be heard, and drown out hope of tuning in to thoughts that might bring peace or calm.
It can be miserable, and at its worst – about five or six years ago when the US journalist was working in a high-stress role at CNN – it was near constant.
Thankfully the Florida woman had another constant in her life: her husband, Jamie.
A coffee shop worker who dreamed of directing films, Jamie was better for Katie’s anxiety than anything else. As she explained during a recent CreativeMornings lecture series, “he talked me off the ledge when I was overwhelmed, he gave me a million reasons to laugh and smile… He was my number one fan, even when I felt like I was acting crazy.”
But on February 4, 2017, one mile from the finish line of his second-ever half-marathon, Jamie collapsed and died. Katie and his loved ones would later learn that he suffered from a rare heart condition that would have been almost impossible to detect before the event. He was just 32 years old.
It was then that Katie’s anxiety collided with something similarly crippling: grief. Yet as she shares in a Q&A with Mamamia below, it’s through Jamie’s loss that she has finally learned how to manage her anxiety and start living again.
Tell us about your relationship with Jamie. What was it like to be with him?
He was the best husband — incredibly supportive, loving and always looking for ways to improve. We had a wonderful relationship that was built on a tonne of communication, love, respect and laughter.
At the time of Jamie’s death we had been married for eight years and were in the process of adopting a baby. He was super excited about becoming a parent; we talked about it all the time.
He would have been an incredible dad.
How has your experience of anxiety changed since his death?
When my anxiety was really bad a few years back, Jamie was my rock. He was great at helping me break down big things when I got overwhelmed, and could spot an oncoming panic attack a mile away. He would suggest things like bubble baths, walking our dog together, or watching a mindless movie. He was the best at helping me turn off my brain when it was running a mile a minute.
So you’d expect that when Jamie died, I’d be a total wreck. And I am, in a lot of ways, but not as much when it comes to anxiety.
When Jamie died, it was like something in my brain clicked and I finally realised that I could practice all those lessons that he taught me over the years. Now when I get overwhelmed or extra hard on myself, I try to stop and channel Jamie. What would he do for me in that moment? How would he talk to me?