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Q&A: Cleveland Teen Shares How She Overcame Trauma And Anxiety In Podcast

When "Morning Edition" host Amy Eddings was a kid, she longed for an owners' manual for life, with chapters on how to make friends and how to get your brothers to stop bugging you. The podcast "We Got You" aims to be that kind of a guide. Created by two Northeast Ohioans, Halle Petro of Highland Heights and Brandon LaGanke of Hudson, it's from TRAX, a podcast network for preteens, and it offers advice to tweens and teens from teenagers who've already been there.

The latest episode features 18-year-old Jayla VanHorn from Cleveland. The Slavic Village native is the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio's 2020 Cleveland Youth of the Year and she's a freshman at The Ohio State University, studying to be a sports journalist. On the podcast, she talks about anxiety and dealing with trauma. She spoke with Eddings about her experiences.

You chose to talk about some tough stuff. Why did you choose to talk about these topics?

I chose to talk about these topics because I feel that a lot of our youth goes through these things today, and I kinda want to give them some insight on how to appropriately handle those things instead of dealing with them in a negative manner.

What caused your anxiety?

I grew up in a single-parent household. My mother, she deals with depression a lot. And it caused her to do things that weren't appropriate for parents to do or how to treatyour child, like physical and verbal abuse. I was a very smart kid. I was in school 24/7, I loved school. It was like my safe haven because home wasn't. And when I was in school in fifth grade, I was about 10 years old, and an incident happened where a student had sexually assaulted me. I didn't know really how to handle all my emotions because I was so young. And so that's when my anxiety really increased.

Out of all of this, you developed a hair-pulling disorder called trichotillomania. How did that help you deal with your anxiety?

It helped me release my stress. I know it sounds crazy, like, how does pulling your hair help you release stress? But that's what it did for me, for some reason. When I was younger, it was mild, it wasn't nothing very serious. I would just do it when I got nervous. But — I didn't pull it from the scalp — but then as I got older, it began to increase more. And that's when I began pulling, you know, from the scalp and from my skin where you could physically see that there was hair missing and things like that.

You talk in the podcast about how your friends noticed you were behaving differently. They saw that you had pulled out an eyebrow. They urged you to talk to an adult, which you did. And you and I have talked about how that led to lots of consequences that you really had wanted to avoid. 

Yes. When it happened, I didn't really want to tell anyone. And when I did tell a school counselor, it was her duty, of course, to report it to the school and it ended up blowing up in my face. It was a lot. I had to go through the court system, whether or not I wanted to press charges, and it was hard for me because as a kid — you're 10 years old, you know, you don't want to see anyone get into trouble.

And yet, it was the absolutely right thing to do. It's what you tell other kids to do, to speak up and talk about what is going on with them.

Yes, definitely, definitely. I'm glad that I did say something about it because I'm 18 now and I don't have to live my life wondering, what if I didn't say anything? And it allowed me to move on with my life.

So, Jayla, what would you tell your younger self?

The advice that I would give 10-year-old me is, I would tell myself don't let that one moment or experience, you know, define who you are. Like, there's millions of experiences you can create. It's easy to give up, of course, but to me, what's hard is persistently telling yourself, like, despite what is going on right now, you know, I will and I can overcome this no matter what I am going through right now.

And your disorder? How do you deal with it now?

So, with my disorder, I usually wear a rubber band around my wrist and when I get that urge to wanna pull my hair out, I just flick the rubber band on my wrist and it kinda reassures me, like, you know, 'Don't do that,' [laughs] Like, 'Don't, don't even try it!' There are other methods, of course. Squeezing a ball and things of that nature, but I don't want to walk around with a ball in my hand 24/7, squeezing it. So I just keep this rubber band around my wrist, and I just pull it whenever I get the urge.

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