If you’re not watching NBC’s This Is Us on Tuesday nights, you are missing out my friends. We have fallen in love with this family and their stories. I could go on and on about all the reasons I love this show and why we never miss an episode. But last week, Tuesday night took us to a whole new level. Randall, played by Sterling K. Brown, had a panic attack and This Is Us got it right. Anyone who struggles with anxiety must have had chills and tears running down their face, like I did, watching the scene unfold. But more importantly, people who do not suffer from anxiety may have had their eyes opened.
Panic attacks are terrifying and can be absolutely debilitating. This Is Us showed their audience last week what anxiety looks like, feels like and how it changes the dynamics in your life and those around you. More importantly, This Is Us showed people who do not suffer from anxiety what it’s like. And they didn’t show the disorder in a mess of a character who doesn’t have their life together, but in a successful, responsible family man. The show took an often misunderstood and embarrassing disorder and revealed it for the hard truth that it is. If you suffer from panic or anxiety, it was comforting but to the people who do not suffer, it was revealing in the best ways.
I have struggled with anxiety many times. Most occasions it’s manageable, I have friends and a husband who can talk me down. I’ve learned how to stop the fearful thoughts before they progress, how to reroute my mind when I’m headed into dark territory. At 36-years-old, I have the tools and support system to handle your regular, run of the mill anxiousness that most people have experienced. But there have been moments when all the life skills, all the talking down, and all the coping mechanisms can’t bear the weight.
After we had lost our son, I left a basket full of groceries in the store; I went running out of HEB. I remember how thankful I was that I was able to move my legs that day because sometimes, anxiety is paralyzing. That same year, after a D&C surgery a month after delivering our son, I was attacked by a pack of dogs on my first outing from home. Then my grandmother died. In my last conversation with her, she had told me how she was looking forward to heaven so she could see her husband, her son, and mine. The obituary read she was preceded in death by my grandfather, my father, and my son. That day, my legs did not work.
Nothing worked in fact, especially my lungs. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move, my heart was beating so fast, I thought my chest would explode. I was choking, my pulse amplified through my ears and I could feel the intensity of my blood pressure hammering my insides. I didn’t know what was going on; I was confused and terrified. I had a full blown panic attack. My husband was encouraging me to breathe and I couldn’t remember how. I could see the worry on his face, but I couldn’t hear his voice. I was helpless. I was the only one who could stop it, and I couldn’t save myself. I couldn’t believe I lived through it. The fear, the pain, the inability to do anything, the complete loss of control is shocking.
Now imagine being afraid that would happen again, every day, all the time. Imagine being anxious about everything even without a traumatic event to stir up the fear. Imagine not knowing the triggers, because anything could be a trigger. For many people that is the kind of anxiety and panic they face, every single day. Now imagine your spouse, friends or family don’t understand it, they want you to control it and to get it together. Imagine hiding it from your employer, friends, and children all while trying to live a “normal” life.
This Is Us showed us not only what it is like, but also what you need. Someone to come along side you with comfort, to believe you and help you. Well done This Is Us, thank you for changing the conversation. The more we remove the stigmas of mental health issues and share the challenges and the support, the better. Grab the tissues and become a fan because This Is Us, just might change your perspective.
Click here to see the powerful scene from This Is Us and find more information on anxiety here. Most importantly, listen, share your stories, be kind and open minded and please, believe one another.