Column: Anxiety on screen: ‘This Is Us’ accurately portrays panic attacks

Posted on Apr 12 2018 - 5:55am by Lexi Purvis

The problem with trying to describe anxiety is that it’s completely and utterly indescribable.

It’s that feeling when you’re sitting a little too far back in a chair, and it begins to tip over but you catch yourself before you fall. Your heart is racing, but you can’t seem to calm down, even though you never actually fell. That feeling of pure panic completely consuming your thoughts and entire body – that’s what it’s like to have a panic attack – sometimes lasts for hours or even days.

I was diagnosed with a generalized and social anxiety disorder when I was about 16, and at the time, I didn’t really know what that meant. As I got older, the panic attacks began to increase, and I became familiar with the debilitating pattern. People often believe panic attacks are for individuals who have some kind of specific fear, whether it’s heights or public speaking, but that’s not always the case.

Courtesy Huffington Post

There have been many occasions when I would be going about my day, feeling completely normal, and all of a sudden, I’d feel as if my brain had completely disconnected from my body. My heart would begin to race, I’d start hyperventilating and I would be consumed with paralyzing fear, despite nothing scary actually happening. Basically, my brain goes into fight-or-flight mode for no reason, and I can’t eat, sleep or talk. Sometimes I can’t even walk when it gets bad enough. These random episodes of anxiety have resulted in me being unable to leave my bed or even talk to anybody for hours or days at a time, which is something incredibly out of character for me. I’ve had to miss class because of these episodes, and this generally results in more anxiety – what teacher is going to believe I had to miss class for an anxiety disorder?

It’s hard to explain anxiety to someone who doesn’t have to deal with it. I’ve never been able to put into words exactly how it feels until I watched an episode of NBC’s hit show “This Is Us.” One of the main characters of the show, a successful African-American man named Randall, was adopted into a white family after being left in a fire station as as a newborn. Despite the rough start to his life, Randall becomes a brilliant man who eventually has his own family, a gorgeous house and his dream car. In one episode, Randall is attending his famous brother’s play when he becomes completely disconnected and walks out of the theater. Randall’s brother, Kevin, notices him leaving and knows what is about to happen. Kevin follows Randall to his office, where Randall, a tall, strong man, is curled up on the floor hyperventilating, crying and completely vulnerable. Kevin holds Randall as they wait out the panic attack together.

This moment in television was monumental – not only to me but also to the 40 million Americans who struggle with anxiety disorders, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Watching a capable, strong man like Randall become completely helpless in a state of utter terror was something that even I, a 21-year-old college student, can relate to all too well. This scene represented a moment that many who suffer from anxiety disorders have experience numerous times.

I remember watching the episode with my mom, who’s spent countless hours holding me as I sob and hyperventilate during my anxiety attacks while my brain tears itself apart, and she was also brought to tears. The pain that was so accurately depicted in “This Is Us” is real, and we’ve lived through it too many times.

For anyone who knows what it’s like to be completely helpless and have all the oxygen violently escape your lungs because your anxiety has completely taken over, I encourage you to watch this episode from “This Is Us.” I encourage you to talk about these struggles, and I encourage you to keep going.

Though life is hard and having an anxiety disorder is extremely difficult to cope with, there are resources available to help you through it. It cannot be done alone. Having a support system to be there for you – like Kevin is there for Randall – is incredibly important for overcoming anxiety attacks. For me, my best friend and my family, especially my mom, have been my support through this never-ending battle. Even if they can’t cure your anxiety, it’s easier to survive the loneliness of having an anxiety attack when comforted by someone you love.