An Anxious Anecdote

It seems almost every time I take to my computer and clack away at the keyboard to write, it’s sparked by some form of life changing event; be it retiring from a sport I had dedicated over a decade to, graduating college, or losing a loved one, I wind up drawing together some amount of collected thought, developing something internally profound and presenting it in a loosely organized manner that hopefully a few people can power through — often with a call-to-action to boot! This is no different, but it is the likely most important collection of words I’ve strung together yet.

A recent episode of This is Us has been making its rounds on the internet lately, accompanied by an equally ubiquitous Huffington Post article by Lindsay Holmes detailing the accuracy with which show portrayed the crippling reality of anxiety attacks. I’ve seen it reposted a number of times on Twitter and Facebook, and while I wouldn’t grant it true virality, I have to praise all those involved in helping spread the message (even if it comes with a sponsored plug for Chevrolet, so don’t forget to buy a Silverado…or whatever).

This anecdote aims to lift yet another proverbial weight off my chest, and encourage individuals to go beyond the mere “O man, that’s some real shit.” reaction to the This is Us episode, to proactively support those around them coping with the same frustrating reality of anxiety. Better yet, if this reaches anyone who can relate, I pray that they open up about it and don’t deal with it alone!

My first panic attack came in late October, the second came the day before Thanksgiving, the third on December 4th, again on December 8th, again on the 17th, and most recently on February 11th. Each one as seemingly random and senseless as the last. For the TV show, they serve the story perfectly and make it easier for the audience to understand. These attacks represent exasperated symptoms of something more subtle and diabolical; they’re the thorns of a creepy plant whose roots run much much deeper.

Whether it’s truly just been these past 5 months or more subtly the past 5 years, I don’t know. Ask anyone from my college years and you’ll know I took it upon myself to deal with issues on my own, internalizing stress in what I thought was the best and most logical method. As a varsity athlete in a Division 1 sport, what other choice did I have? Turns out a lot, but my pride was too great for me to recognize it. I still excelled in my sport and academics, and had a healthy social life, so what really did I have to worry about? Fast forward to Fall/Winter 2016, attempting to adjust to a cross-country move, timidly reentering the intimidating (and vast) singles realm, along with typical work stress, topped off with the loss of a family icon…let’s just say internalizing the stress wasn’t working.

The family motto, “suck it up and go,” means well and holds value, but hasn’t ever really been explained well and is misperceived more as“shut up and go.” I have no stats on this, but the general consensus I see and hear online when it comes to dealing with depression and anxiety, is just that. Perhaps not a curt as “shut up,” but brushed off nonetheless. It’s not that simple though. It’s not just “be happy,” “appreciate your life,” “this is just a phase,” “you’ll cheer up eventually,” because it’s about so much more. I don’t count myself depressed or unhappy, I have so much to be thankful for, so much to love, to much to look forward to, and so much to share. For fuck’s sake, I HAVE A CORGI (he’s amazing). Life in many ways is great, but like depression, anxiety isn’t logical. It’s not what you think it is or think it should be. It doesn’t care that things are good or bad. It’s just there.

Two Panels of KC Green’s “On Fire

Anxiety is a like being wrapped up in a blanket, except the blanket is freezing cold, and you’re wrapped so tight that your feet get uncomfortable, and then you can’t unwrap yourself and then you’re rolling around and then holyshitwhycantigetoutofthisblanketijustwantedtogotobed AH! It’s being in an every day normal situation that you know is in fact an every day normal situation, and you have literally nothing to worry about, but for some reason a cloud with a bit of mist (not rain) is hovering over your head just to make you uncomfortable. It’s like receiving a visit from a shady door-to-door salesmen that you uncontrollably said “uh yeah come in” for no explainable reason, and he goes to your living room to sit their quietly and well…make you anxious as you look for a way to get him out, but damn you just have no words. It’s just there.

On the best days, there’s nothing. On good days, there’s maybe a little something that triggers some form of dark thought but you preoccupy your mind with activities and work and move on.

On bad days any number of triggers arise to permeate for as long they’d like. The worst days may look like a panic attack, but that could be something different every time. It can be an overwhelming since of doom, that spikes your heart-rate and drives you into short lived internal hysteria. It can be numb hands and blurred vision, with pressure on your chest like a 100lb weight. It can be, as Randall depicts, dissociation, shortened breath, crying. It can be so many things. But these things, if handled don’t have to be life crippling. It doesn’t have to ruin your day-to-day lifestyle, and shouldn’t. Randall is obviously a ‘success’ by modern standards, and lives what many would consider a happy and comfortable lifestyle (if a little disfunctional). I may not be driving $100,000 Mercedes S-Class like him, but I am pursuing my dreams in Los Angeles and seizing an opportunity many never have the chance to attempt. But the anxiety looms at some point or another. It’s just there.

What’s important to note, is that it’s all OK.

There is nothing to be embarrassed about. Nothing to be ashamed of. Nobody dealing with anxiety or depression is less of human, less capable, less intelligent, strong, important or loved. What about a burden? Nope. Annoying? Nope nope. Helpless? Hell no.

One of Sarah Anderson’s numerous anxiety themed comics (she’s the bomb)

Helplessness is a clouded perception left largely untouched by the media and pop culture. Until now. As Holmes states on Huff Post, any time an influential vehicle like a critically acclaimed TV show, movie, or celebrity comes out supporting the cause is a step in the right direction. Recognizing that I was dealing with something beyond what I could understand, and quickly seeking assistance through my family, friends, mentor, and even a counselor, was the best decision I could have ever made. And I’m open about it with my roommates and colleagues. People will not shy away from you if they are truly your friend. Having that support system is crucial. Which is why I hope any of you reading this far (chopping their way through spelling error, comma splice, run on sentence and rambled words galore, surely) hear those friends of yours out; understanding or offering advice isn’t even necessary, just listening and being there is huge. Even if you think it’s the littlest of things (and it really could be) listening with sincere attention could do the world of good.

There a host of things I do to curb the symptoms and push that shady salesmen out the door. Taking a break from work to walk outside, playing with my dog, deep breathing exercises, even some light meditating before bed (not what you think it is either, check out Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn, exceptionally good book on mindfulness). Exercising regularly will help for sure, I’ll get there eventually. But at the end of the day, seeing that episode of the show, hearing from friends after they saw it, seeing people take notice, and everything involving human interaction is the absolute best medicine. You can indeed “suck it up and go,” but sucking it up doesn’t mean standing silent. It means throwing away the pride or embarrassment, and being strong enough to seek assistance. You’re never as alone as you may feel.

Maybe this post does something for somebody. For somebody dealing with anxiety, maybe even depression. Maybe a friend or family member of somebody dealing with it. Maybe somebody with more eloquent writing skills and a larger platform?? Make sure to H/T me?

I’m happy I found the time to write this. I spent too many years not talking about what’s on my mind, and this sort of post is therapeutic. This is the sort of thing some people may call brave, which is great and I’ll admit it does take a bit to put yourself out there like this. But I’d like to live in a time when mental health illnesses, big and small, can be discussed like anything else you’d go to your doctor for. A time where it’s not brave but expected. We’re human, shit happens. Doesn’t mean you have to silently roll around in it.

One of these days I’ll write something fun. Like my thoughts on the playground of political satire 2017 is gonna be, or an assessment of the video game industry’s growth over the last decade, or some shit about sports. I dunno. One day. Until next time…thanks for reading.

-E

Author note: I fully recognize this post could be riddled with typos and grammatical error. Feel free to harass me over it. I’ll edit it sometime. It’s 2AM now and I wanna go to bed.