This is such a meta topic to talk about. I’m talking about anxiety while having anxiety and the feelings that come with typing out this post. But that is how one deals with anxiety. You are simply oscillating between having it all together (or thinking you have it together) and having a mental breakdown in a matter of seconds. I can’t record myself typing this but I am sure that I will have multiple breaks in between in order to process what I am writing and taking a mental breather. Who needs a mental breather when it comes to posting?
I have always felt like a nervous sort my entire life. The nervousness doesn’t feel like a distant friend, but another side to my personality that I can feel rising within me when the going gets tough and I become overwhelmed. I can be in a calm mood, scrolling through the internet and once I see an image of something I need or want, I immediately feel this sense of worry and dread fill my body. The feelings come with thoughts as well. Thoughts that range from, “why don’t you have what they have?” “why aren’t you on their level of success?” to “you probably won’t be on their level even if you tried” and “what would you do if you even got that level of success?” Now, I know that most people go through these feelings from time to time, but this is a feeling that is omnipresent in almost every corner of my life. From the comprehensible to the mundane. I remember being a child in the grocery store with my mother and she gave me a shopping list for food to purchase. I started freaking out in the store because I wasn’t getting the food in the order that she wrote on the list. When things don’t go as planned, I cave in and freak out. When I feel a huge task coming that is confusing or hard, I freak out. When I feel abandoned, I freak out. Because life is supposed to follow this trajectory that the average person tells us it should, right? I didn’t notice how often these feelings affected me until recently. But the signs were there.
When I was released from the military, I reviewed my medical documents and I was shocked at how many times I was seen in the therapist's office for anxiety tendencies and moods. Each page told a story of my journey through the military and how my external feelings manifest themselves. I had seen therapists, psychiatrists, and other professionals that confirmed that I have anxiety and that it is something that has been a part of me my entire life. But it wasn’t until I saw a show that opened my mind, my eyes, and heart.
“This is Us” is a show that many people told me to watch and I decided to give it a shot. Immediately, I was drawn to the show’s story and the character’s lives. But there was one that I identified with more than any of the other characters, Randall. Now, you’re probably thinking that I identified with him because we’re both black and male but there's more to it than that. We’re both emotional creatures, we both had dreams of attending Howard University (he did, the jury is still out for me), we’re both considered a bit neurotic amongst our closest friends and relatives, and we both have this emotional response that I felt for years only happened to me.
In the scene, Randall is supposed to be attending the play of his brother of Jack but is in the office catching up on work. He looks at the clock, sees that he’s going to be late and won’t be able to keep the promise he made to his brother by attending the play. Suddenly, he begins to hyperventilate, his hands began to shake, one could assume that his heart was beating fast, and his vision becomes wonky. He picked up the phone with shaking hands to call his brother to tell him that he wouldn’t be able to make it. He called it “one of those things.”
Then a montage of flashbacks began to appear on the screen which I couldn’t take. Those images were too familiar to my life. A teenage boy sitting at the computer screen shaking and breathing fast because of a suspense date that may be missed, a young man on the floor crying and shaking because he feels his life isn’t going as planned. I didn’t know that what Randall was going through was a panic attack. That was what it was. I had one the week prior to watching in an airport bathroom. I had one in a parking lot of a restaurant and couldn’t move for 10 minutes, and I had one in the health clinic as I struggled to tell the therapist why I had so much stress in my life. It was shocking and disturbing to see myself reflected on a screen.
For years, people have told me that I stress out about life so much and that I have to calm down. That everything will be ok. My mother, my father, my past lover, and other friends have tried to get me to understand this simple idea and I have tried, but most times it's hard to remain calm and believe that it’ll all be ok. The scene continues and Jack rushes over to console Randall, to hold him and to make sure he knows that it will all be ok.
And that’s the important part of these stories and vignettes that I want you all to take from this: it will be ok. Anxiety is, “one of those things” but it isn’t the "thing" that defines who you are. Yeah, for those who go through it, it colors their personality and how they respond to the world, but it’s not their complete personality. I cannot speak for the entire community but I know that as someone who deals with anxiety, all I ask for from people and the universe is a sign that it will be ok. And even though I am on this road of understanding myself and this part of my personality, I know that in the end, it will all be ok. I just have to remember to breathe. Just breathe.