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‘This is Us’ Shines a Light on Anxiety Attacks

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I’m a pretty naturally anxious person. There are times when it is manageable. But there are other times when it consumes my world.

My first memory of it overwhelming me was when I was 11. I became so irrationally fearful of germs after a bad bought with a stomach virus that I could barely function. If I heard that someone was sick at school, I’d start to hyperventilate. Some students would bully me by touching or breathing on my food at lunch because they knew I wouldn’t (couldn’t) eat it. I’d wash my hands obsessively until they were cracked and dry.

This all led to my parents taking me to a psychologist and a diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. My parents didn’t particularly want to put their 11 year old on medication so instead I learned how to manage my symptoms through weekly therapy sessions for about a 6 months. I learned deep breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques.  With time, the overwhelming fear that came from the prospect of germs at every turn dissipated.  But my desire to control the world around me as much as possible and my sometimes violent bodily response when I felt like I was losing control did not.  It just shifted from germs to something a bit more easy to control (but no less at the whims of the universe)–my academic success.

I had to be the best at any cost to my own health or sanity.  It wasn’t some kind of narcissistic drive for power, but instead a fear that I was not anywhere close to being the best. That I’d fooled everyone to get even this far, and someone was going to figure it out.  But also that I needed to be the best to feel like I had any kind of worth in the world.

This lead to many nights in high school where my drive for success spun out of control and left me hyperventilating, crying at the computer, blind with internal rage, or screaming and thrashing nonsensically on my bed. My mother and father would try to talk logic to me. One grade isn’t that important. Nothing in school is more important than your health. You know this, you just need to calm down and think. But it did little good. I was too far gone into the black abyss of an anxiety attack.  The few things we found to work were my mom forcing me to take a half a Valium pill or if I wasn’t a harm to myself, to let me rage it out alone until I drifted into an exhausted sleep. This is not ideal, obviously. But I didn’t understand my own emotions, and my parents didn’t understand enough about mental health to really help.

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But this was my life as a teen and young adult. It wasn’t until I graduated college and got into therapy and on an antidepressant regime for issues with depression that I really started to understand what was happening. At first I thought it was all caused by depression, but I wasn’t depressed when I was 11 and diagnosed with OCD. At 22, I was still experiencing some of the same attacks where my chest would constrict, my thoughts would race, and I could work myself up into an irrational fit. At 11, it was about germs and whether or not I was going to throw up because of a stomach virus. At 22, it was much more complex than that. Sometimes it was just me sitting in church or going into a grocery store. I didn’t have school to stress about or try to control anymore so what was causing these overwhelming feelings?

With some research, I began to see that while depression was the overarching factor in my life (perhaps because I had lost any sense of control once graduating college?), high-functioning anxiety had been a constant companion for years. Most of the time, I didn’t even recognize that I had anxiety. I mean, yes, normal social anxiety, but not an anxiety disorder. Does someone with an anxiety disorder find as much success academically as I did? Does someone with an anxiety disorder give speeches and travel to new, uncontrolled places so easily? Well, you might think, no. But with high-functioning anxiety, it’s not like I’m curled up in a useless ball on the floor of my bedroom 90% of the time. I FEEL like that’s what I should be doing but very rarely do I actually give in to the constant buzz of anxiety in my head and belly. But when I do succumb, it’s bad.

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It’s the kind of the bad that I’m fearful of talking about or allowing other people to see.  Which is why when This is Us portrayed Sterling K. Brown’s character Randall’s overwhelming anxiety and subsequent attack, I was in awe. It was the first time I’ve ever seen in any kind of mainstream entertainment, a portrayal of anxiety like that. And what was great, was that it showed Randall’s experience as a high-performing teenager trying to make sure he was Valedictorian (something that hit all too close to home), and as a adult juggling family and work responsibilities.  In both instances, we find him crying, murmuring incoherently, trembling uncontrollably, and losing his sight. The outcome of his teenage attack is not revealed, but as an adult he’s shown in an almost catatonic state.

It’s ugly and painful on screen. It raises the questions: Why can’t he just let it go? Why can’t he ask for help? To someone who can think rationally, the solutions to his problems seem obvious.

But I know what it feels like. I know how irrational everything becomes when you get into that state. I know that it’s not a simple “let it go” or “ask for help.” (If it was, we’d have far less people suffering through anxiety).  

So I loved this episode of This is Us. I want to delve deeper into Randall’s high-functioning anxiety. We’ve now established it as a problem so let’s not just move on and forget about it. (That’s an all too common way of dealing with it in reality…until the next attack comes around). It obviously doesn’t have to be the main focus of the show, but it’s an important aspect of Randall’s character, and it gives the This is Us showrunners a great opportunity to bring mental health awareness and recovery to the mainstream rather than using it as a stereotype or easy plot point. Representation has power, but accurate and resolutionary representation has even more.

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There Seem to be No Happy Endings on The Vampire Diaries: Episode 08×11 Review

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If you haven’t seen The Vampire Diaries episode 08×11, then be WARNED! This post is full of SPOILERS!

 

I hate giving away spoilers, but this episode warranted a post BAD.

 

Are you still here? No complaining if you haven’t watched the episode!

 

So with just a few episodes left in this shortened final season of TVD, things had really started to look dire. No-Humanity-Stefan was ripping through bodies and had straight-up lost any long-held love for his brother.  And while the Sirens were finally out of commission, Cade was now in town, and I feel like we finally have a worthwhile villain this season. Not that cannibal sisters Sybil and Seline weren’t villainous, but they walked a razor-thin line between being potentially redeemable and just annoyingly evil. (As opposed to Cade’s bone-chilling, pure evil. I mean, he IS the keeper of hell so…)

Basically we had about a minute of “this might not turn out so bad” until Cade showed up and threw out an ultimatum and everything started to go downhill. But it wasn’t until nearly the end of the episode when we realized how FAR downhill it had actually gotten. We were in a veritable pit of no return. Because Stefan was going to kill Elena’s comatose body and Bonnie and Enzo were the only things standing in his way.

Which lead to two devastating things happening this episode: Bonnie giving Stefan the cure (to save herself), and Stefan ripping out Enzo’s heart.

I should have known that there was no happy ending in store for Bonnie and Enzo. I’ve watched 8 seasons of Bonnie getting the short end of the stick so why would anything change now?

Bonnie became my favorite character in season 6 when she fought her way back from the 1994 prison world. While I knew objectively that the previous 5 seasons had literally been Bonnie sacrificing things/people she loved or even herself, it wasn’t until season 6 where her true strength and spitfire came through. (06×13 “The Day I Tried to Live” where Bonnie contemplates suicide after the solitude of the prison world finally gets to her utterly broke my heart). Sometimes it feels like the whole “Bonnie and Elena’s lives are linked” so that Elena will sleep so long as Bonnie is alive thing is actually a metaphor for how Bonnie can’t have an interesting storyline on the show while Elena is around. Because she’s literally ALWAYS sacrificing something for her.

And with the loss of her BIG LOVE Enzo, it’s once again happened. So I honestly don’t blame her for shoving the cure into Stefan and essentially ruining Damon and Elena’s human future together. (Arguably, she saved their future because if she hadn’t stopped Stefan, he would have killed Elena and Damon’s ability to take the cure would have been useless at this point anyway.)

But just…WHY!? Why does this always happen to Bonnie?

On the upside, that little “whoosh” of air as she wept over Enzo’s desiccated body sure looked like her magic might have returned. And it sets up the last five episodes of the season for a showdown in hell.  

So basically, if we’re not going to get a Bonnie/Enzo happily ever after, here’s what I predict/hope/want.

Our heroes break into hell and 1.) destroy Cade and 2.) destroy his hell prison and save all our friends over the years who inevitably would have been sent there after the “Other Side” was destroyed at the end of Season 5. Something like this seems to be suggested from all the behind-the-scenes photos from set with deceased characters such as Tyler, John Gilbert, Aunt Jenna, and Vicki Donovan. And I want Badass Bonnie at the center of this prison break. While I really want her to have a happily ever after, this just doesn’t seem to be in the cards for her. So the next best thing in my opinion would be for her to be the amazing, cut-throat hero we’ve known she’s been all along. But no holds barred this time. I really want her to let Cade have it.  She’s had happiness ripped out from under her too many times at this point. It seems cruel.

However, knowing that Nina Dobrev promised to return for the final episode, I do worry that Julie Plec plans to martyr Bonnie in order for Elena to be awoken and we have our beautiful Delena end-game moment. Martyring Bonnie after EVERYTHING that’s happened is not something that I’d be okay with. She’s literally been the martyr the whole series. It’s so predictable! Not to mention, it sucks to be Bonnie if that’s the case. Not even a remotely mediocre ending for her. Geez!

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I also have to make a note about the Bonnie-Enzo relationship which I know not all the fans were on board with. I know I was certainly taken aback a bit when they started making out in episode 07×03 after the three year time jump. But after they showed the development of their relationship and the changes that Enzo made to his outlook on life for her and because of her, I was a total Bonnie-Enzo shipper.

I guess, at this point it should be noted that there are only 2 main ships on the show–Bonnie/Enzo and Caroline/Stefan. While I love Steroline’s friendship and the development of their romantic feelings I still always felt like Stefan was weirdly settling and that Caroline really belonged with Klaus, but that’s just me. I’m a big Klaroline shipper. So Bonnie-Enzo felt like a more organic ship for me to root for.

I like that Bonnie fell for a vampire–or rather that she fell for a guy and looked past his vampirism (which for someone who’s life has been ruined by vampires over and over, that’s a pretty big step). But I also love that Enzo was willing to become human for her. Their relationship mirrors that of Damon and Elena quite a bit. Damon and Enzo are both the “bad boys.” And Bonnie and Elena know they function best as humans (as compared to Caroline who made it very clear in 08×11 that she was a better person because she was a vampire). But while Damon struggled with the prospect of becoming human for Elena, Enzo was willing to give up his immortality with barely a second thought if it meant spending his life with Bonnie. So despite all the horrid things Enzo has done since he was introduced, we see that he’s less of a flawed being than Damon in that simple action. Which is why, I mourn his death and the end of the beautiful relationship between Bonnie and Enzo.
Their relationship was short and chaotic, but it was pure in a way that Damon and Elena (while still my vote for end-game!) couldn’t achieve.  Damon and Elena always felt simultaneously right and wrong for each other because they consistently pulled each other in opposite directions. At the time of Elena’s sleeping spell, it looked like they finally might be going in the right direction, but when Bonnie and Enzo found each other, they made a much more effortless blending of paths. Which is why I think, Bonnie and Enzo might actually be my all-time favorite TVD couple.

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