There is a long version of this story that I intend to tell one day but for now I’ll keep it simple: I am someone who has struggled with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks since about my senior year of high school. I have been on anti-depressants, attended countless therapy sessions, and have blacked out and lost time from being so worked up and stressed out. There’s been different stressors in my life at various points in time but a lot of it has stemmed from putting too much pressure on myself. Whether it was a friendship, school work, weight loss or something else altogether, I never handled failure or mediocrity in a healthy manner. It has taken me a long time to acknowledge and accept that, and there are still days when I forget. Mental health is still a journey for me, the road isn’t as bumpy as it once was but I still hit a pothole every once in a while.
What prompted this reflection of my mental health was a recent episode of the new show This Is Us entitled Jack Pearson’s Son. The rest of this blog post is going to contain some spoilers so if you’re not caught up and avoiding them, I’d stop reading here.
I connected with Randall Pearson within the pilot episode, even though we present as very different people. Randall is a middle aged Black man, adopted when he was an infant, married with two children, working in a corporate atmosphere. I am a twenty something white girl who was raised by my biological mother and non-biological father, I have no siblings, children, or a husband (just a beanstalk), and I definitely do not work in a corporate atmosphere at the moment. But I saw myself in Randall in his goofy interactions, his slight awkwardness, and just something about the way he held himself.
I watched Randall go meet his biological father in that first episode and my head played an old scenario of what I would say to my father if I ever chose to knock on his door. Randall’s initial anger resonated with me, even though our situations were still remarkably different.
As the show carried on, I became more and more attached to this middle aged man and his story. Flashbacks of Randall’s childhood made me fall deeper in love with this character as I watched him struggle through the changes in his life regarding school and the differences he had from his siblings. But it was in the fifteenth episode where Randall begins to suffer from a major panic attack that I found myself in this character once again, in a way that raw and full. While not all my attacks have been quite so painful, there have been a few that have knocked me on my ass in this way. To see a tv show take the time with their character and show the growing difficulty in even the most minute actions was powerful and so meaningful to me.
I’ve struggled to make a simple phone call just like Randall did.
I’ve missed something because I’m lost in my head just like Randall did.
I’ve sat on the floor and sobbed until I thought I was having a heart attack just like Randall did.
I sat there speechless, watching this episode go between their main characters as it always does, watching Randall’s anxiety grow with each new scene until he could not function. I know it’s not the first time media has portrayed a character having an anxiety attack but it was the continuous build on this one that stuck with me more than any other portrayal I have personally seen.
More and more, with strong initiatives and powerful voices, mental illnesses are being recognized as real illnesses but there is still a far way to go. There is still stigma and discrimination, still people who think you just need to suck it up and be happy, still people who just don’t understand. But to see a popular new show tackle this issue intimately in all it’s gory details is truly important to me. It puts a face to some of my experiences and it was a reminder that I am not alone. You are not alone. You are not the only person in the world who feels this way, it’s raw, it’s real, and it does not make you any less of a person. Try to remember that.
This episode has also made me reevaluate the way I feel about Randall’s brother Kevin. I have had a love/hate relationship with pretty boy Kevin Pearson since the pilot. My distance from Kevin has come mostly from the fact that I’ve never been able to relate to him. Sure, I have just as many differences with Randall as I do with Kevin but I couldn’t seem to find the bridge between us. There were rare moments when he made me smile, but overall he’s just frustrated me throughout the season. But now, I imagine Kevin and I are definitely going to have a different relationship and it’s all because of one scene in 1.15. My mom summed it up best while we were watching, with five simple words:
“You can’t hate him now.”
She was right, even though I denied it at first. As I watched Kevin leave the opening night performance of his play to be with Randall I began to see not myself in Kevin, but instead the many people in my life who have put their lives on pause and helped me. I saw friends and loved ones who sat up with me in the middle of the night talking about everything and nothing just to calm me down, I saw my parents who put their relationship and their own well-being on the back burner to take care of me, and I saw the people who have stuck with me when I was hardly responsive and drifting in and out of my own awareness. The Kevins in my life are equally as important as my identification with Randall for they’re the ones who have helped me through it all.
I am so glad this show got another two seasons. It has showcased in just sixteen episodes some of the best writing I’ve seen in a long time. I’m still mad about this whole situation with Chris Sullivan wearing a fat suit but every show has its problems and that problem is minor in my opinion compared to some of the stuff they tackle. If you aren’t watching This Is Us, I cannot possibly recommend it enough or say too many great things about it. This show, the performances given by each and every one of the actors, and the stories of the Pearson family, are just something I wouldn’t want to miss out on.
Photo credit to NBC