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The Brutal Depiction of Anxiety on 'This Is Us' Is Its Biggest Gutpunch Yet

By Courtney Enlow | TV | February 20, 2017 | Comments ()

By Courtney Enlow | TV | February 20, 2017 |


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Last week on This Is Us, Randall broke our hearts yet again.

Overwhelmed by William’s nearing death, lingering abandonment issues, resentment over his mother lying to him about the identity of his biological father, the pain of losing a dad for a second time, all while trying to be a parent and successful professional adult, Randall falls apart. And the way he falls apart is so real and familiar that it has haunted me for days.

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His anxiety manifests first as a shaky hand and mild outbursts, followed by shame. He’s not speaking properly, getting words mixed up from being so distracted. He becomes overwhelmed at work, dropping the ball on important projects. The harder he tries to take control and get back on track, the farther off he veers.

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By the time his brother Kevin figures out Randall needs help, Randall is practically catatonic, crushed under the weight of his brain and body’s reaction to what’s going on in his life.

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In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, creator Dan Fogelman discussed Randall’s struggle.

“Anxieties manifest themselves in many different ways for different people. For anybody who’s ever had even the simplest of panic attacks — which are never really simple — it can be a really devastating thing. You can feel and experience physiological symptoms that are so real that they show themselves with tics. And it’s a very serious thing. People build their lives based on avoiding them or dealing with them, and he’s had some form of a breakdown in the past, which we’ll explore a little further. And if it’s rearing its head, it can be a very dangerous thing.”

For those of us who live with an anxiety disorder, we know it’s vastly more than “just in your head.” Everything in your racing mind feels real and then it becomes a physical reality. To function in normal life can become impossible. And if you’ve noticed I haven’t been around much this month, this is why.

Anxiety is a pit. And you claw so frantically trying to free yourself that you only succeed in pulling the soil and dirt down around you, making the hole deeper and suffocating yourself in the process.

A lot of people with anxiety are also overachievers, desperate to succeed, like Randall. It becomes a circle of cause and effect. You panic attempting to maintain perfection to the point you completely lose the ability to maintain that perfection and you panic as it dwindles away, and on it goes in a constant failure loop until it finally crashes around you.

I’ve been in this pit for a couple months now. I don’t know when I’ll get out. But I’m climbing now rather than clawing. That will likely be Randall’s journey as well.

It was the most realistic depiction of anxiety I’ve seen on television, and its impact hit me harder than even the most shocking heart attack or dead Milo Ventimiglia reveal.


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