Breakdowns are rough. The lead up is like inching up towards the highest peak of a rollercoaster, only you’re blindfolded and you don’t know when the drop will occur.
The hit family show This Is Us portrays the breakdown in the most relatable manner I have yet seen in television. The signs are so subtle, Randall’s hand starts twitching, he misplaces words and thoughts, eyes wondering all over the place to avoid looking at the problem right in the face.
There’s a moment at the end when Randall’s brother, Kevin, comes to his office late at night to find Randall in the middle of a breakdown. Randall is sitting in the corner of his office, silent tears streaming down his face; as Kevin sits besides him and holds Randall, he collapses.
I sat with tears as I watched this, thinking of a day that occurred 3 years ago in my senior year of college. The signs where there for days; I’d been impatient with my roommates whenever there were too many voices or topics of conversation going on at once, I’d been showering 3-4 times daily (it seemed to be the only place where I could listen to my mind without wanting to slam my head into a brick wall), and my nails were constantly picking at myself (scabs, nail polish, etc).
I felt like I’d been swimming in water with molasses slowly being added, making it harder and harder for me to move an inch forward without feeling exhausted. I had so many obligations to others, school, and my job that finding time for me was well near impossible. The time I did make for myself, I used to find and have my very last one night stand ever.
I walked into my senior thesis class dressed to unimpress. I clearly remember wearing sweatpants and a plaid flannel shirt, my curly hair was down and curled around my head like a cloud. I was thankful for my hair later, for it covered my face enough during my breakdown that few could see my face.
I won’t describe what happened, it’s still hard for me to talk about without feeling I’m reliving it. So I’ll give you a metaphor. I was an over-inflated balloon, full of anxiety and pressures that I was trying my hardest to keep condensed and contained. My classmates? They were the darts. They began slinging themselves at my balloon, holes started to spring in the surface and leak out my emotions. I try to patch them up and hold them over, but the darts don’t stop flying.
I don’t know how long the critiques took that day, it felt like hours of criticisms and complaints, all aimed towards myself and my friend (who was also a balloon at this time too). Who knows how long it took, but finally I popped.
I reached out and snatched my bag from the floor beside my chair and stood up so suddenly I almost knocked the chair over. I mumbled something like, “Excuse me” and burst out the door of the classroom.
I remember breathing. My breathing was so loud I was sure everyone I passed thought a wind was upon them. All I thought was “Keep moving and they won’t catch you. Lock yourself in and they won’t get you.”
I remember slamming into my dorm suite, three of my roommates looking up from the common room table to see me move past in a beeline for my bedroom, where I slammed the door and locked it.
I kept the light off because light showed to much, I didn’t want to see what I had turned into. It was the first time I’d walked out of a classroom, I was positive the professor was already calling my parents to tell them what a terrible student I was.
So I called the only person I knew exactly what I was feeling in that moment: My brother.
My brother, Will, had been struggling with anxiety for years. I’d seen him go through his own breakdowns, so I knew he could help me through mine.
“Hey Joy, what’s up?”
I don’t remember what I said, but it sounded a lot like a screaming harbor seal. I was sobbing and wailing, even I couldn’t make sense of it. My roommates were outside my door knocking, asking me if everything was okay. I wasn’t okay. My balloon finally burst, and like a popped blister everything hurt with every breath.
Will calmed me down, telling me to breathe. Just breathe in, hold, then slowly exhale. When that worked, I told him everything more coherently. Later my parents called and comforted me as well.
I sit here now watching Kevin hold Randall, and warm tears fill my eyes as I remember Will’s voice telling me gently to breathe. The thing about breakdowns is, you don’t know when they will happen; and when they do happen, having someone there to remind you to breathe makes all the difference in the world. My kudos and deep compliments to Sterling K. Brown for his superb acting and portrayal of anxiety and nervous breaks.
Find me on twitter @JoyPearson for more anxiety antics