Friday, March 7, 2014

felicity and the dumbing down of anxiety

I started watching Felicity right after I had Duke because I really wanted "a show."  When Duke went through his nurse-for-45-minutes-to-an-hour phase, it became my nursing show.  It intrigued me as a pre-teen, but I didn't really think it was 6th grade level subject matter, so I never watched it.  But now, my totally mature 27 year old self loves watching all of these college kids find their way through the ups and downs of life at the "University of New York."

(I also have a special connection with Keri Russell.  After all, the reason I chopped all my hair off the summer before my junior year of high school was because that's what Felicity did.  Even though I hadn't seen the actual show, I thought Keri looked awesome.  And the idea of not having to deal with my ridiculously thick and spiral curled mane sounded really great.) 

I recently watched Episode 16 of season 3 when a tiny part of the plot had to do with Javier having a panic attack.  They rushed him to the hospital and after a series of tests, the doctor came in happily proclaiming that it was just a panic attack.  Javier was giddy with excitement at the results.  It wasn't a heart attack!  I'm not dying!

Last week as I was driving and listening to Delilah on 104.1, she came across a listener's anonymous letter about a struggle with anxiety.  Delilah was sweet as usual, but then she said something like, "But honey, we're human.  We all deal with anxiety.  You're not a unique case and you're not alone."

#594 on the list of things you never say to someone who deals with anxiety.

Now, I'm not dissing Felicity's take on panic attacks or Delilah's response to an anxious listener.  I'm just pointing out why sometimes it's hard for people who struggle with it to feel comfortable admitting it.  It's just a panic attack.  It's just anxiety like we all experience.  It can all get so dumbed down.

Hearing "you had a panic attack" was a really confusing moment for me.  It wasn't a conclusion, it wasn't an answer, and it wasn't a fix.  In fact, hearing "you had a panic attack" opened up a whole new can of worms.  Why did I have a panic attack?  Have I ever had one before?  Do things like this just happen to people?  Are there deeper issues that I haven't even uncovered yet?  Will I have panic attacks for the rest of my life?

Recognizing that you are a person who has had a legitimate panic attack or who is dealing with legitimate anxiety is really hard.  It's not the end of something, but rather the beginning. 

In my case, I was fortunate when I experienced my first panic attack and went through counseling for anxiety.  I was surrounded by 2 people in particular that understood exactly what I was dealing with.  Although it didn't lessen my pain or lessen the difficulty, at least I knew that someone genuinely understood.  So to any of you who feel like you don't have that person who really understands, I will gladly be that person for you.

If you are dealing with something like this, know that it's way better to press into the pain of it and get to the bottom of it.  It's best to talk to someone about it.  You can't keep it inside and you can't carry it alone.  Maybe you've felt silly because of things like Felicity episodes about panic attacks or Delilah's advice about anxiety.  Maybe comments or reactions like that have caused you to retreat and deny even more.  Maybe you feel completely alone.  But you need to know that there are people/counselors/friends out there who understand and want to help.  Your life does not have to be defined or ruled by anxiety or panic attacks.  There is hope and there is a way out.

{The story behind my first panic attack and my journey the days following starts here if you'd like to read it.}


  1. Good words! I've never had a panic attack, but I dated someone for a long time who dealt with depression/anxiety and had a very scary panic attack at dinner one night. I rushed him to the was very frightening. I've dealt with fear and anxiety for a long time...sometimes I lay in bed at night sobbing and crying because I'm so afraid of my husband dying in a car accident. If I focus on negatives or things I'm afraid of for too long it consumes me and I struggle to get out of that hole. I agree that telling someone "Oh, I have anxiety, too!" very flippantly can be offensive and hurtful. Sigh. I also find that A LOT of television shows portray things birth, breastfeeding, etc.

  2. Andrea (the above comment) directed me to your blog yesterday because I wrote a post about sadness. I deal with anxiety on a daily basis, and while I haven't had panic attacks in some time, I've been there before. What's silly is my family (my mom and sisters) all experience the same thing as I do. But their response? "Take some meds! You'll be good!" What if I don't WANT medicine?

    Anyway, I understand, people can be easy to brush off anxiety. Of course everyone feels anxiety, but maybe not at the same depth as others.


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