Waiting for the Bubbles to Settle: A Piece on Coping with Anxiety

Updated: Oct 27, 2019

I fumble through my keys until I find the one that gains me access to my condo.


I flip on the light switch by the entrance and do a quick scan of the place to see if it's in the same, spotless shape I left it in this morning (I live alone, so not sure why I do this- slight paranoia maybe? lol). Once I confirm everything is clear, I head to my bedroom and begin shedding my layers from the day.


Purse.


Watch.


Jacket.

Shoes.


Pants.


Worries.


Inhibitions.


Until I'm down to a pair of draws and a t-shirt. I feel lighter, physically and mentally.


Sliding on my fluffy house slippers, I head straight to the living room and plop down onto my comfy, tufted chaise lounge I bought from Overstock. I've been writing all day and need a good, mental escape- preferably one that doesn't require reading or typing or brainpower. I turn on my smart TV and launch Hulu, scrolling through the app until I find my favorite show, This Is Us. I click on the latest episode, sink a little deeper into my cozy lounge chair, and escape to an alternate reality.


For those of you who have never heard of or watched This Is Us (and apparently have been living under a rock), the award-winning NBC series follows the lives of the Pearson family, which consists of two, doting parents -- Jack and Rebecca Pearson -- and their triplets: Kate, Kevin and Randall, affectionately known as "The Big Three". Jack and Rebecca (who are white) gave birth to twins, Kate and Kevin, and adopted their son, Randall, a Black child who was born and abandoned the exact same day of the twins' birth (he eventually reconnects with his biological father, William "Shakespeare" Hill, in his adult years). The show is set in different time frames, following the present adult lives of The Big Three while interweaving flashbacks of their childhood growing up in the Pearson household (which usually parallels with their adult story line).


I swear this show gets me every. single. week. The story lines and monologues always have a way of tugging at your heart strings until you're misty-eyed one minute and bawling your eyes out the next (now that's what I call some good-ass writing lol). This week's episode was no different.


Randall Pearson (played by the phenomenal Sterling K. Brown) is a good man. He's a loving, supportive husband to his beautiful wife, Beth (played by the outstanding Susan Kelechi Watson, a fellow Howard alum, of course). He's an amazing father of three, gorgeous girls. He's a passionate city councilman who genuinely cares about the people of his community. Much like his father, Jack Pearson, Randall is pretty damn close to perfect.


He always strives to do what's right. He tries, with all his might, to please everyone. He cares about how he is perceived by others- particularly, the people he cares about most. He loves hard, with the purest of intentions. He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. And when the slightest thing falls out of place, it's only a matter of time before his whole world comes crashing down in the form of a panic attack.


Randall suffers from severe anxiety.


He's struggled with it ever since he was a little boy and, in this week's episode, he learns that his teenage daughter, Tess, struggles with it, too. This episode really hit home for me for a couple of reasons: 1) it portrayed a very open, honest and HUMAN depiction of Black people coping with mental health issues, and 2) it reminded me of my own journey with anxiety.


It started when I was very young- maybe four or five years old. Every time my parents went out somewhere, for some reason, I thought they were never coming back. Whenever they'd drop me off with a relative to watch me for a few hours, I'd freak out. I vividly remember one time standing by the door of my grandparents' house, watching every car go by and praying that one of them was my parents coming to get me, until it finally was. I don't know where it came from, but I was way too young to be worrying like that.


As I grew older, my anxiety manifested in my social interactions. Like Randall, I was a die-hard people-pleaser. If someone didn't like me, I'd wreck my brain trying to figure out why. If someone I cared about seemed short with me, I'd go straight into panic mode, instantly assuming that it was something I must've done to upset them. If I was having relationship problems, I'd go days without eating, worrying myself sick about how we were going to make it work. I cared a lot -- perhaps a little too much -- about a lot of things, and it showed. I've been deemed "sensitive" my entire life because of it.


Towards the end of the episode, Beth sits Randall and their daughter Tess down for a family talk (aka another heartwarming monologue). Randall is ashamed that Tess has inherited from him "the thing he likes least about himself", and Tess vehemently expressed that she doesn't want to have anxiety like her father. Beth then shares with them a conversation she had with William, Randall's biological father, who said that he, too, struggled with anxiety when he was a child. But since it had no name back then, people resorted to labeling him "sensitive" and "fragile".


"There's a fine line between caring and worrying, and sometimes that line gets blurry," Beth said.

"From the moment I met (Randall), he was obsessed with making everything okay for everybody else," she told their daughter. "But I loved him for it because it meant he cared deeply. Now, there are some things you're going to have to navigate around but there are some gifts, too. You give everything your all- you're an amazing sister, daughter, friend and student."


And I really felt that. Because when you're someone who feels and cares deeply, oftentimes it can be misinterpreted as weakness. So you reject that part of yourself. You begin to resent it, even. Until you realize that it's actually not a weakness at all. It's a superpower that gives you the ability to reach, relate to and advocate for others with compassion and vulnerability.


At the end of their family talk, Beth demonstrates an exercise William told her his mother used to do with him whenever he would get anxious. She pours a can of soda into two glasses (one for Tess, one for Randall) and tells them that when things get to be too much, to "take a minute and wait for the bubbles to settle."


Although I've come a long way, I still get anxious about things. I feel A LOT, and have a tendency to overanalyze when things feel out of place. But now, whenever I'm feeling on edge and anxiety is bubbling up in my stomach, I simply pause, close my eyes and breathe. Then I pray. I pray for peace. I pray for clarity. I pray for the patience and discipline to trust that God will handle the things outside of my control (Proverbs 3:5).


I breathe and I pray and I wait for the bubbles to settle.