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How Reality TV Encouraged Me to Get Help for My Anxiety Disorder

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When I was younger I knew nothing about anxiety disorders, but the one thing I did know about was reality TV. When I was a kid I loved TV and watched quite a bit of it. I wouldn’t say TV was my babysitter, it was more like my friend. I know that is probably the saddest, most pathetic thing you have heard all day, but I was never really good at making friends. So TV characters meant more to me than the average person. When I became a teenager, I discovered reality TV.

I’m not ashamed to admit during my teenage years I watched a lot of reality TV and unfortunately still do. Whether it was a show about finding love by handing out roses, singing competitions with celebrity judges, seven strangers who live in a house together or housewives who love drama, I was most likely watching it. I know these shows don’t really showcase reality, but they are just so fascinating to watch. So when I tuned into “Married to Jonas” one day, I had no idea it would change my life forever.

Like most girls in the mid 2000s I was obsessed with the Jonas Brothers. So when I heard a reality show was coming out about oldest Jonas named Kevin and his wife Danielle, I was definitely on board. It was a cute show about married life, but turned pretty serious when Danielle started talking about her anxiety. She talked about wanting to be off her anxiety medication before having a child and being anxious about a family trip to Italy. I thought to myself, how does this person who seems to have it all together have problems with anxiety?

Mental illness was so foreign to me and honestly was pretty scary to think about. I didn’t know anybody with a mental illness even though many of my family members and friends struggled in silence. I decided to research it and looked up anxiety disorders. The more I read, the more it all started to sound like me and a light bulb went off in my head. Instead of feeling scared about it, I felt a little relieved. So many things I have done and felt in the past started to make sense when I realized something could be going on with me.

The next week I made an appointment to go talk to a counselor at my college’s counseling center and low and behold, I was right about my anxiety disorder. That was my first time going to counseling and working on myself which I continue to do today.

The hardest part about all of this was telling people about my anxiety disorder. I was nervous to talk to my mom about it, but she was so supportive and the friends I have told are supportive too. There are still many people in my life who have no idea about it as I write this right now. I’m not ashamed of this and I want to be as open with my struggles as the reality stars on TV. If they can share their story on camera, I can tell the people in my life who care about me.

“16 & Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” have been some of my favorite shows from the beginning and Catelynn Baltierra opening up about her depression and anxiety has been so encouraging for me to see over the years. I was even surprised to see Vinny Guadagnino from “Jersey Shore” talk about his anxiety. I know “Jersey Shore” is the least credible show out there, but I did watch every season, so please don’t hold that against me. I just got done watching the “Survivor” season called “Millennials vs Gen X” and was thrilled to see David Wright and Hannah Shapiro being brutally honest about panic attacks and anxiety.

Every time I watch a reality show where people are talking about mental illnesses, it reminds me I’m not alone in this struggle. It may seem silly to say reality TV helped me because it’s not real, but I often think about where would I be if I hadn’t watched that “Married To Jonas” episode.

I’m sure I would have eventually been clued in to my anxiety disorder, but how long would it have taken? I think finding out when I was 20 was pretty hard, so going even longer would have been harder. I would not have gotten the help I needed and would still be struggling in silence. No one deserves this, so if it takes watching a TV show to wake people up about mental illness, so be it.

I will always feel really connected to certain TV characters, especially those from reality TV shows. I can’t wait to see this season of “The Bachelor.” I would love to be the therapist on that show and actually help some of those people. If I learned anything over the years, it’s don’t ever judge anyone based on their anxiety disorder or any other mental illness they are overcoming, judge them based on what reality shows they watch.

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Image via Bachelor Facebook.

Originally published: February 3, 2017
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