Watching star right guard Brandon Brooks walk off the field early in the Eagles’ matchup against the Seattle Seahawks a few weeks ago, I felt perplexed. I had no idea why the seventh-year player, who was not listed with an injury, stopped so soon.
But for Brooks, as I learned after the game, it was a familiar feeling. The 30-year-old struggles with anxiety and panic attacks, stemming from what he calls an “unhealthy obsession” with football, the Associated Press reported in 2016. On the football field, he had been able to keep the attacks under control for a few years — until Nov. 24.
When I read the news, I felt sadness and sympathy for Brooks. But I also felt an empowering form of empathy, strengthened by the knowledge that I am not alone in my own struggles with anxiety.
Brooks wrote on Twitter that he is not ashamed of his condition. As someone who also struggles with anxiety and panic attacks, I agree: no one should have to be ashamed.
All too often, society trivializes anxiety, chalking it up to normal feelings of stress and fear that people experience in their daily lives. We expect that when someone gets rid of stressors in their life, their anxiety will disappear as well.
But anxiety is unpredictable and often springs on us in an instant, leaving us feeling confused about what caused it to happen. When I read what Brooks had to say on the issue, I felt uplifted.
Witnessing Brooks admit that he is not ashamed of his anxiety is empowering. For myself and others who struggle with anxiety, his example demonstrates that anyone, even star athletes who are expected by millions to perform at the top of their game, can learn to be strong against the odds.
I understand that my struggles are not the same as Brooks’. While he feels weighed down by the pursuit of perfection, my anxiety takes the form of an irrational fear of everyday activities, often leaving me in a state of discomfort. There is a constant struggle in my mind to push out the thoughts that make me fear everyday situations and try to face them head-on.
Additionally, when I am experiencing a bout of anxiety, it often feels like there is no one else in the world who can help me. This is often accompanied by an underlying sense of fear that the feelings I am experiencing will not go away, which makes me panic.
But to know that Brooks shares a similar struggle and is achieving the impossible, despite his condition, is comforting.
He also shows me that I do not have to be afraid to seek help. He is willing to admit to the world what some view as a weakness or character flaw. He teaches me that it is OK to struggle sometimes.
Brandon, thank you for your bravery. Your openness and honesty around this issue has made me stronger.