Re-Watching ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ In Lockdown Left Me Riddled With Anxiety

I was seven seasons in before I realised what was happening.

At the height of the pandemic last year, I found myself searching for a TV series to watch while working from home. It may sound counter-productive, but I felt an irrepressible urge to fill the deafening silence of working alone that had once been filled with the buzz of office chitchat. 

Not just any TV series would do – I had criteria. Bingeability was a must; the kind of long-running series synonymous with the 2000s that provided 20-episode-long seasons (they really don’t make them like they used to).

The second requirement was quality; enough drama to keep me hooked but not so intense that it demanded my undivided attention. I did have to get a normal day’s worth of work done after all. 

I landed on Grey’s Anatomy, a series which ticked both boxes perfectly. Or so I thought.

greys anatomy

At first my choice was affirmed by an overwhelming nostalgia I felt for the show: I’d watched the series as a teen with my mum until it was unceremoniously shoved from its prime time slot on free-to-air TV and my attention drifted to shows like Gossip Girl and The O.C.

Still, the most dramatic moments of those early seasons of Grey’s have always stayed with me.

To this day the death of George O’Malley haunts me: that tragic moment of realisation that the unidentifiable ‘John Doe’ the doctors at Seattle Grace Hospital had been trying to save was, in fact, their beloved colleague, George, was utterly crushing. The final scene of his ghost meeting that of Izzy’s (who was also dying as doctors tried to revive her in a separate ward) in the hospital elevator, put me in a Kim K state of ugly crying. 

Making viewers cry and laugh is just the tip of the emotional iceberg that is a good show; a great series can inspire us, make us question our viewpoints and values or even trigger us. In my case it was the latter. 

My once perfect, criteria-ticking show had gone the way of the Titanic, awaking a state within me I didn’t see coming. I was seven seasons deep before I realised I was drowning in anxiety. 

The moment of realisation came when my boyfriend switched McDreamy off in the middle of an intense laminectomy procedure. I had hardly noticed I’d strangled the life from a cushion as I watched from the sofa. 

greys anatomy

“Okay, enough,” he announced, “You’ve been talking about your growing anxiety for weeks now and this show is to blame.” 

He was right. Since starting the show I’d become hyper-aware of my body. I was on high alert for every twitch, niggle or change that might indicate the first signs of illness. 

A simple headache had me turning to doctor google, convinced I had some form of brain tumour that would leave me with just months to live. 

An off-day sent me into a spiral of paranoia that I was going to collapse at any moment, rendering me incapable of focusing on anything else. 

The symptoms I watched McDreamy, McSteamy and the entire Grey’s cohort so often diagnose seemed so simple and easily missed, and it only fed the growing black cloud that was hanging over me. 

This wasn’t the first time I’d battled with anxiety related to my health. I’ve faced a number of life-changing health issues in my 26-years from waking up one morning with a half-paralysed face to being diagnosed as type one diabetic when I was just 11-years-old. 

While I’ve overcome or learnt to live with these, I’m not sure I’ll ever recover from the sheer shock of each one. Knowing your life can change so unexpectedly and permanently has forever put me on high-alert, waiting for the next bad thing to happen.  

Watching Grey’s for a second time, however, hadn’t just brought these anxieties bubbling back to the surface, there was something else sending my emotions to new heights. 

The outlandish and extreme storylines – a man growing a tree in his lung after inhaling a seed or two people being impaled in a gory train accident – I’d once been able to reason would never happen, now felt startlingly more realistic. 

In 2020, once seemingly unlikely scenarios (like a global pandemic that would kill over 3.8 million people and counting) now held a terrifying level of realism.

Few could have imagined we’d all be surviving a pandemic in the 21st century, and fewer would imagine it possible to grow a tree in your lung, but just as my year 11 biology teacher explained the plausibility of the latter to my friend Casey in class one day, 2020 has proved the plausibility of our worst nightmares. 

I’d spent so much of the pandemic taking it day by day just grateful to be living in Australia, to have kept my job, to be with my family, that I hadn’t noticed the effect it had had on me. 

It wasn’t long after turning Grey’s Anatomy off for good that my anxiety began to calm. 

If there’s one good thing to have come from re-watching the show (other than the imagery of McSteamy’s raunchy on-call room scenes permanently living rent-free in my mind) it’s that I recognise now it’s okay to not be okay post-pandemic. Even if you’re meant to be one of the “lucky” ones who made it through seemingly unscathed – health, house, job still intact – you should still check in with yourself because we’ve all been through a lot in 2020 and we may not fully realise the impact it had. 

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