Danielle Genet/ABC News(NEW YORK) — On Robin Roberts’ latest podcast episode, Robin Roberts: Everybody’s Got Something, ABC News’ Amy Robach and Dan Harris join the Good Morning America anchor to discuss overcoming major life trials in front of the camera.
The friends and colleagues discuss what they learned from sharing their “something” with the public as well as the importance of colleagues helping one another through challenges faced in life.
Robach credits Roberts for saving her life.
On Oct. 1, 2013, Good Morning America hosted a “mammovan” in Times Square to raise awareness for early breast cancer detection. Hesitant at first, Robach explained during the podcast that it was Roberts who ultimately persuaded her to get the mammogram that crucial day.
“You said to me, ‘I guarantee you, if you walk into that mammovan — and I know it’s going to be uncomfortable physically and emotionally and mentally and all of the above, but if you walk into that mammovan, you will save a life,’” Robach recalled.
Just a few weeks later, Robach revealed on Good Morning America that she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Now, I felt really emotional at that moment, and I didn’t even know why,” Robach recounted to Roberts. “Because, when you were saying this to me and I was telling you I had no connection to the disease, I was standing there in your dressing room with stage 2 invasive breast cancer that had already spread to my lymph node. And had no idea, [I] felt perfectly healthy.”
The shock of the diagnosis and the circumstance propelled Robach to become an advocate for early detection and awareness.
“Because you gave me that nudge and you absolutely saved my life, I will always believe that, I feel like it’s on me,” she said to Roberts. “The onus is on me now to give back and to pay it forward and to let other women know that they have to take their health seriously — that they have to make those appointments. They have to keep those appointments and they have to stay on top of their health.”
Robach now speaks out across the country and continues to spread her message. She has written a book titled Better: How I Let Go of Control, Held On to Hope and Found Joy in My Darkest Hour.
“I am better in every way,” she explained. “I am a better mother. I am a better wife. I’m a better friend, I’m a better daughter, I’m a better sister. And it’s all about, you know, this notion we’ve heard about. But it just hits you like a ton of bricks when you suddenly feel like you’re fighting for your life. When you know what fear can do to you, you realize the only thing we are guaranteed is right now.”
As in his memoir, 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge and Found Self-Help That Actually Works, Harris said he does lead a happier life, thanks to his meditation practice. But it was his nationally televised panic attack that ultimately forced Harris to make some lifestyle changes.
Harris explained to Roberts the origins of his panic attack, which stemmed from years of covering war-torn regions that eventually took a toll on him emotionally.
“When I got home from spending a lot of time overseas, I got depressed,” he explained. “My way of coping with it was very stupid, which is that I started to self-medicate with recreational drugs.”
Harris had a panic attack on-air while filling in (coincidentally, for Roberts) as the news reader on Good Morning America in June 2004.
“I’d done it before,” Harris told Roberts and Robach of that day. “I didn’t have any reason to be nervous and I start reading the stories off of the teleprompter. And all of a sudden, this just wave of fear rolls over me, and my heart starts racing. My palms are sweating. My mouth dries up. My lungs seize up. I just can’t breathe.”
Harris sought medical help, and his doctor connected the dots.
“Even though I hadn’t been doing drugs that often it wasn’t like I was doing it every day, and I wasn’t doing it on the air or at work or anything like that,” Harris emphasized. “He was like, ‘It’s enough to artificially raise the level of adrenaline in your brain,’ and it primed me to have this freak-out.”
Harris revealed the reason why he went public with his story.
“I decided to do it because I, as a result of having this panic attack, ultimately found meditation, which really was useful to me,” he said. “And I felt that too was a public health message. A little less obvious thing to do, though.”
Harris elaborated, “I could’ve written about meditation without talking about my own personal stupidity but I thought, if I was really going to do this, I should keep it real. I didn’t want to write a book about meditation and have somebody leak later that I had my own personal peccadilloes that I wasn’t honest about.”
He added, “So I really felt if I was gonna go there, I needed to go there. But I was really, really worried. And I have to tell you, it’s humbling, truly humbling.”
These days, Harris continues his individual meditation practice and stays involved with the growing meditation community with his podcast 10% Happier With Dan Harris and his meditation app.
Elizabeth Vargas was supposed to join her ABC News colleagues on Roberts’ podcast but was called onto an assignment for 20/20. She appeared live on GMA Monday alongside Robach, Harris and Roberts to share her struggle with disease in the public eye and how opening up in her new book, Between Breaths: A Memoir of Panic and Addiction, has helped not only herself but so many others.
“Obviously I’m more in the vein of Dan. I’ve been struggling with anxiety and panic attacks my entire life and chose to self-medicate with alcohol,” said Vargas. “It turned into an addiction for me in the last eight years of my life. I found out in the course of writing my book about this that 60 percent of women who are alcoholics also suffer from anxiety. There’s an enormous link there and I’ve been absolutely amazed.”
“I get messages every day, many people stopping me on the street to say, ‘Thank you for talking about this. I suffer from anxiety too. I drink too. I self-medicate,’ or ‘There’s somebody I love who’s going through this, and your book has helped open up the discussion,’” she added. “Especially with anxiety and addiction, there’s an enormous stigma around it. Anything to reduce that stigma is phenomenal.”
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