On Depression and TV Shows: A Two Way Relationship

 To those people who say television doesn’t affect real life, to them I say bullshit. Television and the real world have a very two way relationship. In a way that differs from cinema, TV shows enter our homes and sit with us in our living rooms, our bedrooms and become a huge part of our lives. Seeing those characters on a daily basis can replace seeing friends, entering those spaces through your laptop screen can replace going outside. When struggling to deal with depression and anxiety, television shows can sometimes become the closest thing to interaction that you get.

I’ve struggled with both depression and anxiety throughout most of my life, and I know for a fact that without some television shows, I probably wouldn’t be here in the capacity that I am. That’s not to say that TV is a replacement for a good therapist or prescription medication, but often when you are depressed you can reach out to your favourite TV shows in a way you simply can’t with your friends or family. I know this first hand. When I am having a particularly ‘bad episode’ (no pun intended), I often spend hours and hours watching endless TV – Netflix and Amazon subscription services have made it incredibly easy to do this. Being at home watching television was maybe not the best way to combat depression, but it made me feel involved rather than isolated and it helped to take my mind off what was going on inside my head. I owe a lot to the television shows below:

The X Files

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I began watching The X Files whilst I was at university, during my second year. University is a weird and wonderful experience full of new friendships, exciting experiences and all-nighters to finish deadlines. University can also be an incredibly lonely and isolating time, as I discovered. I was surrounded by new (and truly wonderful) friends but towards the end of the second year I began spiralling downwards. I would come home after lectures (sometimes not attend lectures) and spend a lot of time in my room by myself. In the second term, I was supposed to go on a trip with my course to Berlinale Film Festival but managed to get tonsillitis the day we were flying out. I couldn’t go. Sick, depressed and lonely, I went home for the weekend where my Dad tried to cheer me up by buying me the entire X-Files boxset.

It sort of worked. After feeling incredibly low, I continued to turn to The X Files whenever I felt the need to retreat inside myself. Somehow, the show was grounded in enough reality to make me feel a part of something real, but also supernatural enough to satisfy my need to escape. One of the greatest things about the show was it’s mix of Monster Of The Week episodes and Mythology narratives. On the one hand, I could just about handle not needing to be committed to each episode but the slow burning mythology meant that I also clung onto it – needing to find out what it was all about. Mulder and Scully are compelling, complicated characters and I enjoyed coming back to them everyday. In a time where most things in my life seemed to be in a sort of turmoil, Mulder and Scully were there when I needed them.

In between the stress of moving out, beginning third year and experiencing stress like I never have before – I continued to watch The X Files. I cried and I laughed, I was scared and I was comforted. The nature of The X Files combines an incredible range in narrative, plot and characters throughout it’s nine season arc.

 

Bojack Horseman

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“Everyday it gets a little easier. But you gotta do it everyday, that’s the hard part”

Bojack Horseman, whilst being a comedy, is the best representation of depression I think I’ve ever seen.  Of course, most of us don’t have a lifestyle that comes close to the ease, luxury and comfort of a Hollywood actor trying to make a comeback. On the surface, we can’t understand why Bojack would be unhappy with his life. He has had a career (possibly not the one he envisioned), he is financially stable, he has a great house and everything along with it. This, however, is the point. Depression doesn’t need reason, depression doesn’t listen to the facts. Bojack is unhappy because he isn’t taken seriously as an actor and he hasn’t got many friends, but it’s more than that. He’s unhappy because he doesn’t see a point in life and is confused by the futility of it all.

In the very recent third season, Bojack visits the Pacific Ocean City in an episode called ‘Fish Out of Water’. Being underwater, Bojack has to wear a oxygen helmet, but whilst wearing it he can’t seem to understand what anyone else is saying or be understood himself. Throughout the entire episode, not a single coherent word is spoken and Bojack is completely isolated from the world around him. Whilst he succeeds in returning a baby seahorse to it’s father (bonding with it on the way), his miscommunications with other characters result in devastating consequences. However it is his missed connection with Kelsey **, the director whom he managed to get fired last season, which hurts the most. Bojack tries to send her a note to apologise for getting her fired but fails completely. When Kelsey eventually receives the note, it’s blurred (of course) because it’s underwear and completely unreadable. This episode is so allegorical of what anxiety and depression can feel like – to be so completely incapable of communicating with anyone around you. To want to talk to others so badly but there is an invisible barrier preventing you from doing so. And of course, as Bojack finds out in the end, we have the capacity to communicate with others all along – we just need to know which button to press.

All we have in life are the connections we make.

 

The Office (US)

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Leaving university for the big, bad, real world is a scary experience. Having done an arts degree, I found myself in the unfortunate position of not securing a job in my sector. Despite all the experience, the unpaid internships and the hard work I had done to ensure some kind of job prospects at the end of my degree, I needed a job. So I took the first one I found (girls gotta pay the rent you know). I spent about eight months working in retail and then in admin, cursing myself every single day that I wasn’t starting my “career”. Why did I go to university? Why couldn’t I get a job related in some way to my degree? What was the point?

It was about this time that began watching The Office (US version, sorry brits) from the beginning again. I would watch an episode whilst getting ready for work in the morning, and I would watch an episode before going to bed, ritually. I was comforted by the idea of other people just taking any shitty job they could to get by and also by the realisation that work is not the defining factor in everyone’s life. Working for Dunder Mifflin is no-one’s idea of a dream job (except perhaps Michael), but it is not their positions within that company that define who any of the characters are. I identified a lot with Pam throughout the first couple of seasons. She was sacrificing her love for art to pay rent and be with a man who didn’t support her dreams. When she finally got her drawings in an art gallery and no-one from the office showed up to the opening, I almost cried. But then Michael arrives, and he’s wonderful. It made me realise that you shouldn’t give up on wanting your dream career. Even if what you are doing now isn’t related to *your dream job*, it just means that you are doing what you need to do to get by right now. This isn’t the end, it’s only the beginning.

Aside from making me laugh and invest a lot of love into all of those characters, The Office was a beacon of light, reminding me that we are not our jobs. We are so much more than that.

 

Broad City

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There are many, many reasons why Broad City is a fantastic show and time is way too short to list all of them here. It’s on this list for two reasons, though. The first being that Abbi and Ilana’s hijinks and adventures never fail to make me laugh. It’s a guarantee that whatever they are doing in each episode is going to epicly fuck up at some point and be absolutely hilarious when it inevitably does. It’s highly relatable in its humour for us twenty-somethings, because (like The Office) both girls are not working their dream jobs and are just doing what they need to do to get by. Ilana works for ‘Deals, Deals, Deals’ with no real obvious aspirations other than to get rich and boss someone else around. Abbi has dreams of becoming an artist but these are rapidly being swallowed up by the amount of hours she works at Soulstice. Abbi goes through phases of trying to make herself believe that she actually wants to be a personal trainer, to justify herself working there. The mishaps and misdemeanors stem from the girls trying to deal with this adulthood that has been thrust upon them.

The second reason why Broad City is on this list is for Ilana’s revelation that she is on anti depressants, in the final episode of season 2. It is not a laboured conversation, just a passing comment when Abbi asks what Ilana would like to achieve in the next year. Among other things (including signing up for Ancestry.com), Ilana mentions that she would like to lower her dosage of antidepressants. There’s two really important things happening here. The first is that the show doesn’t waste time focusing on why Ilana is depressed or opening up the conversation to be super serious. It would be out of character for Broad City (who make light of some of the most serious situations). It’s just said as a passing comment and accepted. Ilana is still Ilana, nothing has changed. It’s a small piece of information that does not change Ilana at all, for us. The second thing is that Ilana has previously been portrayed as a fun loving extrovert which is contradictory to what the mainstream media would have you believe depression looks like.  Not including the stereotypical images of Ilana ‘being depressed’ (whatever that means) removes the stigma around it.

 

So there we have it – a little list of the TV shows that have helped me carry on, even when I thought I couldn’t. What are some the shows that you turn to when you are feeling low? Recommendations always welcome! Stay safe, folks x

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