My Mental Health: How Buffy got me through the hardest times in my life

·5-min read
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Each year as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Digital Spy writers share their experiences of how entertainment can be part of the conversation around mental illness.

I stared at the floor, telepathically willing my mum to leave my bedroom, but unfortunately neither she nor I were blessed with psychic powers.

"I'm really worried about you, your sister's really worried about you." From the tone of her voice I knew this was an intervention, and not one that was going to end anytime soon, as she sat down next to me on my single bed.

"It isn't healthy to stay in your room all the time," she continued, as I nodded along, repeating the phrase that simultaneously says nothing, but everything all at once: "I'm fine."

Photo credit: MICHAEL YARISH
Photo credit: MICHAEL YARISH

Of course I wasn't "fine", far from it. But at 23 years old, I didn't know how to articulate to my concerned mum that being cheated on (then dumped) by my long-term boyfriend, quitting university (after two days) and being stuck in a "temporary" insurance job that parodied The Office (in all the bad ways), had left me bereft of any happiness – and hope.

Desperate to feel something, heck, anything, my two coping mechanisms were spending inordinate amounts of money on make-up, and spending every evening and weekend in my bedroom watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer – which is exactly what I was so desperate to get back to, when my mum so rudely interrupted.

I've loved Buffy since it was played after school at 6.45pm on BBC Two. I remember owning 'Becoming' parts one and two on VHS and watching them on repeat (never forget Angel's attempt at an Irish accent), before parting ways with the better part of £200 to buy the DVD boxset of every single episode. I even think I even owned a 'Slayer' keyring at one point, such was my obsession.

For me, watching an episode of Buffy is the equivalent of wrapping myself in one of those JML snuggie blankets. It might be full of vampires, demons and hellmouths to some, but for me it provided a sense of familiarity and nostalgia – something I so desperately craved when my adult life became so far removed from my teenage one.

Watching all my school friends vicariously through their Facebook uploads, I felt like I had been left behind. I wasn't partying it up in Liquid and Envy every night with all the uni goers, nor was I carving out my dream career in an exciting profession that deemed me worthy of getting an invite from my old sixth form to discuss life after education.

I was stuck in my own private Groundhog Day, where my weekdays were spent in a job I hated, calculating people's employee death benefits, and my evenings and weekends were spent shut in my childhood bedroom longing for the return of my carefree teenage years.

Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

As I became more and more despondent and got rejected for more and more job interviews, I kept ploughing my way through my Buffy boxset, finding comfort in my characters facing the same real-life challenges as me. Being a creature of habit meant I usually just watched the first three seasons over and over, but even I, the woman who has a signed picture of Xander Harris on her wall, got tired of quoting episodes verbatim.

With my seemingly endless alone time, I finally started watching season four onwards, and found a whole new meaning to the TV show that defined my childhood. While all my peers seemed to seamlessly step into their new lives, my favourite characters in Buffy portrayed the struggle that I found to be my experience.

Oz was distracted and eventually cheated on Willow in season four's 'Wild At Heart' with a "cooler" woman, leaving her struggling with her self-esteem. Xander lived in his parents' basement and was forced to "grow up" into a perfectly normal, but also perfectly boring life in season five's 'The Replacement'.

Suddenly it wasn't nostalgia I was craving, it was relatability. Like Buffy when she came back from the dead, I struggled with the feeling of 'Is this it? Is this what life is all about?' But for me the quote that sums up adulthood best is the advice that she gives her sister Dawn: "The hardest thing in this world is to live in it."

Photo credit: 20th Century Fox Television/Kobal - Shutterstock
Photo credit: 20th Century Fox Television/Kobal - Shutterstock

You cannot overestimate the importance of seeing mental-health struggles in mainstream TV shows. To watch someone – especially a character you love – express feelings you haven't been able to even articulate, let alone share, instantly makes you feel less alone, and less alienated.

I'd love to say that after that chat with my mum I turned my life around, but it took years and more Buffy viewings that I'd dare to admit. Eventually however (after using my annual leave to intern), I landed a job at Cosmopolitan as PA to the Editor. It wasn't entirely what I wanted to do, but that change of environment saved me and took my life down a completely different course.

I met new people who not only filled the void of the old ones left behind, but who enriched my life with new perspectives and opinions. I pushed myself to do things I've never done before like appearing on live TV, and worked damned hard to finally land my dream job as deputy beauty editor.

That's not to say that I don't still grapple with my mental health. Trust me, I do – and it would be misleading of me to suggest otherwise, in the same way your friends and peers also struggle, but might not admit.

In those times I still turn to Buffy – not only for comfort, but for a reminder that no feeling lasts forever.

We would encourage anyone who identifies with the topics raised in this article to reach out. Organisations who can offer support include Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org) or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). Readers in the US are encouraged to visit mentalhealth.gov.

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