I have severe depression and anxiety- the kind where I don’t leave my bed for days and push myself into isolation. Where I feel like I am drowning in a sea of my own thoughts that I can’t swim out of. My mental health has adversely affected my life for as long as I can remember, even though I always try to forget. There are many remedies aimed at trying to help those in a situation like mine. I have tried them all. Medication, counselors, long walks on the beach on sunny days. None have seemed to help me and my situation. I hate warm weather anyway, so that isn’t really a bad thing. I thought there was no hope left for me until I discovered my own personal remedy. It isn’t clinically proven to help and probably isn’t for everyone. My remedy for the darkest of times is horror.
I have loved horror for about as long as I have had depression. I remember hiding under my mother’s arm in the cinema while I was watching The Grudge. She did the same with her mother when she first saw Alien as a child. I remember turning away in fear as a family friend played Resident Evil 2 on the Nintendo 64. This fear grew into love, which grew into an obsession. Now, as an ‘adult’, horror helps me when I am at my lowest. Stories of sorrow, fear, regret, and all of the darkest human emotions somehow allows me to quell my own.
As I write this, I cannot suggest to anyone in a similar situation as mine to use horror as a coping mechanism. I am not a medical professional, nor have I studied psychology. If you are suffering from mental illness, I recommend that you see a mental health professional. My depression keeps me trapped inside my own mind. The best way I can describe it is that I have thoughts within thoughts. I get to the point where my mind won’t stop racing, analyzing every aspect of my existence: relationships, friends, family, what I am doing with my life. All of these aspects of my life are scrutinized repeatedly to the point where I am physically and mentally exhausted. All I need is for my mind to stop and focus on something that isn’t critical of my existence.
Horror allows me to forget the nagging voices in my head, banging on the insides of my skull. Sitting down to watch a movie, or picking up a controller and experiencing something truly terrifying silences my thoughts. Exploring the foggy town of Silent Hill, or running from a lunatic in the Mount Massive Asylum calms me. It’s weird, right? Fear is my medication. I become completely absorbed in the world these games have to offer. I can’t focus on anything else.
Even now, sitting here and having one of the worst depressive moments of my life, my first instinct is to find a horror game and play it. Dealing with the real world right now is too much, so I need to escape. I scoured my games collection for a title I have yet to experience. Grabbing my copy of Outlast 2, shoving it in my PlayStation, waiting for it to bloody update, I eagerly anticipate the terror that will follow. Running through a cornfield while crazy cultists chase me with torches and pitchforks is exactly what I need right now.
Maybe it has something to do with the mental release horror offers to an audience. Fear, and experiencing something truly terrifying, releases adrenaline and dopamine into the body. The adrenaline makes my heart race, blood is pumped through my body at an increased rate, and I become completely aware of my surroundings and the situation I am in. After I have escaped the terror stalking me, my fear subsides. This leads to my brain releasing the feel-good hormone dopamine. I feel relaxed, happy like I have achieved something. Having my adrenaline increased, followed by the feeling of happiness and calm, stops me from feeling depressed or anxious. Nothing a doctor has prescribed, or a counselor has recommended has made me feel this way.
My depression is ongoing, and I know that it will never truly disappear. I will live with it for the rest of my days until I am six feet under. Luckily, I know that the ghosts and ghouls in the world of video games and movies will always be there for me. Pulling me out of the darkness and helping me get on with my life.