“Why do you watch that show?”
It’s a question my girlfriend asked me during a depressive episode of mine. Oh yeah, I deal with clinical depression.
That show was BoJack Horseman, although it could have easily been any number of my other favorite shows that have left me in tears. I didn’t have an answer. Why did I — someone with my own anxiety and depression issues — feel drawn to shows that depict those feelings in the most emotionally devastating ways possible? Is it because I’m drawn to their ability to transform what I’ve felt into art on screen, capturing them in all their ugliness? And, more importantly, is that a good thing?
I promised myself that I would never write or make a video about BoJack Horseman shortly after I watched it for the first time. It was between Christmas and New Year’s and I had decided to come back to my apartment in Boston because I did not want to be around my family anymore. I just needed to be as alone as I felt. My roommates were gone and, in a city with more students than anything else, so was everyone else. I’m not sure what prompted me to watch BoJack at that time but I didn’t stop.
Maybe I was at a point in time (and headspace) that any show would have hit me that way, but it sure didn’t feel like that at the moment. Bojack resonated with me. The way it handled its themes of loneliness, depression, and relationship with self were so in line with how I felt in that moment that I couldn’t help but get sucked in. By the end, I no longer felt totally alone. I was still on an island, totally surrounded by water, but for the first time in a while, it felt like just maybe there was a neighbor over the horizon feeling exactly the same way.
For me, it was important to never analyze the show that had so deeply touched me. It was mine. I didn’t want anybody to have the same relationship that I had with this show, because no show had ever felt as specifically made for me. Watching something in solitude allows you to laugh and cry without the shame that comes from having an audience — to feel authentically — and I didn’t want to give that up. I still don’t. But I do want to publicly appreciate what the show has meant to me.
In a time where there is still so much stigma swirling around mental illness, awareness is everything. Something that seems to be hard for people without depression to understand is that there is a lot of self-doubt involved. Not just about yourself, but also about the validity of what you’re feeling. There’s an intense urge to just “get over it,” followed by kicking yourself for not being able to, before repeating the process all over again. Just knowing that those thoughts belong to other people, and not just yourself, is huge.
This doesn’t necessarily mean I view BoJack or the rest of the Horseman cast as heroes or hold them as shining examples for how to deal with depression. They aren’t. They are self-destructive, self-sabotaging, and stubbornly resistant to change. At times, you want to reach through your television screen and shake them. There is a fine line between glorifying mental/emotional struggles like these as glamorously tragic and recognizing them in realistic depictions. It’s the difference between telling someone that it’s okay to feel what they’re feeling and to hold depression up on a pedestal.
But, to me, their struggle only proves to me that — as ridiculous as this is to say about a group of anthropomorphic animals — they’re human. Their progress isn’t a straight line, it suffers fits and starts and is prone to relapse. At times, their bad behavior serves as a mirror to show you all the things you are doing that you should stop.
With season 5 dropping tomorrow on Netflix, I’m sure I’ll be left in emotional ruin a few more times. But the more I think about it, the question isn’t “Is that a good thing?” but rather, “Is that a bad thing?” My experience with therapy is that it can be tough to face yourself and the feelings that you want so desperately to disappear, but that doesn’t mean that you can ignore them. When I think back to that first viewing of BoJack, what I remember most isn’t the plot points or the jokes. It’s how I felt. I wasn’t any happier, but I was at peace, finally able to face the place that I had tried so desperately to hide from myself.