Today’s post is a bit of a departure from pop culture literary and OWLS content. It’s an exploration of one of the features of pop culture that I find myself marveling at on a regular basis: it’s ability to help fans cope with things in their own lives in different ways.
Lately, I find myself frequently thinking about the many ways that people cope with their life circumstances, and how infrequently we talk about our coping mechanisms with others. My husband has PTSD from childhood circumstances that I eluded to in my post Jagged Bloodlines. He also has ADHD, depression, and some deep-running grief related to his chaotic and broken family and the passing of his mother.
When my husband’s mother first passed away, sleep was a difficult time for him. He frequently woke up in the middle of the night in a panic, or in tears following nightmares related to his mother’s death. He’d have vivid nightmares like dreaming about panicking and having no idea what to do when his mother handed him a shovel and told him that he had to hit her with it and then bury her. On top of these vivid nightmares, he had trouble falling asleep in the first place. His mind would go over all of the things he felt guilty or angry about related to her life and death, or would settle in and replay the moment she stopped breathing again and again and again.
In order to help him cope with these states of panic and grief and start reclaiming even a little bit of sleep, I started putting on movies for him to focus on. I thought that the movies would help draw his mind away from the places it insisted on wandering to in its quest to fall asleep each night. For a while, our go-to movie was Howl’s Moving Castle. It was a favorite of mine, and one he’d fallen in love with after I’d insisted on introducing him to it when we’d first started dating. Amazingly, this movie did a great job of redirecting his wandering mind and helping him drift off to sleep. It wasn’t always a perfect fix— the Witch of the Waste always threw him for a loop because her character reminded him of his mother’s decline into her illness— but it was better than nothing and worked more often than not.
We relied on this movie trick for a while— it’s hard to say how long because time moves differently in times of stress. Other movies didn’t work. We tried using other movies and shows occasionally, but we always switched over to Howl’s before the night was over. The movie was soothing to my husband. He thinks it was a combination of the movie’s incredible and soothing soundtrack, the beautiful scenery, Wizard Howl’s character, and the positive associations he had with the movie and our relationship. Whatever it was, this movie was a nightly requirement.
At some point, we transitioned over to using the sci-fi comedy Futurama as our bedtime media instead. My husband is still grieving his mother’s passing, but our near-nightly appointments with Futurama are now more frequently related to other things he’s dealing with. His PTSD and anxiety are the main culprits that lead us to turning on the TV. Futurama is a near-nightly bedtime lullaby for my husband. This charmingly irreverent TV comedy soothes his anxiety and passes him off to sleep so efficiently at night that he owns the full DVD box set AND bought several seasons in digital form so that he can access them on our iPad when we travel.
Recently, my husband discovered that he is not alone in his nightly use of Futurama. He came across a Facebook Group full of self-proclaimed Futurama Sleepers, people who regularly fall asleep to its familiar jokes and storylines. Learning about these other Futurama Sleepers, my husband felt a little less guilty about falling asleep to it almost nightly.
We have heard that having TV on right before and during sleep is not great for mental health or stable sleep cycles, though I have not spent a lot of time reading studies that support this, so take this tidbit of information with a cautionary dose of “I have no idea if this is true or if it’s just something that I’ve decided is plausibly true”. At the very least, this is something that many people believe to be plausibly true enough that I’ve heard this comment from many people, average and health professionals alike.
Whether these perceptions of TV’s impact on sleep are true or not, it seems like there are many people who use TV to help them sleep for various reasons. I myself have used TV, books, and gaming to calm my mind and settle in for sleep on difficult nights, and I don’t have anxiety, depression, or deep and long-lasting grief to contend with. It makes me wonder how many other people use media to help themselves sleep on difficult nights, both frequent or infrequent.
Have you ever used media to help yourself cope with minor discomforts or long-term physical or mental health complications? I would love to hear your story in the comments!