Ahead of my #TalkMH chat this Thursday, I wanted explore two of my favourite TV shows and look at how they portray mental illness.

Gilmore girls

As much as I hate to say it, because GG is my absolute favourite TV show, I strongly dislike how it portrays therapy.

In season 6, episode 11 (‘The Perfect Dress’), Rory is asked to attend therapy following her recent time away from college. From Lorelai’s initial reaction (‘I can’t believe you’re going to a therapist’ followed by a joke about the old cliché of therapists asking about your mother) to the actual session itself, nothing in this episode is handled sensitively at all.

The scene itself is an absolute farce, starting with Rory’s obvious disdain towards her therapist and ending with over-the-top crying. It makes me cringe every time.

Rory Gilmore crying

Afterwards, she calls Lorelai and opens with, ‘Guess who’s crazy?’

Huh.

I’ll forgive it though, because this episode first aired back in 2005 and let’s be honest, Gilmore girls was never particularly PC.

Fast-forward to 2016 though, and we have the revival episodes. *Warning: Spoilers ahead!*

Sigh. Where to start?

I had high hopes when Lorelai sensitively suggested Emily see a professional to help her through her grief. But then we get to the therapist who seems alright at first, but quickly becomes more and more ridiculous.

Firstly, can we talk about the obvious frustration and lack of empathy she shows when she’s rushing them out of their sessions?

And then, when she turns up in Stars Hollow (I’m sorry, why?!), bounds up to Lorelai (so unprofessional!!) and announces she’s auditioning for the musical, I couldn’t stop myself from sighing. So we’re supposed to believe that Emily and Lorelai were such difficult clients they drove her to give up her career as a therapist in favour of performing in small town musical? Sure. That makes sense.

Girl rolling her eyes

I feel like the therapy was used more as a comedic device than to drive the plot. Case in point: the infamous letter that Emily mentions to Lorelai that never comes up again. I’m not saying therapy can’t or shouldn’t be portrayed in a funny way, I just think the humour here missed the mark. And I was disappointed that we didn’t see the whole thing handled more sensitively.

That said, I liked that Lorelai continued to go by herself, and ultimately her sessions did lead her to somewhat of an epiphany about her own life.

Overall though, not impressed.

The Big Bang Theory

Now, I’m sure you know where I’m going with this.

I know a lot of people don’t particularly like how Sheldon’s OCD is portrayed but personally I can relate a lot to him.

The rituals (knocking three times), the obsessive need for closure and to an extent his cleanliness, all struck a chord with me.

Sheldon knocking on the door

This is perfectly illustrated in season 7, episode 8 (‘The Itchy Brain Simulation’), when Sheldon likens his need for closure to an ‘itch on his brain’ that leaves him feeling uncomfortable and anxious. I can’t think of a better way to describe OCD. He urges Leonard to walk a mile in his shoes by wearing an itchy jumper. OCD is so difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it, so I think it’s particularly clever that Sheldon suggests mimicking it with a physical sensation.

Though Leonard gains a better understanding of his friend’s struggles, he still teases him and calls him crazy. Rather than taking offense though, I applaud the show’s accuracy. It’s been my experience that people often can’t relate, so Leonard’s lack of understanding rang true with me.

In another episode, Sheldon’s girlfriend Amy tries to help him overcome his OCD, by encouraging him to start various tasks without finishing them. Challenging his compulsive need to see everything through is very difficult for Sheldon and I really related to his struggle. The strain is visible on his face and the episode ends with him doing the tasks again, this time to completion.

While some could argue that The Big Bang Theory stigmatises OCD, I would personally disagree. I think it’s great that the show is helping to ‘normalise’ OCD and bring it into the mainstream. More than that, I like that it doesn’t just focus on cleanliness, as of course there’s so much more to it than that. Anything that helps more people realise this is a good thing in my book.

It’s not always a perfect representation, but I find it relatable and at times very sensitively handled.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. If you can’t make it to the chat (this Thursday 13th April at 8:30pm) please feel free to tweet me, or leave a comment below.

 

 

I came to you because I’d become scared of the world around me.

Working from home, I’d started to isolate myself, closing off from friends and family.  I was crippled by OCD and an overwhelming fear of vomiting that had me going to new and increasingly extreme lengths to ‘protect myself.’

Sometimes I would go a week at a time without leaving the house.  I would wash myself compulsively because I never felt clean.  I never felt at ease.  Simple, everyday decisions reduced me to tears, or led to a panic attack, and I had moments so low that I simply couldn’t see how I’d ever be happy again.

My family was going through a difficult time, and I knew things would get much worse before they got better.  For the first time in my life I was faced with a loss I didn’t know how to prepare myself for.  Things are still hard, but they are getting better each day.

Issues from my past were resurfacing, and my relationships with those close to me were suffering.  I remember confessing to you that I was afraid I was ‘unfixable.’  I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.

I used to be afraid of everything, and I hated how weak that made me feel.

Once spontaneous, adventurous and full of energy, I was now a shell of my former self.  Thanks to you I know now that I’m not weak.  Thanks to you I’m starting to feel positive about my future again.

CBT trains you to approach things differently and become your own counsellor, but you’ve taught me so much more than that.  I’ve learned to value and look after myself, and make my needs known to others.  You’ve given me a voice again.

You’ve made me braver than I ever thought possible, and given me the courage to tackle things I never thought I could.  You’ve given me the insight to understand myself, question my thought processes, and challenge my own negative thoughts.  I still have my problems, but you’ve equipped me with the tools to tackle them better myself.  I’m a million miles away from the person I was eight months ago.

Before, I couldn’t wait to see you because I desperately needed an outlet.

I needed to vent, I needed you to help me organise my muddled thoughts.  I needed to cry freely, without judgement.

Now I can’t wait to see you because I want to tell you about a fear I conquered, or a new personal milestone I’ve achieved.  No matter how tiny, you are always proud of me.

I couldn’t stop smiling during my last session because I started to feel like the pieces of my life are finally coming together.  What we have worked through together has brought me a sense of direction again.  It’s brought me closure, vindication.  It’s shown me how to feel joy again.

I’ve never been suicidal, but there have been times when I’ve wished I could simply stop existing, just for a little while.  Because no matter how much I shut myself away, turned off my phone, or ignored others, there would always come a point where I’d have to face it all again.  I switched wildly between shaking with nervous energy and feeling so drained I couldn’t move.  I didn’t care about sleeping, eating, or looking after myself.  Nothing excited me anymore; I felt numb.  That was the worst part; in the moments I didn’t feel overwhelmed by fear or sadness, I longed to feel something but couldn’t.

But there was a moment when it was like you helped me flick a switch.

Suddenly I felt alive again.  Suddenly I felt fired up.  I had goals, things to look forward to.  I left that session full of hope and on my way home stopped to look out at the sea.  I felt an incredible sense of calm and clarity.

BEACH

I don’t quite know how you do it, but you help me make sense of things.  Sometimes the answer might be so obvious I can’t believe I didn’t see it myself.  You help me realise that my needs and feelings are valid.  You give me the confidence to ask for what I want, and the strength to make things happen for myself.

There’s so much more I want to say, but no words can adequately sum up just how much you mean to me, or the impact you’ve had on my life in such a short space of time.  You’ve helped me in more ways than I can count.

You’ve helped me to be me again.

We’ve laughed together, cried together, and I will never look at a bag of Mini Cheddars in the same way again.  It’s my last session with you soon, and I find it hard to think about my life without you in it.  It’s going to be a difficult goodbye, but I finally feel ready for it.

I hope you feel proud of the work you do, because you’re amazing at it.  It takes a truly special person to show someone the level of kindness, understanding and compassion that you’ve shown me.  I will never stop being thankful for everything you’ve done for me.

I will miss you, but I will never forget what you’ve taught me, or all the incredible things you’ve helped me to achieve.

From the bottom of my heart I thank you.

X

Talking about depression and anxiety might seem overwhelming, but if you’re struggling, please reach out to someone.

Talk to your friends, GP, partner or family.  You have nothing to be ashamed of.

If you’re feeling alone and like you can’t carry on, The Samaritans are reachable 24/7 and offer free, confidential support.  Contact them on 116 123 (UK), or 116 123 (ROI), or visit their website.

There are many different types of therapy, so it’s worth doing some research to find out what’s right for you.  If you’re interested in CBT, visit the BABCP website to learn more, and find an accredited CBT practitioner in your area.