I want to begin by saying escapism itself isn’t unhealthy. It’s actually completely normal, and we all do it. It helps us from burning out more quickly than we would without it. It allows us to come back to an initially overwhelming problem with a better attitude about it. Escapism can allow us to reconnect with ourselves and things we care about as well like games, comics, and TV shows.
So when does escapism become a “bad” thing? If you find yourself ignoring or avoiding issues in your life, then you are on teetering on the edge of escapism becoming unhealthy. You are using your hobbies, interests, and creative outlets as a way to not deal with whatever issues are going on in your life in that moment. Escapism is meant to be temporary. When is becomes a constant part of your life, escapism is no longer considered an escape.
Last year, I was inspired by Erin from Girly Geek Blog’s article on denial to write about my experience with escapism and how it isn’t always good for our mental health. People use escapism every day though books, music, television, games, comics, fandoms, etc. to distract ourselves from the stress and hardships of every day life. It’s a way to relax after a long day. It’s a way to escape into something else for just a little while. The real trick is how to come back after escaping for so long.
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CW: Depression, Anxiety It’s been a rough couple of months, my friends. Depression and anxiety have been weighing me down. October was an anniversary of trauma but also the anniversary of the best day of my life. I’ve felt pulled in different directions. I’ve questioned myself, my career, my friendships/relationships, and my social media presence. I have struggled with trying to find what is right for me while also trying to discern actual unhappiness and unfulfillment from my depression and anxiety. So far, I haven’t been successful. I want to focus on what I haven’t questioned, too, though. I have never questioned my marriage. I have never questioned going to the gym. I have never questioned going to therapy. I have never questioned my blog or YouTube channel. Those things genuinely make me happy every day. I wish I had more time to give the attention to the things that make me happy. I’m going to be focusing more on myself, more so than I have ever before. I’m making this an accountability post of sorts. From now on, I’m going to eat better and track my calories again without obsessing over the number on the scale. My goal is to be stronger. I’m going to do things that make me happy. I’m going to find fulfillment in hobbies that aren’t my career. I’m going to make peace with my path changing and my journey taking a route I’m not familiar with. I’m going to focus on my mental health so I can be my best self for me and my husband. I’m going to make time to spend with him and our dog. October is behind me. November has better things coming my way. I’m putting it into the universe and manifesting the rest of 2019 to be better. 🖤
My Experience with Unhealthy Escapism
I’ve felt pulled in different directions. I’ve questioned myself, my career, my friendships/relationships, and my social media presence. I have struggled with trying to find what is right for me while also trying to discern actual unhappiness and fulfillment from my depression and anxiety. So far, I haven’t been successful. — Spoilers! Mental Health Update
In November 2019, I was diagnosed with depression. The weird thing is, I never imagined that I would have it. In fact, it was so stigmatized to me that I came to the conclusion that these feelings must mean I needed to take a new career path and potentially go back to school. Maybe I needed a vacation. Maybe I needed a new hobby (Hi, YouTube). Maybe I needed to change my diet. Maybe I needed more friends. I tried on many hats to try to find what in the world could be wrong. After all, I already had anxiety and PTSD, so it must not be a mental health thing… right? Spoiler: I was wrong.
Let’s back track to the beginning of 2019, before I was diagnosed with depression. Not long after returning from our DisneyMoon, I realized that something was still off. I thought I had just needed a vacation after all the stress of immigration paperwork and wedding planning, but the same feelings washed over me only a few days after being home and getting back to reality.
I came to the (incorrect) conclusion that I must be unhappy with my job. This led me down a rabbit hole of researching going back to school to be a librarian or web developer, how to go freelance full time, getting a master’s degree, and applying for jobs back in Alabama as well as Ireland. I was struggling with feeling like maybe I don’t feel challenged enough or possibly I am too challenged and feel inadequate. I wanted to hit my 3D modeling portfolio hard in preparation for the future, but I just couldn’t get motivated or focused.
When job searches and career research wasn’t dominating my thought process, I basically couldn’t get myself get off the couch. The only time I left the house was to go to work and the gym. Otherwise I was on the couch binge watching Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube while simultaneously playing Pocket Camp on my phone or reading web comics. I wasn’t able to concentrate solely on one thing so I chose to instead submerge myself in TV, games, and comics all at once.
I had moments of clarity where I suddenly had motivation. I would meal prep, write, film, and leave the TV binging for Sunday afternoons. I thought that these waves of unhappiness could be filled with fandoms, reading, and playing games. I thought these feelings would just go away if I stuffed them down far enough in the back of my mind or moved the blame onto something else like my career.
My husband urged me to talk to my therapist. Something that we didn’t understand has to be happening, we thought, and he didn’t think a career switch was going to make it all go away. This had gone on almost a year now. In late October, I finally expressed to my therapist that I thought something was going on, but I didn’t really know what. I couldn’t concentrate, I had no motivation, and all I wanted to do was lay on the couch and lose myself in TV shows, games, and comics.
She explained that everything I was listing off pointed in the direction of depression. “But I don’t feel sad.” I had said to her. She told me I didn’t have to feel sad to have depression, and we talked about what my next steps could be. While we talked, I realized I was throwing myself down these rabbit holes and using games and TV to distract me from what was actually going on. My experience with escapism was allowing me to ignore my mental health in the worst kind of way.
After a visit with my doctor and getting some medication sorted, I tried to evaluate the ways I escape and how I could make them healthier so that I don’t fall back into those patterns of avoidance. I am the queen of avoidance so it was really hard to see if my ways of using escapism as a coping mechanism were self care or toxic for my mental health. I wanted to share a bit of what I learned with you.
How Can We Use Escapism in a Healthy Way?
- Real life comes first. If we consciously make the choice of dealing with whatever is going on in our real lives first, escapism has less of a chance of becoming unhealthy. I think if we define the severity of issues that need to be dealt with and deal with those issues that need immediate attention, then we can comfortably escape for a moment to recharge from the stress.
- Make a schedule. Making a schedule works the best for me right now, because I have set times and days for my job, going to the gym, filming for YT, etc. I can actually make time each day to de-stress if I want or need to. Making a schedule also makes it easier for me to set a time limit on how long I can “escape.”
- Set a time limit. Before I dive into a Netflix binge or a gaming marathon to de-stress, I set a time limit. With a time limit, I can tell myself that I will handle real life after a certain amount of time. This works well if there’s something I need to handle like chores, assignments, or anything else that has a set timeline. Setting a time limit will also allow me to come back to a problem with a fresh perspective and (hopefully) less stressed in a timely manner.
- Recharge with self care. This is by far one of the biggest things I struggle with. Rather than just becoming a couch potato, I’d like to actually be more picky with where I spend my precious energy and how I recharge after a stressful day. Binge watching Netflix or playing a frustrating game doesn’t necessarily make me feel refreshed. I think recharging looks different for everyone so I plan on reflecting back on ways I can give myself more self care.
- Engage in real life more. I find myself choosing to escape rather than engage in my real life so I am hoping to change that. I think it would greatly improve my relationships and friendships if I went out with friends or went out for date night instead of staying home. When the weather warms up, I think it’d benefit me and my dog to take more walks in nature and just listen to music or podcasts instead of staying in bed on a Sunday morning.
- Make it active and engaging. My time I use to recharge is usually spent on TV or games so I’d like to focus on learning and being more active in the time I use to de-stress. I started to get into K-Pop last year, and I’d really like to explore some new bands. I would like to take some courses on video editing and perhaps work on learning a new language. I’m still on my own health journey and would like to use that time being more active by doing something engaging and relaxing like playing Dance Now on the PS4 or rolling out my mat to do some yoga. I am making a list now of things I’d like to do so I can reference it before I choose to flop on the couch to binge Netflix.
- Find support. I know that sometimes I need a little push to come back from escapism, and other times I need someone to almost give me permission to get away from everything. That’s where my support network comes in. Whether it’s my husband, my friends, or my family, I am able to lean on them when things are getting too hard. They can give me a new perspective on things or motivate me to get it done or help me see that I really just need a break sometimes.
- Find other coping mechanisms. Escapism itself isn’t a bad thing as I’ve said already, but it’s always good to have tools in your belt that you can use to cope. I use therapy as one of mine. I’m still learning and growing so I haven’t quite filled my tool belt up with coping mechanisms that all work for me just yet, so I plan on exploring this as well.
This is by far one of the hardest entries for Mental Health in the Geek Community that I’ve written. It’s mostly because I am currently battling a bad bout of depression and trying very hard not to fall into old habits again. It’s hard to leave the bed sometimes, but I know if I do, I’ll feel better. I just have to put one foot in front of the other. This whole post could really be summed up as “keep putting one foot in front of the other, but take breaks when you need to.”
So let’s reflect a little on escapism. It can be a healthy way to relieve stress, but it can also prevent you from engaging in real life if you do it too much. It’s okay to enjoy Netflix binges and gaming marathons. It just can’t be all the time at the expense of your mental health or used to ignore issues that need your attention. I hope the eight ways I have listed above can help you find out how to make escapism a healthy way for you to cope and de-stress without taking you out of real life for too long.
What are some ways that you use escapism? Have you ever let it become an unhealthy coping mechanism? What helped you? Let me know in the comments!
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