Deadened to The Walking Dead

Today is Wednesday. For me, that means I slow down for the day and avoid all work. It seems weird to most that I would take a full day off every Wednesday, but it recently occurred to me, we don’t call it “Hump day” for nothing. I took the push out of hump day. The moment I decided this, I smiled and went, “Yeah!” I only regret that many others can’t do the same.

I live in New York and was born and raised with a New York City work ethic. 80 hours a week? No problem! Let me just fill my coffee pot here…and…I’m good! But I wasn’t. Like so many, I was using the work to escape problems, an unhappy home, unpleasant memories. New Yorkers learned a long time ago how wonderful it is to use work as an escape. What’s worse, I love the work! So do many of my Northern brethren. I adore the work! I adore the reward! That feel good adrenaline that stays with you, och! Addicted to it! For many of us here, it sticks with you long and hard that you just can’t wait to jump back in and work your life away to get another taste of that adrenaline flow. Addiction? Oh, hell yes!

When I reshaped my life style, the last thing I thought about was my work load. So what if I published six books a year, wrote 90,000 words in two weeks, built, organized, and managed the Brain to Books CyCon, while parenting three children under the age of 13, maintaining a household, tending to more than ten gardens, and managing my writing career? I could do it! Couldn’t I?

This wasn’t the only place where I had stretched my senses thin only to numb myself to the consequences when they set in. Colds, flues, mood, misery, exhaustion, slush brain, fogged thoughts, significant short term memory loss…I was fine. The same rang true for my tolerance to gore, blood, and violence. I was bored with the gore in the Underworld films. Zombies, flesh, blood, gore, eh. None of it mattered to me.

I walked into therapy May 2015. The first thing my therapist did was pull me off the war movies. All of New England heard that blood-curdling scream as she ripped Platoon and Full Metal Jacket from my hands. “I need those!” I barely escaped with The Walking Dead hugged to my chest. It’s been a long 18 months. Within six months, I found I didn’t want to watch the war movies any more (I still watched The Walking Dead). I sought out more romantic comedies, more comedies, more science fiction. I found a happy TV place in Classic Doctor Who and nestled there comfortably 10 January 2016. I’ve been there ever since and am still there. I step away now and then to watch Jeff Dunham, Iron Man, Star Trek, and X-Man.

My work load was next. It was something a very dear friend of mine said to me most recently.

“How old is your oldest?” she asked.

“13.”

“And would you be okay with her handling your work load?”

“Hell, no—Oh.”

“Then why are you? What would you be comfortable with her doing?”

“Writing. The CyCon. Maybe one other project.”

“There you go.”

I nodded. The next day I cancelled twenty projects and two anthologies I had committed to. I forced myself to slow the fuck down.

This September I started meditation. Classic breathing mediation. Mediation is the undoing of trauma and I had a lot to undo.  I took up Yoga and fell in love with it on day one. Every morning since then, I start my coffee, do 30 minutes of yoga, meditate for 15, then eat breakfast. I went to the doctor’s. My first appointment since 2006. She conducted a full physical and through x-ray and physical therapy we learned that I had piriformis syndrome (a shredded hip muscle).

A single line runs through my head multiple times every day: “To accept what we’ve done, who we were. To make up for it. And to commit to never doing it again.” The Walking Dead: Here’s Not Here. I took up Tai Chi.

“Slow down,” I repeat every day. Slow down. I still struggle racing through breakfast so I can get to work. Not work, I tell myself. Today is Wednesday. You read. You write. You blog. Nothing else. It’s so hard.

Last night, I returned to The Walking Dead. All my therapy flooded back within the first 30 seconds.

“Every time you turn on the TV, you trust a producer and director with what your mind will hear and see. Clearly, they aren’t to be trusted, yet we keep turning that TV on and handing our fate to them. For the next 45 minutes they will determine what viewers see and hear. And we let them.” She said this to me in therapy months ago when Neegan first graced the scene. I spent the summer wondering, “Will I return to The Walking Dead this October?”

I didn’t buy the full season. I did buy one episode. Last night, I watched that one episode.

“Every time you turn on the TV, you trust a producer and director with what your mind will hear and see. Clearly, they aren’t to be trusted.”

 

***SPOILER ALERT***

 

I started up The Walking Dead. One minute in, I looked away, leaving the sound on. It wasn’t enough. My heightened sense is sound. I muted the TV. I couldn’t handle the graphics. I looked away. I had expected the gore to be over. I had never thought they would show everything…everything. I walked in not trusting and boy, did it pay off. But I grew impatient, annoyed, irritated. When did The Walking Dead stop being about the story and start being about the shock factor? Enough already! I wanted to scream. I spent most of the 45 minutes looking away. Too numb to feel—I felt my dissociation kick back in full gear—blood and gore. I went into shock and entered trance—I felt my PTSD switch back on. I paused the TV and walked away. Stop watching or keep going? Why was I watching? Was there enjoyment? Was I content? Clearly not. Then why was I watching? Because I wanted to see Rick and Daryl and Glen make it through. I wanted to see Michonne and Carl, Abraham and Maggie survive this. Why was I watching? Was it worth it? They’re fictional characters. Not real people. Why did I feel obligated to sacrifice my very real emotions for a cast of fictional people? What irks me more than ever, the actors themselves don’t experience the same impact as viewers! Their experience was constantly interrupted with bloopers, jokes, forgetting their lines, cuts, scene set up…they never once had the time or the soundtrack to sink their emotions into the story. The role, yes. Not the story.

The horde of zombies surrounding the RV came and went. “When did the zombies stop being the antagonist? Why did they have to “one-up” themselves? Rick returned to the group and I thought it was over. If only. I listened to my instincts when Neegan wrapped his belt around Carl’s arm and drew that damn line. I recognized that music tuned to our heartbeats—it’s a musical trick musicians use. Our heartbeats will match a set rhythm. If you increase the rhythm, your heartbeat will follow. I muted the TV. I looked away. I took back my control and refused to follow their flood of anxiety they attempted to evoke in me as Neegan told Rick to chop off his son’s arm.

When Neegan stopped Rick and pulled back his troops, only then would the emotion thaw. All that shock and fear slowly dissipated and I felt the emotions settle. I sobbed with Maggie as she tried to collect Glen’s remains. I hate Maggie. I always have…until now.

 

***END SPOILER ALERT***

 

The show ended. Sure. The credits rolled, but there I was sitting in a pool of my own emotions. The director and producer are gone. But my emotions are clearly intact. My PTSD is going wild. I have never in my life had an issue with blood, violence, and gore…until now. I collected myself and sat next to my husband on the bed as we began Doctor Who. 1986 Sylvester McCoy…the 7th Doctor. I see their guns and I flinch. I settle down and try to watch the Doctor. It’s 1986 television, but I can feel myself flinching at every gun being fired. Every sound…every explosion…every Dalek. At one point my husband looks at me and asks, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Why?” I say.

“You’re crying.”

I hadn’t noticed. My face is soaked. As I wiped the tears away, more just fell. It was an hour later and here I was flinching and jumping at 1980’s violence. I wanted to turn it off and watch…I couldn’t even tell you what I could watch. 12 Angry Men came to mind. Princess Bride. I struggled finding a movie with zero violence.

Another line from The Walking Dead runs through my mind, “We aren’t meant to kill. Vets! Vets come back from war with PTSD. If we were meant to kill, they would not have PTSD.”

We are not violent creatures. You have to have some serious mental issues to become violent. You have to be raised and exposed to violence and alter our primary psyche to tolerate violence. Cut all violence out of your TV viewing for six months. See what happens when you return. Dare to desensitize yourself. The problems you have in six months are the same you have now…the only difference is you can’t see it at the moment.

I don’t know if I will return to The Walking Dead. My interest in self-preservation and positive mental health now exceeds my tolerance for violence and my curiosity and concern for the characters in the show. I finally value my own sanity far more than a collection of fictional characters. This time, they’ve gone too far.

As I slow down this Wednesday, I am filled with a lot of questions. I’m not sure what my new tolerance levels are. I’m not sure just where my new and old interests lie. And what am I going to do with more than sixty war movies I can’t watch?

Maybe I’ll read a book.

 

About the Author: Angela

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