Old TV set on road in suburban neighborhood at night

Three years ago, I suffered a personal tragedy that left me with post-traumatic stress disorder. I couldn’t focus on anything, didn’t care about my personal hygiene, and had no control over my mood swings. I had no energy to do any of my favorite hobbies or see my friends. The monotony of trauma really got to me. I didn’t know who I was anymore outside of my tragedy, and it was awful.

About a month after my tragedy, I turned on the TV and Dr. Phil was on. I never gravitated to those kinds of reality shows, but this time I was hooked. It was petty, overblown, dramatic, ridiculous, and it had nothing to do with my tragedy. I’d found something outside of myself to focus on, but I realized much later that this was doing more harm than good.

I continued to watch Dr. Phil. I didn’t like or love the show, and I still don’t, but I relished the drama. I didn’t have flashbacks when I was watching a family with an out-of-control teenage daughter. I didn’t have to think about my future when I was watching a struggling drug addict talk about getting high. I didn’t have to think about anything, or even feel conscious of my body. Listening to people complain about their problems or tragedies gave me an escape from mine. It was a relief.

From Dr. Phil, I moved on to Hoarders. In Hoarders, the drama was dirtier (literally), more personal, with a vast diversity of problems. This is when my reactions began to change. Instead of relief, I felt only anger. I criticized and belittled the problems of the hoarders and their families. They think they have it bad? I thought. They’re complaining about nothing, I thought. What the hell is wrong with these people? I thought. I loathed these thoughts that took over my mind. I’d ask myself why I was wasting time watching this, yet I didn’t stop.

Why Dr. Phil? Why Hoarders? Why not watch the shows I actually loved, like Supernatural and Star Trek? Why stay in this cycle of relief and anger? I’m still trying to figure that out. What I do know is that these shows enabled me to deny my newly changed life circumstances. But these shows fed a loathing for other people’s problems that leeched into my daily interactions. Watching those shows only fed the cycle of relief and anger inside me, and I had to break this cycle.

I’m ashamed to admit this. I’m not proud of this behavior. I was judgmental and prejudiced in ways I had never been before my tragedy. Reality TV shows are a guilty pleasure for some people, but I felt guilty because I was using the problems of others as a crutch to escape my own problems.

I have more control and understanding of my PTSD now, and I don’t watch Dr. Phil or Hoarders or any reality TV shows. I’m in a place where I can watch the shows I love and not feel guilty for taking time to heal. Now that is true relief.