A storm was raging outside. Floodwaters crawled closer to my front door, and the rain didn’t stop, even to take a breath. The screeching gray clouds rumbled and spun and threatened to do so forever.
But instead of getting ready to evacuate during Hurricane Harvey, all I wanted to do was watch Gilmore Girls.I’m not too fond of that show, but my escape to Stars Hallow was the only thing I could bring myself to do, and nothing, not even a hurricane and its 100-year flood, was going to move me off my couch. I felt selfish, guilty, and overwhelmed at the same time. While my sister and mom watched the news and kept tabs on how fast the water rose, my body sunk deeper into the couch. I even contemplated a nap.
That was in 2017. Through therapy sessions, I know that this was a defense mechanism, and it was the exact right thing to do at the time. It’s what my brain was telling me to do, and I needed to be able to function in this seemingly counterintuitive way.
With the Uvalde shooting happening at Robb Elementary this week, anger, despair, and disbelief suffocated me. There was so much I wanted to do, and yet nothing I really could do. As much as I wanted to turn back time, I couldn’t. As much as I wanted to yell at politicians, I couldn’t. As much as I tried to protest, I couldn’t (for caregiver reasons). And as much as I wanted to write, words failed.
The anger, the sadness, the despair was too much. Just too much.
So, I watched an entire season of Catfish.
That’s all I could do and had the energy to consider — Nev, Max, and Kammie hunting down liars and exposing truths.
Walking away from a traumatic event isn’t a bad thing; it’s a form of self-preservation and a way for our brains and bodies to process things, big ugly things that change our lives. For some of us, we turn to media — tv shows, movies, games, even books — to find the things we can’t find at the moment. In 2017 it was Stars Hollow which never gets hurricanes, and nothing bad ever really happens. Now it is Nev, Max, and Kammie smoking out liars and finding the truth before something bad happens.
In previous iterations, it was Dr. Who, Frasier, How I Met Your Mother, Girlfriends, Golden Girls, etc. The list is continuous.
And this, too, is how we care for our mental health in times of tragedy. This allows us to reconcile the reality with the not-so-real (or real with fewer stakes) of our lives. This escapism reminds us that we can pause life just long enough to live in a faux world where the worst thing would be running out of coffee or creating a fake profile only to end up with your ex-boyfriend.
Listen, there’s no playbook for what we are all collectively experiencing. There are no rules or processes that are supposed to be followed because they don’t exist. This is the newest territory drugged in old dirt. We know what we feel, we know it’s not right, we know our anger is just, and we know answers are required.
We also know that the hot takes are fast and furious. The misinformation is abundant. The news alerts on our devices ping with incremental up-to-the-minute information. The behavior of leaders is, as the kids say, sus at best. And we know that it is all coming to us, from all directions, and that our heads are on a swivel.
We have this thought — “we shouldn’t live like this.” Yes, we shouldn’t, and yet here we are. “This is not who we are,” yet here we are. “This is too much to process,” yet here we are.
Yes, here we are. This kindling can start a mental health episode if it hasn’t already.
So, pause it. All of this will be here when we return from our reality break.
Back in 2017, after hours of watching the goings-on in Stars Hallow, I turned off Netflix and looked outside the front door. The water was now close to the garage and a hiccup away from the front door. My mom and sister panicked and weren’t sure what to do next. Pack? What do we pack? Where do we do things? What about the pets?
“Pack a bag, something for a few days, and something you can carry. One bag each. Don’t forget your medicines. Let’s put all the important papers in a Ziplock bag. Put all the phones on chargers and leave them there until we’re ready to go. I’ll pack portable chargers and cords.”
We sprang into action. My sister found a neighbor with a big truck and took people to the courthouse, where the National Guard would take us to higher ground. I wrapped all our bags in garbage bags and electronics in plastic bags. I turned off the main breaker. I got dressed, prayed on the house, locked it, and my family and I jumped into our neighbor’s truck.
I enjoyed my time in Stars Hallow, but eventually, I’d have to leave to face the reality of my situation. We survived something we didn’t think would happen to us, yet we are still here to fight another day.
See, that’s the thing with escapism; it’s temporary. It’s the respite before the fight.
Icess Fernandez Rojas is an educator, writer, podcaster, and a former journalist. She is a graduate of Goddard College’s MFA program.
Her work has been internationally published in PANK, Queen Mobs Lit Journal, Poetry 24, Rabble Lit, Minerva Rising Literary Journal, and the Feminine Collective’s anthology Notes from Humanity. Her Houston-based story, “Happy Hunting”, was published in the Houston Noir anthology.
Her nonfiction/memoir work has appeared in Dear Hope, NBCNews.com, HuffPost and the Guardian. She is a recipient of the Owl of Minerva Award, a VONA/Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation alum, a Dos Brujas Workshop alum, and a Kimbilio Fellow. She’s currently working on her first novel and finishing her memoir, Problematic.