Whilst working through the Skins DVD box-set I received for my birthday last week something strange happened. Something I wasn’t expecting but, in hindsight, should have.
In April 2009 I was living in a dodgy boarding house in Inverness. The boarding house was a converted kindergarten school, complete with child-size toilets and Playschool-esque wall decorations. With sixteen other people living in the house personal space was limited, and I spent most of my time huddled in my room, twiddling my thumbs and trying to find something to fill the void.
At the time I was suffering through a particularly nasty depressive episode, veering in and out of suicidal ideation and desperately trying to procure some professional help from the local mental health services.
On one night, in an effort to provide some relief from the self-harm I had been engaging in, I walked the two kilometers to the local Tesco supermarket at around eleven in the evening. Although I hadn’t planned on it, I ended up purchasing a copy of Skins Series 3 from their entertainment section and returned home to watch it.
As I had done countless times in the past, I ended up staying up the entire night to watch the ten episode series in a televisual marathon. By the end of it all urge to self-harm had evaporated and for the next several days no suicidal thought crept into my mind. Courtesy of a simple television show, for several days I was calm, at ease and able to focus on what I needed to do.
Whilst watching the same season over the weekend, I was taken back to those dark days and reminded that were it not for Skins there is a reasonable chance that I wouldn’t be here to write these words today.
All of which got me thinking about other entertainment products that have saved my life over the years.
1. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1993)
This is the video-game that began my life-long love affair with the world of Hyrule and a game that, more than any other, defines my child-hood. At a time when my depression was first starting to bite and the urge to self-harm was becoming increasingly difficult to overcome, having a world to escape to was a tremendous solace to me. So much so that when the game was re-released for the Gameboy Advance in the early naughties, I was one of the first in line to add it to my collection purely so I could relive some of the happier memories of my teenage years.
2. Doctor Who: The Classic Era (1993)
There is a reason why I was so excited by the recent fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who. It wasn’t just because I have been a fan for over twenty-five years of my life, but because during the mid-nineties, when I was first becoming lost to depression, self-harm and suicidal urges, it provided me with an escape like no other. Although heavily criticized for its effects, the classic-era of Doctor Who will long be held in my heart, and not just because one of my strongest memories is of Sarah Sutton stripping down to her underwear in the story Terminus!
3. The Famous Five (1995)
One of my strongest memories of childhood is of my parents reading me the Famous Five books each and every night. They owned the complete collection in – what I remember being – first edition hardbacks. Although I may have seemed a little too old for these stories at the time, during the harshness of those teenage years I would often delve back into the world of 1950s innocence as a way to escape the pain that I was feeling.
4. Highlander (1997)
During the late nineties there were only a handful of television series that I was passionate about. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was one, Due South another, but the biggest of the three was the Vancouver based series Highlander, inspired by the Christopher Lambert starring motion pictures. This series was a huge source of escapism for me at the time and inspired countless aspects of my own writing (from the historical aspect of the storytelling to the presence of immortals). It was also a series that made me want to visit Glenfinnan, which would go on to become one of my favourite places in this world.
5. Doctor Who: Utopia, The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time Lords (2007)
In late 2007, courtesy of losing everything after my breakdown, I owned just one DVD; the final three episodes of Doctor Who’s third series. As a result, over the course of six traumatic months, this became my go-to option in times of distress. As such, they are my three favourite episodes of new Doctor Who, and probably always will be.
6. Brandi Carlile, The Story (2007)
Along with Chasing Cars, this album provided me with the inspiration to begin writing this blog. When I hear songs such as The Story, Turpentine or Again Today I am taken back to the early days of my blogging career, and the hope that this venture provided me with at the time.
7. Supernatural (2007)
After attempting suicide in October 2007 I was a total, complete and utter mess. I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t formulate ideas and I was unable to express how I was feeling to anyone. In fact, for weeks after the event – before becoming homeless – all I could do was sit on the sofa and watch random DVDs. It was during this period that I discovered Supernatural; a dark and humorous urban fantasy that enabled me to stay connected to the real-world and prevent the actualization of any further suicidal urges.
8. Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga (2008)
Returning to Scotland in 2008 was a bittersweet experience for me. Although I relished being back amidst the mountains, glens and lochs of the world’s most beautiful country, I was overrun with memories of times past throughout my entire trip. Fortunately, this gleefully enjoyable video-game was at hand to beat back the demons and keep myself from doing anything stupid. I’ve been a fan of the Lego games ever since, and still turn to them in times of distress to this day.
9. Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars and The End of Time (2009)
As David Tennant was starring in the RSC’s production of Hamlet, there was no complete series of Doctor Who in 2009. Instead, we were treated to four ‘specials’ throughout the year; Planet of the Dead, The Waters of Mars and the two-part tenth Doctor’s finale, The End of Time. It was the latter two, which arrived during my initial months of homelessness, that helped ease the distress I was in and provided me with hope and inspiration for a better future.
10. One Tree Hill (2010)
Possibly the most important entry in this list is Mark Schwan’s stunning television series, One Tree Hill. Whilst living in a violent boarding house in late 2010 I essentially became agoraphobic, unable to leave my measly room for any reason for over four weeks. It was only the desire to watch more seasons of One Tree Hill that lifted me from my despair and enabled me to find the strength to rejoin the world. Without the magnificence of One Tree Hill I would definitely not be here, period.
11. Chuck (2011)
Although I had been a fan of Chuck since watching the pilot episode with Samantha in Glasgow, 2008, it was only when I was re-watching the series in internet cafes whilst homelessness did I realise the positive effect it was having on my ideals of hope and determination. Ever since that realization, this show has lived in the forefront of my heart. One of the greatest television series of recent years.
12. Fringe (2012)
After procuring my new home in early 2012 I was a mess. Years of homelessness, despair, depression and hopelessness had taken their toll. Regardless of my new-found privacy and security I couldn’t shake the person I had become in the preceding years. I still believed I deserved nothing but pain, misery and a painful death. Fortunately, the decision to watch Fringe Season 3 changed all that. Within twenty-four hours I had polished off the 22 episode season and began working my way through seasons one and two before watching season three for a second time. As such, I have long credited this exquisite science-fiction show for giving me a renewed hope in the world and the strength to keep going when all felt lost.
13. The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass (2012)
Last Christmas was a particularly brutal period for me. For nearly two months I was overwhelmed by the demons of depression, who pushed me against my will into the realms of alcoholism, self-harm and suicidal ideation. Luckily, courtesy of a birthday present from my parents, I had the world of Zelda to retreat into and, much like it did when I was but a fresh-faced teenager, it helped me quell the demons who were threatening me with extinction.