I Read/Write/Watch Horror to Cope with My Mental Illness

I always enjoyed horror though I never considered myself a fan of horror. I remember watching Tim Curry portray Pennywise the Clown in “IT” (1990) when I was three or four. I pretended to sleep while my parents (and I) watched the film “Dr. Giggles” (1992) about an escaped mental patient who kills with a surgical theme when I was six. I saw the film “Return to Cabin by the Lake” (2001) about a murderous screenwriter as a teenager. These films standout because they reminded me of suppressed trauma. Repressed memories that only recently returned.

I recall watching many films and having no emotional response. Scenes that made most tear up left me feeling numb or indifferent. I felt out of place and segregated from everyone else who had ‘feelings.’ Even horror films didn’t scare me or make me jump. I felt I knew the scares were coming. In high school and the first few years of college, I was described as ‘creepy’ by many of my peers. I could easily sneak up and scare others. I’d walk behind them for several minutes before they noticed me. One friend remarked after going through a haunted house it didn’t scare them because they had known me for so long.

I didn’t become an avid reader until my late 20s, but I’ve always had interest in writing. In the first grade, I wrote a detective story. It had all the tropes of film noir though I didn’t know what those were at the time. Film noir has similar elements to horror with suspense building and dealing with killers without the fantasy elements. I always enjoyed reading the works of Edgar Allan Poe and he is considered the creator of the detective story.

Many of the stories I have written or plan to write deal with death in one way or another. Some may not be called horror stories but still have death somewhere. I have written a few detective stories as well and they’re much better than that first one in the first grade. Serial killers, murderers, monsters, and people who’ve lost their minds take center stage in many of my stories. These are the topics in which I am most interested. Why do I have this fascination with killers, monsters, and madmen? Why would anyone want to think about these horrors?

I believe this is my way of coping with my own trauma. Upon writing this, I am 32. My trauma began when I was four. It had such an impact on me, I had to begin anger management counseling when I was six. We were cleaning up one day in class to go to recess. I was putting away a puzzle or something and this other boy tried to help. I told him I got it. He helped anyway. I got angry and hit him with a chair. I reacted with violence because I was exposed to violence at home. I thought that was the best response.

As I’ve aged, repressed memories resurfaced, and I’ve started to feel. I tear up during emotional scenes in romantic comedies or dramas. I can feel my heart racing during chase scenes in horror or action films. Horror films and horror fiction remind me of the violence and terror I experienced as a child without causing a panic attack. Writing horror fiction, I believe, is my way of dealing with the trauma and getting all the pain out. My mind has tried to pull my repressed memories forward through horror fiction. I think this is why horror is becoming even more popular as so many traumas continue in our chaotic world.

I am not the only person to experience this and this is not exclusive to PTSD. People with different anxiety disorders have a similar affinity toward horror fiction. Here are a few other articles I’ve found on the subject.

How do you feel about horror when it comes to your mental health? Is it helpful as it is for me or do you struggle with watching or reading horror?

Photo Credit: James & Carol Lee