I just finished watching a horror movie on Netflix and it got me thinking. I love the horror genre–partially, because my older brother loved it and, growing up, I wanted to be close to him and partially, because I like a good scare. During my last round of therapy, my counselor and I discussed how horror in the movies is at least somewhat more palatable and even fun compared to the horrors of real life.
I began thinking of the horrors of my family: specifically, those that manifested while I lived with my mom. Before I was pushed out of my home by various factors, we lived in squalor. I never wanted to have people over because of the state of things: the smell, the piles, the holes and cracks in the walls, the mice, cockroaches, fleas and spiders that lurked in every corner. But the most horrifying manifestation of the sickness of my family, of my mother’s impenetrable denial, lived in her shower.
I knew it was living because it grew. It was some sort of fungus that looked like hair coming out of the drain, just longer and blood red. I was deathly afraid of it. In the night, when I needed to use the bathroom and the hall bathroom was occupied, I would wrestle with myself, deciding whether or not I could work up the courage to go into my mom’s bathroom knowing what was in there. More than once, I resorted to relieving myself in the back yard in order to avoid the thing in the shower.
Years later, when facing homelessness, an ex I was living with asked me “Why don’t you just go live with your mom?!” I couldn’t even begin to imagine how to make him understand. I could never go back. Because the fungus slowly creeping out of her shower drain, the mice, the cockroaches crawling across my face at night were just visible symptoms of the real horror of my family, the sickness of abuse and denial. The truly sick people working to make you believe it’s all in your head and you’re the one who’s sick. My mom let me and my older brother be hospitalized multiple times in order to cover up her abuse. She’d let us die before she’d ever admit to anything.
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen true horror captured in a movie. Maybe glimpses of it. But I far prefer horror movies to real-life horror. With a horror movie, you pretty much know what’s coming; sometimes you can even laugh it off and the scare feels exhilarating instead of draining and awful. I also love a villain you can kill. Real life horror is harder to pin down–sometimes, it’s invisible to everyone except the sufferer. I was just thinking that people with mental illness, especially depression and PTSD are haunted people–they’re haunted by the horror of their lives. One of the best things you can do is listen and believe them.