Yesterday, I asked my husband to watch an episode of the CW TV show Supernatural: season 4: episode 6. I had a reason for it besides just wanting to rewatch the show (especially now that the influx of new shows and movies online has slowed to a trickle). In the episode, a ghost infects Dean with a sickness that makes him get worried, then get anxious, then get terrified and die. Despite the supernatural aspects of the show and the fact that Dean is cured at the end when the brothers vanquish the ghost, the show does a really good job of showing how anxiety can feel and how it feels for others around you.
At first, after Dean gets sick, he seems okay and then he’ll say things like “I’m not going to make a left-turn across oncoming traffic. I’m not suicidal.” And his brother Sam thinks that that’s strange but doesn’t say anything. Dean then makes a puzzled face and says “Did I just say that? That’s kind of weird, right?” and, as someone with anxiety, I thought they nailed that feeling of anxiety ratcheting up unawares and then suddenly you realize that you’re really anxious and acting differently because of it.
At one point, Sam asks why Dean doesn’t go up to their hotel room, and Dean looks at him with a kind of shamefaced look and says it’s on the fourth floor and shrugs. Sam almost rolls his eyes and says “I’ll get a room on the first floor.” Dean gratefully thanks him. The scene ends there but I just imagine Sam having to move all their stuff to the first floor and trying not to feel too annoyed that he has to do this with no help because of an irrational fear of heights. I’ve definitely made requests that to most people seemed irrational or annoying while sort of knowing it was irrational but also shamefacedly shrugging because no matter how irrational it was, I needed the help.
Eventually, Dean starts to just get really skittish and nervous, and when he and Sam are investigating, they open a door on a suspicious noise. The door reveals a little kitten and Dean screams bloody murder and jumps sky-high. I have definitely had this kind of reaction to a non-threatening experience because my body was just so keyed up that I couldn’t do anything else. I’ve jumped at runners coming up behind or someone wanting to ask for directions, although I have managed not to manage to actually scream at them—just barely.
One interaction that really hit home was when Sam and Dean use their fake government IDs, which they do basically every episode, but Dean loses his confidence and starts to get very stressed and asks questions like “What if people find out? What if they recognize that they are fake? We could go to jail.” I was right there with him—those are exactly the kinds of thoughts and worries that I would have in the unlikely scenario I ever needed to do that.
Part of what I love about this episode is that aside from a little teasing at the end, Sam is pretty understanding. He rolls his eyes a bit but he rolls with it. He doesn’t get it and doesn’t feel the anxiety that Dean does, but he gets that Dean feels it and he cares about Dean so he doesn’t question or yell at him for something he can’t help. I wish that more people could get that anxiety is an illness—and much more real than “ghost sickness”—and that you can’t help it when it gets you in its grips.