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How 'Jersey Shore' Unexpectedly Helped My Mental Health

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Who here remembers “Jersey Shore?” Those fist pumping, fighting, drama-thriving Guidos and Guidettes were a staple in my house every Thursday night for the whole six seasons it was on. I watched them hit the shore for four seasons and even watched them party in Miami and Italy in the other two. You could say I was a fan. It was the best distraction for me and my college roommates around any midterm or final.

This weekend, I got caught up in a random “Jersey Shore” marathon. There was one episode I remember watching all those years ago. I remember feeling uneasy with my friends as they watched it too. It felt like this particular episode was directed at me and all these years later I still identify with it.

So, you’re asking yourself right now what this particular reality TV show that’s known for some pretty silly story lines could have possibly struck me in an unshakeable way? Well let me explain.

My favorite person on the shore was Vinny Guadagnino. He was witty and his bromance with Pauly D was hilarious. The second episode of the fourth season, the gang had just arrived back from Italy. Vinny wasn’t being himself and everyone was starting to notice. After trying to hide it for a bit he finally opened up to his boss about his struggle with clinical anxiety.

The second he said that, I think my palms started to sweat. This episode came out in 2012 and I was 22. At 22, I knew exactly what was going on with me. I knew there were times I couldn’t get out of my own head and I would start to downward spiral. I knew I was overly nervous about things my friends weren’t. I knew I had quirks (like measuring my sandwich to ensure I ate the smaller side first) that other people my age didn’t have. Mental health in 2012 wasn’t as widely talked about as it is today and it definitely wasn’t as accepted.

I sat there and listened to him describe to his boss what was going on with him. I watched my friends ask questions to each other about what clinical anxiety meant and I sat there the entire time pretending I had no idea. I listened to him talk about how he gets trapped in a cycle with anxiety which ultimately lowers his resilience and leads to depression.

That small piece of information was one I passed over in 2012. I thought, “well I don’t need to worry because I have a handle on my own anxiety and it will never lead to depression.”

Boy was I wrong. If I had listened more to what Vinny was describing instead of trying to compare my situation to his (which obviously were completely different — reality star vs. college student), maybe I would have realized what was happening to me when the worst bout of depression of my life hit me in 2016.

Vinny talked about how his routine of not seeing his family or sleeping regularly was starting to catch up to him. These factors of missing a routine was starting to lead to his anxiety getting to a really bad place again.

Wow do I get that.

It’s not something I like to admit to, but I very rarely sleep. I have enough things on my plate to keep me up late worrying about how I’m going to get them all done. I like to think about everything I’ve ever done wrong in my entire life and cringe about how awful those moments were. And when the insomnia last long enough, the paranoia sets in.

If you’ve never watched the show, you may not know the gang’s motto was “GTL” which translates to gym, tanning, laundry. Other than GTL, the gang works at a T-shirt shop and basically party. It was interesting when Vinny was at his lowest, how he really didn’t want to any of that. He didn’t want to work. He didn’t want to party. He definitely didn’t want to be around people. He felt tired all of the time. He withdrew from everything.

This is the go-to for most people like me with depression and/or anxiety. When I’m in withdrawal mode, I feel like I’m bothering everyone around me, so I just don’t engage. I go so deep inside myself that opening up to anyone else seems awful. I start to utter the phrase I’m fine more than is socially acceptable to the point where the words actually have zero meaning. When I say I’m fine, nothing is fine. I never say I’m fine when I’m in an upswing. Never.

Vinny states that when he manages to get himself out of the house to work, it helps him get out of his own head. He also admits that even though he doesn’t like to be vulnerable and open up, he knows that when he does, he feels like a weight is being lifted. After all that he discloses to his roommates and boss, he then leaves the show for a few episodes to take care of himself.

There are few things in this world that get me out of bed. My dog is one of them, mostly because he has basic needs I need to ensure he gets. Coffee is the other. And on those really bad days, when I don’t feel like getting out of my bed, I bribe myself with a really fancy expensive coffee from my favorite place. It’s because of those two things that I can start to get myself back into a routine. They may sound completely simple but let me tell you, when I’m in a down, those two things and everything else are the hardest.

I think the ultimate lesson here is that when we forget self-care, it’s easy to spiral into a deep, dark depression. When we stop believing we’re worth the care we give other people, you find yourself picking at the things that you hate about yourself. When you get to the point of exhaustion, your ability to rebound is so low that you feel almost helpless.

Depression and anxiety have a feedback loop in your head that’s on repeat. “I’m not good enough” or “I’m not worth it” or “If I could change [insert personality or physical trait here], then I’ll be perfect.” If you hear these words right now, I need you to tell them to shut up. Seriously. Say it out loud, “Shut up voice in my head.” Because that voice will and can bring you down.

There are no easy fixes for anxiety or depression or any other mental health issues for that matter. It’s a constant battle that often has no end date for when it’s over. More than likely, if you’re like me, it will be something you have for the rest of your life.

My advice is — and I think Vinny would agree — talk to someone. Find someone you connect with and can feel comfortable enough being completely vulnerable. Vinny will more than likely never know I exist and never know that I owe him a thank you; a thank you for being so brave and opening up which allowed me for my own journey of acceptance.

We’re now in 2018 and 2018 is the year we continue to talk about mental health. 2018 is for feeling unashamed for being who we are. Be you, whoever that is, and you can’t lose.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Photo via “Jersey Shore” Facebook page

Originally published: February 16, 2018
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