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How I Feel About Spoilers as a Person With Anxiety

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Unpopular opinion: I love spoilers.

Important consideration: I have an anxiety disorder.

Let’s talk about spoilers. With “Avengers: Endgame” released in theaters and the final season of “Game of Thrones” airing, spoilers are everywhere right now.

In recent years, the discourse around spoilers has become intense. Writers beg people not to spoil their work for others. People go on complete social media blackouts to avoid accidentally being spoiled. People who provide spoilers are reviled and, in one recent case, physically assaulted.

It is easy to understand this hatred as one misplaced word can ruin a plot twist that has been building for years. It was much harder to spoil a film or TV show for people before the age of the internet and social media, so it is only natural that the entire concept of such a thing has only arisen in the past couple of decades. Nevertheless, spoilers are here to stay, whether delivered to purposefully ruin someone’s experience, accidentally revealed in conversation or shared with others as an expression of excitement about a new piece of media.

Today, I am gonna introduce you to a new concept: the idea that spoilers are not always a bad thing and you shouldn’t look down on people who actively seek them out, or who provide them to people who want them.

I tend to go see most major films with a specific group of my friends, and any time I tell them I have already been spoiled for something, their reaction is viscerally aggressive. It’s a general, “Why would you do that? Now you’ve ruined it!” sort of reaction that radiates a disappointment that I am no longer going into the movie with the same blank slate as them. One can, to some extent, understand this reaction as it does immediately change the dynamic of the group experience, but what is never considered is why I made a conscious decision to spoil myself.

I live with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and depression. I think I have experienced symptoms of both my whole life, but my actual diagnosis came in my sophomore year of high school. Before this, we spent years chasing a mystery illness that was giving me a constant sick stomach; turns out it was all “just” anxiety. My anxiety will often flare up with no specific trigger whatsoever, particularly if I am extremely emotional about something.

Here, I feel the need to clarify that emotional does not mean sad, though it includes sad. Being excited, sad, surprised, angry — any over-the-top amount of emotion can trip my anxiety. When I am feeling confident and in a good place, it is easy to go into new media awaiting the surprise of the story just like everyone else. However, if I am having a bad time, even just a week where I am overly tired, I find it best to alleviate the unpredictability.

Sometimes, as was the case with “Avengers: Endgame,” I spoil myself in advance knowing that the strong emotions brought forth by the film would likely lead to an anxiety attack, no matter how minor. In other cases, as with my viewing of BBC’s “Sherlock,” spoilers allowed me to reign in the overwhelming excitement I felt about the show, avoiding the sort of anxiety attacks I often get before big events I am excited about.

For me, spoilers are a way of keeping my mental health in check and reining in my emotions. I know to neurotypical people this sounds like an overreaction, but to me, an important character’s demise doesn’t just cause tears; it can make me physiologically uncomfortable and even sick. Anxiety attacks are not just the kind of full-on panic people are used to seeing. My low-level ones, of the sort associated with media consumption, are a feeling I describe as being a combination of feeling cranky like a toddler in need of a nap whilst also having a physical feeling of withdrawing inside yourself and being nauseous. Certainly not life-threatening but definitely worth spoiling a story to relieve the discomfort.

I just want other people to understand I am not ruining the story for myself or doing so to spite people. I am actively practicing self-care when I feel the need to seek out spoilers. So, thank you to the people who provide spoilers for those in search of them and don’t be too quick to judge someone for spoiling themselves. Some of us need that. We promise not to spoil it for you unless you want us too.

Image via ‘Avengers’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ Facebook Pages

Originally published: May 7, 2019
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