How Fake Characters Saved My Real Life

By Allie MackertyApril 22, 2014

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with fictional characters.

When I was eight, my dad took me to see Titanic and I fell in love with Rose and Jack. I sobbed when they said to goodbye to one another and when they were reunited in Rose’s dreams. I wished I could find someone to love me that way.

When I was 13, I discovered Star Trek. I met Vulcans, who could teach themselves to crush down and bury every emotion, and I wished I could do the same when things got too tough to handle.

In college, I opened the dusty pages of Richard III in my English textbook. I saw how anger and bitterness could twist a person and drive them to the edge, and I thought I could understand how pain could make someone want to lash out, even though I couldn’t condone it.

When I was 24, I took my sister to see The World’s End and followed Gary King, a man who had never seemed to grow out of his wild teenage years. He was an alcoholic, a drug addict, and seemingly a complete and utter screw-up. While his friends were able to grow up, move on past their teenage whims, and join society, Gary rejected all these notions and lived his life in desperate search of a way to capture the happiness of his youth. He puffed himself up, playing off his wild and crazy life style as ideal and free, only to have alcohol and his old childhood friend slowly strip away his armor to expose the pain, depression, and utter loneliness he was actually fighting.  In Gary, I saw something that captivated me even more than the majesty of the Titanic or an emotionally repressed Vulcan.

I saw myself.

Anxiety and depression have always been a part of my life. There were days, and still are days, when they drag me down to the point that I feel I’m being pressed under some enormous weight I can’t remove. Some days, the anxiety preys on every weakness and self-doubt and makes it impossible to calm down. Distractions like alcohol or self-harm may work for a moment, but they only leave me feeling even more broken and hurt once that moment passes. Last year, for the first time, I started to believe there would never be anything better on the horizon and started trying, desperately, to look for an escape.

My friends, my family, my teammates on my hockey and softball teams—they cared about me and I knew it. But it was hard to really make myself care when I knew that I didn’t care about me. It took a lot for me to start trying to believe I was worth saving—and honestly, a lot of motivation came from that messed up, damaged, and fictional soul named Gary King.

In Gary, I saw someone who had traveled the same path I was on. He puts on his goofball, cocky armor, and it fools a lot of people, but underneath he is a broken man who can’t cope with his issues. As the movie progresses, he is forced to face these issues and find a way to move in another direction to keep himself alive. It isn’t the direction people expect, nor one society wants him to take, but once he starts on his way, you can see the change in him. He genuinely appears happy—not distracted, not drunk, not repressed—happy. He was a fictional character in a fictional world, but his struggle and his redemption felt incredibly and painfully real to me.

The fictional worlds we create for ourselves and for others do a lot more than simply entertain us. On the Titanic I discovered a desire for love, and on the Enterprise I realized that trying to turn off or bottle up negative emotions I couldn’t handle wasn’t working and would never work. Richard made me fear for what my anger and my bitterness could make me do, and Gary King held up a mirror to the pain I was trying to hide. I couldn’t go on living like my anxiety and depression didn’t exist, but I couldn’t let it rule my life either. It wasn’t enough to try to fight back for others; I had to fight back for me and find my own happiness. Maybe it took hearing that advice from the mouth of a fictional character for me to see its rationale, but what matters is that I finally believed it.

I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by a lot of caring and loving people who want to help me. Community is a vital part of anybody’s recovery process. But sometimes, no matter how sincere people are, I worry that I will rely on them too much or cease to be my own person, or that once they see who I really am under my class clown exterior, they will decide that a friendship with me is too tough to handle. These are issues I am working through, slowly but surely, but right now I still need a little bit of help. Sometimes, a fictional character going through the same things can provide more comfort than a real person who hasn’t been there. Movies, TV shows, and books don’t just provide a fun escape from the real world; they help me survive it.

For me (and for many others), fictional worlds often provide clues to who I am and what I can do. I’ve found that I can’t hide from myself, no matter how much I might want to. I’ve found connections to people I can never meet outside of the movie screen or the pages of a book, but somehow they can play a real role in my everyday life.

Counseling, mental health resources, medication, community—these are all brave and important approaches to recovery. But if you’re looking for more reasons to keep going, it might help to keep watching and keep reading along the way.

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Comments (14)

  1. Julia

    I loved that movie too…but surely Gary King came from a real part of Simon Pegg. If not from Simon, then maybe from a friend of his, or a family member. If nothing else, it shows that your experience and struggles are shared by many others, and common enough to make it into fiction. 😉

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  2. Rm Mize

    What a brave and encouraging post. It can be hard for people who haven’t experienced this kind of pain to understand what you’re going through, even if you articulate it perfectly. I have found it entirely possible to lose friends to this condition because you don’t just “snap out of it,” so I not only admire you for your message–I admire the loved ones who stand by anyone with this condition. It’s not easy for anyone.

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  3. Becca

    This is amazing, and it’s so great how Gary King, through showing how inside he was desperately in need of help, has helped you and many others realise this
    All the best wishes for recovery
    Stay strong xx

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  4. Anonymous

    I think books movies Tv etc. Can be very powerful in our lives. Your blog reminded me that those are places I can choose to look for encouragement. Thank you for your words.

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  5. Casey

    Wow, this is amazing! I totally understand, and feel understood! Sometimes I feel so weird when I connect with characters to the extent I do. I’m not a gamer, I’m not a comic book lover, I don’t watch much TV…I’m not really in a stereotype of who I think really likes fictional characters…yet I find this CRAZY connection with certain characters. And it is through these characters I find pieces of myself. And it through the stories of these characters I develop my own story; I work through my own issues and grow along with them.

    It’s fun…and life changing 🙂

    My characters:
    -Elsa from Frozen
    -Regina Mills/Evil Queen from Once Upon a Time

    Thank you for sharing. I really did think I was on my own little island of weirdness.

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    1. Lauren

      You’re definitely not weird! I love Regina btw, I can relate to her too. My biggie is Darth Vader.

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    2. A_Rose

      I can definitely relate to not fitting the stereotype! I’m like that too. I do like quite a variety of films, though.

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  6. esme

    Words have saved my life. I’ve lived a thousand lives and all of them have taught me something. I’ve laughed and cried, loved and hated been both good and evil. It freed me and helped me heal. I could become someone else, lose myself and reality for awhile and discover my truths, decide who I could become and what I could overcome.

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  7. Lauren

    I love this, because I too have bonded so much to certain characters in movies. I seem to draw my closest bonds to dark characters who have a lot of pain. One of the big ones is Darth Vader (specifically, Hayden Christiensen’s). I feel so connected to him, that I recall talking to a therapist about Episode III, and she was bashing his performance and making fun of he character, and I actually got defensive. I started defending him and she said to me, “It’s a fictional character, why do you feel the need to defend him?” That always stuck with me. I feel his pain, his self doubt, his fear and ultimately his downfall because of these things. Even though he does horrible things, I still see the scared little soul inside, and I see the good in him. And then ultimately, he finds his peace. I can relate so well to him. I see the scared little soul in me. I feel like anything I do wrong is horrible (even though it’s really anything but – I’m convinced that (insert family member) will leave me). And his redemption gives me hope that if he can find peace after all his struggle and darkness, that I too may be able to.
    I always thought I was nuts for relating to such an “evil” character (what does that say about me? Am I truly evil? etc.). Thank you for sharing this, because now I know someone else finds part of themselves in fictional characters and can relate.

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  8. A_Rose

    Thank you so much for this article! I feel the same way about certain franchises and film characters. I’ve realised so much about myself through them. Such revelations have often taken me aback! It’s nice to hear of another’s experience, given how some people just don’t seem to understand. I’ve only ever really had platonic feelings about characters, and they’re often characters I can relate to, or want to be more like. I often hear “you know they’re fictional characters, and they’re not real, right?” when I try to explain how I feel (and inevitably drop a reference to a character) to family. Of course I know that! But it doesn’t mean I can’t find a meaningful connection to their experiences and emotional responses. In different measures, Sonny from “I, Robot”, Logan, and other Marvel characters such as Tony Stark have had a massive impact on me. That’s to name a few. I was also moved by Gary King. So thanks again for a great article!

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  9. Amalia

    I think I agree.. characters are my way of getting out there. Talking about them help so much. And I can find those like me. And get more friends that way.

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  10. Amalia

    I think I agree.. characters are my way of getting out there. Talking about them help so much. And I can find those like me. And get more friends that way. You know?

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    I love your article.
    Friends were my friends when they first aired on television and should I feel down I turn to netflix to catch up with old friends 😃

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  12. Nomee

    Wow. Thank you for being brave enough to share.

    Reply  |  
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