Focusing on the Familiar in Times of Instability

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

Every now and then when I’m scrolling through TikTok, I get a video that says something along the lines of, “did you know it is psychologically proven that if you watch the same television shows over and over again you likely have a mental illness?” 

I get a kick out of these videos, as I am notorious for watching the same shows and movies over and over; but I have never stopped to ponder on whether this is caused, unbeknownst to me, by mental illness. Until now.

The other day, I was having a bad day all around and needed some cheering up. I looked on my nightstand to see my faithful copy of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and picked it up to do some reading. As I was doing so, I made a joke to my roommate, Abby, in typical Gen Z fashion: “Not me re-reading Harry Potter for the 8th time when I should be doing homework because I have a secret mental illness.” 

Although when I said it I was kidding, after the words came out of my mouth, I really thought to myself; Jeez, maybe there is something wrong with me. The funny part of this story was that Abby, too, was re-watching a show she’s already seen instead of doing her homework, which is what gave me the final push into researching this further. 

After a few Google searches I came to the conclusion that I do not have a mental illness that I am unaware of. However, there is definitely still a lot to unpack here. Apparently, psychologists have been asking this question about human behavior for years, and have come to some conclusions. Some websites were really nice about it. Like, “you have a favorite movie because you like it and it makes you happy!” Or, “you watch the same movie every Thanksgiving because it is tradition!” 

I wanted to stop there, reader. I wanted to close my tabs, open my book and say, “Yes, I am re-reading this for the 8th time because I like it and it makes me happy.” But a part of me deep down knew that if I accepted those answers, I would be lying to myself.

The truth is, I don’t just choose to re-watch something when I’m bored and have nothing else to do. I only want to watch shows I’ve seen before, I only want to read things I’ve read before, I only want to watch movies I’ve enjoyed numerous times before. In fact, when someone I’m with wants to watch something I’ve never seen, I feel disappointed and have a hard time focusing. 

You may be wondering, “Well then, how do you expand your horizons if you never try anything new?” Yeah — my dad asks me that all the time. I always respond, “I want to watch something I know I like, rather than wasting my time on something I might not.”

I also realized this doesn’t just apply to shows, movies and books. After taking a hard look at my daily habits and routines, I noticed that I eat the same things every day, do homework at the same time every day and even do my hair and makeup the same way every day. And guess what? I never get bored. Of any of it.

This is why I didn’t stop researching. I wasn’t prepared to self-diagnose OCD, which was the next suggestion I stumbled upon, because I knew that wasn’t the case. After that, I came across a few articles saying this could be linked to a need for control and stability. Especially in uncertain times, people like the comfort of a routine and knowing what is going to come. It gives us something we can control when we fail to find control in other areas of our lives.

So this was my next question: Am I obsessed with control?

I mean, I know at times my headstrong personality dominates, and I can be very controlling. When I used to teach preschool gymnastics classes, even with a partner, I liked to run the class my way because I felt I did it the best. But at other times, at least I like to think, I can be very easy-going, too.

I then thought about three instances that happened to me that very week where I lost a bit of control and reflected on how that made me feel. 

1) The snow days closed my favorite sub shop for two days in a row and I had to get something else to eat. Feeling: Frustrated, wishing I knew earlier it was going to close so I could have gotten the sandwich ahead of time.

2) I was on time for something, but the people I was meeting up with didn’t show. Feeling: Frustrated, again.

3) I agreed to write this column on Wednesday, even though I had already gotten it through my head on Sunday I was only writing one story this week. Feeling: Good, I helped somebody out and I’m almost done, and it was fun.

This makes me think my habits are not a sign of an obsession, maybe just a slight fixation. I am glad that I did this reflecting, though. At 19-years-old, I feel that I have not been put in a lot of situations where I have lost control, but the older you get the more unpredictable life becomes. This research was a good reminder that I need to let loose a little at times and go with the punches. 

With that said, if watching the same movies and reading the same books over and over is my way of making my brain feel it has stability, then so what? There are worse habits I could be using to seek out that feeling. 

My biggest takeaway from this is that the next time I need a pick-me-up and I reach for a Harry Potter book, instead of making a guilty remark to Abby, I will say “It’s okay to read this right now because I know for a fact this will be a good part of a bad day, and I need that right now.”

About Emily O'Neil 73 Articles
Emily O’Neil is a second-year Communications Major with a concentration in Public Relations from Clifton Park, NY. This is her fourth semester on the Oracle. She enjoys being a sports copy editor and particularly enjoys when she gets to write about her favorite team, the New York Yankees.