Self care as a horror lover

To continue discussion of self care from my previous post, I want to talk a little bit about how being a horror fan (and specifically a horror writer) can sometimes cause problems.

Horror is booby trapped.

Earlier this week I finished A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. It destroyed me. I couldn’t sleep that night. My brain was caught in a purgatory of one moment from the book, one single moment I couldn’t escape played over and over in my mind.

Now, I’d been expecting something like The Exorcist, with maybe a bit more ambiguity. I can deal with something like The Exorcist. I don’t scare easily when it comes to books. A Head Full of Ghosts did not scare me. It did, however, disturb me, and that is not something I handle well.

I will pause here to mention that it is a fantastic book and that the only thing I regret about reading it is that sleepless night.

The problem with horror is that unless you love spoilers, you don’t always know what you’re going to get (“box of chocolates” reference here). Sometimes, you’ll run into something that is not what you were expecting, something maybe just a bit too dark or a bit too gory or a bit too close to home. Does everyone experience this? I don’t know. I know I prefer spooky, atmospheric books to straight-up torture porn. I like ghosts over slashers and folk horror over vampires, and I don’t do paranormal romance. That’s me. Monsters don’t scare me. People, however, can scare me quite a bit. And sometimes people are the monsters, and you don’t know it until you’re halfway down the rabbit hole and there’s no “up” elevator from here.

And sometimes horror is just depressing.

That’s a lot of dark, unhappy content to be consuming over and over. Maybe you’re jaded enough that it doesn’t penetrate, but I’m not, and I’ve been writing and reading horror for as long as I can remember. I have novels I haven’t finished reading (and won’t finish reading) because I know they would be bad for my mental health. I had a novel that I was writing that I shoved on the back burner and haven’t look at again because I was disturbing myself a bit too much.

Loving horror can be hard.

So what do you do?

  • Know what you can and can’t handle.
  • Recognize if something is too much for you, and put it down.
  • Take a break sometimes! Switch genres. Let some light in your life.
  • Be aware of how you’re doing. Depression can be sneaky.
  • Save certain books (and other media) for times you know you’re doing well. Sometimes there’s a difference between “I can’t read this” and “I can’t read this right now.”
  • Use resources like Does the dog die? if you know there’s a particular topic you have to stay away from.
  • This is a controversial one, but don’t be afraid of spoilers. Knowing the ending is a lot less annoying than having the ending give you nightmares for weeks in ways you weren’t prepared for or open to. (Feel free to disagree with me)

Anything else? Always looking for recommendations. And if you have any stories about particular situations, I want to hear them.

5 thoughts on “Self care as a horror lover

  1. Girl- Preach! I LOVE horror but it’s true, sometimes it can get outright depressing. I especially get messed up about animals, so I’m always using the link to know if there are any dogs dying. I use it for movies too. 🙂 And sometimes it is suuper important to set the horror aside and watch something light hearted! I started watching Korean romance dramas years ago and that’s helped a lot.

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    1. Definitely! Korean romance dramas seem like they’d do the trick. For me it’s something like Bob Ross or The Great British Bake Off. I learned the hard way that sometimes nature shows are just as depressing as the horror I was trying to avoid…

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  2. I had to walk away from two books last year because they turned out to be about children who’d gone missing. Not that such a thing was mentioned in the back cover text — and in neither case was the main character the one who’d lost a child — but the background of both stories was the surrounding village’s search for the kids. It didn’t matter. I couldn’t focus on the “real” story because I got so anxious about the background. It’s the first time in my life that I wished for a trigger warning. Putting those books down was self-care, but giving myself permission to walk away was hard.

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    1. I hear that. There are books I put down years ago because they were bad for my mental wellbeing, and to this day they still feel unfinished, as though I have an obligation to revisit them. I have to keep reminding myself that I have nothing to prove or gain by going back and trying to read them again.

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