Hitting Replay... Again and Again
In which I ramble about what I think my brain is doing.
Have you ever watched the show "Miranda"? If not, I've included a link to it at the end of this piece should you care to check it out. "Miranda" is a British sitcom done in true sitcom style in front of a live audience with the typical cozy sets that never seem to change too much but always leave you feeling like you're watching something filmed inside a really big dollhouse. The show was written by Miranda Hart (so many of my favorite women have the last name "Hart", it's weird), a fairly well-known comedian if you consume British television on any sort of regular basis, and follows the story of a woman in her mid-thirties who can't seem to do much right when it comes to being "normal" and chronicles her life as she jumps from one awkward social situation to another.
I started watching "Miranda" a few months ago after seeing a BBC documentary about "the best shows of the 2000's" in British television. I must have stumbled across it hunting for "French and Saunders" clips. I was lucky enough that most of the episodes of "Miranda" were already available on Hulu and I binge watched the entire run of the show in a weekend. It's become one of my all-time favorite shows, right up there with AbFab and "Vicar of Dibley", and I haven't stopped watching it since. It's been two to three months and I've lost count of how many times I've watched it from start to finish. This week alone, I know I've played through all four seasons at least four times, and if we base it on those numbers, it could be assumed that I've watched "Miranda" forty to fifty times since I found it. I find this very odd.
At some point this last week, I realized that I had probably memorized most of the major scenes in this show and wondered why I had become so attached. I've tried returning other shows I have a casual interest in but always seem to default back to "Miranda", getting bored very quickly with anything else. Normally, I wouldn't dig too deeply into this, but with all the sudden changes to my normal routine that have happened recently, I'm on alert for subtle changes that could develop into something worse in my mental and emotional health, and this one suddenly stuck out like a sore thumb. I just needed to unpack what was going on with me.
Any of my therapist friends have told me, at some point, that one of the most useful tools in managing your mental health is journal/diary or some equivalent that can help you build a roadmap through your recent life history. Doing this can help expose when specific life events or changes in environment intersected with a change in your emotions or physical health. A change in your commute, for example, might have shortly preceded an upswing in your morning energy levels that improved your productivity at work. Not super scientific, but it can help you identify patterns and build "hypotheses" that you can test to see whether or not you can recreate the desired effect on your life. Super useful. Also, something I have always sucked at sticking to and just generally haven't done. Ever.
In the absence of a journal, I still have a mostly paper-free digital life and there are "paper trails" and electronic records of almost everything I do, so reviewing changes in my physical life is pretty easy. Changes in my emotional state are left more to memory and chance. I know, I know. Despite this fragmented timeline of my recent history as a human, I narrowed this behavior down to times in my life where I've had sudden changes in my life that interrupted my daily routine in a significant way such as a move to a new city, a job change, a huge fight with someone close to me, etc.. At all of these times, I almost always default to finding a new TV show and then watching it completely through repeatedly for anywhere from two to six months. It's almost as reliable as clockwork for me.
I decided to do some research online and came up with very little. It mostly consisted of forums and discussion boards where others were asking the question "does anyone else watch a show over and over again?" Most of these forums were for people suffering from OCD. I've never had myself tested, so I refuse to say that I have OCD, but I have exhibited symptoms since I was very young and I found a lot of the same stories people told mirrored my own. What I did come away with was that this kind of behavior is very typically a coping strategy for dealing with stress. Quite a few people I identified with said that the show they watched tended to be relatively simple and straightforward, like a sitcom or low drama show, where the story of each episode reached a conclusion at the end. This type of show lends itself to easy watching and, when watched again, is easier for the brain to process. The simplicity here is the key. By defaulting to this easy form of entertainment, you allow your brain to work less and settle into a comfortable routine that you likely can't return to in your daily life due to these changes that have happened. The show functions as an escape with its own routine to supplement the loss of yours.
While I didn't get a lot of answers, and likely just did a WebMD-equivalent evaluation of my "issue", it was very reassuring to find that I wasn't the only person who does this and that, given the attention of a trained professional, might be something that can be addressed if it becomes a problem. Just unpacking it alongside other people having a similar experience has already helped me relax.
Now I'm curious. I'd love to keep a conversation going about this, especially if others are like me and looking for a more educated breakdown of why our brains do this when life throws you a curveball, big or small. I'll keep poking around on Quora (I love the people there!) and chatting with people who work in psychology fields, but I'd love to hear from you, too. Tweet at me (@mousebrat) or leave a comment. What show do you watch, or are currently watching, on repeat and what have you found triggers this?
For some YouTube clips of the show "Miranda", head over here.
For those of you with Hulu, check the show out.