Sarah Wolfson works at CMCH as an Administrative Associate, and is an editor for Media Moments.
In twelfth grade, when I could barely leave my room, I found solace in Gossip Girl’s fictionalized Upper East Side. It’s probably no coincidence that I started watching Gossip Girl right around the same time when my depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder put me at an all-time low. Gossip Girl allowed me to sit and watch teenagers socialize and live full lives from the safety of my bed. I felt, dare I say, understood by the seemingly endless parent-child conflicts I saw on the show, which seemed to mirror my own, as nearly every conversation I had with my parents ended in tears or a fight. I was mad at my mom for not being able to fix my problems or understand what I was going through. But when she asked what was wrong, I would only respond “I’m just tired” and go up to my room to watch Gossip Girl on my computer. I felt guilty for not being my loud, outgoing self, and for feeling drained every time my parents tried to make me feel better. Long conversations felt exhausting, walks outside were dreadful, and shows and concerts peaked my anxiety and triggered emotional outbursts. Questions and explanations about what was wrong, which were once merely excruciating, had turned impossible. I didn’t know what was going on, so how could I explain it to them?
In February of my senior year, we had a huge snowstorm that resulted in two snow days. Grateful that for once I could stay home without anyone telling me I should be out with my friends or suggesting a family activity, I holed up in my room and watched episode after episode of other teenagers dealing with identity crises, emotional turbulence, and parental rifts. I watched them cry and drink and run away from home, and I thought, “they get it.” My mom let me spend that first day alone, occasionally checking on me to see if I needed anything, wanted snacks, wanted “to do something other than lie in bed and watch tv.” I didn’t, and I didn’t want her interrupting my show and reminding me who I was or that the real world existed or that this wasn’t normal behavior.
The second day, I awoke and opened my computer, without changing or washing up, ready to follow the same schedule as the day before. But by mid-morning, my mom walked into my room, and rather than trying to persuade me to get off my computer and read, or to come out of my room and hang out with her, she asked if she could watch with me. I wanted to be alone, but what could I say? I nodded my head, scooted over in bed, and she laid down beside me. I resumed the episode where she’d interrupted- I was almost towards the end and wasn’t going to start over just for her- , and we watched in silence for the next ten minutes.
I looked over at her as the countdown began for the next episode, assuming she’d tell me this is a waste of time and that we shouldn’t continue watching. But instead, she just let the next episode play. The “previously on” started up, and she asked me to identify the characters and explain their backstories. Annoying as this was, I took the time to try to remember the different plotlines, who’d slept with whom, who was related to whom, who was friends, or used to be friends, and who was currently fighting. I know Gossip Girl is a silly show, I knew it back then too, but my mom didn’t say anything disparaging. She seemed genuinely interested in the different characters, and it was pretty amusing watching her try to keep everyone straight, react to teenagers having frivolous sex, and comment on the poor parenting. I liked when she gasped at a big reveal, which Gossip Girl has about five times an episode, or balked at Serena, one of the show’s main characters, giving up everything she’d been working towards for a guy she’d just met.
I knew my mom wasn’t watching because she liked the show. She was watching for me. She was watching to see how I was spending my time and to find a low-stakes mutual interest, when everything we used to do together or talk about was suddenly too overwhelming for me. What started as a nuisance, and what I thought would detract from the show, added a layer of socialization and connection with my mom that I could handle.
A few episodes later, my mom finally called it quits. She said she couldn’t watch anymore, and that she wanted to prepare dinner. She asked if I wanted to come down and help her, and I obliged, something I hadn’t willingly done in a long time. But I didn’t help much. I really just sat in the kitchen as she cut up vegetables and marinated the fish, but we chatted about what we’d just watched together. We talked about Serena’s love interests, Blaire and Chuck’s relationship, and how Nate should end up with Jenny (a belief I will stand firmly behind forever). Nothing we said was all that important, but the act of us chatting without the undertones of my depression or anger was a huge step for us. It felt easy for the first time in a while.
I’m not going to say that day changed everything. I was still battling with different mental health issues, and it took a lot of therapy, medication adjustments, and time to finally feel like my depression and anxiety were waning and like I could deal with them in healthy ways. But that day, in a time when I felt so alone and sad, I felt accepted and loved. And when I watched more of the show after school and on weekends, I’d watch in the living room, subtly encouraging my mom to watch with me in the non-verbal demands only a high schooler can truly master. We still fought and had a strained relationship for a while, which is common for families dealing with depression, but I’m glad she walked into my room that day. She came in not with an agenda to get me out of bed, but to keep me company in my depressed state, and let me know she cared about me and that this was an okay way for me to cope. She met me where I was, even if that meant watching a silly show that let me forget about my constant fatigue and sudden disinterest in life.
Years later, Gossip Girl doesn’t stand up to how I remember it. Its intrigue isn’t as high, and most plot lines feel unfinished. But although I now find the show somewhat disappointing, what I remember and value most about it is the relationship my mom and I started to rebuild as we watched it together.