How “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” Helped Me Cope with Anxiety
Netflix and BBC America’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency has been an obsession of mine for the last year or so. The adaptation of author Douglas Adams’ books is strange, hilarious, utterly intelligent, and just….UGH, so good!
Though I was devastated to hear that BBC America pulled out of producing Season 3 (prompting an entire #savedirkgently movement, which I wholeheartedly support), the first two seasons, focusing on the adventures of self-described “holistic detective” Dirk Gently (Samuel Barnett) and his hapless “assist-friend” Todd Brontzman (Elijah Wood) just really speak to me on multiple levels, as a quasi-woo-woo spiritual junkie, sci-fi fan, and writer.
Still, there were some unexpected side effects from repeated binge-watching sessions of Dirk, not the least of which was this: the show became an unexpected (and surprisingly effective) coping mechanism for anxiety. I mean, at least for me. Hear me out on this one…
(POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD)
(That’s enough of a warning)
The key to any good story is that audiences can find themselves, even metaphorically, in the characters and their situations. Todd and Amanda Brontzman (Hannah Marks), for example, are brother and sister who share a hereditary condition called pararibulitis, a condition in which the body’s nerve endings occasionally send way-wrong signals to the brain, such that a sudden sensation of heat on the hands can cause the sufferer to hallucinate that their hands are actually on fire.
At the start of Season 1, Amanda is house-bound because of the intensity of her condition, though she quickly attracts the attention of an anarchic gang of “psychic energy vampires” known as the Rowdy Three (there are four of them) who cure her of her attacks by feeding off the surplus energy she generates during her episodes. In Season 2, Todd ends up developing pararibulitis, and he’s less able to cope with it, later receiving guidance from Amanda on how to properly “channel” his attacks into something productive.
It’s not a real disease, of course, pararibulitis…but anxiety is definitely real, and has been a part of my life for many years prior to and since my diagnosis in 2016.
Earlier this year, I ended up in a full-blown mental health crisis involving an incident at work where I was wrongfully accused of something and then fired. During the worst days that followed, there were times I didn’t want to leave my room, other days when I just wanted to be around people, always on the phone or chatting on instant messenger. I didn’t sleep, slept too much, lost 10 pounds from not eating, then ate too much. To quote holistic assassin Bart Curlish (Fiona Dourif), “it was a mess”.
Somewhere along the line, I started re-watching Dirk and something about how, in Season 2, Todd and Amanda harnessed the psychic energy of their pararibulitis attacks to help Dirk save the day, caused something else to click in my brain: what if I could do the same with anxiety?
It’s not new advice, to be sure: I’d had people tell me to deal with my anxiety attacks by hopping on a treadmill or exercise bike, cleaning the house every day, or throwing myself into finding new jobs or continuing to build my freelance work. But somehow, the metaphorical (or, I suppose, allegorical) resonance I felt while watching Dirk caused something in my brain to click. I did end up using my anxiety to start reaching out to new freelance clients and writing every day.
Whenever I felt blah or otherwise not interested in working on my freelance projects, I’d allow myself to feel some of the anxiety and turn it into motivation to keep going, letting it power me back into action. Finally, as it became obvious that the initial trigger of the crisis wasn’t going to resolve itself anytime soon, I began a practice of ongoing self-care involving talking to a counselor, regular exercise, and adapting my worldview as best I could to allow for greater uncertainty than what I’m otherwise comfortable with bearing.
As of this writing, I have recovered a lot of my resiliency (and not to mention appetite), and it is thanks, in no small part, to this story and its cast of memorable characters.
Shows like Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, as absurd and unpredictable as they may be, provide us with numerous and wonderful coping mechanisms for dealing with a 2018 that is itself absurd and unpredictable.
It may seem a little pedestrian to attribute a mental health breakthrough to a Netflix show, but the fact is, that is indeed what Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency did for me, and continues to do for me. As a brilliant, nuanced piece of writing, the show is worthy of not only renewal, but praise for how it helps those of us facing mental health issues deal with an increasingly-absurd and uncertain world.
Jody Aberdeen is a writer, book editor, creative writing coach, and leaf in the stream of creation. Jody lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is available on BBC America and on Netflix Canada.