Recently I started listening to the Night Vale Presents Podcast: Alice Isn’t Dead and I will say that it might be one of the greatest things I have listened to in a while. I found myself relating a lot to our nameless narrator. Not only is she a queer protagonist searching the strange and terrifying world for her wife, she is also a character struggling with an anxiety disorder, and that is something I certainly can identify with.
All transcripts of Alice Isn’t Dead are from Alice Scripts.
Spoilers up to Episode 8.
In our mainstream media, it’s difficult to see any minority characters, let alone ones that intersect between two different minority groups. Podcasts, however, often do show these more diverse characters. When I first started listening to Alice Isn’t Dead, I immediately contacted Saika to express how happy I was to be listening to a queer woman’s story. I became even more interested when I realized that our unnamed narrator has an anxiety disorder.
At first, this was not initially obvious, though many disabilities aren’t. The narrator mentions how often she is scared, but that doesn’t seem like a disorder when she is literally being threatened by some human-esque looking monster, called the Hungry Man or Thistle Man, who eats people. That is the kind of stuff that would make anyone anxious or even push an otherwise healthy individual into having an anxiety disorder. I viewed the narrator as someone who was just rightly scared and nervous about the strange world around her, and perpetually worried about what happened to her wife. But it wasn’t until the episode titled “Sylvia” that we got confirmation that the narrator actually had a disorder that she was receiving treatment for. She picks up a young girl name Sylvia whose mother was attacked by the Hungry Man. The two talk about how they have been searching for clues about what is going on, and they also express how anxious they are.
“You think we’re the only lives he’s touched? You think you’re the only one he’s talked to? Word gets around. I’ve been wanderin’ this country for a long time. Others have seen him. I’ve met them. Most were too scared to be as helpful as you.”
“Ooh, bad news,” I said. “I’m real scared, too. Kind of all the time. I used to go to therapy and shit,” I said.
“Not important if you’re scared,” she said. “You’re helpin’ anyway. Can’t control feelin’ fear. Can control what you do while you’re feelin’ it. I learned that too.”
“A hard-won lesson of life on the road?” I asked.
She laughed. “Nah, I used to go to therapy, too. Anxiety bros?” She held up a hand and we made a perfect-contact high five, even though I didn’t look away from the road.
Both Sylvia and our narrator talk about having anxiety and how that affects their lives. They are both scared and maybe even in a constant state of anxiety or panic, but they keep pushing forward. Sylvia even shares some helpful advice she learned from her therapist by explaining that you can’t necessarily control how you feel, but you can control what you do when you feel that way. This is extremely important. Here we have two women, one of whom is queer, talking about their disorder and how therapy has helped them. This is a far cry from the usual narrative in pop culture that tells our society that having a mental disorder means there is something wrong with you, and furthermore portrays any type of therapy as unnecessary or abusive.
In the latest episode, “The Other Town”, we get to see more of the narrator’s struggles with anxiety even before her wife, Alice, disappeared. She describes what this was like for her and how she and her wife decided to take a road trip in order to help the narrator deal with some of her anxiety.
What’s weird, Alice, is that for all your traveling, you and I only ever took one road trip together. I liked being home. It was the only place I felt safe.
But that’s why we went. There was that summer where I got so anxious it was hard for me to function. Sometimes it felt like I couldn’t breathe the air everyone else was breathing, that oxygen had stopped working only for me.
You found me sitting on the shower floor, not having done anything but let the water wash over me for 20 minutes, and you said, “First off, there is a drought. And second, let’s go on a trip.”
We see the narrator struggling with severe anxiety and we even get a description of what it was like for her to have a panic attack, and we see how difficult it can be for people with these mental disorders to be able to function when things get particularly bad. The narrator also discusses how her anxiety disorder could be affected by her wife and heavily implies that that anxiety was at least part of what pushed her to search for Alice after she discovered that Alice was alive and simply left her. She explains how Alice disappeared for a long time on the road trip, causing the narrator to have another panic attack:
In the wildlife-themed motel room, anxiously waiting for you to come back—or just waiting, and also anxious—all of my fear returned. Oxygen stopped working for me again.
And then you did come back.
“Supermarket was closed,” you said. You “looked all over,” you said. But only the gas station was open, so you brought us a feast of gas station snacks.
I hid my anxiety from you. I didn’t want you to feel the pressure of knowing how much you being gone had destabilized me. I think you noticed, though.
The narrator gives a perfect illustration of how, intentional or not, when you have an anxiety disorder, other people’s actions can have an impact on you. Alice may or may not have noticed how her long absence affected the narrator, but nevertheless, her lying and being gone longer than she should have caused the narrator to have a panic attack because she was uncertain about what was going on. This becomes even worse when Alice leaves, seemingly for good, causing our narrator to uproot her whole life and search for her.
But probably one of the most amazing things about this podcast is how it shows both the narrator and Sylvia successfully cope with their anxiety disorders. Both women are very brave and determined characters who, despite being anxious, do what they have to in order to save themselves and help the people they love.
While this narrative of someone struggling with anxiety and being positively helped with therapy is important for everyone, it is even better to see a queer character who struggles with anxiety, goes to therapy, and simply tries to live her life with that mental disorder. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, “The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) community faces mental health conditions just like the rest of the population. However, you may experience more negative mental health outcomes due to prejudice and other biases.” So even though the queer community experiences the same mental issues as everyone else, we have a higher chance of such issues developing because of the prejudice we face. And the statistics are pretty frightening. NAMI states that:
LGBTQ individuals are almost 3 times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition such as major depression or generalized anxiety disorder.This fear of coming out and being discriminated against for sexual orientation and gender identities, can lead to depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, thoughts of suicide and substance abuse.
For LGBTQ people aged 10–24, suicide is one of the leading causes of death. LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely and questioning youth are 3 times more likely to attempt suicide, experience suicidal thoughts or engage in self-harm than straight people. Between 38-65% of transgender individuals experience suicidal ideation.
This story is significant because of how much more likely it is to see people in the queer community with a mental disorder. Stories about how terrible and unhelpful therapy is are not going to help those who desperately need it. While it’s true that there are many therapists who are not queer friendly, there are even more who are, and it is even possible to find all this information out online in order to figure out what works. As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety and has feared how people will think of or respond to me being pansexual, seeing the narrator in Alice Isn’t Dead struggle and live the best life she can is a life saver. And I think stories like this will be inspirational to a lot of other queer people with mental disorders. It’s about time we had a story that sits at the intersection between disability and queer issues.