Geeks Vs Loneliness: finding peace alone at the cinema

A few words to encourage anyone feeling anxious about making time for themselves...

Hello and welcome to Geeks Vs Loneliness, our spot on the site where we try and talk about things that may be affecting you, or people you know. Not every article has something for everyone, but hopefully, if you dig through our archive, you’ll find something that’s of help.

This week, we’re handing back over to the brilliant Charlotte Harrison, who wants to talk about how rewarding it can be to push past anxiety, this time, by going to the cinema alone…

It began, as these things so often do, with a bet. A bet that involved me putting my money where my mouth is/was. April 2015. For the third month in a row the world of cine had taken £16.40 out of my bank account to fund the Unlimited Card I had impulsively bought one bleak Sunday afternoon (is there any other kind of Sunday afternoon?) in January.  And, for the third month in a row, I hadn’t actually made it to the cinema. Should I have been quizzed about this I could come up with any number of reasons to justify this; being a newly qualified teacher the protestation that I had too much work to do was founded in truth. During a phone call that evening with my parents such an interaction occurred; except with my parents being my parents they didn’t accept my excuses. I loved the cinema so why wasn’t I going?

It’s only in retrospect that I can identify what exactly was going on in my brain. As someone with high-functioning anxiety I had entered a profession that from day one had provided me with a to-do-list that would never be completed. Three years in and I know I will never experience an end-of-the-day air-punch moment of all my work having been finished. But the knowledge and appreciation of this fact makes things a lot easier. Back then I couldn’t quite understand or accept it. I couldn’t rest until I had everything done which, as that was genuinely impossible, meant I pretty much never rested. I had mentally aligned being good at my job with being dedicated and being dedicated surely meant complete and utter devotion to my job. Forget ‘no rest for the wicked’ it was a case of ‘no rest for the wannabe perfect teacher’. I know I wasn’t unhappy back then, but I know I certainly wasn’t happy or even content. My anxiety-ridden brain had got its wires crossed and my priorities all wrong. During this time I spent countless lunch breaks hiding under my desk devastated that lessons I had meticulously planned and filled with love had been derailed by various behaviours or unexpected incidents.

Ad – content continues below

It seems important at this point to mention that I teach English at a secondary school, 11-18 year olds are predictably unpredictable. Even now I can count the amount of ‘perfect’ problem-free lessons I’ve had on one hand. Things weren’t going wrong but they weren’t going particularly right either. I was emotionally investing everything I had solely into my profession, why wasn’t that enough? I wasn’t even asking for joyous, leap-out-of-bed-when-woken-by-alarm happy. Just a happiness that wasn’t blighted by an incessant and inescapable buzz of anxiety. How could I even think of going to the cinema when there were lessons to plan, books to mark and essays to grade?

But… I did have that Unlimited card..?

During that phone call with my parents they made me a bet over whether I could/couldn’t go to the cinema once a week for year and then review each film I had seen. I don’t think that an incentive or prize was even mentioned, it was for the glory (or the necessity to stop wasting money with something that I wasn’t even using). I half-heartedly agreed. Although I really did want to go to the cinema I just couldn’t see how I’d find the time. Anxiety had long-standing appointments that took up what little time I had outside of work. There was also the fact I wasn’t sure who exactly I could go to the cinema with. I’d just moved to London a few months prior and I still didn’t really know anyone – there really seemed like there was no time for rest nor play.

If anxiety has given me one thing – beyond bouts of depression, occasional panic attacks and irrational fear of unknown social situations – it’s the ability to think of every possible worst-case scenario in less than a minute. Having posed the question of ‘What the worst thing that could happen if I went to the cinema alone?’ my brain processed dozens in the time it took you to read this overlong sentence. These varied in irrationality and probability, from the low level ‘What if my students see me?’ & ‘What if people stare at me and think I’m weird?’ to things so random and unlikely I couldn’t even guess what may have crossed my mind.  I’d given myself something new to be anxious about. Once more I’d turned something that should/could/would be fun into something I could mentally torture myself with during a bout of insomnia.

Give me a class of thirty year 11s and I can teach them Shakespeare, poetry or An Inspector Calls. I’d do if confidently and with minimal anxiety. Tell me to try something new or even worse, on my own, that’s when the true fear starts. The next day, at lunchtime in the staffroom, I broached the prospect of going to the cinema on my own, adopting an intentionally casual tone so as not to raise suspicion or betray how anxious the prospect was making me. Nobody thought it was that weird. Or at least they didn’t say so. I was even recommended a film and found a 6.30pm showing at my nearest cinema that I could go to during the week.

As a result of this internal unrest I think I’ll always have a soft spot for John Wick. Most people who’ve seen it say they were really surprised by how much they enjoyed it, which is how I’d describe going to the cinema on my own that evening. I actually really enjoyed it. I had chosen a film I wanted to see and when I wanted to see it. I had left work when I wanted, didn’t have to worry about meeting anyone, didn’t have to worry about whether my  code-of-conduct-adherent snack would aggrieve my cinematic companion somehow and I could leave the cinema when I wanted without that whole hanging around whilst people use the loo etc. It was actually rather liberating. No-one, as far as I had noticed, had stared at me. I’d had a great evening in my own company – a prospect which had seemed so nightmarish and so unlikely for so long.  Once home I wrote my review and posted it on my blog. I did the same the next week. And the week after.

Ad – content continues below

Next month will mark two years since I took myself out on that movie date. I can wholeheartedly say it’s the best decision I’ve ever made, equal to becoming a teacher. It gave me a hobby that soon became a passion. It revitalised my sense of purpose, gave me happiness and a contentedness I could reinvest in my teaching. It’s brought me friendships and confidence. I’ve been to movie premieres, innumerable preview screenings and meet some truly incredible people along the way. If I hadn’t made the decision to allow myself to go to the cinema on my own I really wouldn’t be the person I am today. By making time for my love of cinema and coming to peace with sometimes going on my own, I found a way of coming to peace with myself.