Sunday 18 April 2021

Nerd Church - How I Use True Crime Media To Boost My Mental Health (Yes, Really)


(Warning: this post discusses true crime, and though it avoids details of murders, it does reference various topics surrounding true crime. This post also discusses Depression/Anxiety.

Any links to other websites may have further details of true crime, though I've tried to avoid anything graphic; I am not responsible for the content on these sites.)

'How I Use True Crime Media To Boost My Mental Health (Yes, Really)' with a notebook and magnifying glass

I find true crime media weirdly helpful with combatting the affects of my mental health problems.

I put true crime shows on the TV sometimes in the evening, to wind down before falling asleep.

I clamour to Netflix true crime to calm my Anxiety.

I watch true crime docs or YouTube videos while I'm working to help me concentrate.

Almost every morning this week, I've settled down to work while audiobooking a chapter of The Phantom Prince: My Life With Ted Bundy by Elizabeth ('Liz') Kendall.

While I'm checking my work e-mail, I'm also listening to Liz's memoir of living as the girlfriend of serial killer Ted Bundy, and her increasing concern that he might be responsible for a string of murders.

This is the book, by the by, which the Netflix film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, starring Zac Efron, is very loosely based on.

I know there have been many, many, criticisms of the way that film potentially romanticised Ted Bundy - which is, of course, part of a wider debate into the romanticisation of serial killers and murderers.

And yes, I've seen the film. I'm... on the fence about it. I don't think it was romanticising as many people feared it would be, and Zac Efron's performance was, objectively, brillliant, but... it's a fine line. And I'm never confident about which side of that line it falls on.

I think it's important to remember, while consuming true crime media, that there were very real people who lost their lives - and we should keep them and their families in mind when enjoying the true crime genre.

...You know all those true crime docs on Netflix and various other services? I'm a big fan of those.

Crime YouTubers? Yeah, I follow a couple. Some are definitely better than others. (I don't watch people who are disrespectful to the victims, or overly-sensational generally, it makes me deeply uncomfortable.)

I loved the BBC's drama The Serpent - based on a real serial killer and the hunt for him. (I talked about that a little while back - it's an amazing series, fair play.)

I find true crime media strangely soothing. 

...Especially when combined with knitting or colouring in.

I love knitting in front of a true crime documentary before bed. 

I have no idea why those things go together to form an affective self-care method for myself, but somehow they do.

I'm clearly not the only one - SNL did a whole song-skit about relaxing with murder shows a few weeks ago. (If you want to see it, it's on YouTube here, but be warned that it's pretty dark/grim humour, a little graphic, and contains mild flashing images.)

Disclaimer time!: I am not a medical, mental health, or psychology professional. Neither am I some sort of criminologist. I'm a chick with a blog.

Please always do what's best for you in terms of self-care and mental health, and don't follow practices - like, I dunno, watching true crime shows - if you find them upsetting, or they have a negative affect on you.

People often say that true crime's appeal is about control, good vs evil, exploring our fears.

And ok, maybe that's part of it - me and my subconscious aren't always singing from the same proverbial hymn sheet, and it's entirely possible that true crime's appeal is at least partly about those things for me, too.

Plus, I'm a fan of horror - a genre which people often supply the same motivations for. 

(Although, I'm also Queer - and to understand a little more about the complex history and psychology of the genre's appeal to Queer horror fans, I recommend James Somerton's YouTube channel.)

But, no. They're not the primary reasons I enjoy true crime - at least as far as my conscious brain goes.

It's about the logic, the way one thing leads to another and another, unfolding the story in all of its cause-and-effect. Setting it all out in a straight line.

It's about the research and the science and the compiling of evidence.

Basically: it's about the nerd sh**.

And you'd be surprised how much of true crime is all about the nerd sh**.

I like the forensics

 - not the gory details, more the matching up of things like shoeprints and particulates of paint matter, which can then be matched to a particular brand of paint and the store in town which sells it, and the CCTV of the person who bought that paint...

I like the way advances in DNA evidence, and in our understanding of science in general, can bring new light to a decades, or even (v. occasionally,) centuries, old case, or help right a miscarriage of justice.

And the older the crime the better - I love when they go into detail with the technicalities of Victorian and Edwardian crimes.

Discussions of purposely-administered arsenic, vs accidental arsenic posioning (they used to put arsenic in wallpaper and stomach tablets, dearest nerdlets, that's how much of it was around,) are my jam! 

And a lot of that is because I am a massive history nerd, of course.

And some crimes - Jack the Ripper, for example, or even The Manson Family Murders - had such a social impact on the world around them, that they're worth studying as a historical and cultural phenomenon, as much as a criminal one.

I also like the mystery factor, of course, and the unbelievability of some of the details.

Sometimes truth is a million times stranger than fiction, and the writer in me loves that - so much. 

And the puzzle factor - I've always loved puzzles.

The humanity and the narrative - the people, the events, even the possibility of viewing aspects of the case from an entirely different perspective - are often so intriguing and fascinating that I just have to watch.

And, like I said, it helps me concentrate, and helps me calm my Anxiety.

I struggle with my attention span and memory because Depression has broken my brain, and true crime stuff somehow it makes it easier to stay focussed.

...especially when I'm working, because I often need to apply a methodical approach, which can be difficult with my mental health the way it is.

I think we're back to the logic here - to the definitive cause-and-effect structure that helps me order my whirling thoughts (it's like a tumble dryer on the inside of my head, let's be honest.)

And I've found it's an affect that I can build up.

If I watch/listen to/read/audiobook a bunch of true crime stuff, then I notice it's generally easier to concentrate afterwards. 

Which is why I've been audiobooking a chapter first thing in the morning, when I'm settling down to work - it helps me concentrate for longer than just the amount of time I'm audiobooking for.

(Audiobooking is totally a word, btw, reading or listening to an audiobook just doesn't seem right - so I audiobook it. 😅)

The Bestie (who's been known to indulge in a true crime doc or twelve,) reckons that a lot of the time it's actually the format of the shows that help me with calming my Anxiety, or settling down to sleep.

These shows often repeat the key facts, so even if you miss them, you'll be able to pick it up later.

They take a very didactic narrative (i.e. they tell you sh** instead of making you read between the lines,) and the tones of voice used are usually sombre and solemn, but also gentle and reassuring.

So it's the format, rather than the content, that might be helping Anxiety-wise.

It's just a theory - but she's known me since we were like eight, and has a Psych. degree, so she's probably at least partially right.

Anyhow, I know I'm not the only one that uses true crime as self-care - and whatever people's reasons are, they're their own, and they're valid.

There's nothing 'wrong' with the motivations usually ascribed to true crime fans - we live in a weird world, and anything that helps you process that is a-ok. 

But... I never see people talking about true crime the way that I think about it, y'know?

So hi - I'm a true crime fan.

I like to use true crime to focus and/or concentrate. 

I like the cause-and-effect nature of it.

I am only able to finish this blogpost right now because I'm once again listening to The Phantom Prince by Liz Kendall. I keep stalling every time I try to write it without putting the audiobook on. 

It's like the gears in my brain get stuck, and sometimes the only thing that makes them move is true crime stuff. Like I can suddenly think again.

I use true crime to relax and unwind before bed.

I knit in front of true crime shows 'til I feel nice and calm, and then I go to sleep. 

It might have something to do with the format, who knows?

And I love the nerdy parts of true crime.

That's the real appeal - to me, at least.

I like the science and the history and the legal aspects.

I love the research and the mystery and the puzzles.

...and all of that is just fine!

How about you - are you a true crime fan?

Do you think true crime is nerdier than people give it credit for?

Talk to me! 😊💬

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  1. My sister is the exact same way. She even took a degree that has all to do with true crime: criminology! But for her, I think she likes the idea of being able to put pieces together to solve a crime. There is a drive to get justice for the victims, and I think this drive can be quite motivating for a lot of people. I can't say I am interested in the true crime genre myself, but I did learn about Jack the Ripper in my Victorian England course.

    1. I think the drive to get justice is super-important, ofc, but people can go overboard sometimes - when Elisa Lam went missing at the Cecil Hotel, a bunch of internet people decided that a heavy metal musician had murdered her on the grounds that he was into creepy things and had once stayed at the Cecil Hotel (which has, like, 700 rooms,) - not even at the same time as Elisa, he was there the year before. Oddly enough, he has nothing to do with it, but they literally ruined his life. So, yeah, all things in moderation!

      The puzzle aspect is awesome - putting the pieces together is what Scooby-Doo trained us for! Lol <3


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