How Inside Out helped me to come to terms with some stuff.
Warning: This piece contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Inside Out. The segment where they begin will be appropriately marked.
I honestly shouldn’t be surprised by this point. For much of my formative years, moving house was a frequent occurrence. It seemed like every time we got settled somewhere, we were packing up our things for whatever reason and moving on again. The reasons never quite clear to me and the distance never particularly far, but the move would happen all the same. Certain elements might remain steadfast for a time – a certain school, a certain town – but mostly it would be all about starting over again. New neighbours, new friends, new landmarks and directions to learn. I wouldn’t gain some semblance of stability until I entered Secondary School, when both of my parents finally settled down into their respective homes.
I never really felt the distancy and home-sickness that one is supposed to feel when they make the move to university accommodation. That moment where the thrill of going it alone wears off and one pines for the sanctuary and cosiness of the place where they matured. Not during those first 8 weeks before we had to head back home. I felt like I belonged there, in that little apartment far away from home, far removed from my overbearing mother and my dad’s always hostile home respectively. In fact, this feeling was compounded when I had to return home for the holidays. After only 8 weeks away, and even with having spent a weekend or two back there during that time thanks to the passing of my Grandad, it was still surprising to return and find out that home – the place that I had spent 10 years living at – didn’t feel like Home anymore.
This past March, my mum came around to my university apartment for another one of her monthly/bi-weekly visits. After having had another somewhat amicable time, she asked for me to start up the Internet on my laptop and said seven words that I knew were going to seal my emotional state over the Summer holiday period.
“Just take a look at this house.”
She’s been dating this guy for a while so straight away I knew that this move was being done so that they could live together, and she couldn’t stop trying to sell this move as something great. “You’ll get your own room,” she would repeatedly enthuse. “Aren’t you excited about getting your own room?” she would ask incessantly during nearly every conversation for the next three months. “Can you wait to see your new room?” And each time I would try to dodge the question or half-heartedly attempt to fake some enthusiasm. Because, even though home didn’t feel like Home anymore, it was still Home, it was still where I’d spent a decade maturing and growing. To suddenly discover that home was disappearing… that really hurt.
Especially since at no point was I ever asked whether this was something I wanted or not. Not that I would have said anything, mind, but just the fact that I was never once given a chance to influence anything. When my dad sat me and my brother down in early 2006 and asked us if we were OK with him wanting to move far away from his current house to a house he would share with his long-term girlfriend (whom we both hated), we both said yes because we knew that he wanted to do that and we’ve been conditioned to let our parents do whatever they want – through a combination of general selflessness, a desire to see others happy, and constant passive-aggressive emotional blackmail. Neither of us wanted him to do it, and that led to a toxic (occasional since we flit between our parents as and when we all see fit) living situation for many years afterwards, but I always appreciated him straight up asking us for our thoughts and desires about it.
Despite her constant insistence that she knows me best and is this wonderful parent, my mother didn’t grant me that privilege.
So, I came home from university for the Summer to this place that wasn’t Home. Objectively, it’s a very nice expensive house that’s a lot better than the old one and I should be really happy and grateful for all of this. But I’m not. That first day I came home, I found myself crushed by sadness and misery, barely managing to disguise that fact to my mother who was constantly pushing me to agree with her about how amazing the new house was. I couldn’t muster up the energy to convincingly lie to her, my tired resignation betraying the affirmations that were flowing from my lips. My amazing new room, where I am currently typing this from, is barely the size of a toilet stall, its restrictive size draining my soul. Most days I never leave the bed, because the bed is the one piece of furniture I can sit on in here because there’s literally no room for a chair or desk, so I write my articles, browse the Internet, listen to music, watch films and television, and play videogames from this one bed. It makes me feel like I’m doing nothing with my life, which in turn makes me feel miserable.
That first night in my new room, I laid awake for what felt like an hour. Just staring, on the verge of tears, because I was too miserable to fall asleep.
I’ve been feeling miserable for a long, long time now. I’d always had sad patches, but it wasn’t until I finished Sixth Form that I started feeling like I do now. After a disastrous two years – in which I grew distant from my long-time friends, flunked most all of my exams, experienced enormous self-doubt about my chosen career path, and began to really exhibit fears that I would never get out of Scunthorpe and North Lincolnshire – I started to feel this kind of misery. Days would pass where the most that I would do was get out of bed and go lay down on the sofa whilst listening to music. Despite a mostly cheery and optimistic first few weeks, that kind of misery would eventually follow me to university – minor in the first year, major this past year.
Days and nights go by where I would do nothing. I’d get dressed and go eat dinner or attend lectures, but most times I would simply lay down and stare at walls. I wouldn’t play any videogames, I wouldn’t watch any films or television, I wouldn’t ride the bus into Hull city centre to at least get a change of scenery. I would just sit, or lay down, and stare at blank walls, wallowing. These stretches would last for days at a time, but then would give way to a longer stretch where I would feel… if not exactly happy, then either something positive that’s close to that or, at the very least, functional. As my second year came to a close, those misery stretches had been getting longer and more frequent, and I was tired of fighting them. Everything works out fine when I’m given the time to just wallow, why mess with a winning formula?
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve told my mother that “I’m just tired” in the last five or six weeks.
It’s my go-to lie whenever I can’t keep up the pretence that I’m not a miserable sack of pure crap to other people. The times when I let slip my misery through either a snippy comment or a resigned answer or fail to smile adequately enough. “I’m just tired.” It doesn’t convince. Not my mother, and especially not myself. My brother has told me that she has repeatedly lamented my “having an attitude” since I came home. I laugh with him about it, but inside it hurts. I’m lucky that I have my brother, since around him I don’t have to pretend that everything’s peachy and brilliant. Mother, dad, even nan has spent the last several weeks asking the same two questions.
“Do you like the new house?”
“Have you settled in yet?”
Every time I dodge the question. I can’t be honest, I can’t tell them about the misery that I feel – that exists in even my upper spots, like the one that I’ve finally been on for the past 3 or 4 days (at time of writing) – because that doesn’t fit their pre-ordained narrative. I occasionally make the mistake of letting my dad in on how I feel, which just leads straight to probing questions and this constant annoyed patronising insistence that everything will get better. Par for the course, really. Whenever I try opening up to him – if I try talking more about what I am becoming slowly more certain are bisexual urges, if I decide to actually tell him what’s up, if I happily admit how often I cry at movies – I’m either ignored, patronised, or taken the piss out of. But I don’t tell my mum, who still treats me like I’m 10 despite coming up on 21 and would become impossible to deal with if I let her in on anything I’m thinking, and I don’t tell my nan, who would just worry incessantly and then tell mum anyway. Ever. There’s too much at risk.
So I try, with whatever power I have, to hide my misery. I try my best to fake it because wallowing is not an option, because it doesn’t fit their narrative of how I’m supposed to be.
Movies are basically escapism for me.
As much as I claim otherwise, my life is (comparatively speaking) pretty alright. I have an objectively nice house, I seem to be comfortably well-off, and my family is the kind of loving supportive “you are good enough to achieve your dreams and everything will be great for you” kinda thing that we are constantly told is the ideal. I have Asperger’s, but I never really seem to have been much affected by it. Most of my fellow university students seem to like me and talk to me whenever a chance is given. I’m doing rather well as a writer, considering I haven’t even attempted applying for free-lancing or what have you yet. And I’m doing really well in my studies, apparently I’m constantly at or on-the-verge-of a First (whatever that means).
But I can’t enjoy it. None of this makes me happy. All I ever really feel are negative thoughts and emotions. Fear that I’ve screwed up my life due to the insanely-competitive and low-paying nature of writing, and my complete lack of any non-writing skills. Loneliness since I only know one person at university who I would really consider my friend, which then manifests itself as paranoia that she doesn’t really like me and that I hassle her too much. Hopelessness that I’m not actually in any way a decent writer and that no-one would want me to write for them. Self-loathing and anger for being so goddamn miserable about what is a pretty good lot in life. And if I’m having a really good day and not concerned about any of them, there’s still just general misery and my genuinely crippling fear of death hanging around to keep me company.
Therefore, I escape to the movies. Every Friday and/or Saturday for the past 18 months, I have gone to the cinema and I have seen every single new release film that there is to see. Initially, it was out of some career-driven belief that doing so made me more of a real film critic. “They have to see everything, so I shall too!” I’d exclaim to nobody in particular. Now, though, it’s become a welcome routine. I love taking a day out every week to watch the new releases because it means that, no matter how unbelievably miserable I currently feel about my life, I have one day every week where I can forget about my loneliness, my well-meaning but draining family, my fears of the future, and just escape. Escape to a better place, with better people, who I can spend time empathising and sympathising with because, for 2 glorious hours at a time, they are not me and their world is not mine.
A friend of mine of the Internet keeps smugly insisting that I stop seeing every new release. But I won’t, and I can’t. This is something I need.
THIS IS THE PART WHERE WE FINALLY TALK ABOUT INSIDE OUT. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
I knew that Inside Out was going to make me cry a good 3 weeks before I actually saw it. Even on information lockdown, in my attempt to go in blind, this vital piece of plot synopsis got through: the film would follow an 11 year-old girl as she is uprooted by her family to a new house far away from the one she grew up in. In the same way that Big Hero 6’s tale of a boy trying to deal with the grief caused by his older brother’s death gutted me, or the Dipper/Wendy through-line in Gravity Falls left me a sobbing wreck during its conclusion (as previously talked about here), I expected Inside Out to do the same.
None of those works are exactly analogous to my life, and not just because of their distancing mechanisms of super heroics and kid-friendly X-Files/Twin Peaks-ness and the like, but they touch enough raw nerves for me to become instantly invested regardless. What’s more, works like these can sort of act as a sort of healing, the idealised version of how things could go if I had some goddamn backbone and if there weren’t all of this associated baggage. Hiro Hamada gets to work through his grief with friends who rally around and support him, which I never got, whilst Dipper eventually has the strength to talk through things with Wendy and things end somewhat smoothly for everyone involved, which I never did.
I may not be a girl, and I may not be currently living in San Francisco, but I have been uprooted without a say in the matter, and I’m supposed to remain optimistic and happy for everyone else, and I have been living with crushing, numbing sadness for a long time now. Whether the film was good or not, I was going to be emotionally shivved by Inside Out because it was planning on hitting way too close to home.
But then Inside Out started getting specific. Something like Big Hero 6 works in generalised terms, tackling that main subject but in a way that feels very “everyman”. Inside Out latches onto very specific little observations and details. The pure wondrous joy that you feel as a child, and how the knowledge that you can’t feel that way again turns that joy into melancholy or outright sadness. The apprehension of not fitting into a new school or place and how that fear can lead to you purposefully slink into the background, not even trying to make friends because of that feeling-out-of-place. The heartbreaking discovery that your old friends lives don’t stop once you leave them, and the accompanying betrayal you feel. The crushing disappointment when the new room your parents have talked up is actually dreadful, but you try and dress it up in your mind out of some misplaced optimism that maybe things can get better. The self-loathing you get when you suddenly suck at something you were once good at. Even the knowledge that something as simple as a nearby pizza place sucking conspires against you.
And the way that everything builds, and builds, and stacks. Because it’s not one specific thing that gets you to shut down. It’s always a multitude of things and whatever causes that shutdown is just the most recent. But we’re never supposed to confront that sadness, that misery, that numbness. We’re supposed to just be happy, to be happy for everyone else, to stop them from worrying or to make them feel better about themselves. After all, “happiness is a choice” as the incredibly harmful and sh*tty advertisements that pepper our day-to-day lives tell us. If we just choose to be happy, we can be happy. Nobody has to be sad, because sad is bad. Forget sadness, don’t be sad, you don’t need it.
And nobody says this out of any openly malicious intent. We’ve all just been conditioned to believe that feeling sad is something to actively avoid as moping and crying supposedly helps no-one. Joy’s treatment of Sadness comes because she genuinely doesn’t understand that it is OK to be sad, that being sad, and being openly sad at that, is sometimes the only way to work through certain problems and that we can’t feel joy if we don’t also feel sadness. After all, the alternative is a full-on emotional shutdown where you can’t feel anything, which is absolutely terrifying. You can’t force happiness and you can’t bottle up sadness, no matter how much other people may tell you to.
In a way, this is another “be true to yourself” moral. But because it talks about emotions and emotional wellbeing, it’s one of the truest and most honest applications of that moral that I have ever seen in a movie. I’ve been miserable for a long while, and I have resented myself for that because I’m told over and over again that I’m not supposed to be miserable and I feel like a failure for being so. I feel worse for opening up about it to what few friends I have because I feel like I’m dumping on them, and opening up to my family just worsens the situation and reminds me of why I don’t tell them anything.
But then Inside Out climaxes with Riley confronting those feelings of sadness and unhappiness, baring her soul for her parents, and a new core memory is created – in contrast to her other purely joyous memories, this one is a shared memory between Joy and Sadness. She’s learning to live with being sad, to understand that there will be stretches of her life where she will feel uncontrollable sadness, and that confronting that head-on is healthy, necessary and ok. In this instance, it was through talking with her parents, but the film doesn’t pretend like talking to others is the sole answer. “What’s important,” the film says, “is that you accept that prolonged bouts of sadness and melancholy are not bad things. If it helps you work through your problems, then that is perfectly fine.”
And that’s why I was straight-up sobbing throughout that climactic scene. On the one hand, I was getting the kind of idealised scenario that always gets my tears flowing – in this instance, Riley admitting to her parents that she hates her new house, misses Minnesota, and that she can’t be happy for them when she feels so crushingly sad, and her parents being right there for and supportive of her. But on the other, I was being told something that made me feel better and more at peace with myself: “This is OK. It is OK to have these bouts of misery, it is OK to have these fears, it is OK to constantly feel like the world is crashing down on you. There is nothing wrong with any of this. It doesn’t make you lesser, it doesn’t make you a failure. You’ll carry these around for the rest of your life, but that is all OK.”
I came out of Inside Out feeling more accepting of my near-constant misery than ever before. Admittedly, I’m on somewhat of an up-feeling run right now, so we’ll see how things go once I get back into those trenches in the inevitable future, but I feel… lighter, somewhat. Like I don’t need to worry so much when that feeling returns, because it’s natural and it’s OK. I still won’t talk to my family about the causes of it, but I won’t feel as much pressure to keep up some semblance of appearances. If my mum wants to claim that I have an “attitude” when I’m really just miserable, then fine. F*ck her. If I need to be sad, if I need time wallow, then I will because it helps me and I need to put myself first.
My fears, my loneliness, and my misery are a part of who I am. They’ll come and go, brought on by things like a new house or a failed social engagement, but they’ll always be a part of me. That’s OK. It took Inside Out telling me that for me to understand it and, whilst I might not quite yet fully believe and accept it, that’s a good first step.