This weekend I collapsed after watching The Hunger Games.
My girlfriend caught me almost immediately, but still, right in the middle of the theater lobby, my limbs went numb and my head went dizzy, and I collapsed in the throes of an anxiety attack.
I have anxiety attacks sometimes, usually a couple times a year, usually escalating to tears and trouble breathing and fully body paralysis in the span of minutes, usually in response to a specific, personal, and immediate stressor- missing the bus to a conference, or that one time I forgot to turn in a form and almost lost $5,000 of funding for my student organization. But this was different. It was a slow build; I started subtly shaking during the first few scenes of the film. More importantly, there was no specific, personal, or urgent stressor. In fact as far as I was (consciously) concerned, I was having a lovely carefree Saturday and thoroughly enjoying the movie.
So what exactly was it that triggered this peculiar experience? Did I have…. a social justice anxiety attack? As an environmentalist by activist and academic training, I’ve heard of “eco-anxiety” : overwhelming and daily-life-impairing feelings of anxiety, despair, fear, and anger about global environmental destruction. If that’s a thing, then I suppose having similar feelings around the issues central to The Hunger Games- economic and racial oppression, unfettered capitalism, state sanctioned violence, the use of power to squash dissent and keep those who might challenge the status quo silent, scared, and isolated from each other. But this is a movie. It is a fictional movie about a dystopian society that is terrifying and tragic, but shouldn’t affect me so strongly because it simply isn’t real.
Except for that it is. Continue reading