“There’s only me. I am the law,” Buffy says to her friends in one of the final episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This is what I wanted: To be singular, and singularly powerful.
My sophomore year of high school, I could never concentrate in class because I was constantly thinking about two things: my after-school snack and watching an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The former was always a piece of toast or a bowl of cereal, and I fantasized about it for basically the entire second half of the school day. Toast or cereal? Cereal or toast? If it sounds totally boring and mundane, it’s because it is, and that’s what my eating disorder did to my patterns of thought. Food—basic, basic food in tiny and controlled amounts—was always on my mind. Every day, I was scattered and weepy and high-strung, and I was really fucking hungry.
My BFF Nadja had introduced me to Buffy that autumn. I was obsessed. I think I’d love Buffy no matter when in my life I watched it—for the monsters, the camp, the dark humor, these outfits—but as it was, I was sixteen and depressed and too thin, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer arrived at exactly the right time.
If you haven’t watched it, it’s kind of like this: Buffy is the Chosen One, destined to rid the world of vampires and other supernatural evils. She’s endearing and sassy and does a whole lot of ass-kicking. (And she has a really sympathetic cry-face.) You’re invested in the characters, deeply and personally. And for all its melodrama, all its calculated silliness, there’s so much sadness in the series. There’s so much anger.
I refused for a while to acknowledge that I had a problem. That maybe my anxiety had something to do with my emotionally abusive boyfriend of the time, or that my underlying depression had nothing to do with him at all. And I did not, did not, have an eating disorder. I was above eating disorders. I was in absolute control.
In Buffy’s universe, Sunnydale High School is aptly located right above the Hellmouth. Forces of evil—vampires, demons, a ton of maggots in the physical form of a door-to-door salesman—emerge from the Hellmouth, and Buffy beats the shit out of them. One after another. Again and again, saving the world a lot, dying a handful of times in the process. It was cathartic for me to watch: Buffy, an embodied rage, destroying the bad guys for the right reasons. Because the bad guys did exist, as misogynistic dudebro farmer vampires and creepy mayors, and there was a right reason, a good reason, to be really fucking angry about it.
We’re taught that we must have a reason for our feelings—but why are you so sad?—and this is not really the way that it works, particularly in cases of depression and anxiety. I didn’t think I was allowed the kind of space to just feel whatever I felt because I felt it, in much the same way that girls and women are taught that their bodies are not allowed “too much” physical space. Buffy experiences the same feelings I was feeling—sadness, rage, hopelessness—and can do something about it; there’s something to be done, a tangible evil to slay. There’s an answer to the question, “What’s wrong?”
Eating disorders are incapacitating. What often begins as a play for control evolves into a sense of powerlessness—physically, mentally, emotionally. It was infuriating to know that this monster I’d created (or maybe summoned from the Hellmouth) grew strong because I’d nurtured it, and now, I was not in charge. I was so angry at myself, but I was not myself. This kind of rage has no direction.
So it felt good to see Buffy slamming a vampire to the ground and driving a stake through his heart. The cartoonish violence satisfied some desperate need. And Buffy’s own saga of power and heartbreak and self-loathing was painfully familiar to me, as I’m sure it is to so many Buffy fans. There is a comforting unity in that. I’m not the only one who really, really wanted to see a teenage girl single-handedly bringing down all the forces of darkness. I’m not the only one who cries—too easily—at lines like, “The hardest thing to do in this world is to live in it.”
In November of that year I dumped my shitty boyfriend and allowed my mom to start packing my lunch again. She sent me to school with enormous sandwiches and thermoses of Carnation Instant Breakfast and lots of those chocolate-covered raisins from Costco. Giving over control to her was not some kind of liberating, turning-over-a-new-leaf-type life event. It felt like defeat. It was necessary and I knew it, but I struggled against it all the same. The depression didn’t just go away, because often, depression just doesn’t.
But in Buffy the Vampire Slayer there was a release. There was a girl who fought for good, in a world where “good” and “evil” could be so clear and concrete. The imminence of the apocalypse—which, incidentally, is kind of what anxiety feels like—was as certain as was Buffy preventing it at the last minute. It was a small gift to come home to.