Wherever You Listen to Podcasts
When I talk about podcasts, as I'm forever doing, I often say that Welcome to Night Vale was my first love, or my gateway drug; both are equally accurate. For a long time, this long-form audio drama about a strange fictional town in the American southwest, narrated by the deep, gorgeous voice of Cecil Baldwin, was a casual hobby, something I listened to while walking to class or working out at the gym.
Then I graduated college and found myself commuting between my parents' house in the far northern suburbs of Chicago, an internship in the near northern suburbs of Chicago, and a part-time job in the city proper, and I spent a lot of time staring at the stretches of grey asphalt between exits 13 and 44A on Interstate 94 and thinking about how there was probably no point to anything at all and especially to my own existence. I'd reach my destination, and the thoughts would scatter like roaches at the flick of a light switch.
What brought on all that mid-transit negativity? Was the highway simply cursed? I'm still not ruling out that option, but I think what was really happening was that sitting in traffic was leaving me alone with my depressive thoughts for far too long without anything to pull me out of my dark spiral. What finally broke me out of my cycle of miserable commutes was a return to Night Vale, and later to a dozen-odd other podcasts that offered a unique kind of comfort for a brain run ragged by mental illness.
Depression and anxiety go hand in hand, not like macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly, but more like "drawn" and "quartered" or "assault" and "battery." In the center of the Venn diagram of treatments that have helped me with these conditions are exactly three things: therapy, medication, and podcasts. Depression wants noise; anxiety wants quiet. Podcasts, miraculously, provide both: the sound of a single human voice telling a story, either real or fictional, can both focus the cacophonous racket of anxious thoughts and drown out the constant whisper of depression's lies.
Different podcasts soothe different aches: The Hilarious World of Depression reminds me I'm not alone and that the thing that ails me can be overcome and even laughed at; Up First strikes the balance between staying informed and staying panicked with its compact, ten-minute presentation of the news; Pop Culture Happy Hour and Nerdette give me something consistently light and engaging to listen to; and countless audio dramas—The Penumbra Podcast, Within the Wires, Wolf 359, The Bright Sessions, eos 10—scratch my infinite itch for quality sci-fi with queer representation.
But at the heart of it all is Night Vale, an odd little podcast that brought me joy when I thought there was none left in the world. And for that, I am awed and grateful.