One of the cruellest things about being depressed is that the things that used to bring you joy suddenly ring hollow. Favourite albums turn to muzak. Beloved foods taste dull. A snuggly couch session with Master & Commander: Far Side Of The World and all the Pizza Shapes you can eat might as well be gruel served on a concrete slab in front of Question Time.
This was, for many years, my more-than-occasional lot in life: I rode the (very boring, not very well designed) rollercoaster of depression from my late teens to my early 30s. I wrote a lot of dreary blog posts, half an aborted roman-a-clef, a handful of doleful “It happened to me” type articles about it, alienated a bunch of friends and lovers, and poured a lot of money into therapy.
The therapy was worth it and the lost friends weren’t such a loss after all, but it turned out that what I really needed to do was just find something that would bring me such an extreme amount of joy that no low mood could survive in its presence. That thing turned out to be professional wrestling.
And while I’m loath to use the word “cured” in the context of a mercurial brain disorder such as depression, I have found that there is something so mood-altering about screaming “KILL HIM!!!!” (etc) ringside every month that it might be worth scientists looking into the serotonin-boosting effects of sledging.
The joys of pro wrestling are well known to even its most casual admirers: at its best, and even at its worst, it’s an intoxicating blend of theatre in the round, soap opera storylines that make telenovela seem subdued, and mind-boggling (and, for the wrestlers, occasionally brain-damaging) feats of derring do.
It’s this combination of factors that makes pro wrestling such a unique opportunity for catharsis. That’s especially keenly felt when experiencing a live event, such as those put on monthly by Melbourne City Wrestling, but holds just as true while watching WWE or New Japan Pro Wrestling on TV. My brother (a fellow wrestling nut) and I have been known to run around the room screaming after certain wins or story revelations. A “Phenomenal Forearm” by AJ Styles will still make my day.
Amusingly, for someone who has often shied away from horror movies, I’ve also developed a bloodlust for extreme wrestling that took seed during local death matches. I’ve since begun my slow crawl through the pre-“PG era” WWE offerings, and a housemate recently returned home to find me and my brother happily watching the notorious 2004 Judgment Day main event featuring Eddie Guerrero, JBL, and about 10l of both of their blood.
There are, of course, exceptions. Sometimes the decisions made by WWE “creative” are so baffling they can take your post-pay-per-view high and plunge it down the drain (see: human “boo” generator Roman Reigns at the Royal Rumble just past). Conversely, sometimes the storylines are sold so well there’s a danger they’ll ruin your life forever; I’m still recovering from Kevin Owens’ betrayal of Chris Jericho at the Festival Of Friendship.
Dealing with dull people’s preconceived prejudices about pro wrestling is also a drag. I have found the best way to deal with the “yeah but it’s fake” set is just not to engage. As the legendary KrackerJak The Mad Bastard says, on the topic of wrestling being fake, so are books.
Beyond catharsis (and a sick new wardrobe of merch), though, the most tangible effect pro wrestling has had on my life is to encourage me back to the gym, which is a huge part of the struggle for any depressed person who has heard the words “Exercise will help, you know” a thousand times.
After a torn calf muscle last winter left me immobilised, dejected and prone to moaning things like, “What’s the point of running if I just get injured?”, I spent the rest of 2016 slumped at my desk, eating chicken Twisties, sliding backwards into old depressive patterns. Thank goodness, then, that I watched a WWE “24” documentary about Seth Rollins’ rehabilitation following a catastrophic knee injury. After watching him scream his way through rehab, I rang the physiotherapist the next day.
Now I weight train five times a week, with the highly realistic goal to be able to lift a human being above my head by 2018. (Hey, Diamond Dallas Page was 35 when he started his wrestling training; there’s hope for me yet.) My mood has stabilised, procrastination has given way to list-making, and I leave the house at least once a day. They might not seem like huge achievements, unless you’ve ever been depressed yourself.
Depression has a habit of turning the future into grey mush, so that dreams become hazy and prospects are dimmed. The comic book writer Matt Fraction once gave some sage advice to a suicidally depressed fan that stressed the importance of having things to look forward to, even if it was just wondering what typeface Starbucks would use on their holiday cups next year.
Wrestling has given me something to look forward to, both literally and figuratively. It’s reinvigorated my screenwriting and storytelling, given me something to root for, and revitalised my approach to life. I don’t know about you, but I reckon that deserves a “HELL YEAH”.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010