Friends Was There For Me

‘Welcome to the real world – it sucks. You’re gonna love it.’

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, we're reposting this incredible article, originally commissioned in partnership with mental health charity Mind.

Freelance writer Kate Townshend found solace in the darkest period of her life thanks to a little-known sitcom called Friends. Here's her story:

Even now, ten years later, I retain a few relics of my time at university: battered folders full of illegible notes, faded, tea-stained student mugs and photographs show-casing the best of noughties college fashion. (Hoodie and jeans anyone?)

But one of the most precious surviving bits of memorabilia from those days for me is my battered collection of Friends DVDs. And whilst a bunch of plastic discs might seem an odd thing to be sentimental about, the truth is they were quite literally a route to a warmer, kinder, safer place at a point in my life when things looked a bit bleak.

Because in the spring of 2002 I was the most unhappy I've ever been. I'll spare you the gory details of ill parents, dysfunctional relationships and crippling anxiety, but suffice to say that I felt like I was constantly being smushed up against a huge and unrelenting wall of real life - a wall I felt increasingly unequal to withstanding.

Fortunately though, Friends was there for me and it provided a form of escapism that was far safer than drugs or alcohol and less inconvenient than simply locking myself in my room and never coming out. It even had its own gentle wisdom to impart on some of the things I thought I was running from. 

Rachel’s horror that she might be more excited about a gravy boat than her impending marriage to Barry – and her dramatic escape from the situation – put my own bad relationships in perspective. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life – but it was ok because neither did Chandler. Even Phoebe’s ability to rise above her own pretty terrifying childhood helped me to re-frame some of the most upsetting things that I was experiencing. 

Because the thing is, Friends was absolutely recognisable – and relatable - as a mirror to real life, but it was real life with the hard edges rubbed off. It was the best kind of visual paracetamol in a world where coffee always seemed to come in pints and a series of comic events unfolded in almost cartoonish technicolour. A world where a witty retort could transform tragedy into comedy, but only because the relationships at its heart were rock solid.  When the darkness seemed most overwhelming I would make myself a cup of tea and put one of the DVDs on and shut out the things I simply couldn’t deal with for a little while.

But Friends wasn’t just comforting (although I feel like I know Monica’s apartment as well as I know my own house and it fills me with a similar sense of familiar security.) The thing about Friends has always been that it’s funny too. We all know the scientific benefits laughter can offer (from producing endorphins to relieving stress and even boosting your immune system) but the irony is that when you need it most, it’s often hardest to find anything to laugh about. 

For me, Friends was a different place with different rules to the rest of my life and it meant I could laugh at its jokes even when nothing else seemed funny at all. 

And in that sense it provided me with access to the positive emotions I needed to start to feel better.

As Chandler would say, could there *be* any better reason to love a show?

By Kate Townshend

This article came as part of our Performance Anxiety campaign in collaboration with Mind, the mental health charity. Head over to Mind to find out more.