How “The Office” helped me through my depression in college

The Office first aired on NBC on March 24th, 2005. On its 13th anniversary, one contributor explains why, to her, The Office is more than just a TV show.

It was 2006, almost 2007. I was a college sophomore living in a three-person suite with a bathroom shared by three other people. Our room was crowded with bunk beds and stacked dressers and, of course, a futon. My roommates and I lived in a massive brick building of dorms near the practice fields, where we’d often find ourselves on random Tuesday nights, drinking vodka out of water bottles and running freely across the astro turf. Fall was setting in, and with it came shorter days and longer nights. The start-of-the-year excitement faded; the outdoor beer pong parties we’d attend wearing risqué tank tops and short skirts slowed down.

It was that season when my depression reared its ugly head.

I’d (somewhat unknowingly) suffered from depression since the young age of 12, but I’d never actually acknowledged it until that fateful semester. Suddenly, I couldn’t muster the strength to get myself to classes. My usual Friday afternoon excitement was gone. I spent hours just sitting at my desk staring at the computer, waiting for messages to pop up on AIM. My roommates struggled with their own issues, and our energies often fed off of each other until we’d all be sitting in front of our laptops in silence, stewing in our own isolation without the emotional maturity to know how to get ourselves out of it.

That semester was miserable.

I had the top bunk, which I felt bitter about every morning as I fumbled my way down half asleep, bruising my knees. But soon, that top bunk, close in proximity to the ceiling and the air vents, became my haven.

I’d skip my night classes and stay in bed. I’d skip my 8 a.m. classes and stay in bed. I’d postpone meeting after meeting and stay  in bed. I’d bail on social obligations and stay in bed. It was the first time I felt physically unable to motivate myself to do anything. I felt like a depressed shell of a human.

It was then, in my little sanctuary of a top bunk within an enormous college campus, thousands of students swirling around me in a hurricane of isolation, that I discovered The Office.

I’d never seen it before, but a few of my friends had made allusions to “Jim and Pam” that I didn’t understand. I was intrigued, noticed that Seasons 1 and 2 were available online, and I started watching.

From the first episode, I was hooked. Michael Scott’s sheer absurdity and hilariously dry humor made me fall in love with him instantly. Dwight Schrute’s deadpan lines and devout workplace obedience forced me to laugh out loud. Jim and Pam’s painfully romantic (and then-possibly unrequited?) relationship sucked me into a fantasy that distracted me from my feelings of depression and my seemingly-devastating life. (I definitely cried on “Casino Night.”)

Suddenly, if I was going to be stuck in bed, I had a reason to at least be awake. I probably watched both available seasons in less than a week.

Luckily, season three had just started airing on NBC that September. I had long, involved conversations with my best girlfriend over AIM regarding the future of Jim and Pam. I told anyone who’d listen that they needed to watch thiis great new show I’d discovered. I re-watched all the episodes at least once, maybe twice.

I would bundle up in bed, pop my earbuds in, and with a little nest of blankets piled up around me, the intro song would begin.

My body grew accustomed to it, instantly relaxing when those first piano notes started. It was like Pavlov’s dogs, salivating at the sound of a bell. The characters felt like kindred friends, even the ones who were awful and annoying. (Oh hey, Angela.) I lived for the ridiculous plot lines, the hilarious office pranks, the fate of Michael’s desperate heart. I hungrily watched episode after episode of the third season as soon as they became available, and then watched them again and again.

I don’t remember the exact moment when my depression faded enough for me to feel like an active member of society again, but I slowly began to emerge from that dark semester. Eventually, I regained some solid footing, fueled by comedy and romance and a familiarity I’d been lacking ever since I went away to college.

I started feeling like myself again.

It’s been thirteen years since The Office first aired, and I still feel comforted when I hear that theme song. Thirteen years later, I’ve seen all nine seasons more times than I can count. Thirteen years later, it’s what I put on for background noise when I’m pottering around the house. Thirteen years later, I still tear up when Jim and Pam run off from the church and get married on the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls. Thirteen years later, I still grieve its ending.

The Office is just a TV show, and yet it pulled me out of the depths of despair when I was a severely depressed, 18-year-old college student. Cheers to Dunder Mifflin.

Note: Obviously, watching TV was not the only thing that helped me feel better as I navigated a deep depression. The help of a good therapist, medication, and talking to supportive family and friends were all things that aided in my recovery. If you need emotional/mental support or are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to get the support of a professional immediately.

Filed Under