Home Mental Health & Well-Being In This World of Despair, Escapism Is Our Greatest Protection

In This World of Despair, Escapism Is Our Greatest Protection

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It was a slow start to the day. The aching of dawn and soft indie music brought words of resonance both vocally and visually. I’d written a few lines as an outlet for things that I didn’t understand fully, knowing that today would need to be a day of escape. I’d woken with a lot of feeling that I couldn’t unpack in the time that I had. For that reason, a lot of these early morning write-ups tended to be abstract haunts, laced with anger, forced humour, at times sarcasm and almost always a melancholy tone. I’d write them as a release, in a journal document that now stands at 47,296 words as I finish this sentence. As those ten minutes of freedom passed by and the demands of the day called out, I’d pack away those thoughts, push away from my desk, and get on with the morning that stood waiting for me. 

Early mornings such as these, are microcosms of escape. Ten minutes here or there, a moment in a waiting room, a passenger in a silent vehicle, out on the road with nothing but a window of landscapes as a companion. Yet there are larger and grander forms of escape too. The leaving home types, the travelling and getting away from it all. These are the types of escape that are extensively written about in memoirs of life. Seeing new places and new people, having different conversations, sleeping in a strange bed beneath the same old skies, and coming back as a different person at the end of it all. As I sat to write this article today, I read about escapism. Psychology calls it avoidance, addiction, or, at times, fantasy. Sociology would draw a ring around the horrors of the world and its punitive structures, leaning more towards the collective understandings of why we yearn to escape. You or I might just see it as a break from life. Escape is one of those things that is both personal and protective in this world and its ills. It’s not always inherently good or bad, but it is the first thing that tends to fall into our mindset when we are sad, or overwhelmed. For that reason, I think that escapism is perhaps one of our great protectors in this world of broken dreams and knife-edge realities.

Escape happened to us just a few weeks ago, when we took a road trip up north. On this day, we were not only escaping the endless and relentless rainfall and gales that have dominated spring, but we were also looking for a complete change of scene. A new place away from the everyday. We do this whenever we can because, for us, being out of the house and away from familiarity is what allows us to reset, recharge and, at times, find each other again. That morning, we’d driven a few hours to ride our bikes in brighter weather. We didn’t know where we were going, nor did we know what we would find. We’d parked up in a busy layby just out of town and rode straight from the van. That trip took us through a warren of industrial parks, rural lanes, and woodlands until it eventually brought us out into a silent landscape. We’d reached a point where it was so quiet that we decided to stop. A small gate with a broken clasp and a rusted sign indicated that we should enter at our own risk. So we did. Entering this place was completely unknown. Another tired-looking sign brought us to a choice, pointing either left or right. We chose left. This route took us down a narrow, winding path that was difficult to navigate with bikes in tow, but we found our way through its overgrowth. A path that had evidently not been followed for some time. Eventually, we came to a clearing and heard the distinctive sound of running water. As we followed the path around a corner, the trail opened out onto a pebble river beach with a vast waterfall surrounded by trees. Miles from home, we were completely alone here, in an entirely different place. This was an escape. 

When we live in such an inflamed society, that instructs us to be strong and resilient, to self-manage our illnesses and disabilities, and to put our anxieties into a box, escape becomes even more important yet also more difficult. As we have become more embedded in political culture wars – right versus left, fingers pointing and waving at the “wrong” demographics, being attacked for being the wrong age or having a mental illness – it becomes all too easy to engage and enrage. Such attacks are manifested to exploit power for these individuals and the spin doctors that construct them. Escapism begins to fade out when people are placed in cages, behind tall walls of worry and anxiety. Irrespective of individual circumstances, there’s a lot hidden in these spaces and a lot that cannot be discussed openly for fear of reprimand or a damaged reputation. This is why escaping from the world is not only about switching off and taking a break, but also about self-protection and validation. Sometimes, we have to run away, be it through words on a page or out in the wild. Doing so allows us to speak to ourselves and be able to release the vast levels of stress that this world has imposed upon us. 

It’s when I am writing, cycling or hiking that I’m able to escape. At times, it’s music that helps me cry after I’ve left it too long. A world of escapism is not always about blocking out negative thoughts but often has more to do with being able to access the deeper version of yourself. Beyond the masked existence, there are the pent-up anxieties that come out as frustration, the panic attacks with no cause and the pointless arguments we end up having with each other at times. Escapism is our freedom to come away from those things. In a world of pain and despair, we may find that it is our greatest protection. 


An earlier version of this article was published on Aunty Social World.

Laura Barrett is a writer and creator for Aunty Social World, a platform for blogging, critical thinking, and stories of a life away from the crowd. 


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