When I was in the ninth grade, I came home from school every single day and turned on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
It was a routine, a ritual nearly as powerful as the slayer herself, and it continued long after high school. Not just with "Buffy," but with dozens (or more like hundreds) of TV shows that helped soothe and relax me as I coped with what I would later find out was anxiety and depression. TV is so important to me that I became a TV critic, watching episodes day in and day out, for money and for my own mental health.
TV has always been my refuge from the hard parts of my life and the world, but at a time of unprecedented societal upheaval and terror amid the coronavirus pandemic, I am not so alone in keeping my eyes glued to the small screen.
In the few short weeks – it has really only been weeks, if you can believe it – since social distancing became common practice, I have noticed friends, family, random strangers on social media and USA TODAY's readers craving television the way I have for most of my life. TV has always been there for me, and I am so happy that in a time of crisis, it is there for all of you, too.
Art as escapism is nothing new, nor am I unique in seeking it. During the Great Depression, movie ticket sales soared. But for me, there is something about TV that generates more comfort than many other forms of diversion and distraction. A movie is over in two short hours. Books are engaging until exhaustion and apathy kick in. Music has no story to transport me away from my problems.
But a TV show? A really good, engaging series with the right mix of wit, intrigue and emotion? That can keep your attention for hours or days. It can transport you to the hellmouth of Sunnydale, California ("Buffy"); 1960s Madison Avenue ("Mad Men"); or anywhere in time and space ("Doctor Who").
TV never required me to leave my house or attempt social interaction, like movies with others, a daunting prospect even when I wasn't a 14-year-old with no friends due to bullying. TV didn't cost anything, and it never changed when my family moved repeatedly. My life had a lot of unpredictability, but "Charmed" was always airing in syndication on TNT at 5p.m. weekdays.
My adolescence, and the mental health struggles that came with it, coincided with the rise of Netflix DVDs. My career in TV journalism has witnessed the streaming boom, and at the precise moment I needed it, TV was more accessible than ever. On any bad day, after any panic attack, I was soon able to turn something on that could, however marginally, make me feel better.
My reliance on TV, and my choice of career path, means that I watch far more of it than the average American. But right now, your life probably looks a little more like mine.
TV ratings tracker Nielsen has already reported a surge in TV usage over the past two weeks. Without the activities that people often flock to for entertainment and stress relief – movie theaters, concerts, live sports, after-school activities, days at the park, birthday parties, weddings, happy hours and shopping sprees – there has been much discussion about TV as a way to fill the hours after work and (virtual) school that once seemed so busy: What to watch to feel better, to distract you from the horrific news that comes out day by day. What to put on for your kids so you can get some work done at home. What to watch to feel normal again.
More:Coronavirus: 100 TV shows that will keep you streaming for weeks of social distancing
Staying home and staying busy doesn't seem as daunting to me as it might to others, because on any given weekend, I'm probably in front of the TV anyway. I've already finished eight seasons of "The Great British Baking Show" since the crisis began, but there are more series to come. And sure, I'll work out in my kitchen, maybe pick up knitting, walk my dog more often than usual, worry much of the time and do whatever I can to help amid this pandemic by staying home and donating what I can to those who need it.
But in a world turned completely upside down, I am so glad to still have those boxes of "Buffy" DVDs on a shelf.