Doctor Who and pandemic stress: Hush now, the Silence is here

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‘Doctor Who’ monsters, The Silence, were partially modeled after Edvard Munch’s painting, “The Scream” (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Global occupation by Doctor Who monsters, or COVID-19 pandemic stress? They may be more similar than you think!

The Silence. If you’re a Doctor Who fan, you’re probably familiar with them, though you may not remember. The Silence are frightening creatures, tall and ominous, looking much like they just stepped out of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. The most frightening thing about them is not their appearance. It’s not even that you can’t remember them unless you’re looking at them. The most frightening thing about the Silence is their ability to make you do things without knowing why.

In Day of the Moon, Canton straightens the Doctor’s bow tie because the Doctor suggests it while they’re looking at the creature. The human race has built space suits to fly to the moon because the Silence needed a special suit to control and care for a special child. By the end of the episode, the entire human race has been given something like a post-hypnotic suggestion to kill the Silence on sight, again setting them on a path of acting without understanding why.

This is particularly relevant today, as the world is experiencing shared trauma globally. Exposure to the Silence, especially repeated exposure and the repeated brain wipes that come with it, causes trauma. Each exposure is typically frightening and confusing for the viewer, and repeated meetings become more so because of the increasing confusion. It causes symptoms like nausea, increased heart rate, increased breath rate, confusion, forgetfulness, and unexplained behavior.

The monsters we don’t see

Interestingly, Psych Central lists the following as symptoms of acute stress disorder.

A person with acute stress disorder may experience difficulty concentrating, feel detached from their body, experience the world as unreal or dreamlike, or have increasing difficulty recalling specific details of the traumatic event (dissociative amnesia).

Acute stress disorder can also come with anxiety or depression. Anxiety presents itself as anger, fear, disinterest, forgetfulness, irritability, trouble focusing, avoidance behaviors, difficulty managing emotions, nausea, headaches, fatigue, and more. Depression can include apathy, fatigue, listlessness, despondency, suicidal ideation, physical aches and pains, and more.

In those with previous traumas, especially repeated and childhood trauma, this level of new stress can stir up old things. This reactivated CPTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) can have several of the same symptoms as ASD, anxiety, and depression, but also frequently includes flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts about the past traumas.

With so much overlap between the effects of exposure to the Silence, and the symptoms of these stress-related mental illnesses, it’s easy to see a parallel between the monsters that we can’t see (COVID 19) and the monsters we can’t remember seeing.

Amy’s trapped in the Silence space ship for days but doesn’t realize it. Dr. Renfrew at the children’s home in Florida doesn’t even know what year it is. Clearly the repeated mind wipes affect the perception of time passing, much like the monotony many of us have experienced being at home unexpectedly for the past 2 months. Amy and River both express feeling nausea after some exposure, which is one of my personal most common anxiety symptoms.

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