How the podcast “Welcome to Night Vale” helps with Mental Health
*names have been changed
“A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome to Night Vale.”
- Welcome to Night Vale podcast, episode 1
You wouldn’t normally think that a town with mysterious hooded figures, man-eating librarians, and a Glow Cloud dropping dead animals would help someone with their mental health. Well, just like the town, fans of the popular bi-weekly serial podcast Welcome to Night Vale, created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, are a little weird. This is a town where any conspiracy theory is real, anything from pteranodons to giant centipedes are possible, and everyone is accepted for who they are. In the words of the town’s radio host Cecil Palmer; “Weird at last. Weird at last.”
All over the world, there are some strange and wonderful people who would consider themselves honorary citizens of Night Vale. They can be from all walks of life, of all ages (although most are under the age of 35), but one thing links them all together, their trust in the consistency of Night Vale. Here are three testimonials to prove that while people may be very different, they are still very much the same in the eyes of Night Vale.
People like Bryan Santiago, a 28-year-old dental tech student from Caguas, Puerto Rico, is using Night Vale to make the best of a tragic situation. “I am living in Puerto Rico right now the power has been gone for at least two months now and the Welcome to Night Vale book […] really helped me pass the time when I was stuck at home watching the my sister’s kids because the schools are closed and she had to work. Still have not finished it but it’s mostly because I don’t want it to end.” He enjoys the podcast and the novel, especially at this time, because the way they tell the story. “[It] basically just tells you about something terrible that is happening and it usually ends up fixing itself […]”
Santiago started listening to the podcast a little after it started, when a friend introduced it to him. He also bought the Welcome to Night Vale novel on a whim while he was living in Florida working for the Disney College Program.
“[I’m reading the book] to distract myself from how frustrating everything in Puerto Rico is right now and it has helped. The story kept me entertained. I liked how the characters were not what I was expecting and I am looking forward to finishing the book but at the same time I don’t want to finish it.”
Santiago also loves the fact that the main character, Cecil Palmer, is gay character without that being his only defining characteristic. “I love the fact that Cecil is also gay and was a rare example of a gay character anywhere. I have had my struggles with my sexuality and I am still in the process of dealing with it […] although I am gay I am still in the closet to my family but I know I am gay and my friends know I am gay,” he said, “So it helped to listen to a gay character talk about his experience with love and relationships […]” However, the source of his anxiety isn’t just the situation in Puerto Rico or his sexuality; “[It’s] more about […] growing up becoming an adult,” he said.
Right now, he may not have power, but he does have Night Vale. Much like the other testimonials here, but still very different, he continues to make the best of a tragic situation. Ira* is an example of this exact same coping mechanism.
Ira is a 26-year-old library director and writer from the Adirondacks in New York. She has been using Night Vale to cope with her PTSD, depression, and anxiety. “I was very close to non-functional doing, well, pretty much anything, although I would have to pull [my car] over and take breaks. I had started listening to audio dramas/podcasts in the car to distract myself when I left the house because I felt very unsafe outside the house and it would provide an anchor or safety.” she said.
She had always enjoyed audio dramas and she saw people on the internet talking about the podcast, so she decided to check it out. She realized, after listening for a little while, that she could go to the store or a friend’s house again. “Night Vale turned out to be […] really effective.” she said, “I can/could put in my headphones and get through a lot.”
Like many other fans, Ira also falls asleep to the podcast. “It became the only thing that could keep me calm (or close to it) when I’d get flashbacks and the only way I could fall asleep (or back asleep after nightmares) was listening to Cecil’s beautiful voice […] it isolates me into a safe cocoon.”
Now that her PTSD isn’t as bad, she has been inspired by the the town of Night Vale to write her own fiction podcast. “I wouldn’t be doing nearly as well today if it weren’t for WTNV.”
James Valentine, a fellow listener from Cardiff, Wales, would most likely agree with Ira on this.
Welcome to Night Vale was and still is a great anchor in 32-year-old Valentine’s life. Two days before he listened to it for the first time, he attempted to take his own life. “I was self harming daily, utterly miserable and at a crossroads in my life where I really could have taken a different path and would no longer be here.”
He had seen lots of posts about WTNV on social media, and it seemed like something he’d be interested in. “I started listening, and I fell in love instantly, as Cecil does. I mainlined every episode I had missed in a matter of days, had already planned cosplays of the characters, was downloading the weather.” Examples of characters he’s cosplayed as are Earl Harlan, Cecil, and the Subway Deer.
Eventually, Valentine started healing and substituting his self-harm with tattoos, including a large WTNV-themed piece. “When I met Cecil and the rest of the cast and creators [at the live show], I explained my story, and asked if they would sign my tat, which they did. I now make this a ritual at every live show, if any new cast members have not been added.” When Valentine told them his story, the actors and creators were; “…sympathetic, understanding and I think humbled at the idea that their show helped me. I got hugs from Cecil [Baldwin] and Jeffrey [Cranor] which meant a lot.”
Valentine still listens to the show, but not as much as he used to when he was really ill. “It tends to be something I turn to when my depression and anxiety is bad, not something I religiously need to listen to every single time the show comes out.” Either way, the podcast is something that is always there for him, something a little strange and stable in this all too crazy world of normalcy.
If you need something weird yet oddly stable in your life like these people, here’s the first episode. In the words of Cecil Palmer, “Good night, Night Vale. Good night.”
*this article was taken from my other Medium/Twitter account for my Online Journalism class. Others who want to publish this article should email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me via my website https://rachaelelmy.wordpress.com/contact/