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Mental Health and PTSD: When Even Going to the Movies Is Scary 

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I don’t like going to the movies. Never have. I’d much rather be in my own environment where I can control the sensory stimuli and eat my own food and enjoy the movie from the comfort of my own chair. But my husband loves going to the movies. It’s one of his favorite things to do. So one rainy Sunday, Good Boys was playing, which looked hilarious, and I decided to give it a go. To do something my husband loves to do. To be a supportive wife. But I was hesitant. I hadn’t been to the movies in years. The last movie I saw at the theater was the original Maleficent in 2014. Over five years ago. Before I knew I had PTSD. 

My husband and I bought our tickets in advance and reserved seats, which thankfully, we could do online. We chose seats in the upper-left corner where there were no seats behind us and where the entrance was on the right side of the theater, so we wouldn’t have to deal with people walking in. We didn’t choose seats in the farthest row from the screen with our backs to the wall as I would have preferred because if my husband had it his way, we would have sat in the front row, so this was our compromise. But having a designated seat was important to me. If I was going to sit in a dark, loud, overstimulating box, then I at least needed to know in advance where I was sitting. And do my best to ensure that no one was going to be behind me.

When we arrived at the theater, the smell of popcorn overwhelmed me, and all I wanted was to get a big bag with a Cherry Coke to wash it down, but I opted for my sugar-free black cherry soda water and Smart Popcorn (which I had smuggled in in my purse) to avoid ingesting the sugar and synthetic butter that would only put my system on higher alert. Causing me to feel even more overstimulated. I knew in order to make it through the movie, I would need to feel calm.

To prepare myself before we left, I took my medical marijuana and stress relief spray. I applied lavender essential oil to my wrists and jawline. I ate two magnesium chocolates to calm my body. Once inside, I put on my noise-canceling headphones, muting the loud sound, and I put my feet up, beginning to relax into the reclining chair while trying not to think of the last time it had been cleaned. And then it happened.

A teenager wearing dark clothing walked down the aisle behind us all the way from the right side of the theater to the left. And then he stopped in the corner behind my seat and stood there. In the corner without any seats. In the corner I thought I would be safe in. 

I felt the panic wash over me. I looked around to see if anyone else had noticed, but the movie had started and no one was paying attention to what was happening behind me. Except for me. And I immediately entered into a heightened state. 

I moved my chair’s footrest down and sat on the edge of my seat, looking behind me. Craning my neck to see what he was doing. Locating the Exit sign. Taking my noise-canceling headphones off. I was alert. Ready. 

My heart was racing. I watched as he set down his drink onto the floor. I braced myself. Ready to grab my husband and to run. Then he reached into his pocket. I thought, This is it; he’s got a gun. But then he pulled out a straw, bent down to grab his drink, put the straw in and walked down the stairs next to me to find his seat somewhere in front of me. All was well. Except for me.

The release was almost worse than the panic. Because I knew it was only my PTSD that had scared me. The danger wasn’t real. It had been all in my head. In my body. I rubbed my chest over my heart where it hurt and let the tears pour down my face. I contemplated leaving. Going to the car and waiting for my husband. Going to the bathroom to compose myself. But I stayed sitting there. Frozen.

Due to the commotion only I was dealing with, I missed the first half hour of the movie, and after my shock dissipated, I didn’t know what was happening. I had to try to pick up the story line and watch the movie one-third of the way through. I had a difficult time relaxing. I couldn’t put my foot rest back up because I wanted to remain alert. Ready. 

I ate my popcorn and drank my soda to try to bring myself back to the moment I was in. I smelled my lavender essential oil to try to help me engage my senses. I ate two more magnesium chocolates to try to relax my body. And I tried to get into the movie. I laughed at parts, or so my husband told me after, but all I could think of while there was the fear that had been brought back into my body. The fear I try so hard to forget. I remembered why it’s scary for me to go to the movies. And I don’t know if I will ever be able to go back again. 

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Mental Health and PTSD: When Even Going to the Movies Is Scary 

Jenna Grace

Jenna Grace is a writer and educator with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sensory processing disorder (SPD), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder (SAD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) diagnoses. She writes and speaks about topics including healing from trauma, coping with neurological disorder and practicing mindfulness in order to help others and to explore new meaning. Visit her website for more of her stories.

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APA Reference
Grace, J. (2019). Mental Health and PTSD: When Even Going to the Movies Is Scary . Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Oct 2019
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