The sea lay flat in front of me. It had been foggy in the morning, but the humidity had dissipated under the brilliant sunshine. I sat under the canopy of a large pine tree in Sweden and contemplated what to do next.
When on holiday, I usually had a lot of plans. I did not make up a detailed schedule beforehand. Opportunities just presented themselves to me and I accepted them.
On this day, however, with a view of the sea and pathways left and right, I found myself occupied with a singular insistent urge that had come and gone in waves for the past two weeks—an urge to consume every piece of Heartstopper content I could get my hands on.
What started as a web comic had evolved into an incredible-in-numbers-and-interaction online fan base—and then a Netflix show. It was the show that had grabbed my attention and that I could not, despite my resolutions, resist for long.
I had watched Charlie develop a crush on Nick so many times that I’d stopped counting. I accompanied them from a first tentative “Hi,” to their need to spend more and more time together. I imagined myself in Nick’s shoes when discovering his feelings for Charlie, feelings he had never before had for a boy. And I admired Nick for his fast and helpless acceptance of simply liking Charlie, even as he struggled with what it meant for his own sexuality.
On top of that, there was the friend group. Elle, who had a rough time coming out as trans, processing her experiences through art; Tao, a fierce protector of Charlie; and Isaac, whose love for books is intense.
To say I loved the show would be an understatement. Starting from the story that immediately pulled me in, the show addresses critical teenage and LGBTQ+ topics while keeping up an unwavering positivity. It became a place I wanted to return to, reminding me of the good times I’d had as a teen. It made me reflect on the loss of passions I used to pursue which, in the busy schedule of day-to-day grown-up life, had been pushed aside.
When I was working, I felt the need to return to the show. I watched it at the gym, balancing my phone on the bike. I watched it on my lunch break, during my coffee break, when going to bed, when getting up in the morning—even if it was just for five minutes. The pull to relive the story again and again was overwhelming and seemed to make no sense.
And even on holiday, I felt the irresistible urge to watch it.
So, I did—and I came up with a plan to take home with me. On the journey back, under a sky so blue, it made me feel like everything was possible, I knew I was going to change central parts of my life. I wanted my life to feel as wholesome as the show, and I was going to spend the rest of my holiday working to ensure the realization of my plan before “real life” hit again.
Starting with long overdue conversations with friends, I channeled Nick’s energy when he talked to Charlie in crisis situations. Before I had been struggling and unable to help, Now I had tools to work with. Before I had always had plans of someday going to an art course or paint more at home, Now I picked up a brush and went to an art forum. I scheduled sports sessions and began to feel fitter. I also picked up a new book—another passion of mine that had been suffering in the chaos of life.
It was going great. Everything clicked into place. The show had changed my life for the better in a way I would have never expected any show could. Its intensely positive “can do” attitude made me feel like I could do anything, be anything.
The constant urge to watch Heartstopper had slimmed immensely. That is, until a few days later, when it returned and completely threw me off guard.
This time, I decided to focus on my emotions. I cried when I imagined how it would feel when you thought you had your sexuality figured out, thought you were straight, and then realized there was more. I watched Nick take an online test to verify his suspicion and I thought, “Well, I haven’t tried that.”So, I took out my phone, looked for a test and started going through the questions. The results page displayed an error. I tried again, another error. I almost stopped right then and there, thinking: “It doesn’t matter anyway.” But a sneaking suspicion made me look for another test.
Looking back, if I am completely honest, this step had already given me the answer. Seeing the result, though, was a punch-in-the-gut feeling of surprise, freedom, and total rightness. It read: “You are bisexual and you probably already knew it. It’s part of your life and it’s perfectly fine for you.” This was my Heartstopper moment.
I laughed out loud and said to the kitchen: “I’m bi, actually.”
And then I cried. In the days that followed, the internet was my main source of information, the bisexual subreddit community my major pillar to lean on, and Heartstopper episodes my home whenever anxiety threatened to overwhelm me.
I began to understand the story on a deeper level, learned about bi erasure, and the importance of the sentence: “I’m bi actually,” that Nick frequently dropped when assumed to be gay. I also came across a critique of the Heartstopper books that made me realize one important thing: If it had been up to traditional publishing houses, it would have been entirely possible that Heartstopper, with its “poorly drawn graphics”—as one critique stated—would never have seen the light of day, at least not on a larger scale. It was the internet community that made it big—and it took Netflix, a large streaming provider that focuses on shows that include representation, to make it visible to me.
Back in my hometown now, I sit under a golden autumn beech contemplating the start of my own journey and how it all came to be. It took a while for me to understand the opportunity that presented itself to me. It is thanks to Heartstopper’s addictive nature and relentless positivity that I was finally able to discover and embrace my true self.
I lean back with my iPad in my hand and watch Charlie and Nick lie in the sun at the seaside—and I know that I will forever be grateful for my very own Heartstopper moment.
Karina (she/her) lives in the north of Germany and loves a cup of tea in the traditional local style. She works in IT and Marketing, is currently creating her first novel, and loves to travel. Find her on Instagram as kabeeeee86.