Over the last two decades the public perception of mental illness has evolved from psycho or get out of jail insanity plea, to an epidemic that has, is, and probably always will affect most families in the world. It has affected my life personally and during that experience I learned the ugly truth, with most mental illnesses you are never “cured”, you learn how to fight it effectively, some days you win, some days you lose. That may sound extremely negative but, as the years go on you begin to win most of those fights and in this writer’s experience, the hardship you have battled through allow you to enjoy every positive day no matter how simple, to the fullest extent.
So just how do you treat mental illness and learn to fight it? My own experience was and is with depression, anxiety, and PTSD (nowhere close to a soldier but still tough). Those three combined can form an overwhelming swarm of emotions to one’s brain at multiple times every day. The most common emotions are anger, helplessness, confusion, sadness, and eventually numbness. The first step to preparing for this epic battle is to want it, you need to want to win more than anything. The next step is talking to someone, whether it be a family member, friend, or a professional, sharing your pain out loud and knowing someone is listening is a spark that will light the fuse of your rebellion from these feelings. In some more extreme but not at all uncommon instances signing yourself in to a facility equipped for the coming battle is a huge help. If you’re wondering what route I took, it was all the above. When you have taken these steps, the next phase is to find your brother/sister in arms, this can be a person, music, literature, hobbies, sport, the list goes on. The brother in arms I chose was Spiderman, that sounds strange right? I have always been a fan of comic books like kids and adults today love Harry Potter books, Peter Parker was my Harry Potter but to a much deeper extent.
Hear me out, when you are going through this tough journey (If you haven’t, I really hope you never do) you will begin to feel like nobody understands your pain, you will eventually find a song, book, person, or like me a character that knows, perceives, or symbolises exactly how you feel. I am trying not to make this post all about me as I hope that if any of you beautiful people are experiencing this pain, you can learn something from this post, but to do so I need to explain how a character created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko saved my life. If any of you are comic fans you will know exactly what I am talking about.
Peter Parker was a nerdy kid who lost his parents when he was very young, he was raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, the latter of who was tragically taken from his life. Peter was bullied in school, was afraid of standing up for himself, and masked his hurt with humour. When he was bitten by a radioactive spider he became Spiderman and at first, he had fun with it, until Uncle Ben was killed by a thief who Pete had let escape.
This is just the beginning of this explanation and I already know that many people can tell what feelings he had at these times, for those who don’t, let me explain to the best of my ability. I thankfully have both my parents but, I know a few people who tragically lost theirs and let me tell you, their lives were crushed. Losing a loved one is never easy no matter what relation they are to you, losing a parent must be pure agony. I can relate to this next part, although I had both my parents and they done a fantastic job with me, I will always give most of the credit of my upbringing to my grandmother, she was my Aunt May she taught me right from wrong, how to believe in myself, she was there to listen to my “world ending” problems as a teen, and she loved me unconditionally. I lost my grandmother earlier this year and it was in that moment I realised that she was my Aunt May and my Uncle Ben, even in her passing she left me with knowledge they can’t teach in schools and a feeling of being loved that in my grief I didn’t believe I would ever feel again. During this time in the comics Pete was feeling what I am still feeling now, an almost sub category of depression, Survivors Guilt. The name explains it all, Peter felt guilty that he lived, and Ben died, he also began to regret decisions in his life that involved Ben. I am still in that regret stage and it is a fresh battle for a veteran mind which has grown complacent.
I think a lot of people can relate to the last three stages of this beginning, I among many of you was bullied in school, I was afraid to stand up for myself, and to this day I mask my pain with humour. Being bullied is often the beginning of a person’s mental health battle, dormant feelings you had about yourself subconsciously are brought out and backed up by kids who are probably two stages further than you on their descent into mental illness. It is from this bullying that you gain the fear of standing up for yourself and this follows you through your whole life if you let it, it grows from being afraid to stand up to bullies to being afraid to stand up to your boss, significant other, parent, or even just a stranger. Bullying has now led to you feeling self-hatred, shame, fear, and worthlessness but, your human pride will not allow you to appear weak to the people closest to you so what do you do? “You should see the other guy mate”, you joke, you put on a mask just like Spiderman (More on this point later) and you don’t let the world see your vulnerabilities, in a nutshell you bottle up your feelings until you can’t fit anymore in and that’s when you explode and then go numb, not always in that order. The danger of this is that when you explode you may end up hurting someone you love and, when you go numb you may fall into the trap that myself and countless others have, you will hurt yourself just so you can actually feel something.
After the passing of Uncle Ben, Peter chose to live by a code especially when he is Spiderman, “With great power, comes great responsibility”. He put on the mask and the skin-tight suit (Seriously how does he keep everything “PG”, I wore a morph suit once and the party got an R rating) and began to stick up for the little guy. As I got older and got a firm upper hand on my ongoing battle, I saw younger kids in school being bullied like I was, this led to me letting my internal enemy gain ground because I gave into my anger and I got into fights. Now I’m not saying stopping someone from being bullied by taking on the bully is wrong (That is basically what superheroes do) but I constantly found it hard to stop once I got into a rage. “With great power comes great responsibility”, as I read more Spiderman comics these words became my code, from then on, I only used physicality as a last resort and I knew when to stop. This is important because we need to stop and think, at what point are we now bullying this bully? If protecting someone led to violence I stopped once the bully’s attention had gone from harming someone to protecting himself. Many years later I realised the reason I allowed my internal rage to control me in these moments was a symptom of the PTSD using my past to turn what should be a “hero moment” into a buffet to still the hunger of the monster I had in my head at the time. Just like all the other moments of realisation, once this became known to me I learned how to fight it and if I can (I’m not the toughest) then you can too.
After the tragedy of losing Uncle Ben, Peter had begun to get some sort of hold on his life balancing being himself an being a web slinging superhero, that was until he lost the love of his life Gwen Stacey. This was a huge storyline and though it had obvious mental health ramifications on Peter’s life I’m going to leave it out of this post because if I included everything, this would be a novel. Instead let’s focus on the first half of that opening sentence of the paragraph, Pete was living two lives. There are many different mental illnesses that cause a split of personality however, the reason I relate to this is due to how I hid my feelings during dark times of depression. I, like many others put on a mask just like Spidey and I became someone different, someone my mind wanted me to be, but my inner war stopped it from ever being permanent. When you fall into the pit of depression everything seems dark and evil, the world is working against you but, you have your friends and family, to these people you don’t want to look weak. I put on the mask for my friends and for my family but, in the end it was them I nearly hurt the most had I not been saved.
This piece may seem like a how to guide on hiding mental illness but it is the exact opposite. I wrote this piece to be something other warriors against mental health can relate to, and something to give advice to the new warriors forced onto the battlefield. Spiderman was my guide, all the attributes mentioned earlier were what I related to, all the growth afterwards was my salvation. Spidey still feels grief and depressed at times, which we seen when he was infected with the symbiote, it brought his anger at life to the surface before he rejected it and it became pure rage using the vessel of Eddie Bock as Venom. This storyline alone shows how Pete fights his war with his webbed head held high and now the person his mind wants him to be shines more consistently. Peter shared the burden of being Spiderman with a select few people he loves and that alone lightened the load on his shoulders and it taught me that sometimes the best way to fix yourself is to let someone know the pain you are feeling.
Mental health is not taboo anymore but, the recognition of the problem still has some ways to go. If you are reading this and you are going through something similar please, learn from the experienced warrior’s shortcomings. I understand that you may not be ready to talk just yet, but don’t let yourself be beaten too easily, you have the ability to fight within you! Find your brother/sister in arms and kick mental illnesses ass every damn day!
If you are reading this and you have been through similar and continue to win your war like me, you need to make sure the new warriors are not alone and clueless, pass on your learnings because you are in line with the bravest people out there. Remember, “With great power, comes great responsibility”.
Thank you for reading (enduring)