What Superheroes Taught Me About Living with Mental Illness

You may not know this, but I’m a huge nerd, especially about superheroes.

I have clothing, artwork, and other merchandise that is evidence of my love for these characters. The “Souper” part of my blog name and twitter handle is a combination of my nickname (Campbell Soup/Soup), the fact that I am “super” into mental health awareness, and my love of caped crusaders, masked vigilantes. and super humans. My love for superheroes has been my longest relationship.

My first (fictional) crush was Peter Parker/Spider-Man. It all began when I was pretty young and caught The Amazing Spider-Man and Friends after an episode of Power Rangers (and yes, I’m a 90s kid). I was instantly hooked and became engrossed by the fact that he could sling webs to fly across the city and looked so freaking cool while taking down the bad guys.

Spidey, well specifically Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, taught me, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Over the years, I have learned a lot of tools and have come to specific conclusions about living with mental illness. Because I suffered alone for so long without anyone to guide me, I feel like I owe it to myself and others to be the person I so desperately needed as a teen.

spidey

About the same time that the world was introduced to Spider-Man through the live action adaption of his story, I was introduced to the X-Men through the X-Men: Evolution cartoon on Cartoon Network. I felt like I had found my people. I saw people from different walks of life with vastly different appearances work together to save the world.

The show was about teenage mutant humans with various superpowers attending high school (Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters) and adjusting to the fact that there are other people like them all while trying to become powerful enough to help save the world. I always loved the fact that the X-Men were an allegory for discrimination, from the Holocaust to the Civil Rights movements, to the Apartheid in Africa and marriage equality.

The X-Men taught me that it’s important to fight for equality and speak up for yourself and others. From a young age, I’ve always been passionate about raising awareness for issues I cared about, and I made it my mission to be a mental health advocate. This super-powered team also taught me that everyone, including myself has a unique power they can give to the world.

cape

While I don’t have the power to read minds or control the weather, I have the superpower of being sensitive. In a world where people are brash and calloused, I pick up on the feelings of others and respect them. I try to see the perspectives of other people because I would want the same done for me. I make myself vulnerable because there’s a special kind of strength in honesty, especially when you share stories about the most terrifying times of your life.

Hulk, while not one of my favorite characters, taught me that emotions can be powerful and they can either control me or I can work on ways to better handle them. Jessica Jones and Black Widow taught me that trauma doesn’t define me, nor is it responsible for my success. Being a woman and being strong don’t contradict each other.

The Flash, one of my more recent favorite comic book heroes, taught me that while people may not always be able to relate to your experiences, that’s not a reason to keep them away. Barry Allen works best when his friends and family help him find the villainous metahumans wreaking havoc in Central City. To fight my battles, I need a team on my side to help me be victorious like The Flash. I also need the attitude that yes, I will always have to keep fighting and I may not always win, but each fight is an opportunity to show my strength and make progress.

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Another thing that loving superheroes has taught me is to accept myself. I used to feel pangs of embarrassment when people learned about my nerdiness, but like my mental illnesses, I have learned to accept that side of me. So I live my life as wannabe mental health superhero. I wear my invisible cape throughout life, though I’ll pass on the spandex even if it is invisible.

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