OVER the last eighteen months or so, it’s fair to say my brain has been on an involuntary, if intermittent, sabbatical from intelligent thought. Due to a combination of internal and external factors, depression and anxiety claimed a win for that bloody black dog of mine, and wrestling him back into his kennel has taken blood, sweat and (many) tears, both from me and the Man.
It’s only now, on the way back home, when, to be blunt, it’s still a struggle to put words together - no longer the easy pleasure it once was - that I’ve been wondering quite a lot about what it takes to be a hero.
There’s a few reasons for this, and I’ll try to make them brief.
Just this once.
I have always wanted to be a big achiever. To be capable. Faster than a speeding deadline. I suppose, if I’m honest with myself, that I needed to be seen as a hero. Oh, I don’t mean in terms of public adulation, or acclaim, or ‘wow what a legend’, but just being recognised as someone who wouldn’t let you down.
You know; someone with the ‘S’ suit always in preparation, ready to leap tall buildings, or at least medium sized ones, in a single stiletto-heeled bound.
Depression takes you about as far from feeling heroic, from being that capable, able person, as it’s possible to be. For me, I slide firmly under the doona of denial and isolation, barely equal at times to answering the bat signal asking how I am when people who care - and don’t give up - send it through. If you were to put it in superhero parlance, for me depression is akin to attaching the lariat of coolness to my mind’s bathers, snapping on the scissor-cut sock mask of awesomeness; and then sitting on the bathroom floor for a week because in my heart of hearts, I know that Metropolis, or Gotham, or the world outside the door, is better off without some fucking idiot in a stupid red bed sheet messing things up.
When you are suffering from depression - when you are in the midst of an episode - that phone box of Clark Kent’s seems a long way away.
What I am coming to realise, now, and only after a long struggle with my various demons, is that there is a difference between being a superhero in the shadows, and living your own heroic acts in the light of day.
The reason so many superheroes wear masks, disguises, whatever, is because they’re hiding in plain sight. ‘Well, duh’ I hear you say - but I don’t mean their identity. Ironman is fighting his PTSD behind a metal suit. Deadpool (yay, Deadpool) doesn’t want his girlfriend to see his rice-crispied - and I use his own words -face. Catwoman is a loner who’d rather stay that way, thanks very much. They may be heroes, but even as they’re saving the world, they aren’t yet willing to save themselves.
What we need to recognise, when coming out of the dark, is the heroism attached to being kind to your own abilities, whatever they may be at that time, and in that place.
Getting out of bed is heroic. Cleaning your teeth is heroic. Taking a shower is heroic. Being able to say I love you, cooking dinner, going to work, not giving in - these things are all heroic.
Telling others you are not coping is heroic.
Nobody can make you into a superhuman entity, who’ll suddenly be able to save the world. Most of the time, I know I remain some muppet in a badly dyed bed sheet. Neither being depressed, or being in recovery, changes my muppetness, and that’s okay. Because what I am understanding more and more is this.
The ability to be more powerful than a locomotive isn’t all that important.
What matters is not caring when my underpants are on the outside, and it wasn’t intentional.
Up, up and away.