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Thoughts on Mental Illness and Being Not-So-Super

Growing up, I always had a love for secret identities. From A Cinderella Story to Hannah Montana to Another Cinderella Story and everything in between. My love for secret identities has always been borderline trashy. In a way, it was a secret identity in itself.

This puzzled me for a long time. Even I couldn’t understand the appeal. What’s so great about ungenuine people? Why did I feel a magnetic pull towards these narratives.As I grew older, my taste developed so that I found myself enamored by a specific kind of secret identity: the one that resulted from being a superhero. In the time since my freshman year of high school, when I first came to terms with my depression, the animated superhero shows and movies I started watching provided much-needed comedy:As time progressed, I also got to see female representations in superhero media that inspired me. In these shows, girls and women can be strong and skilled and sensitive. They can be all of these things and none of them and everything in between, and they are admired simply off the basis of the good that they did for the world.

Even the “supporting” characters in the lives of these heroes gain more complexity than I ever expected them to:

Fans of comic books and superheroes tend to balance the things that they dislike about an adaptation with other unique aspects that the adaptation might bring to continuities which, for the most part, are decades old. As a result, in recent years, many creators have stepped up their game and made their characters (and works overall) stronger and more creative to keep up with the demands of this large audience.

This leads me to my larger reasoning in my obsession with superheroes: they are incredibly complex. Tony Stark may be a genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist, but he also suffers from PTSD. In recent comics, he is endorsing Riri Williams, who is a genius, black, 15-year-old engineering student who enhances his suit. Richard Grayson, who is the first of Batman’s Robins and later becomes Nightwing, sees the sacrifices that Bruce Wayne makes for the greater good and (at a very young age) realizes that he can no longer idealize Bruce or hope to be him when he grows up. The list goes on: Martian Manhunter survived the genocide of his people. Supergirl and Superman continuously long for a home that they can never go back to.The attention to detail that the writers of superhero shows and movies have incorporated makes me a proud fan of most things “super.”

To state only these reasons would feel shallow, though.

I admit that in some ways, I find that I am envious of the identities many superheroes take up. A lot of them, like a lot of protagonists in various media, find some greater calling that transforms them from the people they were before to something that can actually make a difference in the world. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to come to terms with impacting individual lives and the worth that that can have, but a small part of me, I think, is hoping for some greater calling.

For a long time, I’ve believed that a mask would help me achieve some greater calling that I’m meant for. As a person who suffers from severe anxiety and depression, I’ve often lamented over my own inadequacies in fear of some unknown, watchful eye. Most days, I cannot go into Peirce to get my own food. Most days, I take measured breaths so that the person who passes me on Middle Path doesn’t think that I am struggling more than they are. Most days, I avoid social gatherings like the plague and don’t go to office hours or study sessions for fear of some irreparable, embarrassing moment. It’s an irrational fear, but it’s a fear that invades many of my thoughts, nonetheless.But then I see these superheroes. So many of them have their own day to day problems that they must deal with on top of saving the world. And, they adopt a kind of confidence when they are hidden behind their masks. If only I could be like Peter Parker, who is so terrifically dweeby in real life and so witty and agile during his superhero activities. The whole reason Spiderman became so popular, back in the day, was not because people were caught up in how cool his webs are or the fact that he could stick to things, but because there was a large group of people who felt like Peter Parker and thought they deserved to be Spider-man. A lot of times, I have wished that I could be Spiderman. My best friend, a science major, promises me that if the technology ever comes along, she will build me web shooters.(ME!)

Still, I think that the largest development I’ve had is in truly coming to terms with the fact that Spiderman is Peter Parker. These heroes could have easily been villains, or powered people in hiding, but what makes them superheroes is that they try, with every decision that they make, to be good people. To be just and kind and brave people.So that is what my goal has become. I might never acquire super-speed or cool fight sequences with incredible background music (I’m looking at you, Wonder Woman TV Theme and Birds of Prey!). I might never be fully comfortable in my own skin, but I think that I can try to be. I have to cling to the idea that there is some heroic inner-self within me—within each of us—that is simply waiting to be acknowledged and unlocked. I just have to. It seems to be a nice balance between the unattainable and the easy choices in this life.

I believe in the value of striving to be good. The people around me are good people. I know it. I hope I am too.

Maybe together we can build a future that’s pretty super.


Image Credit: Feature, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, Paola Liendo, 10  

Paola is a writer and Co-Campus Correspondent of Her Campus Kenyon. She is an English major at Kenyon College with a minor in anthropology. In 2018, she won the Propper Prize for Poetry, and her poems were published in Laurel Moon Literary Magazine. She loves her friends and superheroes and the power language can hold. Mostly, though, she is a small girl from Texas who is trying her best.
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