I recently attended Geek Girl Con in Seattle and while there I attended a panel about using your fandom to “level up” your everyday life. I found it immensely inspirational and useful. The panel started with one presenter asking the room “how many of you have had a rough day and retreated into the world you love and matters to you and makes you feel welcome?” When almost the entire room raised their hand, including myself, I figured it was time to sit up and take notes.
I was diagnosed with a mental illness towards the end of my time in college. This is not to say that I was not suffering from its effects for a long time before my diagnosis. Depression, anxiety and obsessive thoughts often make it very difficult for me to navigate my daily life, especially in times of increased stress. Being diagnosed with mental illness changed my life, mostly for the better. I finally could put a name to what I was going through and started working towards getting better. In the past few years, I have had great improvements in dealing with my illness and in my life, in general, which has made it possible for me to attend things like GGC. Being creative and ambitious is at times, at odds with the biggest issues I struggle with. Sometimes doing the things I love means constantly putting myself in uncomfortable situations that I find not only draining, but also trigger many feelings of insecurity and sadness. These feelings can sometimes lead to dangerous or unhealthy behaviors..
The panelist had a suggestion that I hope will help me when I find myself in situations of distress. When I am unsure of myself and have shaky confidence and worry of impending doom I will look toward Neville Longbottom, Sadness (from Inside Out), Martha Jones, and other cultural touchstones to find examples of people who made it through the other side of difficult situations.
When I want to stretch myself and achieve things that I am unsure of, I will look to Neville Longbotttom of Harry Potter. Neville’s biggest barrier to success was a lack of confidence in his ability. He begged the Sorting Hat to place him in Hufflepuff because he did not see the courage in himself that Gryffindor required. However, no matter how unsure Nevill is about his magical abilities, he works hard and always tries his best. His teachers and friends recognize the talent and strengths Neville has and reassure him until he is able to recognize these traits for himself. In the end, without Neville’s courage and bravery, numerous students would have been lost in his last year at Hogwarts and Voldemort could not have been defeated.
However, Neville, as a character fails at times and it has a noticeable effect on his confidence. When I fail, I have a tendency to be very hard on myself. I berate myself for my failure instead of taking pride in the attempt and learning lessons. In these times, I will strive to look to Inside Out’s Sadness and give myself permission to be sad when things don’t work out as I hoped. In the plot of Inside Out, Sadness is initially set up as the foil to Joy and the other emotions. They treat her as something to be avoided but Joy eventually discovers that Sadness is able to express and release that disappointment that is necessary to feel in order to move forward and face your struggles. While trying to deny sadness, you can quickly escalate to depression and antipathy. Giving yourself permission to be sad and to deal with those feelings can prevent them from hardening and becoming bigger problems than they ever needed to be.
Martha Jones from Doctor Who is another cultural touchstone that I will look to in times of struggle. In her main season traveling with the Doctor Martha repeatedly made tough decisions that would be most beneficial to her no matter what her desire was. She made a logical decision to begin traveling with the Doctor, but when her family was in trouble she thought about their well-being over her own need for adventure. She also showed immense emotional intelligence when she made the decision to stop traveling with the Doctor because she realized her feelings for him would not be reciprocated. In making the decision to walk away from an unhealthy situation, she set herself on a path to find true love and an exciting and satisfying career.
Everyone struggles with issues that are unique to themselves, but as nerds we all have stories and worlds that we connect with and feel a deep affinity for. The idea that we can utilize these stories and characters that we not only love but identify with to help improve ourselves is uniquely powerful. Stories reflect our world back to us so there is always a chance to find meaning and learn lessons in the stories we consume.