I’ve written about wanting to make my anxiety a superpower instead of a weakness. I’ve called my ADHD a superpower, a gift. There’s a reason for this, a method to my madness and a madness to my method.
Let’s travel back to when I was a little boy. I can’t remember when I started reading comic books (although I can remember some of the earliest comics I read), so I suppose I must have been reading them since I learned how to read (or to be more accurate, since I taught myself how to read, because I started down the literacy road on my own, driven by my parents’ annoyance at me constantly asking them to translate the written word for me). Few things touched me the way superhero comics did. They weren’t just stories, they were…gateways into worlds of infinite possibilities and secret instructions on how to be a good person in a world that is strange and confusing and unfair. Because of the writing and pictures of comics, I want to be a writer and artist when I grew up. But more than that…
More than that, I wanted to be a superhero when I grew up.
I meant this figuratively, obviously. I never really wanted to grow up to wear a mask and tights, fighting bank robbers and would-be world conquerors. But I also meant this literally. I wanted to live in a world that was mysterious and wonderful and weird, a world where I felt significant and powerful, a world where my talents and abilities were super-talents and super-abilities.
Not surprisingly, voicing this to other people got me teased. As an emotionally sensitive kid, the teasing hurt a lot, worse than a wasp sting, but it wasn’t anything I wasn’t dealing with because of my desire to write and draw (encouraged in grade school, much less so in middle and high school), and I knew in my gut that I’d get over it. Eventually, people who knew me just rolled their eyes, probably assuming it was “Josh being Josh,” nothing to be taken seriously. Except for my dad.
For whatever reason, my dad seemed to take what I said–everything I said–very seriously. If I made a self-deprecating joke about myself, he’d lecture me on how I was expressing some deep neurosis, a sign of how fucked up I was. My dad loved to tell me how fucked up I was (which was, according to him, the fault of both myself and my mother). When I voiced anything about wanting to be a superhero (which I did because I process my thoughts externally), my dad took this as a sign that I had a severe difficulty dealing with reality. Even when I reached adulthood, my dad felt it necessary to remind me that I lived in “the real world.” (When I said that when I got married someday, I wanted the wedding to involve acrobats and a magician, my dad angrily growled, “This isn’t one of your comic books!” Because I guess wanting to circus-up a wedding ceremony is a terrible, terrible thing that nobody in the “real world” would ever do.) (And for the record, I’ve never read a comic that had a wedding with acrobats and a magician.) The nicest reaction I ever got from my dad when expressing a desire for a superheroic world was a patronizing smile, a waggling of his fingers, and “coo-coo” noises, because when you think your son has a problem dealing with reality, mocking him as crazy should help, right?
(With all my dreaming-out-loud, it’s a wonder I never mentioned chaos magic to my dad, but in retrospect, I’m immensely glad I never did. I can only imagine what he would have made from “you can change the world by changing your brain” and “reality is what you can get away with.”)
For the record, I’ve been professionally diagnosed with anxiety, ADHD, and cyclothymia, but I’ve never been diagnosed as delusional. The only delusions my health professionals have needed to address are the typical “I suck and I’m completely unsuited for dealing with the world.” In fact, my therapist, a wonderfully enthusiastic and encouraging woman named Crystal, has used superheroes as a metaphor for how I could better accept who I am and use my gifts to help myself and the people around me.
That’s the thing, you see. I truly believe that superhero stories have a lot to teach us about how to accept who we are and how to use our gifts to make the world a better place. It’s not about wearing a mask and tights (although I encourage anyone who wants to to dress that way, because it’s a pretty cool look), it’s about living a life that’s deliberately colorful, weird, wonderful, mysterious, courageous, compassionate, and dramatic. It’s about living in a world bursting with possibility and significance, where anything and everything can point you towards acceptance and enlightenment, a world that isn’t depressing and doomed because each and every one of us has the ability to save the world and make it a better, happier place.
In the first two seasons of The Flash (a TV show I personally find very inspiring), the season-long conflicts with the Big Bads have always boiled down to “Barry Allen has the physical power to defeat his foes, even if they appear to be superior to him, but what he lacks is the confidence in his own abilities and will.” Which is my biggest problem. I need to conquer the feeling of “I suck and I’m completely unsuited for dealing with the world.” I have the abilities, I have the powers. Energy is my gift.
So when I write about ADHD and anxiety being superpowers, this is me reclaiming my desire to be a superhero from my father and the people who teased me. This isn’t a delusion, this isn’t an inability to deal with the real world, this is accepting that stories are meaningful and instructive, that the darkness in the world isn’t stronger than I am, that I am powerful and good, that reality is what I can get away with. This is me refusing to let others shame and mock me into compliance. This is me tired of living a double life, taking off the mask of conformity and showing the world who I really am: caring and hopeful, creative and imaginative, energetic and mercurial.