A little nerd history: Champions, a superhero tabletop role-playing game, was one of the first RPGs to have characters that were created by spending an allotment of points, instead of rolling dice to randomly determine characteristics. You could get more points to spend on your character’s attributes and powers by taking disadvantages. The disadvantages could be things like having a secret identity or being hunted by a particular organization or villain. They could also be physical limitations, like being blind or having a heart condition, or psychological limitations, like having a severe phobia or depression. Disadvantages were only worth points if they caused real complications in the game, so if having a secret identity didn’t really matter to the story, it wasn’t worth any points. But having a physical or mental condition that got in the way of your character living a “normal” life? That would give you points you could spend to have better superpowers.
I’ve written about how growing up with ADHD–and living with cyclothymia and anxiety on top of that–can do a pretty fantastic job of screwing with your self-esteem. I recently had to leave work early because I got hit with a migraine, something I’m prone to (like my brother, my mother, my grandmother)(yay, genetics!). Because I’ve had to miss work due to anxiety attacks and depressive episodes, missing work when I’m physically ill makes me feel guilty. It’s not enough I miss work because I’m crazy, I also have to miss work because I’m frail? As I drove home that day, my sunglasses didn’t just shield my migrainey eyes from the too-bright sun, they hid my tears. I was letting my co-workers down. I was failing everyone. Because my brain and my body are broken.
But what if I’m not broken? What if that’s not my story? What if…?
My girlfriend recently posted this piece by Bunmi Laditan to my Facebook wall. It resonated so strongly with me, I cried reading it. And this part was like a flash of lightning in my mind, illuminating everything I’ve been thinking about lately:
People with mental issues, I’m talking to you. I know we’re in mixed company with the normals, but this for you. What if we’re special? Yes, it hurts. Yes, we get sad. Yes, we’re tired of being in body that tortures us regularly, but what if we’re special? What if there’s a reason?
I don’t want to bring Marvel into this because DC Comics is superior, but what if we’re like X-Men? Take Cyclops. He has to wear those special glasses or he’d burn holes in everything with his laser eyes which must be hard, but he’s also used them to save lives on missions. And Rouge. She hated her ability to absorb powers and longed to be able to do simple things like touch her boyfriend without possibly harming him, but through her interactions with Wolverine and Magneto, we all learned how amazing her gift is. Eventually, she learned how to hone and better control it.
What if we’re like that? What if our brains that cause us so much torment, have hidden potential. What if we’re special?
(For the record, I don’t think DC Comics is superior to Marvel. I’m an equal opportunity fanboy.)
And so. What if my depressive and hypomanic episodes, what if my anxiety and panic attacks, what if my lack of time sense, my distractibility, what if all of those things are side effects of my superpowers? What if I need the points from those disadvantages in order to have my talents and powers as good as they are? What if I would be too much awesome for people to handle if I didn’t also have to deal with my mental health issues?
I know I’m tired of feeling broken, fucked-up, a failure. I know I’m tired of seeing so much of who I am as a negative. I know I’m tired of apologizing for being daydreamy, talkative, socially anxious, loud and dramatic, imaginative and unrealistic, nonlinear, and emotionally sensitive. I know I’m tired of beating myself up for not being “normal” when I’ve never really wanted to be “normal.” I want to be a superhero. And being a superhero means accepting your weaknesses as well as your strengths. It means realizing that your disadvantages just make your advantages more amazing.
I’m ready for my story to be amazing.