“How did he die?” I asked him.
My client, a Marine Corps veteran, shared with me the horror that he witnessed when watching his best friend die in combat, just a few inches away from him.
In our session, we focused on processing his loss, working on identifying the emotions that he was experiencing. However, there are no words for emotions like this. Not in any language. Words like “devastated” simply don’t do justice to the excruciating pain that he went through.
So instead, he used a metaphor, “You know how little Bruce Wayne felt when his parents were killed in front of him? You know, before he became Batman? That’s how I felt.”
People have been using stories to understand their experience, as well as to learn about the moral code and ethical behavior for thousands of years. Myths and epic stories, like The Iliad and The Odyssey are to a large degree, still relevant today in helping us understand the pain of heartbreak, trauma, and grief.
Nowadays, stories are richer than ever with their ability to display complex topics, including political events, mental health disorders, and the very struggles with acceptance that many people can relate to. There is a reason so many of us might find comfort, and even healing, in pop culture, and that is because fiction often tells the truth. Through the lens of fiction, we might be able to find a mirror into our own deepest pain that otherwise might feel too unsafe to dive into. Through watching Jessica Jones on Netflix, for example, we can have conversations about how sexual assault can happen to anyone, in particular, if the perpetrator is a person of high influence.
Although many of us might initially start watching a television show, a game, or read a book because it serves as a temporary escape from some of the horrendous internal monsters that we are facing, many of us are likely to find a mode of connection to our own experiences. It might be challenging to tell someone that we might still be struggling over the loss of a loved one, no matter how many years have passed. We might be too uncomfortable, or sometimes, even ashamed, to let someone know that we are struggling with depression, OCD, PTSD, addiction, or an eating disorder. However, being able to discuss these through the lens of fiction can sometimes allow us to share our own experiences with others.
As a PTSD survivor, and someone who struggles with chronic pain on a regular basis, I found myself feeling very alone in my experiences when I was in middle school and high school. However, everything changed when I saw the first X-Man film. The movie allowed me to understand that I was not alone in my experiences. It allowed me to realize that I wasn’t a victim but a survivor. And it allowed me to realize that our painful experiences are merely our origin stories – the beginning of our heroic journey. The rest is up to us.
In order to continue to de-stigmatize and open dialogue about mental health, I have written “Dark Agents,” a fictional graphic novel series, which can also serve as self-help books. In the series, all the Greek gods are real and exist in the modern times. Hades, the god of the Underworld, has started an Underworld Intelligence Agency (UIA). Every year, the UIA accepts eight recruits to become the Dark Agents, tasked with creating a balance between the land of the living and the Underworld.
The series centers around the eight recruits selected for the Underworld Intelligence Agency. Each of the eight graphic novels in the series will be from the point of view of a different character but the story will continue. Each character will have to learn not only how to face the most dreadful supernatural monsters but also to face their internal monsters as well.
The first book, “Violet and The Trial of Trauma” will focus on Violet, a witch with PTSD, whose parents were murdered by an evil necromancer when she was a small child. Violet joins the UIA, wanting to become a Dark Agent to make sure that the necromancer never hurts anyone again. However, during her training, Violet will come face to face with the monsters of her unprocessed trauma. The subsequent books will demonstrate other characters’ struggles with their own difficulties, including OCD, anger, self-harm, chronic pain, addiction, depression, and panic attacks.
Although each book will be written from a different character’s perspective, the readers will be able to understand the point of view of the characters whose books they’ve already read. My hope with this series is to foster empathy and understanding toward individuals who are struggling with these difficulties, as well as to de-stigmatize mental health, and to create a dialogue about these experiences. As painful as our individual symptoms might be, they are likely to feel even worse if it feels like we are going at them alone. My hope with “Dark Agents” is to remind the readers that they are never alone and that might already possess the most powerful abilities to “embrace the dark and guard the light.”
Dr. Janina Scarlet is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, a scientist, and a full-time geek. A Ukrainian-born refugee, she survived Chernobyl radiation and persecution. She immigrated to the United States at the age of 12 with her family and later, inspired by the X-Men, developed Superhero Therapy to help patients with anxiety, depression, and PTSD. She has written multiple publications on this topic and has given talks domestically and internationally. She is also a member of Pop Culture Hero Coalition. She is the author of “Superhero Therapy,” “Therapy Quest,” “Harry Potter Therapy,” and “Dark Agents” (3/1/2020). She is currently writing “Superwomen,” set to be release in March 2020. On October 27th, 2018, Dr. Scarlet was awarded the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights award from the United Nations Association for her work with the refugee community and her unique approach to therapy.
This article was originally published on 2/27/20