Batman/Bruce Wayne: “What have I done, Alfred? Everything my family, my father, built.”Alfred Pennyworth: “The Wayne legacy is more than bricks and mortar, sir.”Batman/Bruce Wayne: “I wanted to save Gotham. I failed.”Alfred Pennyworth: “Why do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”– Batman Begins, 2005
Anyone that knows me even in the slightest realizes that I worship comic books. Those bright colors, those awe-inspiring panels full of great deeds, heroic journeys, witty banter, good vs evil; I lived and breathed for every single moment of joy they brought to my childhood, how they allowed me to escape the harsh brutality of a world that didn’t understand me, a world that likewise I was unable to understand.
Then in 2008, something absolutely magical happened: Iron Man officially kickstarted the MCU – otherwise known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe for those of you few uninitiated living in a cave since 2008 – and my life was never the same.
Seeing my beloved heroes on the big screen, epic, fluid, majestic, flawed.
What makes a great and compelling hero, in my humble opinion, is not his power, it’s not his courage in the face of adversity, it’s not self-sacrifice; it’s the awareness that he/she is flawed, and they accept and live with those flaws because they are exponentially at risk of bigger failure than the average man. They hold themselves accountable for their actions (most of the time), and when they do fail, they regroup, recover, adapt to the situation, and fight once again. They do this willingly because they believe in the greater good, because they represent the will to fight for a cause worth fighting for – the betterment of humanity.
No other character better encapsulates this idea than one of the most powerful, most recognized, and most polarizing comic book heroes of all time: David Bruce Banner, also known as The Incredible Hulk.
I screamed and bawled like a child with pure joy when I watched this scene in theaters on opening night.
The MCU finally gave me a possible answer to my plight, to finally conquering part of my disease.
“That’s my secret, Captain….I’m always angry.”
Unknowingly, unwittingly, they killed two birds with one stone: they gave me the secret to ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), and Narrative Therapy.
Unfortunately, it took me 10 years to finally learn what those techniques are, how to use them, and how they would change my life for the better.
Better late than never, right?
According to Psychology Today, “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a type of psychotherapy that helps you accept the difficulties that come with life. … Categorically speaking, ACT is a form of mindfulness based therapy, theorizing that greater well-being can be attained by overcoming negative thoughts and feelings.”
ACT focuses on 3 areas:
Accept your reactions and be present
Choose a valued direction
That’s technique number one in a nutshell; we’ll discuss how to apply it in a few.
Here’s technique number two: Narrative Therapy.
One of the best definitions I have found during my research for narrative therapy comes from ThriveTalk:
“Narrative therapy is a form of therapeutic counseling or ‘talk therapy’ that trains us to identify and change the stories that we tell about ourselves, in a way that promotes mental health. This approach also teaches us to identify underlying skills and positive attributes that can help us to improve our life circumstances.”
So what does this have to do with fighting super villains and saving the world you ask?
One of my main struggles with Bipolar II Disorder is managing stressful situations, especially as it pertains to anger management and all of the emotional distress that occurs during manic episodes.
This brings me to Bruce Banner and The Hulk.
For those not familiar with comic books, Bruce Banner is a brilliant scientist, who, during the testing of a gamma radiation weapon for the military, sacrificed himself to save a young man who was idly standing near the test site, by pushing him to safety before the gamma blast goes off, thereby absorbing the radiation, unlocking and unleashing his alter ego, the Hulk.
Banner is the representation of repressed emotion, a man who is terrified of the monster that lurks within.
Hulk is the manifestation of pure, unadulterated rage; he is a product of the release of anger – raw, powerful, increasing exponentially as his anger keeps growing.
After I watched The Avengers in 2012, a running joke began and spread among my family, friends, and colleagues; Marvel had put me on the big screen.
How most people tend to see me. SEBAAAAAA SMAAAAAAAASH!!!!
I took that joke and turned it into a healthy coping mechanism.
I finally found a way to identify my anger, acknowledge it, and thereby separating it from who I really am, giving me the necessary tools to finally learn more about myself, my condition, how to find better, more productive, healthier ways to manage my emotions – by giving them a name, by creating a narrative of who I am when I am Hulk, I was finally able to acknowledge the problem, be mindful of situations, my reactions, my body language, choose the proper course of action, and then with all of the pertinent information gathered, ACT accordingly. (Pun fully intended)
I am writing this right now, crying, because even though Hulk is ever present, ever watching, ever waiting to strike, I now know he is there, and I know who he is; I feel him, I contain him. Hulk is a part of me, and I accept it, I acknowledge it, and when He comes out to wreak havoc, even though I feel guilt over whatever destruction He unleashed around me, I am not consumed by it.
That makes tears of joy stream down my cheeks because that is a breakthrough I will always be proud of.
I learned to separate Hulk from Sebastian*, and in the process shining new light into aspects of myself that I can now work on and improve.
*FYI, my real name is not Sebastian. I didn’t know it back then, but many years ago I had used narrative therapy to create the Sebastian persona, but that is another narrative tale for another day. Just go with it.
I am not a super hero; in fact, I am far from it – but not all heroes wear capes, as they say these days.
Sometimes being the hero is acknowledging that you are, in fact, not a hero; by accepting your limitations, and working on becoming a better person, you are displaying the same courage and fortitude that comic books put on display – the sheer force of will, the motivation to make the world a better place for yourself, and for those around you.
We are all heroes in our stories; the key is to write stories that heal and save the world.
One comic book at a time.