This was originally written for Geek Syndicate, a Geekdom blog that I write for: Geekdom and My Mental Health

A long time ago, in the county of Surrey far, far away, there lived an awkward little girl who loved Star Trek and Doctor Who. But all the mean people at school would pick on her, beat her up and say that girls shouldn’t like sci-fi, that it was for boys and even then, anyone that liked sci-fi was a loser and an outcast, so deserved to be beaten up. That little girl always stood her ground and fought back because that’s what Captain Kirk would do if someone threatened something that he believed in. Eventually, the little girl convinced the geek boys at her school that she really did love Star Trek as much as they did, and they let her join their little geek gang. Over time, the little girl got older and taller and her connection to Geekdom got stronger and deeper. There were many bad times ahead but the one, true constant in the girl’s life was Geekdom, and it was the light at the end of a very long, very dark tunnel. A light that showed the way, no matter how dim it got or how far away it seemed.

If you hadn’t guessed yet, I’m the little girl (well d’uh…) and Geekdom has been my life ever since I can remember. The one other thing that has been in my life for just as long has been mental illness. I have 4 medically diagnosed disorders that blight my life on a regular basis: Cyclothymia (a severe mood disorder and not dissimilar to Bipolar), PTSD, anxiety and OCD. I was first diagnosed with depression when I was 16 years old and the other disorders came later. I’m also a recovering alcoholic (12 years sober this year), a rape survivor and was in a very abusive marriage. But throughout all of it, I had Geekdom. Even when things got so bad that I contemplated taking my own life, I had fictional characters that helped me through it all. And I know I’m not the only one out there that feels the same way.

Through Geekdom, I’ve met so many amazing people who have had similar struggles to me and who themselves have those one or two fictional characters that they cherish above all others, who have helped them through their own dark times. I remember when I discovered Demon In A Bottle, Tony Stark’s alcoholism story line and I wept with joy. I’ve always been a huge Tony fan and here was a graphic novel that perfectly described my battle with booze addiction. And it showed that not even Tony Stark is infallible, that he too has his faults and his weaknesses. It was also an amazing coincidence that at the time, Robert Downey Jnr was battling his own demons. I’ve been a fan of RDJ’s for years and as it turned out, we were in rehab just a few months apart for our respective addictions. He has been a huge influence on my life and my recovery, and I hope to one day be able to tell him in person just how much he, and Tony, have meant to me. It isn’t an understatement to say that they, both of them, very possibly saved my life.

demon in a bottle

My marriage was not a good one. In fact, it was awful. My ex-husband was not a good person and at his hands, I was subject to regular beatings, emotional manipulation and later on, to marital rape on numerous occasions. I was trapped, stripped bare of any ability to leave because my mental state was so weak and broken. I would often escape into my own head, as far away from what was happening as I possibly could. As silly as it sounds, I would focus on Narnia and all the wonderful things there. I’ve loved the books since I was a child and it has always brought a smile to my face just thinking about it. So that’s where I would go, completely disassociating from what was happening to me during particularly brutal beatings. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without it. A few years later, after I had been diagnosed with PTSD due to what went on in my marriage, I was introduced to Jessica Jones and I can’t describe the feeling I got when I started reading Alias. A superhero (of sorts) with PTSD due to an abusive ‘relationship’. Not only that but an alcoholic, chain smoking potty mouth, which really isn’t that far from my own personality. I fell deeply in love with Jess’ character because I now had a female character that I could really relate to.

And then of course there is none other than Clinton Francis Barton. I have never related to a character more than I do to Hawkeye. A smart mouth, sharp shooting ex-carnie who has so many flaws that I don’t even know where to start. And best of all, he’s not super. He’s just a man and yet despite that, he still manages to keep up with the other (mostly super powered) Avengers, which he does with just sheer hard work and bloody mindedness. He’s stubborn, snarky and he gets the job done. He’s been deaf, blind and dead and yet he still keeps going, keeps fighting. When Matt Fraction and David Aja gave the world an all new Hawkeye, I cried and I cried hard. Finally, my boy was getting the comic that he’s always deserved. With classic signs of depression and PTSD, I finally had the Clint Barton that I have always pictured in my head since I was 7 years old. I always leaned on and relied on Clint’s stubbornness to carry on and to get me through some very dark and very lonely times in my life. He helps give me the strength to keep going because if Hawkeye can keep limping on, despite his many faults and problems then so can I.

Clint 1

I am not ashamed of anything that has happened to me in my 36 years on this earth. I’m not ashamed and I’m not hiding any of it. It’s important to talk about it all and I find a lot of the strength to do so from my beloved Geekdom, and through the people I’ve met and who have become very dear friends. Through the characters that I have loved for so long, and through the unquestionable love that all my fellow geeks give freely and unconditionally. There is so much passion in the geek world, such an enthusiasm that I cannot help but be infected by it. It makes me stronger, more resilient. It helps me to love life, despite my many failings and mental health problems. It gives me the drive to get out of bed in the mornings and go to work, and it helps me to get through the darker times and the long nights of insomnia.

But above all, Geekdom gives me the chance to escape from it all. It’s my safe place to run to when life becomes too much. I know that each and every one of my favourite characters will always be there for me when I need them. All I have to do is open a book or a comic and there they are to greet me. They don’t question me or judge me. They don’t desert me when I need them the most. They’re always there, always waiting to whisk me away to a happier place for a little while.

That just leaves me today, to say thank you to all the writers, artists, creators and friends that I have discovered and met along my journey up to this point. Without the creators, there would be no Hawkeye, no Tony Stark. There would be no Narnia or Hogwarts and there would be nowhere for my mind to run to when the world gets too intense and too much to handle. And thank you to all the wonderful, amazing people that I now have in my life thanks to Geekdom. You all make my life a little brighter, my illnesses a little easier to bear, and my world a little happier.

So the next time someone says that they deeply love a fictional character, please stop and think about the possible reasons why before make fun of them. They could be going through some truly horrific things and that one character is what is keeping them hanging on by a thread, keeping them alive. That could be their one connection that is stopping them from falling apart. So rather than scoff at them, reach out your hand and let them know that they aren’t alone.