Basically the title. There is no shame in saying a piece of media saved your life. Sometimes introspection and relating to a piece of media can help you work through things better than a conversation with a person. However, I am not saying to latch onto a piece of media as your only reason to live, or anything like that. We’re not coping, we’re thriving. Keep in mind that I will not be talking about “fandom” in this post. Fandom is a gamble, it can so easily dissolve into an echo chamber and can often hold you back from getting better due to the false perception of “safety” it gives you.
I often tell people that Dragon Age and Dr. Strange saved my life. In truth, they very well may have, if not for anything because they distracted me enough from the things that were troubling me that I was actually able to weather the storms with them as my shelter. Now I know that sounds hokey. I probably should have gone to therapy and actually gotten some fresh air, and all that. BUT that’s not how it happened!
Therapy was prohibitively expensive, and I was in a living situation where I had to make myself small, hidden, and quiet. And so I fell in love with a video game franchise. A close friend was increasingly excited about the upcoming game, Dragon Age Inquisition, and pulled me into the loop. She preordered me a copy, saying that even if I didn’t like it she was just thrilled to share her favorite thing with a dear friend. At this point in my life, a sharp downturn in depression had robbed me of my ability to really “get into” anything, so I decided I was going to jump in feet first.
For the first time in my life I pre-planned a character. Because I had not played the first two games in the franchise, I read up on the lore and decisions you could make in the previous games, carefully cultivating a “backstory” on the Dragon Age Keep. I researched the cultures that inspired the race I chose to play (Qunari), and worked to pick a name and create a bit of a roleplay backstory for him to make my gameplay more engaging. I took in as much information as I could, so that on November 18th I sat down and felt as though I’d already intimately known Derya Adaar for years and was just continuing his adventure.
I proceeded to put over 200 hours into just his file. I touched everything, I read everything, I spoke to everyone. I befriended Varric. I romanced The Iron Bull. The rotating party characters became my family, and I loved watching their interactions warm up and grow. I watched my character who I’d painstakingly cultivated fall deeply in love with a man who loved him in a way I’d never known was possible, despite playing the game several feet away from the man I was married to.
Throughout the game and my research,I learned more about the Qunari culture and belief system and slowly began to apply parts of it to my own life. The main tenet of the Qun is that everyone and everything is a piece of a larger picture. People and things have a nature about them and that’s just how they are. You cannot fight it, you can only accept and adapt to or work around it. This helped me let go of a lot of limited beliefs and behaviors in my life. I still sit back sometimes and check the motives of myself or others against the idea of what greater purpose their actions serve, and it has deeply changed the way I relate to others.
During my last semester of college I was having an extremely rough go of it and spur of the moment decided I was going to channel my mental breakdown into a tattoo. I thought hard about the things that were most important to me at the time, and kept coming back to the Qun. The Qunari heraldry is a gorgeous piece of spiritual geometry that to me has always resembled a series of stones stacking to create the whole. With that in mind I combined a few words in Qunlat, and created the design that adorns my right forearm. Surrounding it are the words “Panahedan” and “Saarebas”, which simply put are “Where there is danger, go in peace” . A reminder to myself that I can get through anything and that there is no reason to harm myself fighting a losing fight against the nature of people and things.
Onto Dr. Strange. I’ll be the first to tell you that I never thought I’d get into what many people consider a “third string superhero” in terms of popularity. Keep in mind this is before the movies really made him into a household name.
As a child my entire world revolved around XMen comics. I remember reading my books so many times that they eventually fell apart. In my little bubble, I had no idea that other comics were even still running because they just weren’t on my radar. Cut to 2011, I was dating my ex husband and we’d just started seeing Marvel movies together. I mused aloud that it was “super weird” that they were making comic book movies even though comics were a dead industry. Little did I know that in the time since I was a six year old reading my XMen Adventures comics there had been thousands of books and countless adventures with characters I’d never even heard of.
So I dove into comics. Admittedly the worst possible way, with an ipad full of pirated books that a friend lent me. I found things I loved, things I hated, I tore through everything on there and when I ran out I tried to start a pull box at a local comic shop. Unfortunately my LCS couldn’t support pull boxes because they were in a college town and often screwed over by clients, plus I quickly learned how expensive books get when you start subscribing. Between this, and a depression brought on by my failing marriage, I pulled back from comics.
Christmas of 2017 I was alone due to extenuating circumstances and I decided to set up a Discord and watch Marvel movies to pass the holiday. I started with the ones I’d not seen yet, specifically Dr. Strange. I fell in love. I proceeded to watch it four times. I started buying comics on comixology shortly after. I consumed everything I could, because finally, I found a disabled superhero whose disability behaved like mine. Our stories were drastically different, but as someone with nerve damage that causes limited use of their hands and muscle control issues, this was huge for me.
Stephen Strange had to learn to not only overcome a physical limitation, but also drop the bad attitudes and limiting behaviors and mindsets that held him back in order to become the Sorcerer Supreme. He had to choose to be better so that he could meet his own needs. Silly as it sounds, one of the most successful ways I began to manage my frustration with myself and my setbacks by yelling “Dormammu I’ve come to bargain!” at them until I’m laughing too much to be upset.
Over time Dr. Strange became my grounding thought when things would get hard. In the last year I have found myself getting a lot worse in terms of the effects of my disability, and had a hard time coping with it. I also had some scars that were in need of coverage, so I put together a concept with some symbols that are important to me and created my Dr. Strange inspired tattoo.
First and foremost is the New York Sanctum symbol. Landed gently upon the top is an emperor butterfly, not only my favorite type; but also because it symbolizes change. Finally the filler around it, a shattered prism (a nod to the mirrorverse) but also a series of rainbow ladders. The Rainbow Ladder Support Team started by Youtubers EatYourKimchi has been another vital part of me accepting my situation and adapting to it rather than fixating on the things I cannot change. The fact that they go in all directions is a reminder that growth can go anywhere, it is not linear, we are not meant to grow only one way at a time, but to branch off, like cracks in a mirror.
I’d always found the phrase “let go of limiting behaviors” grating, some new age-y funk that only applied to pretty girls in yoga pants, but it really does work. I just needed it presented in formats that clicked for me. You’ll find your format too.