Content warning: this post deals with mental health, major depressive disorder, anxiety, psychiatric medication, and suicidal ideation. If you are triggered by or otherwise in an unsafe space to read about these topics, please click away. Your health and safety are more important than a blog post.
A hashtag that started circulated in the wake of the Endgame premiere, and I scrolled through for hours with the warmest and fullest heart as I read tweet after tweet of grateful fans shouting their love for the twenty-two film series that has carried us all through the last eleven years. When I started composing my own contribution, I found myself struggling. I couldn’t find words that adequately expressed everything that I wanted to say within Twitter’s restrictive 240-character limit.
So, naturally, here I am - taking the tag to blog-o-sphere.
Now, like the Avengers did in Endgame, let’s travel back in time.
It’s 2012. I’m a college freshman, rising sophomore, coming off one of the most challenging years of my life. Like most students, I’m struggling to balance schoolwork, a social life, and family commitments in a delicate and difficult juggling act.
I’m also suicidal.
In another two years, I would be formally diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder and begin the long and arduous process of healing - through medication that helped to balance the chemicals in my brain and cognitive behavioral therapy that continues to teach me how to manage and live with my symptoms. But back then, in 2012, I was drifting in a sea of uncertainty. I was tired, and I was unmotivated, and I felt guilty for being both of those things when I had a good life and so many opportunities at my fingertips. Nothing really sparked my interest. I would cancel plans with friends because I didn’t see the point in going out, or didn’t think I deserved to. It took me hours to write papers that should’ve been finished in thirty minutes. I turned on the TV but couldn’t focus on the shows, cracked open books only to have to words go fuzzy. I wasn’t living so much as I was just….not quite surviving, but sort of floating through each day and waiting for it to be over.
Around came early May, the end of finals week, and a text from a friend-
Do you want to go see The Avengers?
She’d looked up movie times at the local cinema, a small little multiplex that showed four films at a time at $7 a pop. I read and re-read the text, debating. She’d recently gotten home from her college update, and I hadn’t seen her in a while. I’d just finished my finals, and though I was as exhausted as I had been for months, a movie didn’t really require much effort beyond buying a ticket and eating some popcorn. Why not go? I said yes, and a few hours later we were in a dark theater, The Avengers theme pouring through over sized speakers and a blue light flickering across the screen.
Something happened in that theater. For the first time in a long time, the emptiness inside me started to fill - not a lot, but enough that I felt something. For 143 minutes, I got to live somewhere else. I was a bystander in a world where superheroes were real and aliens invaded New York. I was excited. I was invested in the story, and as the credits started to roll, I felt the closest thing to happy as I had in a while.
I’d been a Marvel fan before, but that movie reminded me just how much how I loved that world - that far-away universe where Tony Stark builds high tech suits and Captain America is real, where SHIELD works behind the scenes to keep the public safe from monsters whose existence they doubt until they’re tearing down skyscrapers. My friend and I spent an hour after the film, talking about all the Easter eggs from older movies and about our favorite characters. We spent the summer re-watching Iron Man and Captain America and Thor. We looked up the next movies and made plans to see them together on school breaks.
I saw The Avengers six times in theaters, and watched it every night for two weeks straight after buying the DVD. You’d think I’d get sick of it, but no. Every re-watch took me back to that first time, in that first theater.
Ever since then, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has offered me a safe space.
It’s been a constant, always giving me something to look forward to. It’s been an ally, giving me characters who struggle with their own mental health (for all the mess in Iron Man 3, I’ll always be grateful that it showed Tony Stark - my favorite hero - expressing and coping with genuine symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress; when JARVIS scanned his body and told him he was having a panic attack, I saw myself in him - I saw a character I loved going through what I went through nearly every day, and it made me feel validated. It also gave me something to point to when someone told me was “being dramatic” when my anxiety was high.)
I saw Guardians of the Galaxy on my 21st birthday, caught a last-minute screening of Thor: Ragnarok the day I graduated from college. I watched Infinity War after my first LSAT. In a lot of ways, I came of age with these movies. I still pull them out when I’m stressed or upset or just need an escape. They ground me, in a way. They remind me of where I was when I first fell in love with them, and how far I’ve come since then.
This post is partially adapted from my personal statement for my law school applications - a fact that is wild to me because, when I first saw The Avengers, I was about ready to drop out of college and give up on academics as a whole. These heroes got me here. Or, at least, they helped in a really huge way.
I don’t know where I’d be without Marvel.
I’m not trying to be dramatic. I mean this genuinely. The Avengers gave me that first spark of feelings I hadn’t felt in a long, long time. I looked the plans for Phases 2-4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and knew I had to see each and every movie - which meant that even when I wanted nothing more than to just stop existing, I pushed through the feeling. Maybe superhero movies seem like something silly to stick around for, but hey, they kept me going - and there’s nothing silly about staying alive.
So, that’s my story.
A text. A movie. An era. A life that I’m not sure I’d have without it all.
Thank you to everyone who made these movies possible. Thank you to Stan Lee for building the groundwork, to Kevin Feige for taking the first gamble, to every actor and director and writer and set designer and costumer and crew member who worked their tails off to bring this universe to life.
You all gave me hope when I had none, and I’ll forever be grateful for that.
Thank you, Avengers.