Eternity Girl, a brand-new comic series from DC’s Young Animal imprint, tells the story of Chrysalis, aka Caroline Sharp, in post-superhero glory. With not-quite-working powers and a work-related incident under her belt, she is on leave from her job. While some people might welcome the break, it is evident from the start that Caroline has high-functioning depression.
And her depression is only compounded by the fact that Caroline can’t die (talk about the ultimate existential crisis). So, when Madame Atom arrives to offer Caroline death in exchange for killing the rest of the world too, what’s a girl to do?
I expected to enjoy Eternity Girl because I’ve enjoyed everything else from Young Animal. What I did not expect was to have such a strong emotional reaction to this series.
This story beautifully captures how lonely it is to have an invisible disability, like depression. The literal use of blue and the frequent fluctuation between Caroline’s two forms is the best visual representation I have seen of depression yet.
And what was particularly pertinent when I discovered this series a few weeks ago, was, one, a conversation between Caroline and her friend in which she tells Caroline, in so many words, to just get over it, and, two, when Madame Atom tells Caroline that she can’t destroy one version of herself (the blue self) without destroying all of her.
That very weekend, I found myself having the same conversations with my husband.
More often than not my husband plays drums with the worship team, which means (with our one-car situation) that he leaves early Sunday morning and comes back to pick me up before the service.
That Sunday I texted him and told him he didn’t need to come back; I just couldn’t do it today. The guilt over skipping church was there, sure, but the louder noise was the anxiety of walking into that building and spending several hours with so many people.
I thought, not for the first time, that morning of how nice it would be to be invisible or a hologrammed-presence even. I would go then. I wouldn’t be worried about everyone’s eyes.
This is not rational. I fully understand that.
Mental illness is not rational.
I’m neither a self-conscious person nor a self-obsessed person who believes that everyone is watching me. I could go to church and have 100 people talk to me, or I could go and have 0 talk to me—my social anxiety would remain the same.
I repeat: it is not rational.
And that’s what makes it so hard for “normative” people to understand.
When Michael came home, we had a heated argument—one that we’ve had several times—that involved both him hating to make excuses for why I don’t show up sometimes and not understanding why I “choose” to wallow in my anxiety/depression rather than try to overcome it.
I yelled out a bunch of semi-coherent things.
You don’t how lonely I am! Don’t you think I wish I could just go have fun with friends! This is me! It’s not a part I can turn on and off at will! This is me! This is me!
Something happened after this. I don’t know what exactly. But we both felt lighter; the tension relieved. We had reached a point that demanded I be honest about what was going on in my head (beyond just “I can’t do it today”) and Michael felt, for the first time I believe, the need to begin researching anxiety/depression, to get to know me, all of me. (Have I mentioned what a lucky girl I am?).
That moment of messy, external collapse allowed Michael to see me in a way that I hadn’t been able to communicate before. It was not pretty or expected but it provided a necessary visual picture of what I felt.
Depression—like so many invisible disabilities—is often better communicated through visual mediums like comics because it all takes place inside the individual.
In thinking back to my previous post on cultivating empathy, and circling back to how I began this post (with Eternity Girl), there is no shortage of articles out there stating that one of the major benefits of reading is that it increases our capacity for empathy.
“Reading fiction had previously been shown to increase empathy by ‘[expanding] our knowledge of others’ lives, helping us to recognize our similarity to them.’ But in this study, authors David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castono argue that literary fiction helps people practice empathy because of its complexity, too. Because it requires more mental processing, readers of literary fiction are tasked with interpretation or critical thinking. Literary fiction, they posit, has the power to ‘disrupt our stereotypes’; what’s more, it is full of ‘complicated individuals whose inner lives are rarely easily discerned but warrant exploration.’”
For those who struggle with depression/anxiety, I’m certain that the images below from Eternity Girl (issues 1 and 2) will speak to you; and for those wanting to understand these conditions better, I hope that these panels help to communicate, in a more tangible sense, of what living with these mental illnesses can be like (and hopefully also encourage you to read about it more on your own!).
1. Not all depressed people are alike. Some of us (like myself) can be doing really well on the outside but suffering on the inside.
2. The mental battle that takes place before going to a social event can be exhausting.
3. We exist in a constant state of flux. The slightest thing (or even nothing at all) might trigger a sudden change in our mental state.
4. We can be in the same room with you, at the same event, but we’re barely staying afloat.
5. Until we believe that you can hear us, we won’t be honest with you about how we’re feeling.
Some days are harder than others, and it’s often on those days that we seem to be “giving up/in” that we are actually trying our hardest. Please be patient with us. We need you.
If you have a story about mental illness—whether personal or concerning a loved one—please consider sharing your experience. Even if you aren’t at a place yet where you feel comfortable disclosing your name, the church body needs your voice. Let’s shine a light on the darkness, together.
*Portions of this post were featured in my reviews of the series on roguesportal.com