Updated: Jan 21
It's a cold crappy rainy day, the kind of day that messes with my head. Not the kind of weather I want to deal with on World Suicide Prevention Day. Not as someone that has survived the ideations and the attempts. My go-to when I feel challenged by my mental health is the toolbox I have built myself over the years. So today I find myself turning to someone who has been by my side from the beginning of this battle: Wolverine.
This image of Wolverine (Laura Kinney) being carried by Angel over the Seine River is the first image that comes to mind when I decide I need to sit down and write as part of working through the weather, the day, and my mental health. It is the final panel of the first issue of The All New Wolverine series. Wolverine realizes that she needs to help others that are like her, before they bring harm to themselves, each other, and the rest of the world. Like her, they are the clones of her father Logan, the original Wolverine. Like her father Logan, Laura has saved me more times than she will ever know.
What you call a Mental Illness, I call a Superpower Like others who have survived to raise awareness and share their stories on a day like today, I didn't go through that hell for the lack of something better to do, or to seek attention, or whatever other bullshit excuses those who have been blessed to never have those thoughts, try to convince themselves to feel better. No, I have been diagnosed with a variety of things that mean I often have to deal with my worst super-villain living in my own head.. And it sucks. The world of superheroes, specifically the world of Marvel's X-Men and Avengers have been crucial to my recovery, and it all started with Wolverine. Over the years, from when my brain's unique wiring served me, to when it began to sabotage me and my very existence, I have always had my toes in the world of comics. After a childhood adoration of Spidey, my true life-long love of comics began with the X-Men, while in university: specifically Wolverine, Beast, and Rogue. Wolvie, however, is the one who would steal my heart in a way no other character will ever be able to match. The creation of his daughter Laura filled the only gap that was between he and I, she gave a female face to what he and I shared: recurring pain and perpetual healing. While the X-Men has its origins in the civil rights era, as a story about Mutants, it has been embraced by others who feel the sting of stigma. For someone with a mental health diagnosis, the X-Men gave me the perspective, and the strength to reframe my conditions as Superpowers: things that are inherently neutral - if left unsupported will wreak havoc, or if attended to can become our greatest places of growth and strength.
That's where Wolverine comes in: unlike others who get to Professor Xavier earlier in life and are afforded a supportive environment, Logan has had a long and hellish existence where he's getting by on his wits, strength, and resilience, He has been the subject of experimentation that has robbed him of memories, and overloaded him with trauma. The result of these circumstances is that he is the unlikely superhero: he lashes out, he struggles with not even knowing what trauma, memories, and injustice need to be addressed in his healing. He has trust and anger management issues. Every time he uses his claws to help someone, it causes him pain. He choses the pain for himself to prevent pain for others. He is a wounded warrior, he is imperfect. He is the perfect superhero, because it is his superhuman mutant qualities that make him so rawly human. Wolverine, and his raw humanity, loyalty, and foul-mouthed stubbornness are lovable and relatable. At least for me. Long before Hugh Jackman stepped on a film set, Wolverine was the one fictional character, that I wished I could slip through to an alternate reality to meet. I wanted to hug him, console him, and thank him. He taught me that I was not broken, because of my mutation, but that I too could be a superhero, and that yes, some days being one would really suck. Regardless of what is thrown at him, Wolverine gets through it. Somehow. Battered, scarred, and for the millionth time, but he gets through.
The greatest lesson that I learned from Wolverine was that even on his shittiest days - where he is raw, angry, hurt, and lashing out - he is no less a superhero. That is the lesson that carries me through my darkest days. That I am no less a superhero when my powers (what others call my illness) is acting up and trying to hijack my brain and feed my super-villain the Inner Critic. It is the lesson that helped me build a reframing mechanism that finds the strengths in my brain's wiring, so that I can use my experience and powers for good. This is how Wolverine has saved my life repeatedly: I have drawn my claws to advocate for others, to bring change and understanding to those who work in mental health professions, and support others who also struggle with their own superpowers. Some days I draw my claws out just to get out of bed. I remind myself that the temporary pain will be worth it, because the battle will be worth it. And because like Wolverine, I'll be damned if I let the bastards win. Which brings me to Laura. Strong, angry, damaged, soulful Laura. As a clone of Logan, he would eventually adopt her. Ultimately, she would go from being X-23 to take up the mantle of Wolverine, after Logan's passing. Laura has all of the pain of Logan and more. Not only was she also experimented on, her very existence comes from experimentation. She was raised to be a weapon, to lack humanity, and with even less context for understanding, or places for growth and autonomy than Logan.
When they are brought together their relationship is fraught with pain and tension. How can she blame him for what she is, when he was unaware of her creation and existence? And when it represents yet one more time he was someone else's science project? How can he deal with the guilt associated with having another exist with the same, and additional traumas, and that he was unable to protect his child from such scientific savagery? Especially when that savagery is due in part to his own existence and the desire of others to play god with his mutant DNA?
The father-daughter relationship between Laura and Logan is never going to be mistaken for a Norman Rockwell painting.
I am grateful for that because that is how Laura has saved me and my sanity more than once. Just as Logan taught me I wasn't broken, but a Mutant with powers to wield, Laura taught me that while I may share things, including DNA, pain and trauma with (and from) my father, that I am more than what my DNA, superpowers, and trauma have done to me. While she will share her father's name, she is uniquely herself. She also gave me the female face and psyche that I need to see in processing my superpowers. If Logan taught me how to be a mutant, Laura taught me how to deal with my past, and my family, to be a better mutant.
My relationship with my father actually makes Logan and Laura's look like a fairytale sometimes. The DNA and trauma I inherited were direct results of the ongoing physical, verbal, and emotional abuse of my father. Unlike Laura, I was not a laboratory science experiment, so much as a survivor of my father's warped version of parenthood. What I got from a soul sister like Laura, was to see healing and relationship in a father-daughter dynamic that I was never afforded in real life. It may not be pretty or perfect, but it was theirs, and it was healing. While others speak of Wolverine (especially since Hugh Jackman) as a sexy superhero, what I see is the kind of broken, yet beautiful, father I wish I had. I have processed my grieving of the absence of a positive male parent through the relationship of Logan and Laura. Like Laura, I strive to be the empowered daughter of Wolverine, to help others and to heal myself. "And I have to save them." Laura's closing words on that final page, as she seeks out her sisters, in hopes of saving them. It is also her call to action to her other sister in this reality on WSPD: to take up our mutant father's mantle and share the wisdom, strength, and resilience of being a Wolverine, so that others may find strength and healing in their own superpowers. So that we may each live another day.
Sharon is the former Minister of Health for the province of Manitoba, and the Founder of Speak Up: Mental Health Advocates. She is a public speaker and educator who has created the Embrace Your Superpowers! and Bulletproof To Stigma mental health programs, drawing on her love of Marvel and BTS. Mental health for fans and fandoms. www.speak-up.co