Processing Celebrity Deaths: 2016 Edition

Has there ever been a year worse for pop culture than 2016? Not in my lifetime. It feels like in many ways, as geeks and nerds, we are just starting to really hit our stride and come into our own in our communities. We’re not fringe anymore, we’re mainstream. We found each other, we gained our confidence, and we are standing in the light, loving our fandoms proudly… and it’s a good thing, because how would we have survived this year if we didn’t have each other to lean on?

Almost every major franchise or genre of fandom has been hit hard this year, both in the sci-fi/fantasy world and out. Harry Potter, Star Trek, Firefly, Star Wars (oh, Star Wars…) have all suffered crushing losses, not to mention the worlds of music, sports, literature, film, politics, and even zoo animals (I live in Cincinnati and the pain is still real). Despite Snopes telling us that there aren’t necessarily more celebrity deaths this year than usual, it doesn’t matter.

Because it feels like more.

Because it feels harder.

And it just hurts.

Many eloquent and intelligent people have already discussed why it hurts, and why it’s okay that it hurts, despite the fact that we didn’t “really” know these people. But I think that as 2016 continues to cruelly trample its way across our hearts and souls, it needs to be restated. There are so many people who are suffering, but who are berating themselves for doing so because either they or the people around them believe that our relationships with these celebrities weren’t “real” or because there are bigger problems in the world that we shouldn’t be “wasting” our energy grieving celebrities. It’s frustrating to watch, because emotions don’t care why you feel them.

They just are.

Grief is a difficult and complicated emotion, and one that is intensely personal. No one can know what something meant to us the way that we do. It’s just not possible. So when we discuss the loss of a celebrity, it goes far beyond just the loss of a talented human being… alan-rickmanit’s just so much more that’s literally impossible to describe. I can tell you that as I write this, the tears are falling… for Alan Rickman, for Prince, for George Michael, for Carrie Fisher… but to fully tell you why would take more pages than is reasonable, would go through minute details of the near entirety of my life, and would be so intimately personal that it would likely be uncomfortable for all of us. Art and music help us find who we are. They help us define and celebrate ourselves. They help us grow. And while the influence that these artists have on our lives can never leave us, having the artists themselves leave represents a loss that can be breathtakingly painful… especially when there are so many back to back that you can’t even grieve properly for one before the next is lost to us. The pain can become overwhelming, especially when combined with other emotionally challenging issues facing our society and us personally.

It is easy to become hopeless… to be unsure what to do or where to turn.

And that’s where I want to focus.

First, it’s important to understand that your feelings, whatever they may be, are valid. You don’t have to have met someone physically to be affected by their loss. If we can go through the stages of grief over fictional trauma from TV characters, we can certainly do it princefor the loss of a real, living, breathing human being… especially one that created the soundtrack of our lives or who helped to create a fictional story that gave us meaning and direction in our real, living, breathing world. We can be angry and sad, etc., that we have lost someone who brought joy to our lives. To do so is human. And it’s okay. Give yourself permission to feel, and permission to grieve. Just that alone can make a world of difference.

When processing your emotions surrounding celebrity deaths, it’s also important to understand that many of these celebrities have touched our lives throughout our lives… meaning that their passing and therefore our reminiscing may bring up old, often delicate george-michaelmemories, both good and bad. This again highlights the personal nature of grief, because someone who is upset over the loss of a musician may not be grieving just the artist themselves. They may also be grieving and reexperiencing the memories of their own life that George Michael was a part of or accentuated. The relationships they remember Prince being involved in, either by playing in the background or having lyrics that spoke your heart’s emotions at the time. Art imitates life, life imitates art, but ultimately they’re all wound together in our memories, making the loss of artists that much more painful.

For some, simply feeling isn’t enough, and a more active approach to grieving is necessary. Some may bounce back without it, but others may require action to feel better. Both approaches are fine, as long as they feel healthy. For some, journaling or writing in some way cron_glassan help with reflection and catharsis. For others, reaching out to others who are hurting for the same reason can be helpful, whether those are friends and family in your inner circle, or people out in Internetland. Social media has allowed this to become easier to do, especially with Twitter hashtags and Facebook groups. Fandom can be a powerful support system, full of memories, laughter, and tears of an entire community. Remembering to be respectful of others and their grief, and to actively surround yourself with people who are truly helping to lift you up can be important to make sure the community is helping each other, and that you are getting what you may need from the interactions.

Other ways of actively grieving could be engaging in some kind of activity that you feel honors the person you’re grieving in some way. Whether that’s getting together with safe carrie-fisherpeople to watch old movies, putting together a playlist, donating or volunteering for a cause that was something important that you shared with that person, or attending some kind of community vigil or event, there are countless things that could be done. Ultimately, try to listen to your emotions and do what truly helps you to feel healthier. Sadness and anger are absolutely parts of the stages of grief, but remember that you’re working towards acceptance. If, despite your best efforts, you feel that your grief is impairing your ability to function, please consider contacting a mental health professional to ask for help. Acknowledging that you may need help and asking for it is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Please don’t hesitate to do so. Check out the bottom of this post for resources if you need help finding a place to start.

At the end of the day, when we are trying to survive a holistically challenging year of the likes of 2016, the best thing you can do is to find things that bring you joy and do those things. While escapism is nice, and has its place when used in moderation, if these artists taught bowieus anything, it’s that life is meant to be lived, celebrated, and enjoyed, even when it’s a mess. Each of the people we lost this year was unique, passionate, and full of life. And each of them had flaws, which they didn’t allow to hold them back. After suffering such losses this year, what the world may need more than anything is for us to take the inspiration and epic gifts that these artists gave us, and channel back into the world in our own ways. So while we can accept that grief is a wibbly wobbly emotion that doesn’t work in a straight line and never truly goes away (I’m quite sure I will ugly cry through Love, Actually every Christmas for the rest of my life…), it’s also important that we get back to the business of living.

2017 is going to need us.

Happy New Year, everyone.

2016-explosion


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

The Trevor Project (LGBTQ):

  • Crisis hotline: 866-488-7386 (available 24/7)
  • Online chat: http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/get-help-now (Available 7 days a week between 3:00pm – 9:00pm ET/12:00pm – 6:00pm PT)
  • Text messaging: Text “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200. Standard text messaging rates apply. (Available on Thursdays and Fridays between 4:00pm – 8:00pm EST/1:00pm – 5:00pm PT)

Veteran’s Crisis Line:

Alcoholics Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous

SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline:

  • 1-877-SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4727)
    • Get general information on mental health and locate treatment services in your area. Speak to a live person, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.
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Processing Fictional Trauma: TWD s7 Premiere Edition

Where does one even begin to try to process what just occurred on our television sets? As a writer, how do I even begin an article such as this? To be honest, folks, I have no idea. So I guess I’ll just start there.

What happened on our televisions last night was horrible. Awful. Traumatizing, and just… cruel. That’s not to say that it wasn’t good storytelling… I guess (I’m not yet emotionally ready to concede ANYthing good about the writers just yet… I hope their families and significant others make them sleep on the couch and sit at the kids table for Thanksgiving, and I’m not even a little bit kidding), as so many were so emotionally affected by it, but… it was not an easy hour of TV. I’m hard pressed to even call it entertainment. At this point I think calling it masochism would be more accurate.

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I started watching The Walking Dead when it first aired. Through season 1 I watched week to week, and realized preeeetty early on that getting attached to characters was a bad idea. But it was too glenn-younglate, I already had. I had fallen in love with the character of Glenn Rhee. He was young and funny and fearless and I just loved every second he was on screen. Over the course of the years, I started to realize that watching The Walking Dead gave me real and legitimate anxiety when I watched week to week, so hubby and I would binge each half season after it was over. Which was frustrating bc I hate spoilers, but sometimes in this one particular instance, knowing major traumas ahead of time was actually helpful for my sanity. And then last year after I’d been writing for Fan Fest for awhile, I got the brilliant idea to watch the finale live so I could write an article on it.

Of all the freaking times to start watching live…

So, I got to suffer along with all of you throughout the hiatus. I joined fan sites and counted footsteps. I listened to cleaned up audios. I looked at the positioning of the damn trees. I did the math. At times it was fun, and at times it was frustrating, but it certainly brought me closer to this amazing fandom.

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And then it was time for the actual episode to FINALLY air. And do you know what both my Facebook (people I know off line) and Twitter (fandom folks) timelines looked like? People who were EMOTIONAL WRECKS. I was a little concerned at how my anxiety spiked the hour before the episode was set to air, and was hoping it was just pregnancy hormones. But turns out, even those who aren’t hard core fangirls and fanboys and who just watch the show every week were maximum strength freaking out. My social media turned into a giant support group, both with fandom folks and civilians. It was a very, very real testament to the power of fiction in our current society, that is for sure.

Then it was time for the show to begin. I sent hugs to a few friends, got my 4 year old settled in away from the trauma TV, then set down my phone, hugged a pillow, held hands with my husband, and waited for the pain.

And pain there was.

Dread brings out interesting reactions in people. Seeing people experiencing the stages of grief began almost as soon as the episode began. Being 15 minutes in and still not knowing what was happening made people absolutely beside themselves with anger after having to wait 7 months. But then of course as soon as we found out, we wanted to un-find out, as the emotional pain (denial, depression) and just the gore was truly awful. The episode went so, so dark and was just relentlessly unforgivingly painful that that sense of dread didn’t lift EVER, even for a second. You couldn’t catch your breath from one trauma to the next, and I’ll be honest… I’m a crier (I’m pregnant… I cry at commercials at this point), and I didn’t cry. I was in too much shock from fictional trauma after trauma after trauma. Much like the characters on screen, I didn’t feel able to show emotion until after all of Negan’s people had left and the shock had started to fade. Until that point, the adrenaline was still going and the fear was still real.

I repeat: This is a television show, and yet the fear was still real. My chest didn’t seem to care that the threat was fictional and that it didn’t concern me or anyone I actually know. It was tight as hell, and my hands were shaking anyway. Human emotions don’t give a damn about logic.

abraham-lucilleAt this point, I have watched the finale as well as The Talking Dead, and I’m in my bed at 1am writing this article trying to process things for myself. It’s hard. It’s a TV show, but it’s hard. Losing Abraham, who has bar none the best lines on the show and who was in such a good place mentally… it hurt. It hurt, but as a Glenn fangirl, after Abe was chosen and killed, I was able to breathe for a minute and at least be thankful that my boy was still there.

But then he wasn’t.

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Having watched The Walking Dead for so long, I have a hard time picturing what it looks like without Glenn. His parts of the story were always my favorite, his attitude was calming and relatable, and his heart made the group believable even when it seems Rick toys liberally with the lines of sanity. I don’t know what that world now looks like with Glenn gone.

And that makes me sad.

Almost everyone in our society enjoys fiction in some capacity. TV, books, theatre, gaming… all of them bring escape and fun into our lives through stories of other worlds. At times those fictional characters can become like friends… those that we go back and visit sometimes, and in the case of current television shows — especially ones as long running as The Walking Dead — they’re friends that we get to visit with on a regular basis. We get comfortable with the idea that we’ll see them often. And so when an episode of The Walking Dead such as this one hits, it’s upsetting. Because we’ve lost a friend.

glenn-maggie-kissI’m well aware that Glenn is not a real person, and that in my day to day life, I have not had a friend die. But on my Sunday evenings, I will never again have img_5328another interlude with my boy Glenn. I won’t get to see the look on Glenn’s face when he sees his baby, or see he and Maggie, one of my favorite ships, fight to save each other as they’ve done so many times. I won’t get to watch as Glenn inspires and encourages others. And dammit, I won’t get to hear Abraham talk about dicks, which was also a ray of happy in my world.

And so I am sad.

And I’m okay with that.

Life is hard, and 2016 as a society has been one of the hardest. Having this level of trauma in a television show ON TOP of the crap sandwich that is this year isn’t exactly ideal, but I’ll tell you what… sometimes crying or expressing a strong emotion over a work of fiction can be truly cathartic in helping us handle the tough emotions about “real” life. And so I will cry for the injustice that is Glenn’s death (while giving nasty looks to Daryl for awhile… hey, feelings are feelings), and know that the tears I’m shedding aren’t just for Glenn, but for a lot of the injustice I see in the world but get overwhelmed with. I cry for Abraham, but know that I’m really crying for all the strong people I know who have died over things that could so easily have been resolved a different way.

And that’s why I don’t apologize for the level of emotion I feel or express about fiction. All that emotion is in there, whether I watch The Walking Dead or not. But watching and reacting at least helps that stuff come out in a much healthier way than it otherwise might’ve (such as screaming at family and friends about politics). Trust me, everyone would prefer me to express my emotions through fandom.

I’d also like to thank Chris Hardwick and The Talking Dead team. Because I never watched the show live, I had never watched TTD before last night. But I can’t tell you how much watching it last night helped. While my logical brain knows that Glenn is fictional, and Steven Yeun is an actor, being able to see them all on stage weirdly helped me in processing my feelings about the episode.talking-deadAnd getting to hear the actors talk about their own feelings about things (which, btw, Chris Hardwick officially has the coolest job in the universe… processing fictional trauma WITH THE CAST?! Omg you lucky bastard…), well knowing they were hurting too was also pretty helpful. I was also so glad to hear Chris say to the entire fandom that whatever you are feeling about what happened in the show, those feelings are valid. I’ve seen more people use mental health verbiage when talking about this television show (grief, depression, separation anxiety, processing) than I’ve ever seen before. Go ahead and feel what you need to feel, and process with those you trust at your own pace. The world supports you on this one. Take your time.

I also encourage everyone reading this and struggling today to remember that while Glenn and Abraham are gone, we are still alive. I think a lot of the reason why zombie apocalypse works of fiction are so popular is because it makes us thankful for the life that we have and reaffirms that we are alive, and/or it hits that darker part of our brain that kind of wishes it would happen so that all of those social constraints like work and taxes and dinner parties could be a thing of the past.

But I have to say, despite the current political climate, the global instability, environmental issues, violence, and general awfulness that is life right now…. we are definitely having a better time than Rick Grimes and his crew. So once I get done crying for Glenn and trying to find a way to convince myself he can come back (IT WAS ALL MAGGIE’S FEVER DREAM, RIGHT?!?!), I’ll try to remind myself of that and be thankful for all that I have, no matter how crazy this year seems.

Hugs to you all!

TWD Cast Hug

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Processing Fictional Trauma: Stranger Things Edition

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE FIRST SEASON OF STRANGER THINGS.

READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

This summer, Netflix took us by storm with the new series that terrified us and gave us all the nostalgic feels… Stranger Things. This show had it all…. suspense, horror, romance, science, Christmas lights, D&D, waffles… all framed around us reliving our past with Trapper Keepers, popped collars, giant glasses, and even gianter hair. What’s not to love?

Stranger Things logo with characters

Despite all the awesome, however, Stranger Things was certainly full of fictional trauma for both the characters and the viewers. Interestingly enough, the two most frequent traumas I’ve seen people talking about don’t necessarily directly involve Will, despite his story being the focus of the show. The two greatest emotional blows seem to be stories of Eleven… and Barb.

While Eleven might seem the obvious choice, Barb’s character really seemed to strike a major chord in many, many people. Barb was the slightly nerdy friend, a bit of a goodie Barb.jpggoodie, who was feeling concerned about being left behind once her best friend started dating the popular kid in school. Every single person that ever attended high school – whether it be in the 80s or any other decade — had insecurities, and Barb is those insecurities personified. While each of us likely had a slightly different experience, the fear in high school that if <insert thing here> happens, my friends won’t talk to me anymore is a feeling we can likely all remember…. As is going places where we’re not comfortable and maybe even drinking when we didn’t want to just to try to keep a friend or look “cool.” The idea that she did all that, and then still got snubbed by her friend… well, the hurt was palpable, and one that I have most assuredly felt in my life, and I’ll bet Barb Diving Board 3I’m not alone there. Seeing Barb sitting on that diving board, alone and devastated… that definitely gave me more reminiscent high school feels than the fashion references. Losing friends is always brutal, but for some reason in high school it’s just exponentially worse. And so, for so many of us who lived through high school – especially if we happened to be slightly nerdy (come on, fess up, we’re all family here!), Barb was us… and we were Barb. Having Barb then be the one major character that didn’t make it… well, the trauma was real.

While Barb was a character in which many of us saw ourselves years ago, Eleven was a character that likely tapped feelings and instincts we have in the present to protect kids, whether they’re ours or someone else’s. As the story unfolded, we saw just how horrible Stranger-Things-3-El-in-cell-850x560.jpgEleven’s life had been. The abuse, the neglect, the complete lack of real emotional connection of any kind… her entire story was tragic, from beginning to “end.” As a mental health professional who worked with abused and neglected kids for several years, seeing Eleven’s story was heartbreaking, as I knew the struggles she’d likely face if she made it through… the PTSD, struggles in relationships, challenges trusting and coping… seeing kids deal with this is so painful, even when they’re out of the abusive environment and healing. As a mom, watching Eleven made me want to rip my kid out of bed and snuggle her and ply her with Eggos and tell her I love her forever… and as my child is a toddler with sleeping problems, you know that’s a big statement. But ultimaWe Can Call You Eltely, after the difference facets of myself reacted in their various ways, a solid take away that I’ve seen with my own eyes to be true is that the kindness of one human really can make all the difference in the world to another human. We don’t know the true fate of Eleven at this point, but what we do know is that if she actually is gone, her brutally dark world had some light at the end… all due to the kindness of a nerdy kid named Mike, and it likely made all the difference in the world to her.

It would seem that one of the primary reasons why Stranger Things became such a massive hit is because the story sucked us in, and made us truly care for and – perhaps more importantly – relate somewhat to the characters on the screen. I was the awkward kid in elementary school that struggled with social interaction (like Mike and even Eleven), and the nerdy kid in high school who the popular kids didn’t talk to (like Barb)… my husband played D&D with his friends starting in elementary school to escape into another world and far away from the challenges of being bullied in school (like Mike and the boys), and felt like an outsider in high school (like Jonathan) . We totally understood the struggles of the kids and teenagers, especially with the whopping dose of 80s nostalgia drizzled on top. But as most of us are likely adults, I think we also related to the adults in the story as well… the Winona Lightsmother who flat out refuses to give up on her child, no matter how crazy everyone thinks she is; the police chief who got housed by the worst kind of trauma but is still trying to make the world a better place in his own flawed way; the mom who desperately wants her kids to talk to her, but knows they aren’t and is terrified for them and frustrated with herself. Stranger Things gave us a unique opportunity to not only look back and see ourselves and our awkwardness and insecurity in the past from a relatively safe distance now that we’re grown, but it also gave us the ability to look back and see how it may have been for our parents. While it’s true we likely didn’t get chased by literal monsters and taken to the upside down back then (I really hope you didn’t… that place was completely terrifying), many of the struggles are still relatable. Maybe we were so caught up in our own problems that we didn’t notice how fiercely protective our parents were, or how hard they were trying to get through to us, or how difficult it was for them to watch us struggle to make friends or deal with challenges. If you’re a parent now, the show might’ve been even more engaging because you could maybe relate to the kids and teens from your past, as well as relating to the adults in your present. An interesting emotional experience to be sure!

Stranger Things was chock full of feels, amazing plots, and engaging characters and dialogue. But ultimately, if I had to sum up the emotional take-aways from this show, I believe I would sum them up as these:

  1. While we may have strongly related to Barb when we were in high school, we have all likely come a long way since we were similar to her, and are probably not her any more. We have survived that life phase (even if she didn’t… *weeps*), and are now older and hopefully wiser. If seeing Barb brought up some old feelings for you, you might talk to a friend about it or journal… but remember, we are not in high school anymore. We made it through!
  2. If you are a parent now, or are around kids in any capacity, use the trip down memory lane that Stranger Things gave you to remember how damn hard it was to be a kid, and maybe apply some of that empathy to your kids or the kids you’re around. Parenting is HARD, and there is no two ways about that. But childhood was pretty tough too. Let’s all remember that we’re all struggling through together, regardless of age.
  3. Be kind to each other. Mike’s kindness literally saved Will’s life and maybe even the world. He wasn’t perfect, and he had anger outbursts and melted down, but ultimately he was kind to someone in need and he apologized when he needed to. And that kindness saved the day. We could all learn a lot from Mike.

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Did Stranger Things stir up any feels for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Processing Fictional Trauma: Schism (S4 Finale) Edition

It’s hard to believe that the time has come to write an article on the season finale. It seems like just yesterday I was banding together with my new Arrow friends on Twitter in preparation for the season premiere to see what Olicity and the rest of our superheroes had been up to over the summer. But while it may feel like the year has flown by, Team Arrow and the Arrow fandom have been through a veritable rollercoaster of emotions and events. Domestic bliss, magic, break ups, politics, violence, wheelchairs, baby mommas, flashbacks, nuclear attack, bees, and major character death, combined with love, hate, anger, grief, and every emotion in between.

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It’s been a crazy ride, but now is a good time for us as a fandom to take a collective deep breath and reflect on the same thing that our superheroes did at the end of this season: self-care.

In last week’s article, I discussed the concept of resilience, and how active coping strategies can help a person more easily recover from a major stress or trauma. But another part of being able to effectively cope with the things life throws at us is by taking care of ourselves both physically and emotionally every day. While being aware of the ways in which we’re taking care of ourselves should always be a priority in anything we do, as fangirls and fanboys, the end of a season is always a good time to take a step back and contemplate how fandom is affecting our lives. And as with last week, I believe we can look to our fictional band of superheroes for some real life insight.

The end of the season found Team Arrow battered and emotionally broken. After the epic showdown with Damien Darhk and HIVE, each member had to decide for themselves how to best take care of themselves afterward to heal. For Diggle, Lance, and Thea, this meant Thea Ollie Hugtaking a step back from Team Arrow and the fight for Star City so that they could reflect on who they are without their masks and badges. This can’t have been an easy decision for any of them to make as fighting to make the world a better and safer place is such an integral part of each of their identities. In our fast paced world, we are so often programmed to think of others’ needs ahead of our own… it would be easy for each of them to struggle with guilt for leaving the city less protected to manage their individual issues, or to try to gut it out and not leave at all. But in reality, if superheroes don’t take a step back to manage their emotions and to heal, it’s very easy for them to either cross that line from hero to villain, or get themselves killed by not having their head in the game. Neither of these outcomes are at all helpful to the people they’re trying to protect, ultimately showing how taking care of themselves is taking care of the city. While my respect and adoration for these characters was already incredibly high, seeing them make Oliggle Handshake.gifthe tough choices to step back and care for themselves emotionally nearly made my therapist heart burst with joy. It’s easy to be inspired by superheroes to be a better person and to do good for the world as they do. Seeing Team Arrow show us that it’s okay to take care of ourselves is something that we don’t often see superheroes do, and I hope will inspire more of us as viewers to do the same. While the stakes may not be as high for us day to day, the consequences can be the same… if we don’t take care of ourselves, we can stop having the capacity to be the people we truly want to be, living the lives we want to live. And that’s not helpful for us, or the people we love.

Self-care for Oliver and Felicity this year looked quite a bit different than the rest of Team Arrow, and the reason for that seems fairly straight forward: Oliver and Felicity took their Discover more about that person.giftime away from the team for their own self-reflection and healing last year. They rediscovered their focus and their purpose in a way that the rest of Team Arrow will likely work on discovering over this summer. Oliver is therefore caring for himself by continuing the crusade he began four years ago, and expanding it to work to help the city in the light of day as mayor, rather than only at night as a vigilante. Felicity is staying to further the cause as well. Seemingly for her, despite the pain that she has experienced this year, continuing to work to help keep the city safe is the way that she continues to find purpose Oliver Mayor.gifin her life, giving meaning to all of the tragedy and heartbreak she’s experienced. Being on the outside looking in, however, I do hope that before they get back to protecting the city, both Oliver and Felicity take some time to sleep, eat decently, and emotionally and physically rest (separately, to get their heads on straight). They’re going to need it – especially if they’re going to be protecting the city on their own, and managing the emotionally heavy relationship issues that will likely come from them working so closely together. Alone. In the lair. Every day. (Fanfic authors, I’m looking at you right now….)

So in looking at ourselves as fans, I would encourage anyone reading this to do some self-reflection. In the same way that each of the members of Team Arrow reflected and searched for self-awareness about their status on the team and how it’s affecting them emotionally, it’s important for each of us to reflect on our participation in the Arrow fandom. Television is meant to be entertainment… something that enriches our lives in some positive way. Participation in a fandom is the next step, in that if we’re so excited about a television show (or any other form of entertainment), we want to connect with other people who are also passionate about that show. While this doesn’t mean that fandom participation has to be 100% positive all the time, it is a balance that we have to find.

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Regardless of your feelings on the finale or the entire season, it’s important to internally examine whether or not watching Arrow and being a part of its fandom are still primarily positive and enriching to your life. If you have found that you are getting upset every week watching Arrow (or any other show), then stop watching. It’s a TV show, not a cult… no one is going to drag you back if you try to leave. If you’re not quite ready to do that, then take a step back from the show and the fandom for the summer, and reassess your feelings on watching come the fall. If you’re feeling frustrated with elements of the show, write the showrunners a note and tell them about it… respectfully. It’ll likely be therapeutic for you, and will help them know the feelings in the fandom. If you still enjoy the show, but are struggling with the significant negativity within the fandom, take a social media break, or use the mute/unfollow/block buttons liberally. While it’s important to not completely seal ourselves away from people who disagree with us, it’s also important to take care of ourselves. If that means paring down the people you follow on Twitter, or the groups you follow on Facebook, so be it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with decreasing exposure to things in life that upset you – especially when we’re talking about an area that should be about entertainment and fun. And hey, if you love the fandom but don’t want to watch the show anymore, that too is totally okay. As long as you’re respectful and aren’t malicious towards people for their choice on what brings joy to their lives, I’m sure most people would be completely okay with continuing friendships, even if fandom decisions differ. Most fangirls and fanboys tend to be cool like that, at least in my experience.

Works of fiction can inspire us, enlighten us, touch us, and motivate us. They can make us laugh, make us cry, and feel every powerful emotion you can think of… just as relationships with others can. When you combine those two elements – fiction and We will look to give each other hope.gifrelationships – emotions can easy escalate, causing the tremendous passion we so often see in fandom. Passion about our fandoms is what we’re known for, and for many of us, it’s a point of pride, no matter what the rest of the world may think or feel about it. But keep in mind…. Life is short. Energy is finite. There are battles we have to fight in our daily lives that we can’t back down from. But our television choices don’t have to be one of them. When it comes to fandom, do the things that bring you joy and make you feel good. Focus on elements of your shows that make you happy. Read good fan fiction and leave positive comments for the authors. Find fun people and groups to engage with on social media. Go to a con and find your fandom family. Send your favorite actors, writers, and showrunners a love letter thanking them for their hard work and tell them how they’ve touched your life. Revel in the positive, and most importantly… Take care of yourself. You deserve that.

Happy hiatus, fellow fans… I wish you all an amazing summer! I’ll see you back here in October to process more fictional Arrow trauma!

You thought I was leaving too not a chance.gif

 

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Processing Fictional Trauma: Lost in the Flood Edition

ARROW SPOILERS THROUGH EPISODE 4×22:

LOST IN THE FLOOD

This week’s penultimate episode of Arrow had it all: fight scenes, explosions, decades old arguments, hacker on hacker violence, no less than *counts on fingers* five villains, an Olicity embrace… and a revolving beer. It was nonstop, break neck, edge of the seat drama. And yet, despite all of that activity… all the nukes, electricity surges, and flying arrows, at its heart we saw a continual theme coming through from each member of Team Arrow:

Resilience.

In the world of psychology, the term resilience has been defined many ways*, but at its core, it’s basically the ability to bounce back after major stress or trauma. The last few episodes have seen both Felicity and Diggle experience almost unspeakable emotional challenges, and in this week’s episode we got to see a little bit of how each of them are dealing with the aftermath of those traumas.

Two weeks ago we saw Diggle kill his brother. While the argument could be made that it was ultimately in self-defense, as Andy had insinuated Dig’s family would never be safe from him, the actual act was done with Andy unarmed and essentially defenseless. As traumas go, I think we can agree that’s a major one.

Diggle 2

Felicity…. well, I put her recent traumas in bullet point format in last week’s article, and I’ll go ahead and do it again for this week because the hits just keep on coming for our girl. This week Felicity had to deal with:

  • Watching the news discussing the full damage from the nuclear bomb she was unable to stop and had to change the course of.
  • Finding out her teammate and almost sister-in-law was captured by HIVE.
  • Her parents’ constant arguing… over her.
  • Going up against her ex-boyfriend yet again.
  • Learning that her father didn’t actually abandon her, but that her mother took her from her father and that she’d grown up with completely false beliefs about her parents’ split.
  • Fighting to again dismantle Rubicon, which she had worked to disable the day before and was unable to completely defeat, leading to the death of tens of thousands.
  • Kidnapping by Damien Darhk, along with her mother and one of her best friends.

Felicity Horried 2.jpg

Now, I fully understand and accept that this is a television show, and so our heroes are constantly dealing with immense amounts of pressure and coming out the other side relatively unscathed. That’s what makes this fiction, and them superheroes. But I do find it interesting that when you look at the things that mental health research has shown to make us mere mortals more resilient, it also applies to our heroes.

There are five things that have been shown to deeply influence a person’s ability to be resilient: Active coping strategies, positive emotionality, cognitive reappraisal, social support, and a sense of purpose (Reich, Zautra, & Hall, 2010). So let’s break those down into layman’s terms and apply them to OTA.

1. Active coping strategies: These are things that we do that help us manage our emotions and feel better. For me this is often escaping into an awesome TV show or book, doing something outdoors, or punching something at martial arts. For Oliver and Diggle, coping very often involves training, working out, or fighting… something intensely physical, Oliver Diggle Trainingwhich is absolutely been shown to be a successful and useful coping mechanism. I hate exercise with a fiery passion, but it’s true that physical activity does help both mind and body feel better. Felicity’s coping (that we’re aware of) tends to involve ice cream and television, which I can also get behind and can certainly be helpful in moderation. Another active coping strategy, however, which all of our team excels at are problem solving and planning. Working to change your situation, and the ability to see and plan a way through is absolutely a useful coping skill, and can help manage stress. Oliver, for example, may get beaten down and defeated, but as long as he can see another way to attempt to fix the problem, he continues to cope. The only times when he seems to truly panic or despair is when he can’t see a next move.

2. Positive emotionality: This trait involves the ability to keep your sense of humor in the face of epic stress and trauma. This trait is essentially tailor made for FeFelicity I Love the Internetlicity, as her witty comebacks and one liners are constant, even through the most challenging missions. At times she may use this as a defense mechanism to avoid dealing with her real feelings, but sometimes that can actually be useful. That’s why they’re called “defense” mechanisms. They can help us make it through until we’re ready or feel safe enough to deal with those challenging issues and feelings.

3. Cognitive reappraisal: What this means is having the ability to look at a situation and see it from a completely different perspective than may be obvious. I would consider this to be another of Felicity’s superpowers. How many times has Oliver Season 2 Endand other members of the team seen things a certain way – usually with an outcome that involves reverting back to killing and death — but Felicity is able to reframe it to be something else? At the end of season 2, both Lance and Oliver very clearly believe that Oliver has to go back to killing to be able to win. Felicity sees things differently, in that the reason for all the madness was because of killing, not because he refused to. It made Oliver see the entire situation in a different light, leading to an outcome where neither Slade nor Oliver died, keeping another piece of Oliver’s soul intact (while also giving us that Olicity scene in the mansion… thankyouverymuch!)

4. Social support: This is where OTA has created a never ending supply of emotional resilience for themselves. While they all have outside loved ones that also ground and support them (Thea, Lyla, Donna, etc), Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity always have each other. If one of them falters, the other(s) step in. If one person can’t see the way through, the others help to create a different plan. When one is feeling guilty or insecure, the others help them regain their balance. They feel secure in their attachments to each other, and that allows them to continue to battle through the ridiculous amounts of stress they face – because they always have each other to lean on.

You are not alone

5. Sense of purpose: For our superheroes, and probably most superheroes, this is the one that they perhaps have the most of, and can truly help them continue to put one foot in front of the other when fighting what seems to be an impossible battle. Each person on Team Arrow is fighting this fight for their own reason, for their own purpose. It is that sense of purpose that leads them to continue to move. Felicity will not wallow in her grief over tens of thousands because she knows she has billions more to protect. Diggle will not allow himself to be consumed by what happened to Andy (yet) because he still has a fight to win against HIVE. And while Oliver may very often truly be the “Guilt Arrow,” even he continues fighting despite the guilt – because this fight gives all of the trauma and pain and horrors that he’s faced meaning.

Three of Us

While there are many other reasons that a person might be extra resilient (early childhood experiences, biological factors, the list goes on…), these five represent a good sample of things that can help us all handle stress more effectively. These five also help us see why OTA works so well together as a team, and how they manage to realistically fight against the odds they face on a weekly basis. While they may be superheroes and therefore have heightened abilities to fight, cope, and effectively deal with supernatural crazy, I believe as fans we still can learn from the way they manage things and maybe pick up a few tips and tricks on how to manage our own lives more effectively by watching them manage theirs.

With that said, while I know for a fact that I would not be able to deal with all of the things that Felicity Felicity and Family.jpghas faced the last few weeks with nearly as much calm and composure as she has, I also understand that we only see small pieces of what’s happening in their lives. FeliOlicity Hugcity is a strong female character who has inspired many of us with her ability to persevere and save the world despite all of the things she’s facing down. But in the spirit of also making sure our expectations for ourselves are realistic, remember that we saw Felicity hug both her father and Oliver, almost seemingly against her will. Remember that we saw her have talks with Curtis and with her mom. While we may not see all of it, Felicity does seem to be seeking out comfort and support to help her carry on through these nightmarish days. She seems to know (even if she hasn’t consciously thought about it) that she can’t do it all on her own.

Throughout season 4, we have seen how Felicity’s increased resilience has not only saved Oliver’s life, but has led to him learning some of those same skills from her. Now, he’s Good things in my lifeable to see things more positively when others can’t, and he is able to keep his positivity even in the face of extreme struggle, as we saw when he talked Thea back into the light in this episode. He never wavered, and he always kept the faith… in Thea, in Felicity, and in himself. Through modeling the resilient behavior, Felicity has effectively taught Oliver how to help not only himself, but hopefully also her and Diggle during these difficult days. While Felicity does seem to be managing and confronting her emotions, how Diggle will cope long term remains to be seen. He continues to work to take down HIVE, but as of now he is not being honest with Lyla, which means he’s not getting the full social support he may need to cope. Just like Oliver pointed out at the end of Season 3, coping with our own issues often means asking for help. Sometimes it’s the only way.

And that is okay.

I think Oliver has finally learned that lesson. Now we sit back and wait to see if Diggle and Felicity have fully learned it too.

OTA

 

*Examples of clinical definitions of resilience:

“The capacity of a dynamic system to withstand or recover from significant challenges that threaten its stability, viability, or development” (Masten, 2011).

“…an outcome of successful adaptation to adversity,” (Reich, Zautra, & Hall, 2010, p. 4).


References

Masten, A. S. (2011). Resilience in children threatened by extreme adversity: Frameworks for research, practice, and translational synergy. Development and Psychopathology, 23(02), 493–506. http://doi.org/10.1017/S0954579411000198

Reich, J. W., Zautra, A. J., & Hall, J. S. (2010). Handbook of adult resilience. New York, NY: Guilford Press. http://doi.org/10.1007/s13398-014-0173-7.2

 

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Processing Fictional Trauma: Monument Point Edition

MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR ARROW 4×21: MONUMENT POINT

READ AT YOUR OWN RISK

Going into this week’s episode of Arrow, I actually wondered whether there would be much trauma for me to write about. It was being advertised as episode 1 of 3 of the season finale, so I thought perhaps they’d leave the heavy hits for closer to the end.

I was wrong.

This episode was titled “Monument Point,” but could also realistically have been called “How Much Trauma Can Felicity Possibly Handle?” While all of the Original Team Arrow (OTA) is facing and dealing with inner demons and epic tragedy, Felicity bore the brunt this week by a wide margin. To spell it out, let’s recap. This week, Felicity:

  • Had to ask her father, who she has a massively strained relationship with, to help her and her team.
  • Had to then work with her father closely for a solid 24 hours while he kept bringing up their painful relationship issues over and over.
  • Had to also work with her ex-fiance, who she had avoided working with before Laurel’s death because she said it was too hard.
  • Got fired from a job which she loves, and which she took over because a dear friend trusted her with it. Oh, and let’s remember it also used to be Queen Consolidated.
  • Got shot at.
  • Wasn’t able to completely stop the nuclear attack, which then led to the death of tens of thousands of people — which happened through a choice she had to make to divert the landing location of the nuclear missile.
  • Honorable mention: Let’s keep in mind that, regardless of any of our feelings about Laurel, the character was a good friend of Felicity’s and she died very, very recently (which Felicity is still carrying guilt about).

 

Felicity Team

In other words, this episode forced Felicity to deal with trauma after trauma, trigger after trigger and to do so relentlessly, and without time to stop to accept comfort or to process it with people she loved. Now, Felicity has been through a tremendous amount of trauma in the past (how she got through Season 3 without a full mental break I’ll never tell you), and she has had times where the team was not able to save the day, but…. while we understand that she saved the world, based on Felicity’s response, I don’t feel that she will be so forgiving of herself.

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In the past when Felicity has needed help… when she is feeling guilty, angry, upset, or having a crisis of confidence, she tends to turn to the people she’s closest to to get support. Oliver, Diggle, Thea, Laurel… they’ve all talked her through difficult times. But now, when she is facing what is likely to be the darkest time of her life, her support system is splintered. Again, let’s recap:

  • Working with her father likely feels like a betrayal of her mother. With Felicity’s dad present, any topic of conversation with her mother would likely center around Donna’s worry and anger about Noah, not about Felicity’s trauma and loss… not to mention Momma Smoak doesn’t know the Green Arrow secret, so Felicity can’t be entirely honest with her.
  • Diggle is so far in his own head over Andy he can’t see much else.
  • Lyla is busy supporting her husband, who is at his darkest time as well.
  • Thea is captured.
  • Laurel is dead.
  • Oliver… her greatest supporter and the current light of the team didn’t have time to comfort her through this crisis (or more people would’ve died), and is now in a room with a super strength Damien Darhk, the outcome of which is unlikely to be good.

 

Felicity Upset

 

This leaves Felicity alone and emotionally isolated — a feeling that many of us have likely experienced and know is one of the worst feelings in the world… especially when it’s compounded by having just experienced a massive trauma. Research in the field of mental health tells us that social support can be one of the most important things in helping to heal after suffering a trauma. This means that Felicity’s current situation could be considered rather emotionally dangerous and ultimately harder to come back from. Obviously our heroes tend to cope with grief and emotional devastation better than your average human, but this event certainly has all the signs of something that will haunt and influence Felicity for a long time to come.

In watching fans react to this episode, people exhibited a tremendous amount of sympathy towards Felicity. But on top of that, there was also a lot of respect sent her way. People understood the impossible position she was put in, and the horrifying decision she had to make and many felt that that made her a bigger superhero than perhaps even Oliver. While he’s had to make major decisions in the past, even he has never had to make the split second decision to sacrifice tens of thousands to save millions. The numbers make the decision seem obvious, but logic often doesn’t affect emotion, especially in the event of a trauma.

 

Despite the respect, however, many people seem interested in watching their fictional heroes be tested, and it makes me think about why that may be. On the one hand, it can be helpful to see our heroes being heroes. It’s inspirational to see people taking tragedy and turning that into Tweet 4wanting to make a difference in the world. It’s something we can relate to and aspire to be like, and watching Felicity this week make a gut wrenching decision to save the world was much like watching Dig make a gut wrenching decision to save his family last week – it’s a terrifying thought, but it may be comforting to think that if Felicity and Diggle can make those kinds of decisions, maybe we can too – even if we’re not sure we want to. But I’m pretty sure that none of us can relate to a person that’s perfect. Therefore, it’s critically important in these stories that we see these characters fail once in a while, whether that’s through regressing to former bad habits or self-imposed emotional isolation. Because watching our beloved characters bounce back from trauma with no repercussions would be disingenuous… and it wouldn’t help us as the viewer at all. We need to see how these characters get through, what strategies they use, what strengths they fall back on, and what moral and emotional foundations finally bring them back to themselves. And we need to see that so that maybe we can use those skills, strategies, and foundations ourselves.

But for the sake of this conversation, let’s turn the tables. What would you recommend for Felicity to help her cope with the horrors she just faced? As a viewer that knows all about her life, if you were her friend and you could get five minutes with her, what would you encourage her to do? Is there anything she can do right now when the world is still facing imminent destruction by Damien Darhk who seems to be Malcolm Merlyn level evil on steroids? Or does she have to wait until they’re past this crisis?

How would you help Felicity find her light again?

 

Felicity

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Perfect: A Modern Day Fairytale

This week, for some untold reason, I decided to Google myself as we all (probably) do occasionally. It had been a long while, and in doing so I stumbled upon a blog that I started several years ago and forgot all about. One of the entries, however, has to do with a romance novel that I’ve been in love with for most of my adult life, and that I actually just re-read again this week. Re-posting that entry here (keeping in mind its multiple years old) seemed like a good idea, as the content is still relevant and my feelings remain the same.


Perfect Collage

I love to read. And because I have an addictive personality, I tend to do what I call “binge reading.” I am not the kind of person that can read a few chapters before bed… when I start reading, I have to cannonball the entire thing in 1-2 days (maybe more for Diana Gabaldon… simply because her books are freaking epics).

I think this is a particularly interesting personality trait when I read Perfect by Judith McNaught. I have read this book conservatively 20 times. It is the only stand alone romance that has every really stuck with me, and about once or twice a year I get the giant urge to re-read… and I always fall back in love with the story. But despite the number of times I’ve read it, when I decided to reread it again this week, I had to stay up until 2am to finish it. I get so wrapped up in the story that I can’t put it down!

I don’t know what it is about this story that captivates me so much. The people in the book are basically the complete opposite of me and my life in many ways… the main character grows up in a small Texan town (after living in foster care for 11 years) and now strives to be Perfect. She’s a school teacher (in same small Texan town), her adoptive father is a minister, and she follows all social protocols of the small southern town even if it goes against everything she wants out of life. The male lead character grows up a super rich kid, his parents die in a car accident, and his grandmother casts him out. He then grows up to be a rich and famous movie star. But even though it talks about how jaded and cynical he is with the sewer that is Hollywood, he’s still a sweet guy with a conscience who (while he has some dick-ish episodes) is ultimately gentle and caring.

So.. is that what the draw is for me? Watching these people who are so unlike me (and seem to live in a different world than I do) find each other and find love? Could be. I also think it’s because their story is a modern-day fairytale. In this day and age it’s not princes that little girls dream about, it’s celebrities. When I was a little girl, my “prince” was Jonathan Knight from the New Kids on the Block. My dream about how we would get together certainly didn’t involve kidnapping, but I would sit around and dream up wild and crazy ways that we would meet and fall in love. And then we would live and love together, and jet all over the world and do whatever we wanted because he was rich and famous. So yeah, maybe I love the story because it’s a pretty good representation of what I think of as a fairy tale.

Either way, I absolutely adore their love story. I usually like more paranormal romance, and maybe in some ways their love story is “fantasy” in this day and age. Two wholesome people who meet under difficult circumstances, but everything ultimately works out Perfectly. In real life, I definitely have all the love that Zach and Julie have, but sometimes the details aren’t so perfect. Real life is stressful, jobs are stressful, money is stressful. If my husband and I both had perfect jobs that made millions of dollars and brought us loads of personal satisfaction, and family wasn’t crazy, and my husband didn’t have kids that he doesn’t get to see enough, and… well, the list goes on, then perhaps then my life would look exactly like Zach and Julie’s. But in reality I know that finding my husband and having the relationship that we have is WAY more Perfect than most humans. And for that – and for having works of fiction which help me remember it – I am thankful.:-)

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Processing Fictional Trauma: Genesis Edition

For the past few weeks, the tone has been a somber one for our team in Star City. Grief has cast its shadow over every situation that’s played itself out on screen, as our team comes to terms with their recent loss. But things changed this week. While the grief still remains, what the Original Team Arrow (OTA – Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity) came to realize is that now that the traumatic loss has occurred, they are left with the very things that we always so intensely want, but in times of crisis may desperately fear:

Choices.

How will they channel this grief? How will they give this loss meaning? And how far are they willing to go to do that?

Canary Cry

For me, superhero stories are so profound because they show us the importance and the consequences – both positive and negative – of choice. In Arrow, the line between heroes and villains is explored frequently and intensely, with Team Arrow desperately trying to keep each other on the side of Good, while many of the villains (Daddy Merlyn for example) think they’re trying to do the same but have actually fallen headlong into Evil. Arrow is forever delving into the idea that while choices define you, redemption is also possible, and they explore that notion through a multitude of angles, characters, and scenarios to highlight the shades of gray in the world on these existential issues.

The Punisher (if you’ll allow me a brief Marvel reference) once said that a superhero was just one bad day away from being him. Is that true? Does that apply to all of us? And if we are, does that also then mean that we’re all one really good day away from being a superhero?

It’s all about choices.

OTA’s choices in this week’s (ridiculously awesome) episode show that everyone changes, Olicity Casino 4and that life is a constant cycle of choices and consequences. Arrow is about the origin story of Oliver Queen, and we have watched him go from feckless boy to stone cold killer to the imperfect but much healthier, mature man and superhero that we know today. Through that journey we’ve watched Felicity and Diggle pull him back from the line between hero and villain any number of times. This week, OTA played musical chairs with their roles on the team. Felicity is working through pushing people away and isolating herself due to reacting strongly to having trust Dylabetrayed, while Diggle has completely lost his ability to be rational when it comes to his family and has now officially done something that has walked him right up to that hero/villain line that Oliver is usually flirting with. And Oliver is now the voice of reason. He is the light and the Yoda of Team Arrow, showing such profound and believable character development that I get a little misty eyed. I’m so proud of Oliver that my heart could burst.

And the fact that he’s fictional doesn’t dampen my feelings even a little.

The reason that I want to spit rainbows all over this episode is because it is so mired in Rainbow-vomithope. Oliver beat back Darhk’s magic not just because he thought of Felicity and his team and the others who have said wonderful things about him… but because he finally, truly believed it. Yes, we saw Diggle destroy a part of his soul, and yes, it hurt. But we saw it happen just as we saw Oliver officially – really and truly – restore his soul to whole after he losI Thought of Yout so much of his. Diggle can and will come back, and Oliver will help him, just as he helped Oliver. Felicity can and will regain her equilibrium in her relationship with Oliver and Oliver will help her believe that people can change, just as she helped Oliver believe it. Their roles are ever shifting, but their relationships remain.

They are family.

In watching the fandom’s reaction on Wednesday, I believe that’s what so many saw, and why so many responded so positively.  We saw characters who love each other band together, to be there for each other no matter what. We saw progress, hope, love, and camaraderie despite such challenging circumstances. We saw imperfect people loving each other regardless of their flaws. Like moths, we are drawn to the light… just like Oliver.

TweetTweet2Tweet3Felicity None of Us Are

But more than just being drawn to the light, we also get drawn into this story and these characters because rooting for them is the same as rooting for ourselves. If Oliver Queen can come back from the horrors that he went through on Lian Yu… pain, torture, betrayal… then maybe we can come back from our traumas and heartbreaks too. If Felicity can have the courage to stand up for herself and her needs in a relationship which she clearly holds dearer than anything in the world, then maybe we have the strength to stand up for ourselves too in our own relationships. If John Diggle is able to do the unthinkable to keep his wife and child safe, then maybe we do too… even if we’re not necessarily sure we want to. While these characters may be fictional, we can relate to them. Their lives are what our lives look like, just with the volume turned WAY up on the fantasy drama. But if they can do these things… well, there might just be hope for us too. And if we aren’t sure, we can go back to Felicity’s words:

“You are not perfect. None of us are. Good news is that all of us can change.”

We just have to make that choice.

Felicity I Believe in You

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Processing Fictional Trauma: 11:59 Edition

Bringing myself to write this article has been more difficult than I was anticipating.

For someone that writes a weekly article on processing fictional trauma, one would think that I’d be more effective at processing my own fictional trauma, but this week was really and truly harder than most for a variety of reasons. Getting to an emotional place where I have enough of a sense of peace that I can put my thoughts together took awhile. But here I am. Finally.

Long Week

I recently read that there are two types of Arrow fans… there are those that casually watch the show each week (or binge every few weeks/months), and then there are those watch the show and read every interview, analyze every episode, and discuss all things Arrow all the time. In this vein, I think that this article will be broken down into two sections, because there are two very real traumas that happened as a result of this episode: The onscreen trauma, and the trauma in the fandom.

SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 4×18

YOU WILL HEAR WHO IS IN THE GRAVE. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

On-Screen Trauma:

Last week’s episode of Arrow finally, after a season of buildup, showed us who is in the grave. Laurel Lance… The Black Canary herself… took a knee. The very idea that a television show based on the Green Arrow would kill off the Black Canary is almost unthinkable. But it happened. And as the writers have promised, this death is real.

Laurel Lance as we know her is not coming back.

I have always had a hard time helping others grieve the death of a loved one. I became a mental health therapist because helping people with their emotional problems comes naturally to me… but for some reason, when someone died, I tended to become awkward and run away from it. When I began working in the field, I quickly realized that it wasn’t just me. A lot of therapists struggle with helping others dealing with bereavement. As therapists, we are ready to help work through things and bring hope to people.

But death is different. There’s nothing to repair or to fix. All you can do is accept.

And that is no easy task.

For many, the death of Laurel Lance, and the knowledge that there is no hope of her coming bimagesack was a truly traumatic blow, fictional or not. While Laurel has been a divisive figure with fans of the show (people tend to love her or hate her), the fact is, she had an extremely powerful story. She survived massive trauma and humiliation – the death of her sister (twice), the death of her longtime boyfriend, the humiliation of their deaths happening while they were cheating on her andLaurel_drinking the hugely publicized nature of it, the death of her next boyfriend who died saving her, her parents’ divorce, her father’s drinking problem, her mother’s distance, plus a slew of near death experiences… She went through a lot. And for awhile it beat her. She resorted to drugs and alcohol because she lost the ability to cope with both her own actions and the actions of others, and as addiction is a genetic disorder, her path to the bottle wasn’t terribly surprising.

But she rose above.

Despite no one wanting her in the life of crime fighting – not her father, not Oliver, and not her sister – Laurel fought back against her addiction, and became a super hero. She may not have always made the healthiest decisions along the way, but Arrow has never been a show about super mentally healthy people. It’s about people battling their demons, and trying to channel them into doing good in the world.

Laurel went from being a drug addict to a superhero. It’s a hell of a powerful story for someone who may be struggling with addiction themselves or know someone that is. I believe that her story brought hope to many, as well it should.

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But now she’s gone.

So in trying to process a death like this… the death of a character whose story had given so much hope to so many, and whose death perhaps feels like a loss of all of that acquired hope, how can people learn to cope? We can go through the stages of grief, sure, and hopefully come to accept it. But how can people come to accept? I don’t proclaim to be an expert on bereavement (remember the awkwardness I mentioned above when dealing with death? Yeah…), but I can tell you what often helps me. And that is finding meaning within the loss.

For many people, losing the Black Canary has led to profound feelings of anger. The show KakaoTalk_20160411_174921011has never been really true to the comics, but killing the Black Canary seems to have gone just too far outside comic canon for some people to handle. I will admit that I don’t know much about comics, and so I can’t make any declarative statements there except that I know sometimes Batman’s Robins die, showing precedent even in the DC comic universe for major character death. But… none of that matters. Feelings just are, whether anyone thinks they should be or not. And anger, as I’ve mentioned in other articles, tends to be an emotion that is almost always accompanying or even masking another deeper or more personal feeling… such as giphydisappointment, hurt, or feelings that trust has been violated (much like Laurel’s season 2 anger was masking her grief, guilt, and insecurity). And I think that for many, those are the feelings that are currently being experienced with regards to Laurel’s death. Many people expected that eventually Laurel and Oliver would find their way back together, as that’s what happened in the comics. Many people felt that Laurel, if not with Oliver, would continue on her own super hero journey alongside Oliver as part of Team Arrow. Many people trusted the writers to continue the story of their beloved character, and feel disillusioned, hurt, and incredibly, incredibly sad that she’s gone.

And that is completely understandable.

I’ve never been secretive about my love of Felicity, or of Olicity. But as someone who still can barely accept even the existence of River Song (sorry Mrs. Lance…) because of my Rose ship, I get it.  It is hard when you finally fully realize that the couple you love is never going to be together, or that the character that you adore is never coming back when you feel that the story would be better if they did. I’ve been there, and it’s brutal. And this is where we come to the meaning making.

Making meaning from loss is a deeply personal thing, and so I won’t even pretend to tell anyone how to do that for themselves. But what I can do is offer some suggestions for helping to start that inner dialogue, or share my own thoughts. Any time I experience a loss, I try to think about what I have lost. What good things were brought into my life by this thing/person/etc? If Laurel Lance was an inspirational character for you, I suggest that you reflect on why. Rather than focusing on the negative emotions regarding her death, work on focusing on how her story positively influenced you. Yes, she is a fictional character, but that doesn’t mean that she hasn’t impacted your life… I know that many characters on this show have certainly impacted mine. Think about ways that you can incorporate things that her character taught you into your life going forward. Just as Laurel used her traumas to try to make the world a better place, see if you can put your fictional trauma to similar use.

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Another thing to do is look at the journey her character took. I usually leave the plot/storyline analysis to the literary folks, but there was something about this episode that I found to be very profound. We’ve always known that Laurel and Oliver dated for years, and that it wasn’t a terribly healthy relationship… lots of cheating, unrealistic expectations, and general dishonesty. We also know that while the show that we’re watching is only loosely based on the comics, it is essentially the origin story of the Green Arrow. And I don’t know about you, but when watching this episode, I realized…

Laurel Lance is the origin of the Green Arrow.

While Oliver Queen and Laurel Lance, the Green Arrow and the Black Canary, will not end up together romantically in the television show Arrow, what is clear is that in this origin story, there would be no Oliver Queen or Green Arrow without her. Laurel kept Oliver safe on that island, she gave him something to strive for, a reason to live. She grounded him and reminded him of goodness in the world during those years away, even if he didn’t feel like he deserved it. Her strength inspired him, and her resilience fortified him.

Oliver Laurel

Laurel’s impact on his past gave him a future. And her blessing and acknowledgement in the hospital means that he’ll be able to accept that future.

While I would never discount anyone’s feelings, I would simply say that for me, showing Laurel as very clearly being the origin of the Green Arrow, priming him to be able to find and accept the help and love of Diggle and Felicity who helped move him even further into his journey, truly honors her character and venerates her within this story.

That sounds like an awful lot of meaning for her character to me, even if they now have to go on without her.

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Fandom Trauma:

If you’re not part of the Arrow fandom, in that you don’t frequently discuss the show with others (likely through social media), then this section may come as a surprise to you. If you are a part of the fandom, then you already know what I’m about to say.

The fictional death of Laurel Lance has brought about so much real negativity between real people online that it is truly staggering to see (and was, btw, a large reason why I had such a tough time writing this article). And this is not, by the way, only coming from one “side.” This negativity is coming from everywhere, and I think it’s time we had yet another very real, very honest conversation about it.

I am a hard core fan of Felicity Smoak, and the fact is, if Felicity had been in that box, you would’ve found me under a table sobbing with a bottle of wine and a stuffed animal, and then after I stopped crying (which would’ve taken a really long time), I would absolutely take to social media to confront the writers about the grievous mistake I’d felt they’d made because I would be pissed.

It would’ve been my right as a fan to do so, and we all have the right and sometimes even the need to express our emotions.

The problems happen when the fandom stops thinking about how to express their feelings in the most constructive and healing way, and instead just becomes plain reactionary.

Expressing your feelings is important. However, if your expression of feelings begins to involve personal attacks on other fans, writers, producers, or actors, or involves death threats, we have officially gone past the point of healthy expression and into cruelty and yes, illegal activity. Making yourself feel better by attempting to make someone feel worse is not going to get your voice heard. It’s not going to get your opinion taken seriously. And no, you can’t convince me that it really, truly, makes you feel capital B Better.

What can help is if we all, as a fandom, take a step back. Take a collective deep cleansing breath (or ten), and attempt to come back to the discussion table with the understanding that if we want our thoughts and feelings to be respected, we have to respect others’ first.

We all have feelings about Laurel’s death, and many of them are strong. I think that many – if not all – of us have that one fictional character that we really attached to, and who really helped us through a dark time. For some people, that character is Laurel. There are some people whFelicity Laurel Hugo really didn’t like Laurel, and she triggered super negative things for them because of things that they have been through with people like her. Both types of people are going to have a significant emotional response to this episode, but it’s important to try to remember that if you weren’t a fan of Laurel, you are experiencing positive emotion, while those who loved her are experiencing loss. Try to be respectful, and remember that on any given week, we might be the one to lose that character that’s near and dear. These writers have proven that nothing and no one are off the chopping block, so be kind to others. You never know when you may want that kindness coming your way.

Also remember that everyone grieves in different ways and at different speeds. Some people will move past this quickly, even if they were stunned and upset at the time, and some people won’t. And that’s okay. Let everyone grieve at their own pace, and don’t judge them for it. You never know what Laurel may have meant to them, or what internal demons they’re fight that day.

The other thing to remember is that, while it may feel like our fandom is at war, a war can only exist if both sides choose to fight. If someone posts something hateful on their Twitter timeline, there is absolutely no reason why anyone has to respond to it. Even if they hashtag it, or even mention you by name, there is absolutely no reason why a response is necessary. None. Unfollow, block, mute, report, move on. Put your energy into engaging with people that will make you feel positively, and do not feed the negativity that others are struggling with. It doesn’t help you, it doesn’t help them, and it for damn sure doesn’t help the fandom.

Felicity Laurel

Finally, the point that I know is made on a regular basis, but I’ll go ahead and make it again because it cannot be stated enough: All forms of entertainment, including television, are meant to enhance your life positively in some way. If you have found that this show no longer enhances your life positively, or is making you feel so emotional or upset that it is affecting your life and/or your overall mood, it may be time to reevaluate your participation in this fandom. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a step back from this or any show, or from the fandom, or both. There is nothing keeping you here. You have made no commitment. Taking a breather or leaving entirely can sometimes be the healthiest things we can do for ourselves, both in fandom and in life. I am a hard core Whovian, to the point that I have a Doctor Who quote tattooed on my wrist. And yet, during this last season of Who, no matter how much I wanted to love it, I realized I was getting angry and upset every week. And so I stopped watching. And as much as I miss it, as much as the decision made me incredibly sad, it was the best decision for me. I will watch it when I’m emotionally ready and able… or I won’t. And in the meantime, I have found Arrow which as affected me profoundly and brought great amounts of joy to my life. Closing a door to open a window and all that. There is plenty of amazing television out there, and there are literally billions of amazing people. If Arrow no longer makes you happy, find something that will. You can come back any time you like. We’ll be here.

Always Here for You

The Conclusion:

This week’s episode of Arrow hurt. It hurt more for some than others, and it will continue to do so. If you are struggling to accept this fictional loss, I encourage you to reach out to some safe people to help you process those feelings. If you’re not hurting for Laurel, but are struggling with the recent negativity within the fandom, I encourage you to take the time to remember that those you see expressing anger are likely actually experiencing some level of pain and disappointment, and see if that affects the way you interact with them. Remember that while reacting negatively is the easy knee-jerk thing to do, it’s not always the best thing to do for ourselves or for our fandom.

And remember that, as my boy Donnie Wahlberg always says, if you spread love, love will spread. I hope, Arrow fandom, that you’ll take that advice to heart.

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Exploring and processing fictional trauma and how it related to our real lives is a topic I am passionate about, so if you’d like to chat further (or if you need a virtual hug), always feel free to find me on Twitter at @Chrisha_DWGrrl (fangirling) or @DrFangirlPhD (academics).

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Processing Fictional Trauma: The Walking Dead Edition

MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR THE WALKING DEAD SEASON 6 FINALE.

READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Watching the Walking Dead on any given week is a process that requires a fair amount of mental and emotional fortitude. Viewing this show is much like gambling: each episode TWD Feelsbrings both the possibility of getting more emotionally connected to your favorite character(s) (WIN!), or the possibility of watching them die (NOOOO). And the stakes (and our emotional connections to characters) just get higher and higher every episode, and every season. If you’ve been watching since season 1, then at this point it’s very likely that, even if you don’t particularly *like* all of the core characters, you probably have an attachment to them in some way. We’ve seen their story and their progression in this apocalyptic world. That in and of itself brings with it its own kind of connection.

Which brings us to the season 6 finale.

If you are a part of social media related to fandom in any capacity, it was hard to avoid the talk and the hype about what was coming in the finale. I watch The Walking Dead, but I’m img_5332not necessarily a part of the fandom, and yet even I knew that there was a likely major character death coming in this episode. It was hyped to the point of hysteria, and the emotions that people were feeling as a result of that were significant. In talking and processing with both online and offline friends about the coming finale, the most common word used was “anxiety.” People were both excited and terrified at the same time… much as I would expect someone to feel making a giant bet in a Vegas casino. If your character makes it through, then you’ll have a whole new season to watch them grow and progress and maybe – just maybe – carve out some happiness for themselves in this horrific world. But if they don’t… the fictional trauma will absolutely bring about real grief.

I wasn’t able to watch the finale immediately as it aired (I live in the dark ages and don’t have cable. The horror, I know…), so I wasn’t able to watch social media in real time because I’m a spoiler-phobe. But once I watched it a bit later and looked through the img_5337#TWDFinale hashtag, it seemed like people reacted fiercely while the episode aired with INTENSE amounts of anxiety and straight up terror during the final scene (which was confirmed by this video that I watched today). As a matter of fact, that word “intense” was used many, many times by many, many people to describe the emotions they were experiencing while watching. People (myself included) seemed to find Negan to be absolutely incredible… to a RIDICULOUSLY TERRIFYING DEGREE. In Vegas, you tend to know fairly quickly if your bet is going to pay off, but that last scene built the intensity higher… and higher… and higher… until the not knowing was nearly unbearable. I don’t know about you, but even just thinking about that scene makes my chest tighten up, remembering the level of suspense, fear, and dread they’d invoked in me.

And then the episode ended.

And the emotion that the fandom appeared to be experiencing seemed abundantly clear.

Anger

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Now, I recognize that everyone is coming to this show with their own views, feelings, and experiences, which means that every viewer has a unique emotional response. Not everyone was truly angry at the end of the episode, and there were people that stepped up to support the writers in the cliffhanger ending and to just enjoy the excitement of that emotional rollercoaster of an episode. But since anger was the emotion I saw most frequently, I do feel like we should stop and talk about it for a bit.

Anger is a strong emotion. It’s an emotion we’re all familiar with, and we’ve all felt. But anger almost always accompanies – or is masking – a different or more painful emotion. Many people choose to express or focus on feeling angry rather than express or focus on an emotion such as hurt, disappointment, or feeling that trust has been broken, because those feelings are more personal and can make us feel more vulnerable. As people on social media began to move past expressing their anger and denial (with the caps lock on), those more complex emotions started to come through. Some people weren’t actually angry, but were instead just super emotionally escalated. Some people were just momentarily frustrated with the episode not ending as they expected. But then some people were truly angry because they felt that they were led to believe that they would receive some kind of resolution to the anxiety they have been feeling all season. They trusted the writers to give them answers to the questions they’ve been building up, and they felt that trust was betrayed. They were angry, but that anger stemmed from hurt and disappointment. It also stemmed from the realization that emotionally, instead of being able to grieve one favorite character and begin that healing process – or bask in the glory of your favorite character surviving – we now have to continue to have anxiety over all of them for the next half a year. That Vegas slot machine will be spinning for six months.

Emotionally, it is a difficult realization.

But, true to typical fandom form, now that we are a few days out, people are beginning to move past those initial stages of grief (denial, anger) and into bargaining and depression. We’ve been told by the writers that there are clues in the finale episode to who was on the TWD Sciencereceiving end of the bat, and so people have begun to put together all manner of theories, and are tearing the episode apart piece by piece (bargaining = if I can just find that magical piece of evidence then I can prove my favorite is safe and I’ll feel better!). Literally as I write this paragraph a friend of mine posted a piece of evidence so compelling against my favorite that I had to do some deep breathing exercises because the possibility hurts and I believe I’ll be hanging out in the depression stage of grief for a img_5339little bit. I believe others are likely feeling the same, and yet others have likely moved on to the acceptance stage where they just look forward to season 7 and the new story it will bring. Since we are all unique, we will all feel and process these emotions differently and at varying levels of intensity and for differing lengths of time. And since we’re all human, we will likely jump between those stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) a bit before all is said and done. And all of that is okay.

Despite the fact that fictional trauma can bring about very strong and real emotion, it is still important to fangirl/fanboy responsibility, both for yourselves and for others. Everyone is going to process their own feelings in their own time. Some people may have no problem with the ending, no concern for the dead, and can talk about everything img_5341objectively and without emotion. Some people are going to carry deep anxiety for their favorite until the premier of season 7, and will work on fan theories and analysis until then. There is nothing wrong with either reaction or any reactions in between. Try not to judge others for their emotions, and do your best to be kind to each other. We’re all here because we love this show, after all. But it’s important to take care of yourself as well. If you’ve found that you’re so angry over the cliffhanger, or so concerned over the possibility of your favorite character being dead that it’s impacting your life negatively, it may be time to take a break from the show and/or the fandom. The show is on hiatus for six months. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a step back during that time and finding your chill over this. It’s also extremely important to remember that, no matter how invested you are in the show, or how long you’ve watched it, watching a television show is always a choice. If this choice is making you unhappy, make a different choice. Good television isn’t always going to make you feel good, but it should be enhancing your life in some positive way. If you find that this show – or ANY show/fandom – is not doing that, then maybe it’s time to find another one, or perhaps find some new people to talk about your fandom with who will help you re-find the positive. Self-care is of critical importance. So again I say: fangirl/fanboy responsibly.

Because this episode was so difficult and invoked so many negative emotions, I do want to Daryl Carolleave you on a positive note. First, if you’re someone that takes comfort in numbers, then remember that statistically speaking, your favorite has a pretty good chance of survival. There were a lot of people there that night, and I know that we’re all working on looking for clues to narrow it down, but ultimately it could be any of them. Keep the faith. If that’s not good TWD Richonne Laughenough for you to draw hope from, then think about the fact that, no matter what the fate of your favorite character is, you are still very much alive. If you want to make this character’s death have some meaning, go do some of the things they can’t. Call someone close to you and tell them you love them. Reach out to some friends and do something fun. Go do that awesome thing you’ve been wanting to do but keep putting off because reasons. Go throw some Glenn and Maggiepositivity and kindness out into the world. Yes, it may seem overdramatic to talk about a television show impacting our actions in this way, but this show is as successful as it is because it does impact us deeply. And there’s nothing wrong with using any excuse possible to do some good for ourselves, and for the world around us. Go out and explore our world that is, mercifully, not full of walkers. Live. Then reconvene back here when you’re ready so we can process some more fictional trauma together next season.

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