Supernatural: An Academic Fangirl’s Grief

It has been more than a week since The Announcement by Jensen, Jared, and Misha, letting us know that season 15 of Supernatural would be its last. It’s been more than a week of me telling myself I needed to write about it. And it’s been more than a week of me just not being able to bring myself to.

As a mental health therapist, an academic fandom researcher, and a member of Project Fancare, I believe in my soul the profound and intense importance fandom plays in people’s lives, and how both fictional stories and fandom communities surrounding them are positively impacting and SAVING people’s lives. I will die on this hill, friends. I would talk about it literally all day every day if I could feed my family by doing so. It is THAT important.

But a funny thing happened when I watched The Announcement, and promptly burst into loud, messy tears:

I felt silly.

Not over the initial cry, perhaps. Crying because my favorite show is ending was a response I expected and understood, even if it was so dramatic that my kids had to come check on me because Mommy just doesn’t cry like that in front of them, and my husband thought someone died before letting me sob all over him without an ounce of judgment.

What I’ve felt silly over was that I couldn’t seem to STOP crying. And I still can’t. I’m sitting in an IHOP writing this entry, trying to weep discreetly so as to not distress the staff. And it has taken me every bit of the last ten days to unpack WHY I can’t stop crying  Because it’s not nearly as simple as it seems like it should be, especially considering it would never even OCCUR to me to judge someone else for it. (Seriously, fandom friends, feel EVERY feel you need to feel, no matter how silly it may feel!)

SPN Fine 2

My journey into Supernatural and the #SPNFamily is kind of a circuitous one. I originally found the show almost 7 years ago to the day (2012), right after the birth of my daughter. SPN S7I watched the show all through my maternity leave, and fell completely in love. It was the first science fiction show I’d loved in YEARS, and WOW did I fall hard. But as soon as I was done with the show, I had to go back to my 60+ hour a week job, now complete with newborn. I didn’t have time to go online and find other fans. I didn’t understand fandom specific social media at this point, had no idea the online sci-fi community even existed, and so I just went back to work and caught the new seasons of the show when I could.

Then around a year later when I quit the 60+ hour a week job to actually breathe and have a life and see my child occasionally, I found Doctor Who (due to a Netflix prompt, because Netflix knew I loved Supernatural). Now I had time to find fandom. I found a home with the Whovians and the David Tennant fans… and it changed my life fundamentally and completely. I still watched Supernatural, and I still LOVED it. But I wasn’t part of that fan family, because I’d found a family on The Bus in Tennant Whoville. (And honestly, because I didn’t realize the #SPNFamily existed.) I could NEVER regret my time with Doctor Who or my Whovian family because they are my family still, and I would not be the me I am today without them. At the time, I had very little faith in humanity due to what I had been doing professionally, and Doctor Who helped me find it again. But I absolutely regret not looking to the Supernatural fandom, too. Hindsight is always 20/20.

When I quit my high stress job, I did so to go back to school to get my PhD in mental health. The program I was in was officially called Advanced Studies in Human Behavior, and is essentially a PhD in counseling. I realized through that first year, with the help of my fandom family, that fandom was truly changing the lives of women. It was helping them make friends, find their true identities, talk openly about taboo topics like politics, mental health, and sexuality, break out of their comfort zones, and overall actively SEEK JOY… something that so many of us often forget to do. I knew then that as a mental health professional and now a researcher, I wanted to study this. I wanted to validate the feelings of the fans experiencing it, and I wanted some science to show to the mental health and mainstream communities that this should not be stigmatized, it should not be laughed at, and that these communities are IMPORTANT. And that’s where my dissertation research began.

It took several years, LOTS of meetings with all kinds of professionals, including professors, ethics board members, and librarians, and it took digging down deep to find every last shred of confidence I had to hold firm in my vision for my research, but… I did it. I got approval for a research study looking at the relationship between mental health and online science fiction fandom in women. I DID IT.

That was three years ago. I have spent 2016-2019 — three entire years of my life — devoted to conducting and reporting this research. And while I certainly hope to write a series of posts (and maybe even a book?!) on the results of this research study, I can’t really talk about my grief over Supernatural ending without talking about the outcome of this study. Because they are, and now forever will be, inextricably intertwined. The general design of my research study was this: I did hour long interviews with 12 adult women who identified as being fans of either Doctor Who, Marvel/DC, Star Wars, and/or Supernatural, and were currently active with those fandom communities through social media and had been for at least a year. The first 12 people that contacted me, met all those criteria, and showed up at the time of the interview were the people in the study.

Dissertation Recruitment

Because I had to make the variable of “science fiction fandom” specifically definable, I chose some of the biggest, most mainstream, most foundational sci-fi fandoms that exist, and I would like to direct your attention to those names again:

Marvel

DC

Star Wars

Doctor Who

HUGE fandoms. HUGE names. MULTIPLE DECADES of content.

But who showed up?

The Supernatural fandom did.

11 out of the 12 women who participated in my study were Supernatural fans. Supernatural fans who couldn’t wait to tell me their stories of how the show, the #SPNFamily, and Jared (as well as Misha and Jensen) had positively impacted their psychological well-being, and enriched and at times even saved their lives. They talked about the Always Keep Fighting campaign. They talked about Random Acts and GISH. They talked about the leadership of Jensen, Jared, and Misha with keeping the fandom positive and caring. They talked about cons and friends and intellectual and spiritual conversation with other fans. They talked about doing something for the sheer JOY of doing it, with no other reason required.

The honor it has been for me to share these women’s stories is indescribable.

As I was doing my research and listening to the stories of these amazing women, I started to realize that the Supernatural fandom was clearly an incredible place to be, and that I was definitely missing out. Of course, during this time I also had another baby (with an obligatory Supernatural rewatch), and was hanging on by a thread trying to manage conducting research, writing, and managing now TWO children who don’t sleep, ever. I also realized that if I wanted to do my research the justice it deserved, I should probably keep my distance from the #SPNFamily for just a bit longer so that I could be as objective as possible.

In the second half of 2018, a miracle occurred and I finally completed the first FULL draft of my dissertation. Five chapters, over a hundred pages, and results that blew the mind of my non-fandom mental health professor. I still had editing to do, but I was done! Free! I could finally join the #SPNFamily myself!

Charlie Dancing

And join it I did. ❤

The #SPNFamily has always been a bit daunting to me, as it’s so huge, so long lasting, and so tight-knit. I wasn’t sure how to work towards becoming part of the fandom, rather than just watching from afar, but figured starting to follow some folks on Twitter was probably the best place to start. I started interacting with people, getting into conversations about the show, and specifically following what was going on in the fandom (which tends to always be a LOT because those boys are busy). I read the good, the bad, and the wanky. I read fanfic, looked at fan art, fan vids, incredible event fan photos, and made peace with myself as the shipper I am (and found a beautiful community of others that have done the same). I read Lynn Zubernis’ books, which were AMAZING (even if they were the exact types of books I was hoping to write myself someday.. darnit! :-P). While every fandom has its toxic underbelly, the #SPNFamily has been incredibly welcoming and kind to me. The welcome I’ve received I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by after all the beautiful stories I heard, but yet still was incredibly meaningful to me. For the first time, I finally found a fandom community where I felt comfortable and like I could be myself for a show that was:

  1. Still on the air;* and
  2. That I could now actually offer something tangible to with my research.**

I was so excited. SO excited, guys. And on March 21, 2019 I sent my dissertation in for publication. It was DONE. DONE, done. No more edits, no more tweaks, no more overthinking it. No more anything. DONE.

And on March 22, 2019 the boys announced the show was coming to an end.

I don’t know if I believe in a higher power, but I gotta say, sometimes it really does feel like Gabriel is out there somewhere having a little too much fun messing with me.

So now here I am. I have a PhD, but due to the distance learning nature of that degree, I don’t have much of a community surrounding that process and the transition from student to “expert” (hello imposter syndrome) is a terrifying and incredibly lonely one. I have been a stay at home mom the last four years while completing my degree, putting me out of the professional world and out of practice “talking the talk” of mental health, and making networking a trickier thing. I’m also just generally unsure of exactly what I want to do professionally going forward, but I know it’s definitely time to do *something*. I would love to continue researching fandom, and to write books, but to my knowledge there’s no paid positions out there doing that, and daycare costs money.

To sum up: I am feeling pretty damn lost at this point. And the one thing I was using to bring me joy just got touched by Sadness, just like all those happy memories of Riley’s at Sadness Joy Betterthe end of Inside Out. They haven’t gone anywhere, and they’re still happy, they just hurt now too. I’m sad that the show is ending, and is no longer the wide open road of possibilities it’s always been. I worry about the characters, I worry about how things may or may not resolve, ships that may or may not sail… I worry about the fandom, and how people will do moving forward, after the #SPNFamily goes through this transition. And of course I worry about the actors. I can’t imagine how hard making this decision must have been for them, ESPECIALLY knowing how important it has become to people and their mental health. I know how leaving therapist positions in the past has left me feeling guilty and concerned about my clients… Jared, Jensen, and Misha aren’t mental health professionals, but they are damn sure helping people, and I’m sure they worry too (or maybe they’re fine and I’m just projecting!). Either way, it makes me just want to hug everyone all at once… fans, friends, actors, writers, crew. Everyone.

SPN Group Hug

But what feels the worst for me personally, even knowing that the #SPNFamily won’t be going anywhere, and even knowing that there will continue to be cons and the show has another year… is that I just feel like I missed it. I missed the joy. I missed the best of times. This unicorn of a fandom has been around for 14 years, it’s been close to my life for 7, but somehow I still managed to miss it.

I’m very excited to be here now, and I’m so happy to be with everyone going into this final year. I’m stoked that I’ll be here for the after party, too. I deeply hope that I’ll be able to make it to my first Supernatural con soon, and that it will be the first of many. But I will always regret not getting here sooner. I just hope that the science I have to share, and the contributions I feel like I can hopefully make to the fandom will still be well received. Because damn, this family deserves it.

And no matter how many joyful Supernatural experiences and memories Sadness touches, I will always always be profoundly grateful to this show for changing the course of my life, both personally and professionally. The lessons and inspiration I’ve gained from the show itself, the community of people I’ve found as a result, and the strength, courage, and self awareness I’ve gained from Dean, Cas, and Sam, as well as as Jensen, Misha, and Jared is beyond measure.

What I’ve gained from Supernatural will always outweigh the darkness of this tough time. And the intensity of the grief I feel is only because of the intensity of the love I feel. Loving a show this much means that someday it’s going to hurt like hell when it’s time to let it go.

Worth it, though. Worth every single tear.

So, thank you #SPNFamily. I’m so grateful for you. Thanks for taking me in as one of your own, even here at the End of Days. Thank you for banding together as a family, supporting each of us as we grieve in our own way, without judgment. I look forward to riding out this final year, together, and hopefully keeping the legacy of this incredible show alive and well for many, many years to come. And if anyone out there is feeling sad, silly, or literally anything else and needs to process it, my inbox is absolutely open.

SPN Square

* I’m still a Doctor Who fan, but the era I love deeply is the RTD era, which I didn’t watch live. I’m an Arrow fan also, which I have watched while it’s still on the air, but I’ve never really found a home in that fandom, mostly due to my own insecurities and just not feeling that I’ve been the best version of myself there.

**My love language is acts of service. If I don’t feel like I can contribute, it’s hard for me to feel I belong, whether that is rational and real or not.

 

 

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