Writing does not come as easily lately, in large part because *too much* is going on. As a result of the *too much*, my mind easily goes to places that are great for survival and making sure I still have an income, but at the cost of my own mental health, and, unfortunately, my creativity. Writing seems to be hit the hardest, something that is painful to realize and say. Anxiety for me quickly becomes an irritating spector, an uncomfortable embrace composed of my fears and what I’ve been calling ‘invisible conversations.’
So, I often take inspiration where I can get it. Sometimes, writing one thing leads to me writing many. That’s why, when I saw Ben Morse discuss a rather pertinent issue of Green Lantern on Twitter, I decided to craft something, knowing that the spark was going to lead me somewhere. And that it did.
So, for this installment of Health and Inclusivity, I want to discuss a Very Special Issue of Green Lanterns.
In 2017’s Green Lanterns #15, created by Sam Humphries, Tom Derenick, Miguel Mendonca, Scott Hanna, Blond, and Dave Sharpe, we get to see ‘A Day in the Life’ for Lantern Jessica Cruz. As Ben pointed out on Twitter, this issue dives into Jessica’s experience with anxiety, and the opening panels sure enough are true to form.
Jessica’s first thought is ‘It’s not every morning,’ something I felt poignantly. This simple statement also told me exactly where things were going to go in the issue.
From getting up, to pancakes, to fighting giant golden monsters, Jessica faces symptoms of anxiety many of us are familiar with: cognitive symptoms like racing thoughts, persistent worry, and issues with concentration (often due to having to spend time and energy focusing on experiencing symptoms); physiological symptoms like hyperventilating and tingling limbs or extremities. Humphries hits on the hallmarks of anxiety symptoms, which span multiple disorders, in a manner which feels all too real. As a result, Jessica also faces the challenge of distinguishing herself and what is happening around her from the turmoil that is arising from her internal world. In this process, Simon does not help by judging her on her experience with her anxiety, and the conversation goes as many do when someone is having difficulty managing anxiety in the moment: frustrated with her feelings and the resultant distress, frustrated with Simon for losing patience with her, Jessica becomes justifiably angry.
Doing her best to get by, knowing that the green ring on her finger could call her to duty at any moment, Jessica tries. She washes dishes with her sister, she trains, she breathes. She does all the ‘right’ stuff to help herself. While these are helpful in the moment, we still see what happens at the center of the spiral of recurrent anxiety.
In a full page expertly designed and structured by the creative team, we see the cycle of thoughts in Jessica’s head. I’m gonna screw it up. I can’t handle this.
I’m not good enough.
Bright greens and expressions of anguish bring this anxious spiral home, and it’s just as easy for us to become as lost as Jessica feels.
Yet, as she experiences these difficult thoughts and emotions, Jessica decides to get up. To take a step. And another. And another. She decides what road she wants to place ahead of herself, even if it is going to take one step forward and then one more.
I have a lot of words to describe anxiety. Nightmare, intrapsychic terrorism, uncomfortable. Painful, fearful, freezing. Debilitating, misery, prison. It is one of my least favorite experiences, Not Fun (trademark pending) as I like to say. Between my clinical experience and my personal experience, I’ve seen the many ways it plays out. In my clients, I saw it stop them from talking to professors or setting boundaries they wanted to begin to enact with others. In myself, it keeps me in bed sometimes when I wake, or freezes me in the middle of the day when I feel bombarded or surprised, it separates me from love by creating doubt. While I am grateful for what I’ve learned through this journey, there are many, many days when I’d just rather not, you know?
That’s why this issue of Green Lanterns is important to me, why I wanted to see what Ben was discussing regarding how anxiety plays out across the pages. Being able to put words to what can be a fundamentally jarring experience is helpful. Basically, without a way to name or address the schemas they exist in, there’s a likelihood that our difficulties can cause a lot of psychic damage to us. Giving monsters a name definitely makes them more real, but it also gives you the beginnings of a path to fight them.
Jessica’s experience with anxiety is incredibly deep. Not just in a sense of profoundness, but in the sense of where it occurs within her. There are many times through the issue that others are unaware of what she’s feeling, and that’s with her basically fending off or experiencing an anxiety attack the entire day. When our internal worlds are at odds with our realities or our environments, that can often add to the strain of experiencing anxiety, essentially putting another layer on top of what is already an annoying-at-best, debilitating-at-worst experience. By putting words, images, colors to this experience, the creative team for this issue gives a helpful glimpse into one of the many manifestations of anxiety we can experience, as well as how we can create strategies to limit its impact on our lives.
In particular, the anxious spiral is too, too real. I truly hope you have not had to experience it, that you never will, yet I also know that many of you likely have, for any number of reasons. Seeing it play out is a distinctly emotional experience, because the very same thoughts that reverberate through Jessica’s mind are often the same ones that wreak havoc in mine, in many of ours. It brings me to tears to see a fictional character go through this, and it is infinitely heartbreaking that many of us are subject to experiences brought on by a brain gone awry, adaptive mechanisms that reveal how humans are always very much a product of our nature even if we can do things to defy it.
With all that said, I appreciate how this comic approaches anxiety and change, including how others are involved. Simon’s response to Jessica is supes not appropriate, and while he does not outright apologize, he does recognize that he messed up, and he offers to help. Jessica decides what change looks like for her, and it is persistence. For others, it’s medication. For many, it’s a daily gritting of the teeth, because maintenance in the presence of significant barriers is as worthwhile a goal as thriving. Being able to experience your anxiety and put it on your terms can be monumental, because your path to change is forged by you and attuned to you. This is not the only road out, however, and certainly not the best. There’s many ways to approach this experience just as there are many ways it shows up. There can definitely be hope, though I understand how hard it is to see that in the middle of a nervous vortex (another wonderful aspect of how our brains and minds function).
Beyond a general discussion of anxiety and how it hits us, Jessica’s experience as a Latina woman is important, too. The experiences around mental health for communities of color involve not just the general experience of anxiety, but one that is often compounded by external stressors and marginalization. While not all Latinx folx are people of color, we see significant overlap on some issues for many Latinx communities in relation to other communities of color. For instance, many Latinx folx are not as likely to pursue therapy, sometimes due to what is called healthy cultural apprehension (I prefer this to ‘paranoia’), something many cultures of color experience due to histories of systemic neglect and abuse through healthcare. Latinx folx also experience barriers to healthcare in relation to socioeconomic status, immigration, and education, which all have their own unique interaction outside of healthcare for them as well.
In their 2020 research, Felicia Mata-Greve and Lucas Torres found that for Latinx women, depression, ethnic discrimination corresponded to higher levels of depression, a relationship partially explatined by anxiety sensitivity, or the fear someone encounters as they experience anxious emotional and bodily sensations, as well as expressive suppression, wherein people are likely to subdue their emotions in response to stress. For Jessica, we could stop at her description of anxiety, but that would not reveal her entire context. Based on Mata-Greve and Torres’ findings, though, there’s far more to the picture.
In addressing the nuances of their research, Mata-Greve and Torres point out that discrimination on the basis of gender has an impact on depression for Latinx women, too. However, its relationship was not quite the same as ethnic discrimination in the context of this study, which the researchers point out may be due to how Latinx women encounter womanhood. Similarly to Black women, Latinx women, especially those who are not white, often encounter a prohibitive womanhood heavenly enmeshed in white supremacist ideals regarding gender. Intersectional experiences of all kinds have noted distinctions in how communities respond to various forms of marginalization, and this appears to be no different. As such, Jessica’s experience with anxiety is likely going to be heavily informed by her gender, race, and ethnicity, among many other factors, all things which are critical in evaluating mental health for diverse communities and using a multicultural context.
Especially when we consider how Simon initially responds to Jessica’s anxiety made visible, it makes sense that these factors all connect for Latinx women and Jessica’s response is in line with the relationship between these facets of experience. Whether through misogyny or anti-Latinx racism, or their intersecting permutations for Latinx women, there are more than enough reasons to not speak. For Jessica, it could have been much easier to be quiet than risk further reprisal, and responding to someone’s anguish with anger is a common behavior from men towards women. Within this moment, a frequent and marginalizing interaction plays out, reflecting one of the myriad of ways we create barriers for women, especially women of color, in being able to be real and vocal about their pain without also not expecting them to perform emotional labor at the same time.
It’s been a while since I did a one-issue deep dive, and this was an enjoyable experience. For the most part. Discussing anxiety can get very real for me, though I’m glad I have the space and had the energy to get these thoughts out.
Being real about what ails us, if that is not too dismissive a framing, can be really helpful. It is by no means a panacea, but it can be a reprieve. Similar to the concept of expressive suppression we see in Mata-Greve and Torres’ research, we tend to suffer rather than thrive when we keep our emotions down. Anxiety can make it difficult to get the words out, adding to the discomfort, and many people, particularly those who look and feel like Jessica, are given even less room to give their feelings the appropriate space.
We have a sometimes interesting, often exhausting relationship with our emotions. It’s important for us to remember that our relationship with our internal world is still heavily shaped by what happens outside. So, for a Latinx woman like Jessica Cruz, we have to think not only of her anxious symptoms, but how the world treats and sees her, how she experiences reality through not just her emotions, but her relationship with her race and ethnicity, her gender, and any other factors we may learn or know about her.
This story has a better ending for her, one on Jessica’s terms, that shows us one of the ways out. In our lived experiences and interactions, I hope we can continually find ways to help others, especially marginalized folx, create the same tools to forge the path forward that works for them and meets their needs.