Batman – by Keir Liddle
A new contribution from Keir Liddle who is founder and blogger over at The Twentyfirst Floor.
Batman has a special place in the mythology of my mental illness.
Batman also has a special place in the ire of some psychiatrists and mental health professionals for depicting an unrealistic vision of mental illness. They raise concerns about the sometimes overtly psychoanalytic and heightened depictions of mental health problems like psychosis and the way therapy and prison intertwine into a gothic whole in the twisted vision of Arkham. Part asylum, part penitentiary, all nightmarish vision of insanity and the worst excesses of an imagined US prison system.
I don’t wish to add to the criticism that has gone before. Nor do I intend to defend the cartoonish and exaggerated world of Gotham against such allegations. Except to say that I find these concerns less pressing than my own concerns about how mental health is represented in more mainstream media such as TV drama, film and in particular soap operas. Where typically you find that a character with mental health issues has been sketched around a writers reading of the DSM criteria and is more often than not only ever on a journey from blood spilt crisis to crisis: Either perpetrating acts of violence against others or themselves or providing a misplaced foil for some ill conceived comic relief.
Batman is special to me in many ways. I could never therefore give a fair and objective account of whether these comics do harm and stigmatize the mentally ill.
I can tell you about my relationship with Batman though.
My mother was/is schizophrenic. The qualification is required as I haven’t spoken to her or even seen her in the last fifteen years – I am now 30. In my defence this is not for want of trying to build burnt bridges though to my shame in recent years I’ve abandoned the long sessions standing at her door knocking endlessly and never being let in.
Central to one of my mothers delusions was a board game we were gifted by a family friend specifically the Batman the Movie board game. It randomly became a focus for her and her obsession culminated when she took me and my brother driving in the middle of the night to try and find the Dark Knight. We were ordered to turn our faces to the open windows of the car in the back seat as she believed it was filling with poison gas (no doubt placed there by her enemies at the Scottish Qualifications Authority) and we had to answer her incessant questions about the location of Batman. She eventually abandoned the search turning quickly into a frozen field and we drove silently home in the dark.
A lifetime’s obsession was born.
Now I look at Batman and I can see an allegory for my own self loathing and mental health issues.
You could consider that many of Batman’s foes represent a twisted reflection of at least an aspect of the Dark Knights personality or psychological makeup:
- The Joker as what Batman could have become driven mad with grief
- Two-Face as representing the struggle between Batman and Bruce Wayne as the duality at the heart of batman’s existence
- The Penguin and Black Mask as versions of Bruce Wayne who turned to crime instead of vigilantism
- And Mr Freeze as an older Bruce Wayne loosing his wife instead of his parents.
When Batman looks in the mirror he might see, in his darker moments, his foes reflected back at him or at the least the “madness” that drives them.
This is something I can relate to when I look at myself in the mirror when I am in the sinkhole of depression. For it isn’t always me that looks back, it isn’t always me that stands in front of my critical and hateful gaze. It is a twisted reflection an amalgamation of failures, faux pas and slights both imagined and real. It is a twisted corpulent mess of scars and self loathing.
When I look into the mirror I don’t see the Joker, Two Face or the Penguin. I see all my weaknesses, all my faults and flaws reflected back like an exaggerated comic book villain but all too real. Etched into my reflection is every ounce of self doubt that I inflict upon myself, every inch of self loathing and hate. Every bit of guilt and shame I feel (deserving and undeserving) looking back at me taunting me and telling me I am worthless, useless and obsolete.
If you stare into the abyss sometimes you become the abyss.
Not only that but when the mirror presents such a twisted self image I, like Wayne, adopt my secret identity and put on my mask. Stick on the smile and get on with it and pretend nothing is as bad as it is or hide under the duvet refusing to leave the Batcave. You rarely see a depressive at their worst – which must make it difficult for most to believe the bad days exist but they most certainly do.
Though unlike Batman when I put on my armour and head out to face the world my battle isn’t with supervillans on the streets of Gotham but it is a battle with myself in my own head.
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.