'Standing In The Bats' - A Heroic Journey Into Fear
Today will be the first of a set of articles in which I share how superheroes inspire me and connect to different elements of my growth or development. It is my hope these pieces of writing may help you in one way or another connect to a superhero and provide any sort of inspiration or empowerment that can be applied into your own life or challenges.
The first thing I am going to write about is my personal experience with post-concussion syndrome, some of the challenges and triumphs that have come with it, and how connecting my journey to the popular hero of Batman has been a valuable part of my recovery.
Before I go into the Batman connection, I’m going to provide a little bit of detail about my experience for context. I first suffered my concussion back in November of 2016 when I was playing a game of basketball and ended up in a bit of a freak accident where I was pulled backwards in mid-air by my arm and landed on my back with whiplash and a concussion. Little did I know I’d still be dealing with effects of that more than a year later. This recovery has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life, and at the same time I’m fortunate, because it could have easily been worse. As a result of this injury I have experienced ear pressure imbalances, jaw tension/misalignment, sensitivity to noise, ringing in the ears, mood disturbances like waves of intense anxiety and depression, PTSD like symptoms, neck pain and strange feelings of denseness or pulsing in my head. Some of these I still experience and some of them have improved or gone away. I’m definitely in a much better place now than I was several months ago though the progression was never quite linear, so at times it could be hard to see it.
Recovery looks something like this. Ups and downs, but overall moving up slowly
The biggest challenge through this all could best be summed up with one word: fear. Fear because there was often no answer for what would cause the symptoms to flare up, and life became a big experiment where I didn’t really know when I’ve done too much of something until a few hours after the fact. Fear because there was no timetable for recovery, sometimes it got better, and sometimes it got worse, making planning the future very difficult. Fear because while I was sensitive to noise, the ‘fight or flight’ response constantly felt like it was stuck in the on position as noise and loud noise can come from anywhere, leaving me feeling as if I was on constant alert to protect myself.
Over the last 10 years I have studied health and wellness, and picked up many tools along the way to manage anxiety and fear in my life. Tools such as mindfulness, self-compassion, exercise, tai chi, values based goal setting, talking to friends, cognitive behavioural therapy, and nutrition amoung others. They were all helpful in their own way in coping with this, but nothing allowed me to avoid the intense fear I was experiencing.
As I went through this experience with fear, I felt a helpful connection to the character of Batman thanks to a scene from ‘Batman Begins’. Some brief background for those who aren’t familiar with the story, Bruce Wayne was terrified of bats as a child and was at a play with his parents when something in the play triggered that fear of bats and it started to overwhelm him. He asked his parents if they could leave to alleviate his fear, and on their way out of the theatre, his parents were confronted by a mugger, shot and killed. Bruce was left with a tremendous guilt that if it were not for his fear, this would have never happened. He eventually would go on to confront this fear of bats by standing in a batcave, surrounded by hundreds of bats as they flew around him. He was either going to die, or overcome that fear, by allowing himself to stand directly in it.
'He was either going to die, or overcome that fear, by allowing himself to stand directly in it'
This imagery of Bruce standing amoung the bats is quite profound and something I can relate to with my experience as many of my fears came to the forefront of my life and became amplified during this recovery process. I could put myself in the shoes of Bruce and realize that my experience with this intense fear could be my ‘Batman moment’.
Instead of feeling like a victim because of the difficulty and discomfort of my experience, I could see it as a possible moment of heroic origin. I had to allow myself to stand in it, to accept it, and make peace with it (easier said than done). To not run from it by numbing my feelings with constant distractions, and to not resist it by clinging to what life ‘could have or should have’ been without this injury. What I have learned is that the more you fight and resist fear, the more it traps you in it’s grasp. There is no way around fear, only through it, and that is ok.
Fear is not the enemy it is often made out to be. On the other side of fear can be something incredible and powerful. It is through fear that opportunity is created to cultivate compassion, courage, faith, resilience, and gratitude.
Fear creates opportunity for:
Compassion: for wanting to help self and others who are afraid
Courage: for finding the strength to face and endure those fears
Faith: surrendering to the belief that things happen for a reason, and allowing that to carry you when you can’t see what that reason is
Resilience: the strongest people are often the ones that have been through the hardest times.
Gratitude: through the days of fear, comes greater appreciation for the times of peace. Everything you may have taken for granted becomes that more precious when you are not sure if or when you would see it again
'What I have learned is that the more you fight and resist fear, the more it traps you in it’s grasp. There is no way around fear, only through it,'
I have been humbled by this experience and it had gotten me to really reflect and decide if I was going to trust what is happening or fight and resist it. I looked back on my life to about 10 years ago when I went through a deep depression, and when I was going through that it was the most painful difficult thing I could ever imagine facing. I suffered a lot, I cried, and I didn’t know if I would make it through. Yet from that experience blossomed so much good. I became committed to my own personal healing and growth. It filled me with so much compassion and understanding for others who are going through something similar. That experience in many ways gave birth to the superhero workshops because I wanted to share the tools that have been most deeply helpful to me in my healing and personal development, so that others can feel empowered and maybe not have to go through the same thing that I did.
In these times when I have had to ‘stand in the bats’ again and deal with a new set of challenges, it has been difficult for me to make sense of why I have been going through what I have been, but I’m leaning on faith that it will lead to something beautiful and worthwhile again just as it did 10 years ago for me. Perhaps this experience has been preparing me for a new heroic journey as it did for Bruce Wayne. At the very least, seeing myself in the shoes of a hero during my greatest challenges and struggles has provided a greater strength and ability to find ways to see myself as a hero rather than a victim. In my experience, that switch in mentality can mean everything.
Batman is one hero that I can relate to and there are many more (which I will share more of in the future). These heroes may be fictional, or ‘not real’ but when we carry a part of their inspiration inside of ourselves and use that to make us better, stronger, kinder people, we help bring them to life…. through us. This is how we unleash the superhero within.
My wish for you is to have heroes, real or fictional, that you can be inspired by or see a piece of yourself in, and to use their inspiration to help you be the best version of you.
The world needs heroes, and we are the ones who can bring them to life.