Heroes form a part of the human story. We have them in real life, but they are also larger than life. They are used to inspire, to give us hope, and also probably to allow us to play up the narrative that “we’d do exactly the same thing in that situation.”
I tend to think that the mentally ill are superheroes. Many of us walk around in broad daylight, disguised by the fact that in a lot of cases people simply just don’t know that we are mentally ill. Telling someone new in our life that we are mentally ill can be as momentous as revealing our secret identity. Because in some ways, I think it would be easier to explain that at night I fight crime and protect the city under my cowl rather than say that I have schizophrenia.
The real thing is that many mentally ill people are walking around the world, living in the same world we all do. Living with its many hopes that are punctuated too often with pain and tragedy. We have to deal with that world same as everyone else. On top of that though, as a friend of mine said to me once, we have an invisible piano on our backs that we also have to deal with on top of everything else.
I would note that the mentally ill aren’t unique in this. Plenty of others share perhaps a different additional burden, but that in the large scheme of things makes no difference. All are heroes in that sense.
And yet though the heroism seems so obvious to me, I live in a world where mental illness is viewed as a weakness. Something to be ashamed of, shuttered away. In our popular culture it is the supervillains and their minions who are mentally ill, not the heroes who vanquish them.
And yet, I would think that a schizophrenic who manage to build a doomsday device that almost allowed him (or her) to take over the world even though they were untreated for their illness is something of a success story. (Not a good person to be sure, but certainly highly functional despite their illness).
The hero? He’s usually a millionaire who fights crime in his spare time. Or an alien who has powers naturally.