One year ago, I didn’t think I’d be participating in a mental health day of #SWRepMatters as anything other than an ally. However, last August hit with the realization that I’ve been living with unaddressed childhood trauma. In the course of unpacking it, I’ve been struck by how formative Star Wars has been to my survival, recognition, and recovery.
Content warning for mention of suicide ideation.
Part of the reason my trauma was so difficult to identify was the lack of a single defining event. The primary instigator of it operated in the peripherals; I didn’t identify her role until much later, with insight from the adults around me. My trauma also manifested as a common enough problem that I downplayed its effects on me as time went on.
After all, how many kids don’t feel like an outcast among their peers at some point in their life? Then again, how many kids consider suicide when they’re only eight years old?
Isolation can feel inescapable. And the mother of my childhood best friend did a find job of enforcing it over many years. My outward expressions of confusion and sorrow steadily transformed into an inner rejection of my own worth.
The Phantom Menace came at a crucial time in my life. The same year I carved “I want to die” into the pages of a notebook, I met Jar Jar Binks. He wasn’t an escape from the isolation, but he provided a path for me to walk through it. With this fictional character, I was able to explore the trauma I was developing. An outlet of expression that wasn’t self-destructive.
Twenty years of The Phantom Menace is twenty years of my survival.
For most of those two decades, I had no idea the extent to which the enforced isolation affected my brain, my development, my very perception of the world. I had no idea that it had formed my expectations into one mantra by which I instinctively lived:
I will be abandoned, and I will have deserved it.
Be it in friendships, work, writing, any situation at all, I assume I am always at two strikes. I only need to screw up once to be deservedly cast off. Avoiding that mistake is like fighting an inevitability. No matter what I do, no matter how much good grace I build up, I only need one error to deserve rejection.
It’s like having Darth Sidious in my head all the damn time.
In the Legends backstory we get of Maul, and even in parts of the new canon, he is always one step away from falling. One mistake away from abandonment. Some of it is well and truly deserved – I’ll gladly filed a thousand restraining orders on behalf of one Ezra Bridger – but the inevitability of it is that same, inescapable isolation. An isolation enforced on him from an early age, and the skills he developed to survive capture him in the endless cycle.
Maul will be abandoned, and he will have deserved it.
In his final journey, Maul compounds all his errors, all his wickedness, into a final blaze of failure. A thousand times over throughout “Twin Suns” he solidifies his just deserts of abandonment.
But then Obi-Wan disrupts the inevitable. With a catch and a cradle.
It didn’t matter if he deserved it or not; Maul was not abandoned.
“Twin Suns” disrupted my inevitable. It carried me to the recognition of my endless cycle of trauma. Which meant I could start doing something about it.
A major step in my recovery was choosing therapy. Not an easy choice, mind you, but it was the right call. In my first session, anxiety was diagnosed pretty dang quick. An unsurprising development; I can manifest quite quickly as a relentless bundle of nerves. Combined with my “two strikes” mentality (and one hell of an imposter syndrome), I frequently self-sabotage my own ambitions. Because no matter my skillset, no matter my experience, nine times out of ten, I will self-doubt my way out of it.
That one time out of ten that I do slam on the gas, no turning back, let’s get this mutherhubbard done? Well, my boss said she never would have guessed I have anxiety. I suppose I hide the terrified shrieking rather well.
But even when my slam-on-the-gas act is a success, it still doesn’t feel like I’ve earned it. It still doesn’t feel like I deserve the position that I’m in.
Which is why Norra Wexley gives me so much hope.
“Are you disobeying an order?” Ackbar asks.
No, she thinks. I would never. I’m a pilot. I’m a soldier. I–
I’m a rebel.
(Aftermath: Life Debt)
Norra Wexley is an absolute mess. She manifests as a bundle of nerves. She has imposter syndrome up the wazoo. She will do something incredible and then somehow mentally disconnect that amazing thing with her own actions, which is a massive part of the way I personally experience imposter syndrome. And I wonder if it ties back to my “two strikes” mentality, that inability to build up good grace in any situation. So no incredible feat could possibly be mine to own.
And yet, despite being a complete mess, Norra is a hero. She’s brave, self-sacrificing, with a moral core that will not yield. She’s a competent leader.
Norra Wexley may be one hell of a mess, but look at her go. She’s got a galaxy to save.
I may be one hell of a mess, but look at me go.
It’s such a long way from here, whatever the end of this trauma and anxiety looks like. And maybe this is something that I’ll be coping with the rest of my life. I don’t know. What I do know is that Jar Jar guided me to survival, Maul interrupted my inevitable, and Norra keeps pace with me now. My life and recovery are larger than these three characters and their franchise, but they’ve worked as splints. They’ve kept me steady as I recover.