July 9, 2020

Thor in the time of COVID-19

By Richard

This article contains a few Thor MCU spoilers. If you’re not up-to-date, and wish to be, I suggest you go rent and watch these now, and in the above order, before continuing.

Mental health in the time of COVID-19 is like trying to navigate the burning and ravenous hellspawn of Muspelheim: we can try to run, but they’ll catch up eventually and WHY IS THE FLOOR LAVA? There’s pretty much no way out without help. We need to be more like Thor, but I’ll get to that.

Given our personal freedom limitations and state-ordered isolation, many of us have taken a mental hit. And if we’re to navigate through the burning hellscape that is quarantine, we’re going to need help. Some of us are only now coming to realise our mental capacity limitations, but some of us have lived with them for a while now.

I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). It’s a condition I’ve had all my life. I didn’t know it had a name when I hid my not-great-but-far-from-shocking Year 9 report card from my parents or when I couldn’t bring myself to hang out with some of my closest friends throughout my 20s (instead choosing to stay at home and not sleep well). But it’s always been there.

Having GAD means that when I’m exposed to certain, very specific triggers, I shut down; I become a useless, barely functional sloth, too afraid to answer the door or even read emails. Paranoia. Catastrophe. Fear. Like a game of Stacks On you didn’t want to play but somehow find yourself on the bottom of the pile. It hurts. It sucks. And it’s completely stupid.

My daily reminder to think before you act.

I’ve suffered a few setbacks over the years, but if it hadn’t been for one very major one in May 2018, I wouldn’t have the self-awareness I have now to deal with it ongoing. At the time, I was unable to work my 9–5 job; in part because I was afraid to, but also because I could not find a single iota of motivation to. It was one of those use-all-your-energy-getting-out-of-bed things that tends to give mental illness sufferers a bad name.

But I genuinely couldn’t do basic things like reply to text messages or even make eye contact with people. Not engaging with others when I’m down and out does nothing but compound the guilt that already comes with GAD. You just want to apologise and assure people that it’s not personal, but doing so would only make your anxiety worse.

You see, that’s part of the problem with anxiety. You’re sorry. You worry so much about offending others that you tend to apologise profusely. You’ll do everything you can to avoid anything potentially negative, even if it’s only perceived to be slightly less good. It’s something that Mark Manson talks about in his hit The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: the feedback loop from hell; you’re anxious about being anxious, sad about being sad, etc. Once you fall into it, not much can drag you out, save for a good dose of self-awareness.

You worry that anything you do, whether it’s something minor like the aforementioned making (or not making) eye contact with someone you know (and probably like very much) or something as important as going (or not going) to work, will result in the end of days.

“Catastrophising”, my psych calls it. If I try THIS, I will fail. If I try THAT, I will fail. So let’s not try. The irony that fear of failure stops you from trying, and you fail anyway because nothing gets done. It’s a shitnado that goes round and around, and once the storm dies down, you’re forced to spend months, years or the rest of your life cleaning up all the crap you’ve left in your wake.

My mental health shrine.

So why Thor?, I hear you ask. By the time we find him in Avengers: Endgame, he’s a mess; and for this reason he’s the most relatable character in the MCU (and probably any comic book film — Logan in Logan being a close second).

Throughout the MCU, he was unable to save his parents, his (evil) brother and (even more evil) sister, his best friends, and half of his race, the Asgardians. The dude even broke up with his girlfriend.

And to top it all off, his inability to think rationally resulted in the deaths of half of the universe. Trillions of lives gone in a snap.

Ouch.

While he was the butt of too many fat jokes in Endgame, his arc was an earnest and surprisingly realistic one. In the previous film, he built a new weapon and slammed into the battlefield like the god he is — but strength and might alone weren’t enough. He wanted to shock himself into saving the day (and himself) but it ended badly. For everyone.

This resulted in a clear-cut case of post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD). He withdrew from the world and turned to binge-eating and alcohol as coping mechanisms.

We’ve been there. I’ve been there.

We’re facing some of the hardest times in our lives right now. Much like Thor, one step forward often results in two or more steps back. Just when we catch a break, we’re dealt a blow and have no other choice but to build ourselves up again. It’s tiring and frustrating. It’s often hopeless because we feel so worthless.

But while we can’t just stick out our arm in the hopes of a magical hammer flying to our open hand, we are all truly worthy.

The turning point for Thor in Endgame was not strength or might or decapitating a galactic tyrant: it was talking to his friends and family and learning from his mistakes. It was accepting that his situation wasn’t his fault, but that it was his responsibility to change it.

Thor, Captain America and Iron Man in ‘Avengers: Endgame’

Now he’s ‘stronger’ than ever. He’s still carrying his weight, he’s still long haired and angry, but now he’s working with his friends to make his life better. No charging in solo because he knows best.

And regarding the aforementioned hellspawn of Muspelheim: in Thor Regnarok, he only escaped after being zipped away by the bifrost (rainbow bridge). He literally would have been eaten by a flying monster beast had he not been saved by someone else. METAPHOR, PEOPLE.

Working with and talking to others is powerful and can get to the root cause of any issue – even if it’s subconscious. I even find that talking out loud to myself yields a similar result. Anything is better than nothing.

Saying “we can only do so much” doesn’t mean we do nothing. Reach out. Send a message. Make a call. Join a Facebook group. Do something that shakes your daily routine enough so you don’t stay on the couch with a couple of aliens drinking, eating and playing Fortnite; unless that’s your Tuesday night ritual, of course.

We can get through this together. Even if it’s the occasional messenger ping. We need to stay together while we’re apart. In my experience, you can’t grow or change in isolation — but while “isolation” is a pandemic buzzword, we need not be isolated.

Thor reborn in ‘Avengers: Endgame’