During the winter of 2016 I was an absolute train wreck. I was coping with the aftershock of a nervous breakdown, and working overtime to make sure no one knew about it. I had created an invisibility cloak for myself; a cloak fashioned from red wine, junk food, and an incalculable amount of days spent on the couch. It was self-sabotage at its finest. I gained 75 pounds, overnight it seemed, and I blacklisted everyone that cared about me. My husband, try as he might, couldn’t pull me out of my downward spiral. I was ready to completely disappear, and I was convinced that no one would notice. In my mind I had fallen too far, and standing back up was impossible. I also equated my mental health issues with weakness, which debilitated my situation even further. I had given up, and in my mind I was weak.
Now, on to the Ryan Reynolds of it all. My memories from that block of time are fleeting. Think about the way you remember a nightmare, weeks after you’ve had it: you can recall the cold sweat and misery of it all, but not the details… and the details you can recall don’t add up.
There is only one thing I remember clearly: Ryan Reynolds could always make me laugh. I bet I watched “The Voices” and “Deadpool” at least once a day, every day, for several months. No joke. I was numb to the world, but I remember Ryan Reynolds.
In December of that year Ryan Reynolds was on the cover of GQ’s “Men of the Year” Magazine, and, of course my husband got a copy for me. Honestly, my husband would have done anything to pull me out of my depression.
I assumed the article would be full of Wade-Wilson-flavored sarcasm, and quirky comedy riddled photos, and I was right; the article was endearingly funny, and the photos were hilariously frame-worthy.
However, while reading I stumbled upon a very small statement that, dare I say, changed my life. Ryan Reynolds was talking about his reaction when Deadpool was finished, and he said the following; “I had a little bit of a nervous breakdown. I literally had the shakes. I went to go see a doctor because I felt like I was suffering from a neurological problem or something. And every doctor I saw said, ‘You have anxiety’.”
I read the paragraph several times. I had been virtually emotionless for months, and suddenly I felt the overwhelming desire to cry. I broke the statuesque depression that I had been fossilized in, and I cried. I felt so relieved. For the first time since my depression spiral I didn’t feel like my mental illness was a result of weakness. I mean, if someone like Ryan Reynolds could hit a wall, then maybe it was okay, right?
As odd as it sounds, reading that Ryan Reynolds had anxiety strengthened me. It normalized my situation.
There is a quote in Deadpool; “Life is an endless series of train wrecks with only brief, commercial-like breaks of happiness.” That quote summarizes the way anxiety makes me feel. Happiness is never “just happiness” with me. For me, happiness always comes riddled with anxiety about when the happiness will end, and why. It’s an overwhelming and constant fear that is ever-so-present in my life.
Over the next few weeks I started living a semi-functional life again… and Deadpool became my anxiety totem: the thing I used to normalize my irrational fears. And I mean that literally. I literally carried around a little Deadpool figure to fidget with during my anxiety trails.
I even put Deadpool (the soundtrack and the film) on my phone. It helped me normalize many stressful situations… and, as time passed, I began to accept that anxiety was a part of my life, and not a weakness.
Skip to present day. I’m not ashamed of my mental health anymore, and I don’t see it as a weakness. I’ve even started sharing about it on my blog; I’ve written about things that help me, things that hurt me, I’ve even written about depression.
Thanks to Ryan Reynolds, I’ve learned to accept and love this part of myself. However, it hasn’t been easy… it’s taken a lot of practice, self-care, diet, exercise, meditation, and discipline, and my success has been accompanied by many set-backs… but I’m growing.
And, thankfully, my mental health journey with Ryan Reynolds doesn’t end there.
My husband and I recently went to New York City to watch a few Broadway plays. On our first morning there I woke up super excited… But, like most people in this technological society, I checked my phone before getting out of bed. The first thing I saw was a New York Times article titled; “This Story Has Already Stressed Ryan Reynolds Out”. The article offered a more intimate look at Ryan Reynolds’ anxiety, and I found myself trembling as I read his words; “I have anxiety, I’ve always had anxiety. Both in the lighthearted ‘I’m anxious about this’ kind of thing, and I’ve been to the depths of the darker end of the spectrum, which is not fun.”
I sat in bed, thinking, and reminding myself, “Ryan Reynolds, a man who has helped pull me out of my own darkness, countless times, has heartbreaking darkness of his own. He goes through some of the same horrible stuff I go through.”
I didn’t know if I should smile, cry, or watch Deadpool again. [Note: the answer is always “watch Deadpool again”.]
To be completely honest, I’ve been dealing with a tremendous amount of anxiety lately, perhaps more than I’ve ever faced… I’ve actually been concerned that my anxiety attacks and irrational fears have been getting worse. But as I read that article I felt strength and confidence entering my body.
I re-read it, and I focused on one sentence; “he [Ryan Reynolds] gets racked by dread and nausea before every talk-show appearance and becomes quite convinced he might die.” I started thinking about my own daily dread, my own nausea, and my own “this anxiety attack might kill me/my heart might actually explode” feelings; feelings that I experience far too often.
Once again, Ryan Reynolds had met me right when I needed him… and he normalized my irrational anxiety fears.
I mean, if someone like Ryan Reynolds could be racked by dread, anxiety, and nausea, then it’s okay, right? Maybe I’ll be okay…
I continued to read, and I discovered that he went through a “true unhinged phase” in his early 20s. He stated that he was partying in an attempt to make himself vanish in some way. I was immediately taken back to my “red-wine-winter of 2016”; and my notorious red wine vanishing act.
Ryan Reynolds continued to explain that “he frequently awoke in the middle of the night, paralyzed by anxiety, agonizing about his future.” After reading this I paused, and actually said out loud, “Me too, Ryan, me too.” Something beautiful happened for me in that moment… I’m not sure what it was. I guess you could say that I quit hating my anxiety. I accepted it…
This may seem silly… that the words of an actor mean so much to me… but they do, they mean a tremendous amount to me. Probably more than you could imagine.
When I was in the depths of darkness and depression, Ryan Reynolds could make me smile… and that’s worth something. When I felt worthless, Ryan Reynolds told people about his anxiety, and it made me feel like I wasn’t alone… and that’s priceless.
Ryan Reynolds once said, “laughing can serve you in dark moments, and help you crawl back out”… and that’s exactly what he has done for me.
… and, actually, that quote is the background image on my computer.
And, my mini-Deadpool anxiety totem has been a lot of cool places… He’s been to California…
…where I got to see Ryan Reynolds’ star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He’s been to multiple comic book and horror film conventions, normally on my Wonder Woman backpack — which, I know, is a DC/Marvel Universe crossover, but I think Wade Wilson would be fine with it…
And, he recently went to New York City with me… and you can tell, by the chipped paint on his eyeballs, that he’s been through some anxiety riddled times.
But mini-Deadpool doesn’t only go fun places, like NASCAR, Hollywood, and New York City… he goes normal places too, like the grocery store… and I know, I’m an adult woman, and I don’t need a tiny toy to help “keep me calm” — that’s not why I carry him around. I carry him around because he reminds me that its okay to be flawed. He reminds me that even super awesome people, like Ryan Reynolds, are flawed… and messed up at times, and that’s okay.
So, like Wade Wilson, I will approach life with Maximum Effort… and take my mental health one day at a time.