I was three when the explosion happened.
It happened approximately 180 miles from us – the biggest nuclear disaster, the Chernobyl radiation spill. I spent months in the hospital, my health forever affected by the radiation exposure. For years, I felt ‘weak’ and ‘broken,’ wishing that I had magical superpowers to help people.
My family and I were able to immigrate to the Unites States as refugees when I was 12 years old. As a new girl, one who did not speak English, and did not understand American culture, I was bullied. One of my classmates told her friend not to touch me, warning her that I may be ‘contagious’ and ‘radioactive.’
On most days, I just wanted to die.
Then it happened, the movie that forever changed my life – The X-Men. On the screen I saw a group of mutants, all of whom at one point or another felt ‘broken.’ I saw courageous people who were discriminated against and judged for being different, yet chose to use their special abilities to help others. On the screen I saw who I wanted to become that day – a survivor, someone who uses their story to help others.
I realized a lot that day – that the excruciating experiences we go through might shape us but do not define us. Like Batman, Harry Potter, or Black Panther, who lost their loved ones, like the X-Men and Wonder Woman who faced bullying and discrimination, like Iron Man, who struggled with substance abuse and what seemed to be posttraumatic stress disorder, our struggles are our origin stories.
Hence, our struggles are the beginning of our call to action, a call to become our own version of a superhero in real life. This could mean finding the strength in Wonder Woman to stand up for what we believe in even if the world does not agree with us. It could mean finding the strength in Batman to use our grief to find a sense of purpose, or we could seek courage in Harry Potter in facing our greatest fears.
Heroes, real or fictional, are all around us. And this is your call to action, your invitation to your own quest because you are a hero. You matter. And you make a difference in this world.
Dr Janina Scarlet is a clinical psychologist and the author of Therapy Quest, a revolutionary self-help book which combines therapy with an interactive fantasy quest.