Paralyzing. That’s what the first four and a half months of this year felt like to me. If each area of my life were represented by limbs on my body, then I would describe that time, as if I were watching each limb on my body slowly atrophy and succumb to paralysis. I found out that many others have described their experience of depression it in a similar way; a tremendous paralyzing fear. That’s right, I am someone who has struggled with depression. If you know anything about an admission process, then you know that one of the first steps is admitting it to oneself. For years, nay decades, I have behaved in an inauthentic manner and hid my lifelong fight to keep the demon of depression at bay. Although happiness does seem like second nature to me, it’s because very much like other skills I possess, I have had to practice a lot and work at making it a habit. I’ve had to learn ways to get happy fast, and get over the powerful sadness that tries to grip me. As with dance, martial arts, or bodybuilding, happiness a muscle and skill that is developed. But it was the first part of this year, which affected me deeper than I’d experienced in a long time. So much that I began thinking some pretty dark thoughts, and went to a place that I haven’t visited since high school. I was pretty much at the end of my rope (that WW pun is not wasted on me). I felt as if I was literally watching my life crumble before my eyes, and felt helpless to do anything about it. I had reached what you might call a ‘defcon one’. I consider this category to be accurate, because the first thing that pops up when you google ‘least painful ways to commit suicide’ is the suicide prevention hotline (Wait for it). It was clear to me that before I did something ridiculous, I needed to do something proactive and soon. Something that could really give me perspective and affect change. Something powerful to turn things around. For me, that meant asking the question: When it comes to depression, What Would Wonder Woman Do?
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. When looking for Wonder Woman advice, I generally prefer to first reference the source material, AKA all of the works created by Dr. William Moulton Marston III. It is the wellspring from whence she sprung and the source of all things Diana. Therefore, I feel that if I’m going to get her truest and purest intentions, I’ll first look there. I realize that one of the first references coming to mind for most, is the George Perez Mindy Mayer storyline and the depression that she experienced which led to her suicide. Perez was a master at updating the Amazon Princess, but there was another story in the very first adventures Sensation Comics adventures which leapt out at me, and to which I could relate the most. So I’ve instead decided to concentrate on it. I have a few ‘source material’ books, as I call them. Yet, there is one that I’ve come to appreciate very much as of late. The Golden Age Wonder Woman Omnibus Volume 1. My fascination with the Amazing Amazon has been a journey which has lasted over 40 years, and was actually heavily influenced by the Perez incarnation (for reasons that I’ll go into in a later article). Yet, as I become a ‘gentleman of a certain age’, I begin to see priceless value in the source material. The omnibus collection has given me the opportunity to begin reading her adventures from the very beginning in chronological order. This way I may truly begin to commune with the original message as it was released. Which I’m discovering reads like a wonderful odyssey of sorts. My familiarity of this particular material at this point is very limited. So every article, including this one, is very much like a research paper; One in which I search for answers in life. In this article, it’s my own depression.
Dr. Marston’s Wonder Woman lives and breathes Psychology. One might say that the ‘wisdom of Athena’ is a core ingredient of the book (Wakka Wakka!). So I thought it best that I follow suit. The first course of action I took while examining this topic, was to define exactly what depression is and who it might affect. I found that Webster’s Dictionary describes depression as, 1) a state of feeling sad, or 2) a serious condition in which a person feels very sad, hopeless, and unimportant and often is unable to live in a normal way. I also found that the American Psychiatric Association reports that depression affects an estimated 1 in 15 adults (6.7%) in any given year. And 1 in 6 people (16.6%) will experience depression at some time in their life. The APA goes on to say that depression can strike at any time, but on average, first appears during the late teens to mid 20s.” Reading this definition and these statistics was comforting. It brought me to the realization that depression is a normal experience in the life cycle and nothing for which I needed to be ashamed. Yet, it was a random character in these first adventures of Dr. Marston’s Wonder Woman that caught my eye.
When I first began reading Sensation Comics #8, I didn’t think much of it, but by the time I got to page three, I began to sit straight up in my chair. The random character who caught my eye in this issue, did so for good reason. Her name was Helen and the circumstances surrounding her life had become so dire, that she was attempting suicide. You see, Helen was working at Bullfinch Department Store with her friend Molly. They were overworked and exhausted. In addition, they weren’t making enough money to live. During a visit, Molly’s doctor diagnosed her to be run down and without sufficient food. He said that she was required to do two things: 1) she must eat more, and 2) she must take two vitamin pills every day. This was the doctor’s orders to bring her good health back. The consequences, he said, where that she ‘wouldn’t last’. Molly could not afford the vitamins, and although this was the case for both girls, Helen took it upon herself to make certain her friend Molly had what she required to remain in good health. Sadly, Helen succumbed to the pressure of the situation and stole the vitamin pills from their employer Bullfinch Department Store. Helen was caught red-handed by the store detective, and as a result of the store manager’s court testimony, she was sent to prison for a brief sentence. Upon release, Helen went to Bullfinch’s Department Store to do a sort of wellness check on Molly. The manager recognized her and fired Molly on the spot for her neglect of customers, and for keeping questionable company. They were now both without employment. That night, Helen’s guilt for getting Molly fired, general sadness, hopelessness, and feelings of insignificance got the best of her, and she came to the conclusion of committing suicide via gunpoint. Nothing too serious, right? Riiiiiight. There was definitely some delicate content being shared here, but because of it I was already beginning to see a glimmer of light at the end of my tunnel.
Even as I write this article, my mind is darting and not knowing where to start. Mostly because I found this particular adventure to be divinely timed and inspiring, which leads me to having an onslaught of thoughts and ideas. The first thought in my mind had been how impressed I was that Marston addressed this particular topic, at the time, in comic book format no less. He basically gives voice to the normal everyday person, and the everyday issues which we all face. For me, it was almost as if he was giving a reassuring pat on the shoulder, and saying that we aren’t alone in our struggles. I saw it as a way to contextualize the human experience, and say that feelings under circumstances like this are normal.
Speaking of circumstance, the socioeconomic context of this story was not lost on me. This example did not occur to me as a mistake. It seemed quite reflective of the climate of the times in which it was written. “Department Store Perfidy” as it was entitled, was published in August of 1942. This era of war, economic depression, and division in our country being reflected in the resulting actions of this character, was like peeking into the 40s. I can only imagine that many children had to witness their parents experience the exact type of stress which Helen did, or even resorting to dire measures. How remarkable it was to me that the adventures of a comic book superhero stepped in to say, specifically to an audience primarily of young children, ‘I see you’, and ‘there’s hope’. Throughout the Wonder Woman adventures, Marston makes many a mention of the importance of children, and even includes a few in some of her stories. Another thing I saw were the parallels to our current socioeconomic climate of today. The desire to reinforce our military as if we were preparing for war, our people coming out of an economic recession, and the intense division which we currently experience today is just as powerful as it is in the 40s. History really does repeat itself. I could kvetch about that for a while, but that’s for another day. For now, I’ll just say that seeing that parallel is when things began coming together for me; I saw much of Marston’s comments to be on the human experience. I also perceived that he was ministering to us in a way, and the most powerful impact it had on me was the solution.
Just as poor Helen was about to commit suicide via gunpoint, she was stopped by her good friend Molly who had to physically struggle with Helen. It during said physical struggle that Beth walked in and helped Molly hold Helen down, remove the gun, and reason with her to make her realize that her life circumstances were difficult and stressful for anyone. They argued with Helen all night, until she finally agreed not to kill herself. The night of excitement ended up making Beth late to work for her job. A job where which she works in Colonel Darnell’s office with, you guessed it, Diana Prince. When questioned by Diana about tardiness, Beth revealed that she was late because she was trying to prevent a suicide. Diana, of course, displayed the compassion that is one of her signature qualities, and said, “Tell me about it”. After hearing the story, Diana decided that it was time to spring into action and help. And help she did, as both Diana Prince and Wonder Woman. What I found most fascinating about this story is that each time she ‘leapt into action’, as I’m calling it, her way of dealing with the situation was primarily an engagement in civil discussion as a means of uncovering the truth. She talked with people approximately 5 times in both guises, before she resorted to any kind of physical violence. It wasn’t until the climax of the story that she actually threw one single punch at someone. That one punch was in defense of Helen, and was an equal and opposite reactionary response to someone punching her first. This ultimately led to an exposure of all the nefarious plans, Miss Bullfinch taking over management of her stores, and declaring the salaries and working conditions of all employees be improved. Justice was found.
It’s Wonder Woman, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that the example and solution came in the form a woman. As we all know, the 1940s was not the simplest of times to be a woman. Only 20 years prior were women given the right to vote. Yet legally they were still not afforded certain basic civil rights. Examples would be: protection from sexual harassment in the workplace, protection from being fired from a job if she were pregnant, ability to apply for a credit card, ability to have a legal abortion, or even protection for refusing to have sex with their partner. Sans the legality, some opportunities not open to women at the time would have been: ability to attend an ivy league school, or the ability to compete in certain sports. Women were clearly not equal at the time, but Marston’s Wonder Woman was a way of ministering to this marginalized group. A way of telling them that they are seen, they are strong, and ‘Yes, you can!’. Marston was truly giving voice to the importance, significance, and struggles of women in society at that time.
In a recent E! News article about the latest Wonder Woman film, Lynda Carter was quoted saying that, “In some magical and mystical way, there lies within each of us Wonder Woman…” and I don’t think she could be any more accurate with that statement. Because I saw other layers to Dr. Marston’s message of empowerment. As a member of multiple marginalized groups, I immediately saw value in this, and could translate it to my own experience. Additionally, I saw something else underneath. It was a commentary on the human condition, and a way to empower us all. Harvard educated psychologist Marston was a published scholar. Many of them were categorized as self-help books, and concentrated on human behavior. In some of his work, Marston argued that behavioral types came from people’s sense of self and their interactions with their environments. He named them: Dominance, Inducement, Submission, and Compliance. You see what I just did there? D.I.S.C. Wonder Woman was like a strong, capable, force which was able to come in and *drumroll please* Dominate the situation. But remember she was only given the power of making people obey, due to the fact that she proved herself to be ‘bound by love and wisdom’. Therefore, her power to dominate comes from a submission and service to love and wisdom. The quote “With great power comes great responsibility” immediately comes to mind, but the mythology of Wonder Woman actually assigns specific responsibility to her great strength and power. It’s the responsibility to lead with love and wisdom.
To conclude, the story in Sensation Comics #8 entitled “Department Store Perfidy” was profound for me. I read it while going through one of the darkest times I’ve experienced in decades. Seeing a marginalized person experiencing depression was like a mirror for me. I felt like it was someone with whom I could identify for many reasons, even beyond this article. If I could reenact the moment that I read the character of Helen, you’d probably see my head move suddenly to the side as my eyes widened and the soundtrack of my life played a record scratch. In this story Dr. Marston exemplified, in my opinion, many things about depression to which I could relate. First off, Helen’s community played an integral part in her coping. They propped her up when she needed it, and helped her to see that there were options outside of suicide. They reignited hope. So often, we as humans think that we are alone, but we aren’t an island. We often times must be reminded of who we are by way of how we exist in the eyes of our friends and loved ones. They recreate us, and sometimes are needed to help us through the most difficult of times. I personally must admit that I am indebted to one individual for sure, for an extra long phone chat that kept me out of the darkness. Second, Marston’s story reminded me that we don’t know the context of everyone’s life, and a little compassion goes a long way. In this one, Diana didn’t throw the book at Beth when she walked into work two hours late, and Helen’s friends didn’t throw their arms up in frustration. Both showed compassion and was able to discover and address issues for the better, because of it. Helen’s example utilized the struggle of a marginalized group, and how it’s often times not easy. One thing I realized while reading this is that I never truly know what someone’s experience is or how it can affect them. So compassion is always key. Third, I noticed a commentary of the socioeconomic circumstances of the time, and how easy it is to forget that outside influences can be contributing factors to our experiences. Some of which, may be beyond our control. Fourth, I saw an emphasis on the importance of health and good habits via the doctor. I often see this reminder for us to be healthy, in Diana’s adventures. Yet, it was the fifth and last thing that was the true wakeup call for me. That moment came while reading the conclusion of the story where Wonder Woman ‘leaps into action’ for Helen. She steps in front of Helen and in a sense replaces her, and becomes her champion. The funny thing is that most of what was done, up to this point was just discussion, and didn’t require the superpowers of Wonder Woman.
Frankly, I don’t even think that the final action took Wonder Woman’s super strength to make happen, just Helen’s own. She just needed our Amazing Amazon to exemplify it, and that is exactly what Wonder Woman did. As if in full representative fashion, Wonder Woman stepped in front of Helen and showed her that the domination side of the DISC which is all of ours to draw upon. All she had to do was have confidence in herself and believe. And that is where I saw the commentary on humanity. Wonder Woman has many times deferred to her confidence as what fuels her strength. And that is was that same confidence which made her strong. I saw Marston as telling us that all we have to do is continue cultivating a healthy sense of self, allowing love and wisdom to be our guide, and the strength we desired or needed was ours. At least that’s how I saw it, and in that moment I had my own answer. Wonder Woman, yet again, proved to me to be what I believe is, in the words of my good friend Boston Blake is, “a kind of manual for life”. The ultimate self-help type of book that Marston could have written. His way of ministering to society in it’s time of need. Turns out, Wonder Woman’s two main themes of love and fair play, which I believe was coined by Christy Marston, are near timeless. This adventure just happens to be one of many examples that exist in those pages.
So, when faced with the question of What Would Wonder Woman Do about depression, here is what I think…
First off, everything starts with love. If we take heed to Marston’s ideas, it is the ultimate power which we should serve. I see it as no mistake that influential modern concepts like The Secret, tote love as its epicenter. In the case of depression, the love of self and others would be the focal point. If Diana faced one who was depressed, I think she would most likely begin from a place of compassion, and encourage that person to reach out to their community. Second, I think she would encourage that person to keep healthy habits both mentally and physically. She’d also be a true friend, and remind them of their value. She’d tell them, like in George Perez’s adventures, that they have the power. The power to rise up above challenges and affect change. That their strength is boundless, and they could draw upon their inner superhero so long as they are bound to serve love and wisdom. She would do whatever she could to prevent what we all know happened to Mindy Mayer.
These are merely the conclusions to which I come from after reading the book. Yet, it all seems to line up well with what the American Psychological Association recommends for things to do to deal with depression. Funny that. I have a friend who reads these articles and has mentioned my sense of humor. But maybe humor doesn’t come into play as much as he thinks. Maybe, just maybe there is some remarkable depth, value, and merit to this comic book written by an accomplished and published psychologist, inventor, and Harvard graduate. I guess the world will never know… 😉
If you or anyone you know is suffering from depression, please know that you aren’t alone. Reach out. Get help. Feel and share love. Love yourself, and know there’s hope. I leave you with two Wonder Woman quotes from the George Perez run, and as he wrote her to say, May the glory of Gaea be with you all!
“Faith is a perception beyond the vision; Sometimes we must close our eyes to see the light.” – Wonder Woman
“So long as life remains there is always hope, and so long as there is hope there can be victory.” – Wonder Woman