The hero's journey
It is perhaps difficult, if not impossible at times if we are struggling with anxiety, depression or generally feeling low to imagine that we are on a heroic journey through life.
When we think of heroes it is all too easy to think of myths or the escapist fantasies of Hollywood adventures and how irrelevant that can seem to our lives. But just as an experiment it is sometimes helpful to look at our lives through the lens of the hero's journey especially when we're feeling anything but heroic.
What is the Hero's Journey?
In ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ Joseph Campbell provides compelling evidence of a consistent pattern throughout the ages of a basic framework within which all people to some extent live out. He, and many writers before and after, describe our struggles through life (even the everyday) through the lens of a mythic journey. The journey Campbell analyses is a detailed one but essentially involves the following aspects: A struggle (and, importantly, the refusal to face the challenge at first), facing fears with courage, bravery and support, and eventually coming through the struggle having gained insight, strength and clarity. It is not an easy journey and not everybody takes up the challenge, but for those who do the reward is sometimes life-changing.
What's heroic about struggling with mental health issues?
The hero's journey is really a metaphor for our own inner journey through life. Our lives may not appear much like Luke Skywalker or Odysseus but the path to resolving trauma of the past or just feeling better about ourselves often requires a journey of self-exploration. The journey starts often unwillingly (after all, who really wants to embark on a journey of self-analysis when our modern world offers so many easier, softer ways of easing pain?). It also requires support and challenge in equal measure and that is why the journey cannot be taken alone. We might try to be independent and avoid the help of others (especially those who have, or continue to, hurt us) but finding support and encouragement in our darkest hours is an important part of the journey.
Starting the Journey
Perhaps your journey has already begun; if you have reached a point where you feel something has to change and some sort of action is necessary you may have already opened the door to the path. In 12 Step terminology “acceptance is the key” and often a simple willingness to believe that change is possible is all that is needed to begin. Consider what simple action you can do today to take a step in the right direction. It may be deciding to embark on some counselling, it may be making a decision to devote time and energy to your own well-being and self-care in another way. Whatever you decide, taking action, however small a step is always the key.
“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.”
― Alan Watts
Campbell, J. 3rd ed. 2008 New World Library