Wounding Superheroes #JessicaJones

*Trigger warning: sexual assault*

Last Saturday night I watched the first episode of “Jessica Jones” and judging from that first 45 minutes I predict it will be a compelling series. Reliable Marvel magic with a talented leading heroine and the right amount of intrigue to keep you on your couch. I bet this show will not disappoint.

But I’m never going to watch it.

I adore Krysten Ritter. In the series “Don’t Trust the B — — in Apartment 23” I was mesmerized by her character Chloe. She was hilarious, quirky, unapologetic, bold, with the right amount of vulnerability and humility sprinkled in the storylines. Chloe’s character was an entertainingly irresponsible smart ass who avoided serious consequences. The show was all around entertaining. I actually saw Eric Andre, who played the meek love interest Mark, in the LaGuardia airport once and practically swooned. The show even endeared me to James Van Der Beek, who I pledged to hate back in middle school because I couldn’t stand “Dawson’s Creek.” I thought “Don’t Trust the B” was a clever show so I was understandably bummed when it got canceled.

So when I heard Ritter was going to play the brooding, mysterious, and more importantly badass lead in “Jessica Jones” I diligently cued up my Netflix.

Warning spoiler alerts ahead:

Like I said the first episode started out strong. I have never been an avid Marvel/DC Comic fan. I don’t dislike the overall genre but I don’t typically seek it out. However “Jessica Jones” seemed worth finagling into my day and scheduling it in between working on my dissertation and being an adult. Anyway, on Saturday night my husband and I snuggled on the couch with our two dogs and watched as Jones had brash interactions with other characters, provided curious snippets of her past, and left us hints of her powers.

I started feeling uneasy when the antagonist, who we learn is named Kilgrave, started entering the episode. He’s a shadowy, seemingly abusive figure and the memory of him pushes Jones into an anxiety attack. During instances when Jones is reminded of her past and her relationship with Kilgrave she is hurtled into a panic-fueled flashback. Remembering the antagonistic shadowy figure and what he did to her triggers her PTSD. We first hear the term “PTSD,” or post-traumatic stress disorder, from Jones’ friend Trish. Trish names the condition and the treatment — we learn that Jones saw a therapist (at least briefly) and there she learned some coping techniques.

I have worked with the disability community since I graduated from college and I am a proud mental health advocate. I was impressed that Jones not only exhibited realistic symptoms of panic attacks but that her condition was appropriately referred to as PTSD. In many movies and television shows mental illnesses are not always authentically portrayed or accurately identified. Sometimes they are just mysterious and insidious conditions that only comic book characters experience. Calling it PTSD gave validity not just to Jones’ pain but also the real struggle that every day people with PTSD endure. These people are not just soldiers returning from war.

I’m speculating that a bulk of Jones’ emotional and behavioral anguish stems from her abusive relationship with the shadowy, manipulative, dominating Kilgrave. Through her eyes we witness violent flashbacks revealing Kilgrave’s immeasurable power of control, his cruelty, and the extreme power differential between Kilgrave and Jones. Kilgrave is a sadistic villain who undoubtedly will undergo the Marvel magic treatment as more dark details about his background crop up throughout the series.

This is where my chest gets tight. This is where it gets harder to breathe. This is where my heart beat kicks up speed. I not so slowly transition from intrigued to immobilized. Examples of Kilgrave controlling Jones via flashbacks, and the real time torture of his current victim, Hope, shows the intensity and viciousness of his power as he makes his victims do whatever he wants. For both Jones and Hope the agony is not just in Kilgrave’s abuse but their own conflicting desires to both please him but also rescue themselves. Jones is forced to remember her own experiences with Kilgrave as she sees Hope’s active imprisonment. In both scenarios neither can escape. Jones’ own horrifying memories keep bringing her back to Kilgrave.

I am sweating but I feel cold. I feel stuck because I should be able to watch this. Everyone watches shows like this. My husband asks me if I’m ok. I smile and nod to keep watching.

Smile.

At one point in the episode Jones remembers a pivotal dinner with Kilgrave who sits across a table and tells her she will like her meal. She tells him that she likes it. He then tells her to smile. She obediently smiles. Later Hope smiles too even while she suffers. Through her tears she smiles because Kilgrave commanded it.

That’s the end. Not the end of the series obviously but the end for me. It cut too close too quickly. The show seems brilliant and I wish I could finish it but that would mean I didn’t have PTSD. And I do.

The man who molested me didn’t live in the shadows. He lived on my childhood street a few houses down from where I grew up. But he did molest me in the secrecy of his home. I was 7 years old. Afterwards he would always say, “you have to smile when you see me.” I smiled. I smiled for six months. My dissociative episodes, panic attacks, and terrifying nightmares have haunted me for years. I still fight them today. So when Jones and Hope smiled for their abuser, in part to please him, in part out of fear, I remembered vividly when I was forced to smile. And how much it scared me. Saturday night I didn’t have nightmares but I had terrifying memories. A fear that ripped right through me. Being trapped and hurt. Scared and strangled. Crying and tearing open. I woke up two nights in a row screaming and crying. This is my PTSD.

I hope Jones is able to process her past. That she confronts Kilgrave and it ends. That she continues to kick ass in the Marvel universe and with each new adventure she heals and the pain lessens. She’s finally free.

I see a therapist to figure things out. To sort memories that I can’t erase, that I can’t explain to myself. Some things you can’t make sense of. What happened when I was 7 can’t ever be undone. It shouldn’t have happened in the first place. This should never happen to anyone. But there are so many who have lived through it and live with it every day. I am healing too and for me that means practicing self care. A big part of that is recognizing and not tempting my triggers. I’m not a Marvel hero. I’m real and I’m strong. I root for Jones, but in order to protect my own pain I can’t watch her confront her’s. PTSD has the viciousness to wound even superheroes, but I know we’ll both be free someday.

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