How Nerd Culture Can Help With Mental Illness

The greatest gift on this green earth is a happy nerd. When I see someone who doesn’t claim to have it all together following their heart and having a ton of fun doing it, my heart swells and I want to cry. Renaissance fairs are my favorite, but I’ll settle for a good local video game store in a pinch.

Why does being a nerd seem to go hand in hand with mental health? My personal guess is that most of the classic nerdy types were misunderstood as children/teens, giving them (us) a somewhat darkened view of reality. We know that no amount of effort will ever make us “cool enough” to fix our problems, so what do we do with that information?

I’ve always been bookish — one of those kids who carries a couple of backup books “just in case.” and I loved Star Wars, but not down to the minutiae. I was and am close to my dad, the self-proclaimed “king of the nerds,” and so was exposed to humor the likes of Mel Brooks and Monty Python at an early age. The real freedom, however, came for me when I started making costumes. As a kid, my mom made me costumes for Halloween and for homeschool historical projects, but nothing like what I started making myself. I started with a standard renaissance dress, then moved on to Belle and Bellatrix as I got more confident.

young woman in cosplay as Belle from beauty and the beast and Bellatrix from Harry Potter

The costumes were fun, but it wasn’t enough. I started incorporating a little Harry Potter-inspired fashion into my daily wardrobe, as well as some historical elements to indulge the inner homeschooler in me who dreamed of wearing long skirts and petticoats.

Costumes and cosplay are just one of the ways I’ve allowed myself to have more fun with the things I love; I’ve made Hogwarts house-themed Spotify playlists, cooked recipes from the books, and incorporated some magical decor into my small but cozy home that I share with my husband and toddler (who makes a great Ginny Weasley with her shock of red hair). In addition to individual fun, the community that comes with publicly being a nerd is one of the most accepting and supportive communities you’ll find anywhere. The morals and sentiments expressed in the best series and fictional universes are almost always uplifting in the end, and can bring a lot of peace and comfort when faced with insurmountable odds. C.S. Lewis said, “Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise, you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”

I have a chronic illness that can be very painful, as well as depression, so I have to be very intentional about pulling light and joy into my life with all the energy I can muster. Nerding out offers a respite from the reality of my illnesses, and it doesn’t take much from my favorite books or movies to cheer me up. (And honestly, is there anything more reassuring than Jim Dale reading the entire Harry Potter saga?)

Whatever your fandom, never feel ashamed about embracing your love for fictional characters and places. As someone very wise once said, “Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.”

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