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How Gillian Anderson’s Character on ‘The X-Files' Inspired Me to Keep Living

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Most people who know me know I am a huge fan of “The X-Files.” I don’t think even I knew exactly how much until I was inspired to write this piece. While most fellow sci-fi geeks flock to the show for its alien encounters, “monsters-of-the-week” and undying search for the truth, I have made myself a home in the heart and soul of a character that has touched the lives of thousands of young women across the world.

Special Agent Dana Scully, with her fiery, red hair, brilliant mind and “badassitude,” is a near perfect role model for young women. In fact, the character of Scully has actually generated what many call “The Scully Effect,” which inspired many young women to aspire to careers in science, medicine and law enforcement.

However, in addition to being a fantastic role model for fellow young nerdettes, Scully is also an incredible symbol of strength and resilience in the face of countless emotional and physical traumas. From her abduction to the loss of her child to many near-death experiences, Dana Scully continues on. She is an immensely brave woman who has seen a lot of hurt. Yet, she remains compassionate and hopeful.

This is not to say that Scully is always strong. In fact, it is in her moments of weakness when I have been able to find the most inspiration from her character. On more than one occasion, we actually get to witness Scully admitting she is not OK. She visits a psychologist from the FBI after a terrifying near-death experience that left her feeling shaken and vulnerable. Scully is not a woman who is afraid to cry either. She will cry when she is sad, when she is angry and even when she is happy. Scully taught me that tears are OK.

I’m not sure anyone will be able to completely understand just how important it was for me to see a character who I admired so much for her strength and resilience sit down in front of a therapist and admit defeat. To see her become so vulnerable made me realize that even the strongest people in the world (and on television) have weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Even Dana Scully, the woman who saves the lives of the innocent, of her own partner and even herself, sometimes feels lost and afraid.

It is easy to see characters like Scully and be envious of their strength. At times, I often felt that I needed to be more like Scully, more resilient. That was, until “The X-Files” showed us another side of Scully, the side of Scully that looked more like me. The side of Scully that I think is familiar to all of us who have been through trauma and who have tried to move past it on our own.

In therapy, I am encouraged to generate new, healthier coping mechanisms, rather than pulling out my hair or picking my skin. So far, I have been at a loss for how to self-soothe in times of extreme distress, but I have found one thing that works. Visuals are important to someone with mental illness, and I have found that if I can envision Scully, I can feel safe.

I take comfort in knowing that Scully lives forever with me in my brain and in my heart. I take comfort in knowing that when I conjure up the image of her telling the victims she saves that “It’s going to be OK,” that I might be OK too. When my thoughts become too much that I feel I might burst from the tension, I can think of Scully and know it is just as strong of me to fight through the feeling as it is to break down and cry or reach out for help. I might not believe my own inner monologue when it tells me these things, but for some reason I can believe Scully. After all, “The X-Files” is all about believing. Just as Scully learned to believe in things which science could not explain, maybe someday, I can learn to believe in myself. Until then, the image of a famous red-head with intense, butt-kicking skills and a tender heart will help me get through the darkness for another day.

To Gillian Anderson, the woman who plays Scully: If you ever see this, then I want you to know the “Scully Effect” has done so much more than encourage women to become doctors and scientists. No doubt you have received numerous letters from fans telling you how Scully inspired them to follow their dreams of being a scientist or a doctor.

Please, know for me, Scully has inspired me to keep living. You have played a character who makes a difference in the lives of those who feel a strong social responsibility to help relieve pain but who also struggle. While Scully is never diagnosed with a mental illness, her struggles are identifiable to those of us who also struggle with mental illness on a daily basis.

While Scully inspires us to be strong, she also reminds us that we are allowed to be weak. We are allowed to ask for help. We are allowed to cry. These things do not make us vulnerable. In fact, as we have seen with Scully, they actually help us to grow and become an even better world-saving, butt-kicking, alien-hunting badass.

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Originally published: December 21, 2016
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