I was eleven years old when I saw my first episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” At my house we only watched PBS and “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” but at my cousins’ house there were no rules about TV. My cousin, six years older and oh so cool, loved “Buffy.” She had season one on VHS and we would pop them in all the time, watching the episodes over and over.
I fell in love with Buffy Summers. She was pretty and funny. She was an ass kicking demon Slayer. She had a hot boyfriend (late 90’s David Boreanaz, be still my heart). She was the coolest person I had ever seen. But she had struggles too. She was hiding a secret life from her family. Though she was pretty and used to be popular, the mean girls at her new school teased her brutally because she was weird. Her destiny as the Slayer ostracized her and literally put the weight of the world on her shoulders.
It was the first time I had seen a girl portrayed with such complexity on a TV show. It was the first time I truly related to a character.
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was using the supernatural to tell the story of how difficult it is to be a teenager with secrets. Around the same time that I discovered “Buffy” I began to suffer from depression and began to experiment with alcohol and drugs. I grew apart from my family and became isolated from my friends. I had secrets. I felt powerless in my life. I hid all of this by turning in to a tough girl. The kind of girl who fought all the time. The kind of girl who didn’t have any feelings. The kind of girl who didn’t let anyone in.
I saw myself reflected in Buffy. Her life was really hard and she didn’t know how to cope. She had problems that she couldn’t talk about with anyone else and she felt like she had to handle them all on her own. Buffy had thought she had to be a tough girl in order to survive.
But as the series continued, Buffy developed close relationships and soon realized that she wasn’t completely alone with her problems. Buffy dealt with some seriously heavy stuff and began to push her friends away as a reaction to her trauma. But eventually, she breaks down and discovers that she needs her friends to help her through. The toughest girl I’d ever seen was also vulnerable, and just like me she needed help.
Buffy taught me the most important lessons I’ve ever learned: we can’t go through trauma alone and that our relationships are essential to our survival. We are taught that vulnerability is weakness. We are taught that asking for help is weakness, but neither of these things are true. Believing that we can handle our trauma by ourselves is what keeps us tied to our traumas. Not seeking help keeps us sick.
Though baring our souls and being vulnerable is scary and uncomfortable, it takes incredible strength to do so, and that’s what Buffy showed. Her superpowers didn’t protect her from the traumas she had to face, and no matter how tough she was, she always reached a breaking point. Time after time, she tried to deal with her traumas on her own, pushing her friends away, but in the end, she always bared her emotions and reached out for help. She taught me that even superheroes need help, that being tough isn’t the answer, and that our relationships, our connections, provide endless support for any problem.
I wouldn’t come back to these lessons until years later. I spent years mired in trauma and isolation before I finally broke down and reached out for help, but when I did, I came back to “Buffy.” Somehow I always find myself re-watching the show whenever I’m trying to work through something. Probably because Buffy Summers is, and always will be my hero.