Written by Jose Caballero
Whether they promote products, set beauty standards, or entertain people in different ways, TV shows and movies have the power to shape your worldview. This is especially why the representation of mental health in the media is significant and necessary in combating the stigma surrounding it. However, sometimes it is depicted not only poorly — but incorrectly. A couple of examples include:
Friends' characters have mannerisms that reflect OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), and it’s portrayed as something funny and quirky.
In Shameless, some characters were diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and these characters were pictured as manic, unpredictable, and unhinged.
On the other hand, WandaVision opens the door for productive mental health representation in an incredibly compelling and heart-touching way. In a similar manner to therapy and recovery, Wanda attempts to heal and process her trauma through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Wanda is a character coping with PTSD, trauma, depression, and grief. In addition to being orphaned as a child, she has also experienced numerous losses over the years. After her brother, Pietro, was killed in action, she was forced to kill her lover, Vision, only to have Thanos rewind time and force
her to see him kill Vision again seconds later.
However, this is not the main reason she occupies the main role in the show. Wanda is more than her mental illness and struggles. She is a mother, a powerful superhero, and trying to make sense of her burgeoning powers. Wanda is nothing less than a revelation: brave, resilient, funny, loving, empathetic, sad, astonishing, and unforgettable. Like Wanda, sometimes we all want to escape to a world where we're loved, happy, and with our loved ones. In other words, we want to change our reality. But, what exactly is grief?
To put it plainly, grief has no explanation or description. However, each person has a unique way of dealing with it, and each person experiences nuances differently. In fact, your coping skills, support system, personality, and many other factors determine how you will respond to loss. There is no set procedure or rule; some individuals may grieve and feel better within a few weeks, while others may take months or even years. There may be setbacks throughout the recovery process; this nonlinear process is beyond our control. But, it's crucial that you treat yourself with patience and kindness, and that you let the process take its course.
WandaVision's depiction of the five stages of grief may be related to anybody who has suffered a loss, as Wanda's enormous and excruciating grief brings her through each stage in a very vivid and intensely cathartic way.
This initial stage helps the person cope with their loss as their environment becomes meaningless, pointless, and overwhelming. At this point, someone would desire to leave their current reality and construct a new one in which their lives are perfect and exactly as they want them to be. This is precisely what occurs in WandaVision; Wanda's powers are so marvelous that she can recreate a living version of her lover, with whom she marries and has a family. Wanda is so deep in denial that if anything seems to be out of place in the ideal world she has made for herself, she will actually rewind to repair the mistake. Wanda is manipulating the physical environment around her in order to maintain her denial about her loss; she is surrounded by her family members, but she is not forced to accept the fact that they are all dead.
Anger has no bounds: it is the point at which you lose hope, clarity, and purpose, and even wonder if God exists. Usually, we know more about suppressing anger than feeling it. Anger is merely another manifestation of the depth of your love. Wanda, for example, gets so enraged when Monica Rambeau tells her the truth about losing her brother that she throws Monica out of this unrealistic town and the life she has created. Wanda feels enraged when anything around her threatens the atmosphere she has established for her family, and she will go to any length to ensure that they get what they deserve.
After a loss, bargaining may take the form of a temporary truce, with people adrift in a maze of "if only..." and "what if..." ideas. We want to go back in time to change reality, to learn about the factors that hindered our lives in the past. This leads to guilt, which is often a companion to bargaining; we find fault in ourselves and what "we think" we could have done differently. In some cases, we may even bargain with the pain. WandaVision reveals how she has created a new reality in Westfield, entrapping and torturing the residents. Wanda is able to control everyone’s minds so that they play out the perfect roles that Wanda wants to see in her life as she creates a "normal" life with her new family. The fact that Wanda is well aware that she is harming others is the driving force behind her desire to retain that reality so that she can avoid coping with the trauma and loss she has suffered in the past.
At this stage, our grief is no longer shallow but deep—one that feels like eternity. The pain, suffering, uncertainty, and sadness are all merged at once. During this stage, we withdraw from life, leaving us in an empty forest where everything feels completely pointless. Throughout Episode 7 of WandaVision, we see Wanda coming into this stage, where she doesn't care about her appearance and she struggles to get out of bed every morning. Wanda's real life and trauma are even reflected in a commercial for an antidepressant. It becomes increasingly difficult for Wanda to take care of herself and her responsibilities. In the same way, her depression is making it harder for her to control the world she has made for herself.
There is a tendency to misinterpret this stage; some may argue that at this stage you think "everything is better now," midenset. Contrary to popular belief, this is not true. During this stage, we understand that even though our loved one is physically no longer with us, this new reality is permanent. As WandaVision comes to a close, we see that she has gained self-awareness and is, now more than ever before, acutely aware of the chaos she is causing. She is fully accepting her loss and understands that she must stop hurting people.
WandaVision explores the painful, boisterous process of experiencing grief at various stages. Some may argue that this show is not relatable because it's unreal and fictional. However, WandaVision sends the message that even the strongest superheroes and powerful beings have just as painful and difficult emotions and life experiences as we do.
Wanda Maximoff symbolically represents all the stages of grief and the difficulties that an individual must endure for the sake of coping with this monumental and tragically nonlinear process of grieving. Researchers in psychology have also shown there is no order to the stages of grief, and they can intertwine; but, every individual experiences grief differently and at least some aspects of each stage. Although allowing yourself to feel vulnerable and down is okay, know that you don’t have to struggle alone because everyone suffers from a mental struggle at some point in their lives. Know that you ARE LOVED!
Ordoña. (2021, August 10). How “WandaVision” tailored its episodes to the five stages of grief. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 4, 2022, from https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2021-08-10/wandavision-matt-shakman-jac-schaeffer
Glashow, C. (2021, March 9). WandaVision: How It Got The 5 Stages Of Grief Right — Anchor Therapy, LLC. Anchor Therapy, LLC. Retrieved October 4, 2022, from https://www.anchortherapy.org/blog/wandavision-5-stages-of-grief-nj