How Orphan Black’s Helena Gave Me Wings (Metaphorically Anyway)

I originally wrote this post on my old RP blog, but I feel its important to understanding me as a person. that’s why I’ve chosen to include it here. As I said its very long and some of it may be triggering. There’s frequent discussions of religion in here, as well as referenes to my childhood anxieties.I also talk about self harm and my struggles with my various mental illnesses. Read at your own risk. The following is the post, unedited to preserve it as it was originally written. I noticed some errors so I’ve fixed those, but otherwise it remains as it was when I wrote it.

Thanks to some questionaires I’ve been tagged in recently, I started thinking about why I relate to Helena so much, more than other fictional characters I’ve related to in the past. The short, tl; dr answer is, to quote Sarah, I look at Helena, and I see me–the me I could’ve been, had I been in her shoes. Let me explain.

I am a very religious person, I always have been. I am also very literal, and very exacting. My parents are wonderful, and are so much more mellow than I am, so I’m not sure where this all came from, but here we are. By literal and exacting, I mean I told my mom, after I’d asked her a question during church, that women weren’t supposed to talk in church–I’d just remembered that (my church doesn’t have women preachers, if you’re curious I’ll explain), and I didn’t want my mom or I to do anything wrong. I was five.

I didn’t eat desert because I thought eating if you were full, and eating more would make you feel ick, that that was gluttony. I got a better understsnding of what that actually is when I finally told my dad my understsnding of it, and now I know differently.

I had a similiar issue with equating outbursts of wrath to childish temper tantrums. In fairness, both examples started out as my dad trying to explain concepts and answer questions in a way I could understand. He didn’t intend for me to take them to the extremes I did.

There are more examples of this, but those are the main ones. I didn’t think to tell anybody about my admittedly puritanical viewpoints, and I’m not sure if I assumed everyone else thought like me, or–more probably–that it was their job to figure this stuff out, and their own fault if they didn’t.

Besides being literal to the extreme, I worried a looooooooot. About everything, but mostly accidentally doing something wrong and not knowing it was wrong before I did it. I didn’t understand humor or sarcasm for a long time, and so I tended to just laugh because everyone else was, so I worried a lot about laughing at something without really getting it, only to figure out later that it was mean, or an inuendo or something. This never actually happened to me, but I worried about it happening.

I tended to take personal responsibility to the extreme, so I thought if you misunderstood something, or accidentally did something wrong, then it was your fault, and not knowing wasn’t an excuse. My parents never said this, so I’m not sure where I got it from, though I have a few ideas–I grew up hearing some pretty old school fire & brimstone sermons, and I think no one at the time realized how literally I was taking certain Bible passages that do teach you need to make sure you’re doing the right thing, and do teach that there’s consequences for doing wrong even if its done in ignorance. The problem wasn’t with the verses, but rather it was that I was applying them indiscriminately, without regard to context–i.e. I tended to feel that misunderstsnding a social situation and doing something weird or off was wrong in the same sense committing an actual sin was wrong–I think, I know I thought it was wrong and that was bad, and I’m assuming wrong, bad, and sin were basically synonyms but its been too long for me to say for sure. I also tended to ignore the fact that I was a kid who was still figuring things out.

Besides the fact that I was basically a younger female Inspector Javert for most of my childhood, I was and am hugely introverted. I much preferred games of pretend to having conversations, and preferred animals to people. When I was about ten or so, I started to feel much younger than my peers, emotionally and developmentally, and that feeling’s gotten stronger over the years. I’m not interested in the things most people my age are, minus my history studies, and okay, fandoms, but the interpersonal relationships part, the desire for a spouse and children–no. Just, no. As a teenager, I’d take my stories and toys over chatting about boys and buying clothes any day. Prior to age ten, I just thought most children my age were immature, lacking in imagination, and needlessly prejudiced–i.e. so and so has a butt crack so don’t play with them. Really??? I was a weird kid.

I don’t self harm, and my church doesn’t practice penance as a sacrament–though repenting is certainly necessary for forgiveness–but, the notion behind penance, the idea of making atonement, appeals to me and I think, especially as a kid, when I had trouble understanding things like grace and forgiveness, I would have been quite attached to the idea of following a set formula, proving your repentence, and having that assurance that I was forgiven. I get thet penance doesn’t work like that, that if you’re not contrite all the penances in the world aren’t gonna do anything, but I would’ve seen it as a formula as a kid, and that would’ve certainly been part of the appeal.

I can, to be perfectly honest, also understand a need to punish yourself to relieve feelings of guilt. I’ve never done that, but I used to struggle with a lot of guilt feelings and my solution was, luckily, to talk to my folks about it–especially when I was dealing with intrusive thoughts, which I struggled with from ages 8 to 18 or so, before they got better. There’s a verse in the book of James about confessing your faults, and so I applied that to my situation, and for once my overgeneralization actually paid off.

Imposing a punishment on myself never occured to me, but had it, or had it been suggested, I probably would have done it. I hope this isn’t offensive to anyone who has issues with self harm, snd I apologize if I said something wrong here. I’m still not great at figuring out what’s appropriate to say and what isn’t, as honesty above tact is ususlly how I operate, and while I can be very thin skinned, I can also tell people how it is without much sugar coating. If I’m saying it, I know I’m not upset. If someone else says it, I assume they are, because I have a bad habit of thinking I’ve upset people when I haven’t–probably because its hard for me to remember that I’m not the only thing influencing people. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way, rather, I mean it like this–if I greet someone and they sound snappy, I assume I’ve interrupted them or upset them, especially if I haven’t seen them that day prior to that encounter, so I don’t stop and think about other interactions with other people, or other possibilities. Instead I assume I’m the cause. I don’t know why this is but it’s annoying. As for my honesty without tact, you can blame the enormous amount of guilt I felt over a fib I told when I was three.

I want to stress that I’m not blaming my folks, or my church, and certainly not the Bible, for any of this. Once my folks knew what was going on, they helped and continue to help. My church is great, and they emphasize grace and mercy and forgiveness. Obviously, there are plenty of Bible verses that do the same thing, and had it occurred to me to say something sooner, my misconceptions would’ve been mended sooner.

My dad wasn’t really aware of the extent of it, as mentioning it didn’t occur to me. My mom, somewhat, knew I worried and was rigid, but couldn’t figure out why–though she told me the other day it did seem like I was always worried about doing something weird or wrong–so she did what she could to reassure me when I asked, without realizing why I had my issues. We still don’t know, I’m about to get results back from an assessment that will hopefully shed light on some of that.*

I used to assume anything wrong was also somehow sinful, and by wrong I mean things like worrying my folks over how little I ate, or zoning out in the middle of a conversation, or unintentionally saying something that hurt someone. I was born very premwture and have hsd trouble eating enough my whole life, and my folks worried about it–prior to hitting puberty, my apetite was largely nonexistent and sporadic at the best of times. I think I misinterpreted their anxiety as them being upset with me, and that got translated in my head as I’ve done something wrong. I can’t, currently, recall if that meant I thought I’d sinned, but I think it did, given how badly I felt and the seriousness with which I viewed doing wrong things. While I have no idea if Helena is like this, I could see her lumping things into right and wrong, and assuming wrongness equals sin.This got really long and I’m sorry. Basically, I love Helena because I understand her. She reminds me of St. Joan–who I also relate to, for basically the above reasons. Apparently, I have a thing for zealots. I should also add that I am loads better, and–usually–don’t worry about things like I used to.

* Since this post, I‘ve been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, OCD, and obsessive compulsive personality disorder. I think that I am autistic and have ADHD–I tentatively got diagnosed with ADHD, but there were some caveats, it’s a long story, expect more on that in a future post.

I felt like ranting more, so have another post on why I love Helena. This one was originally written for OB Positivity Day, but I think its still relevant. As with the other post, this one has been preserved in its entirety to maintain consistency. ETA: If there are typos, I’m fixing them. Why? See above. I’m a bit of a perfectionist.

For OB Positivity Day, I want to talk about Helena, and why she is, not just my favorite clone, but also tops the list of my Favorite Fictional Characters of All Time. (Doesn’t everyone have a list like that?)

I love Helena because I see myself in her. Because of my gender, my personality, and my mental and physical struggles, I don’t often find characters that I can look at and see myself. I’m visually impaired, and I’ve got three anxiety disorders–generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder–and a personality disorder–obsessive compulsive personality disorder. Even though Helena has none of those things, I can still look at her and see bits of myself reflected back. That is my favorite part of Orphan Black.

Like her, I feel–and sometimes act–like an overgrown kid. I don’t really know what to do with my emotions or how to regulate them very well, and when I get upset or frustrated or angry, I lash out at whatever is closest–usually my furniture, pillows, or cell phone. Sometimes, I lash out–verbally–at people, too. It takes a lot to get me angry at another person, but when I do…it’s not pretty. I’m getting better about that but it still happens.

Like her, for a long time, I didn’t really get jokes or sarcasm well. I was very literal minded for much of my childhood and teenage years, though, like Helena, I’m learning and when in the mood I can be pretty snarky, but it took a while before I learned how to do that well. Social cues kinda slip past my head a lot. Also, as far as I can tell, like Helena, I don’t understand hierarchies well–insofar as I relate to people; I understand them intellectually, I just can’t apply that knowledge–and so anybody whose nice to me gets lumped into “friend” category in my brain. I don’t really get the difference between acquaintances/work colleagues/close friends very well, though I’m starting to. Teaching was hard because I was terrified about seeming too friendly or else being the ice queen.

Also like Helena, I spent most of my childhood around adults–nice ones, thankfully–and as a result I’m more comfortable around them. Unlike her I went to public school for a while and made a few friends–but most of the kids in elementary school ignored me–and I knew some younger kids at the churches I went to, so I did have some experience with people my own age. I had six really good friends from either school or church from kindergarten through fourth grade, but I mostly interacted with them on a one on one level. I don’t like big groups. In elementary school I thought the other kids–minus my friends–were immature and shallow and prejudiced so I didn’t care that they ignored me. When I was in fourth grade, I had a Sister Olga level teacher–seriously the woman gave me nightmares–and I was homeschooled through high school, which, while being wonderful for my academic career and probably my mental health, was maybe not so great for my peer relationships.

Because I wasn’t in public school anymore–minus being involved in choir and a reading club–most of the kids I was now around were church kids. You’d expect better of some people, but most of the church kids I knew were cliquish or bullies, so I had three really good friends for most of my teenage years–and of those I only saw one on a regular basis, the other a semi regular basis and the third at church things in the summers– and the rest were sometimes nice and sometimes not. Let me tell you, that much unpredictability kills your trust in people. I had some people I’d talk to at school, and one girl that I befriended in an attempt io help her–she had a dysfunctional family–but nobody that I really clicked with. All told, I think I had something like ten friends from the time I was five till I graduated high school, and from the time I was seven till eighteen, we moved three times. So, while I’m great around folks who are several years older than me, around my peers I struggle and usually feel like an awkward turtle.

I’m religious, like she is –at least in S1—though I wouldn’t kill anybody in the name of God. Our religions differ–I’m Protestant, Church of Christ, whereas I suspect Helena is Catholic or Orthodox–but I can identify very strongly with wanting to do what’s right, and be pleasing to God. And, from my own experience, I’m just thankful I wasn’t born into some kind of religious fundamentalist murder cult, or we’d probably have more similarities than we do already. Again, at least in S1, Helena seems to have issues with guilt–up to a point.

We differ in that she self-harms as a sort of penance when she feels that she’s let people down, and she’s willing to let Sarah kill her, in part I think, because of her role in Kira’s accident. I don’t self harm but holy doodle do I feel like crap if I even THINK I’ve made someone upset or let them down. I struggle a lot with guilt and anxiety about my relationships and seeing that reflected in Helena is comforting. I also struggle a lot with a desire to somehow atone when I mess up–hello mental rituals related to OCD–so I’m thankful I wasn’t aware that self harm existed as a thing till I was older and mostly had my OCD induced guilt issues under control. On the flip side, she has zero remorse about the (at least) six people she killed, so that sorta undermines my previous statement, BUT, when she cares about someone she seems to worry about failing them.

She gets treated like a child by those around her. This happens to me, too. In part, it’s because I tend to look and act like one at times. It’s still annoying when it happens, and, again, seeing Helena go through it is comforting.

SHE LIKES SIXTIES MUSIC AND SO DO I!!!!!!! Okay that one is a silly one, but it’s true.

Pupok. I love her so much. Story time. When I was a kid I had a stuffed cat named Mittens. I got her when I was eight. She was basically my BFF, I was half convinced she was alive, and that we–and all the rest of my toys–had a telepathic connection. I also thought if I had the ceiling fan on and the hair dryer on at the same time, I’d make a tornado. Clearly I was not always a rational child.

ANYWAY, Mittens went literally everywhere I did and became a part of my family, till my undiagnosed OCD kicked in and told me I should give her to an elderly friend, and if I didn’t I was being a selfish person. I was probably 13 at the time, maybe 11–though I feel like I had Mittens for more than three-five years so I may have been older, I can’t remember and the more I think about it the more I think I was 13–and didn’t know how to tell my conscious thoughts from the random stuff my subconscious told me.

I still have problems with this, and while I certainly don’t and wouldn’t act on the unpleasant stuff that pops into my head, the nice stuff, like hey you should give away your favorite toy and if you don’t you’re a jerk, yeah I have a hard time recognizing that as an intrusive OCD thought –so, off went Mittens. It was pretty horrible. I felt like my best friend had died and my folks, who weren’t aware of all the behind the scenes things happening in my brain, couldn’t figure out why I’d done it in the first place, and then why I was so upset about it, since they’d tried, and failed, to talk me out of it.

You’re probably asking yourself where the heckiedoodle I’m going with this. Well, basically, I know how important it is to have a little buddy that’s always there for you and helps you out–Mittens wasn’t ever snarky though!–and I’m so glad Helena has that.

Things Helena has taught/reinforced for me:

1. You’ll find people who will love you, despite–sometimes because of–the quirks. I’m still reminding myself of this.

2. Drawing stick figures and coloring them in is a wonderful way to relieve pent up stress/frustration. Seriously, try it.

3. Your real family (chosen or biological) will love you no matter what. This one is really hard for me to accept, no matter how often my family/other people tell me. I have this fear that I’ll do something or tell someone something that’s so weird or shocking they won’t want to have anything to do with me. This has never happened, but I worry about it anyway. Helena helps with this, a lot.

4. Being childlike can be a good thing. Most people think it’s cute, and sometimes you can shock their assumptions, which is always fun.

5. Sometimes, the things you don’t like about yourself, are exactly the things that make you able to help someone else. I can talk to other people with anxiety disorders and let them know they’re not alone, even though I struggle a lot with that aspect of myself.

In closing, I just want to say thank you. Thank you to Graeme and John, for creating this beautiful show. Thank you to the writers, for creating her stories and dialogue, and thank you to Jody Hauser for fleshing that out. Thank you to the makeup people for NOT making her look like a scary goth chic–nothing against scary goths, I just really love Helena’s aesthetic. Thank you to Tat, for giving life and love to this wonderful perfectly flawed character. Thank you for making her motivated by love. And finally, thank you to Helena, for showing me that flawed, broken people can still grow wings and fly.

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