How DS9 Saved My Life During Hard Times
I’ve shared loads about how influential DS9 has been to me in my life. I’ve shared how it inspired me to become a writer, a feminist, and a deeply spiritual person who doesn’t use that faith to control or hurt others, instead using it to become a better person. I’ve shared how DS9 helped me get through the pandemic by offering me hope in hard times. But what I haven’t shared is that an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine literally saved my life.
I have a history of struggling with suicidal ideation, as a result of past trauma. In general, I’m a very happy, well loved, and accomplished person. But sometimes the dark corners of the mind overwhelm me. And nothing has been quite so hard on my mental health as the experience of solo parenting through this pandemic.
One day, the difficulties of parenting during the pandemic overwhelmed me. I wasn’t actively suicidal, but my thoughts were very bleak. I felt my children would be better off without me. I wanted to lay down and die. I felt too tired and discouraged to go on. As I always do, I turned to Star Trek for comfort and inspiration.
It so happened that I was completing my very first consecutive watch through of DS9 at the time. The next episode in the queue was “Hard Time”.
Pain and suffering look different for all of us. For O’Brien, it looked like an unjust sentence and a cruel and unusual punishment: twenty years worth of implanted memories of a prison sentence served. For me, it looked like being misunderstood by people who didn’t realize how hard I was working to love my children and take care of them through dangerous and frightening times. But in the mood of despair I found myself in, I found I could relate to O’Brien’s torment.
Once O’Brien was back from serving his correction period and was safe aboard the station, it looked like everything was going to get better… except the aftereffects of trauma take much hard work to overcome.
I watched O’Brien as he pretended to be fine. I related to that; mothers do that.
I watched him protesting that he had too much work to do to spare the time for self care. I related to that; mothers do that.
I watched him crack… I had cracked.
I watched him struggle with his interpersonal relationships… I knew that struggle.
And finally, I saw him reach his breaking point: the moment when he snapped at his daughter and was terrified he might hurt her on the sharp edges of his own trauma. THAT moment.
Every parent who has struggled to heal knows that moment. Sometimes it can drive us to work harder on our own healing. Sometimes it can drive us to reach out for help when we need it. Sometimes, as happened to O’Brien, it can drive us to believe that our loved ones are better off without us.
I watched O’Brien teetering on the brink of suicidal ideation. For the first time, I realized what that looked like to an onlooker. Those dark thoughts had crossed my own mind, although I hadn’t taken it as far as O’Brien had.
I watched as Dr. Julian Bashir talked his friend down from the ledge. “You don’t want to do this,” Julian began quietly. “Whatever it is you’re going through, it’s not worth dying for.“
O’Brien tearfully explained that he felt he needed to die in order to protect his family from himself, from the man trauma had turned him into.
“You’re a good man,” Julian assured him. “Whatever it is that you think you’ve done, you don’t deserve to die.” I knew that Julian was speaking to me; I took every word to heart. And the healing tears came, and I knew that I would cry them out, and reach out for whatever help I needed, and I would go on because my children needed me and because my life work was not done.
In the end, O’Brien gets what he needs. Medication works for him; it helps many of us. Julian explains that the medication will help take the edge off the depression and will level him out emotionally, so that he can continue to do the work of healing. It’s a treatment, not a cure, he explains. That’s the experience many of us have with medication.
Working with his counselor makes it possible for O’Brien to heal the relationships with his family, and the episode closes with Miles holding his daughter in his arms.
O’Brien learned, that day, that he was loved and needed and that healing was possible. I learned through him the same lessons. O’Brien went on to great things in his life; I have gone on to have some great experiences with my kids, to write some good stuff, and to have deepening friendships that make life worth living.
“What are friends for?” Julian asks in the end. Sometimes, they’re to make life more rich, full and happy. And sometimes, they save your life.
Ruth Anne Amsden has been a Trekkie since she was a ten-year-old reader voraciously devouring Star Trek novels (her family did not allow television in the home). She is working toward her first BA and aspiring to professionally write Star Trek novels as love letters to the novels she loved growing up.