Before I watched Steven Universe, I was sceptical. Now, it’s the rare show that helps me cope.
So, a bit about me: I have an anxiety disorder. It ebbs and flows, sometimes it’s a barely noticeable part of my day-to-day life and sometimes it completely grounds my regular life to a halt. It manifests a lot as fixation, usually on the unknown or the unexpected. What does this person think of me? What’s going to happen in this situation? Will I lose my job, or my friends, or miss that email I’ve been waiting for? “What-if” scenarios turn into catastrophes in my head, and my whole body buzzes until I’m so frightened and uneasy I can’t even sit still.
I do a lot of things to manage my anxiety. Medication and therapy help, but doesn’t erase it completely, and I’ll still have bad episodes now and then. So I ask for reassurance from people I trust, horde information so as to limit the unknowns in my life, and I often avoid risks. Putting myself out there in almost any context can be incredibly difficult because it feels like catastrophe in the making. So, more often than I’d ever want to admit, I just don’t. Let me tell you, fear like that is exhausting. At some point, you get tired of it.
Enter the bright, shining face of Steven Universe, the heart of the Crystal Gems and possibly the sweetest, most optimistic child on the face of the entire planet, fictional or not. I was uncertain when I first started watching Steven Universe, a couple years ago. The fandom was fervent and I didn’t really get it, and that sort of thing can really turn me off a show. But I was quickly won over. There’s a lot to love about Steven Universe, including its dedication to LGBT+ representation, the way it borders on being a queer retelling of Dragon Ball Z’s befriend-the-baddies action, and the way it so elegantly unravels its own mysteries.
But what really draws me to Steven Universe is its sincerity. Steven is a kid who loves endlessly, who bravely shares his feelings, and who everyone comes to adore and trust because they’re won over by the sheer tenacity of his compassion. A lot of shows build conflict through people avoiding emotional conflict, never actually saying what they feel, and hurting themselves and other people in the process. That happens in Steven Universe, but it never lasts. The gems are all in the process of growing into better, stronger people, and they regularly share their most vulnerable feelings. Any emotional conflict introduced on the show is inevitably going to be tackled, head on, as earnestly as the writers can manage.
Pearl and Greg will talk about Rose, eventually. Amethyst will explain her resentments. Steven and Connie will make up, and they’ll talk about what hurt them both so much in the first place. There’s even a song all about managing anxiety!
What I’m learning is that sincerity like that has a profound effect on my anxiety. It is immensely soothing. Sincerity like the kind that Steven Universe embraces has a way of cutting through my fear of the unknown. It offers a real sense that intimacy is messy but worth it, that you can be vulnerable and show the shakiest parts of yourself and be accepted anyway. As an adult, it’s wonderful. I can’t imagine how valuable it would have been to me as a kid.
One of my favourite moments in the show is in one of the most recent episodes, called “Can’t Go Back.” Lapis Lazuli is hiding out on the moon, afraid of the tyrannical Diamond Authority returning to Earth to finish what they started in their war against the Crystal Gems five thousand years ago. In a sad, quiet episode, she talks frankly with Steven about her fear and trauma.
I relate to Lapis more than I care to admit. She’s been through awful things, and as a result, she tends to withdraw a lot, or flat-out run away. I feel that, girl.
One beat of their conversation sticks with me. Lapis says, at the end of an anxious explication of her fears: “What if something bad happens?”
And Steven, ever the sweet child, just replies, “What if something good happens?”
I’ve watched that episode a lot, lately, and listened to the following song, “Distant Shores,” as well. I’ve been trying to take more risks lately. Like Lapis, I don’t want to be afraid anymore. And what a beautiful sentiment, right?
What if something good happens? What if, indeed.