Let’s talk today about something I like to call “Captain Mode.” In 2015, I started participating at Phoenix Comicon (Fan fusion now) in a Star Trek panel with my husband, and two random panelists (turned good friends) we had never met. Our panel was on the Star Fleet Captains and ranking them from worst to best. To research for the panel, I sat down and watched Star Trek Voyager, Star Trek Deep Space Nine, TNG, and even the widely ridiculed, Star Trek Enterprise. Now, up until this moment, I had only watched Next Generation and my captain would always be Piccard. However, as I binged more series and fell deeper into the Trek universe, I suddenly found myself rooting for Captain Kathryn Janeway more and more. While the other captains have their merits (except for Archer, of course) Janeway was on a whole new level.
For those of you who haven’t watched Star Trek Voyager, it takes place in an uncharted region of space, when the crew of Voyager and an enemy starship, suddenly find themselves stranded because of the mischievous trickster, Q. The two conflicting crews join as they realize that they are 70,000 light-years away from home and try to find their way back. This description does not do the show justice and I recommend it to anyone who loves science fiction mixed with the human experience.
Captain Janeway is not a typical female heroine, she’s decisive, she’s collected, and at times, she is ruthless. Ask any fan about the Tuvix episode and they will tell you just how stone-cold she can be. I immediately gravitated to her, not because she was like me, but because she was unlike any other character I had seen before. She was a leader that I could follow, and more importantly, she was the leader I wanted to be. At least that is what I had thought.
“Captain Mode” stemmed from commentary between my husband and me as we watched Star Trek Voyager. It’s a mode that often coincides with survival mode. When we are faced with disaster and tragedy, we default into a fight or flight stance, where our instincts kick in and we run on autopilot as we navigate the circumstances to find safety. The fight or flight response is well studied in many fields of psychology and sociology and has been used to even help with defining the life cycle of a disaster or trauma. But fight or flight is temporary, fading quickly after the moment is gone and people have reached safety and some security.
Captain Mode is more long-term. It’s the mode in which we live after trauma. For weeks, for months, and even years. Captain Mode is our ability to maintain normal functionality while still in traumatic response. In the series, Janeway is continuously bombarded with one disaster after another. Her ship is regularly attacked by unknown alien species, and her crew is kidnapped for body parts by the Phage (Delta quadrants answer to the Borg). She faces time distortions, engine malfunctions, desolation, disgruntled crew, entities that can destroy minds, and even transporter incidents that create new life. All the while, Janeway is rock steady. She takes everything with stride, and when she does break, it’s temporary, and she comes back stronger.
Captain mode is not just weathering through one trauma but weathering a perpetual state of trauma. In 2014, I lost my job of 7 years and just a few weeks later, my dad got sick with a massive staph infection. He was gone within 3 months, and then, just as quickly, my childhood home was gutted out and sold, because we just could not afford it. Since 2014, my sense of normalcy has changed. I went into freelance and pursued my passion for screenwriting. But the film industry is not kind, and it was a struggle every day. Yes, there were moments of joy and success, there always are. But for the most part, I was working myself to an early grave in the name of pursuing a dream I just could not reach. I took part-time jobs as I wrote, often working 60-80 hours a week to make a meager income. The stress caught up with me, and at one point I was nearly hospitalized for a nervous breakdown. My husband worked a job that was physically and emotionally killing him just to keep us afloat. It wasn’t long before we were so far in the hole that we declared bankruptcy, and even after, there were many months when we were not sure if we could pay our rent.
Fast forward to now, we are both in a much better place in our lives. We both have jobs that we love, we are homeowners, and we are making a decent living that allows us to support ourselves and our passions. We are getting healthy and exercising more and trying to eat better. Both of us have found medication to help with our mental health, and I attended grief therapy to help deal with my father’s death. For the first time, our future feels hopeful and bright.
So, why then, do I feel like I am still in Captain Mode?
Through this continuous series of insecurities and traumas, I relied on Captain Mode to get me through it. But now that I don’t have to be in a survival mode, my inner captain is having a hard time letting go of the wheel. You see, Captain Mode gets us through the tough times, but it doesn’t allow us to breathe. It reminds us that even if we have a moment of joy or a moment of rest, it’s fleeting. Another disaster is right around the corner. And so in those times of rest, in the times of quiet, the Captain tells us that it will not last. It tells us to stock up, to prep for the future, to mend the hull, and fix the engines. If you are not in imminent danger, Captain Mode tells us to brace for impact, as the next nebulous danger approaches.
And so here I am, in a good place in my life and all I can think about is how it will be taken from me, or how it will sour. My inner captain reminds me that death is inevitable for those who I love that my health could fail, that my marriage could crumble, or that I could lose my job and be broke again. Yes, all of these things could, and some will happen. So my captain tells me to brace for impact, to look for danger before it is upon me. When you’ve lived so long in survival mode, you forget how to actually live. You forget that life is more than just being, it is thriving.
Captain Mode is not the same as anxiety or stress or distorted negative thoughts. Captain Mode is necessary for us all. But it needs to step away from the bridge every once in and while. When we let our inner captain rest, we allow ourselves to feel hope. We allow ourselves to exhale, and to look out into the darkness of space and see the stars. This week has made me realize that my captain has sat too long in their chair and has commanded my body and soul to a breaking point. However, when I try to let my captain rest, they struggle to leave. After all, the other shoe will drop any minute now. They must be ready and braced. So it’s with the internal upheaval that my captain must be removed. A mutiny rages through my body, as my mind and soul tell my captain to leave.
Sometimes, our bodies don’t understand when a mutiny is needed. Our captain resists, and waves of suspicion, fear, and anger crash through us. This comes in the form of outbursts, big emotions over minor transgressions, or suspicions of others that are not warranted. It causes triggers within us that can lead to miscommunications or even arguments. But it is necessary for your captain to rest. Whether willfully or force ably. We need to allow that mode to power down so that we can experience our lives through a lens that is not just looking for danger.
Earlier today I was struggling with my emotions. I am currently traveling and still feeling vulnerable after making such a scary decision last night. Starting a blog is fucking scary to me. It’s allowing myself to be vulnerable to the world, and it’s hard for me to even articulate how terrified I am. So, reeling from that, I texted my boss about something minor, but it had felt like betrayal to me. (if you read this, I apologize and I am not upset.) This minor thing, that normally I wouldn’t even blink an eye, suddenly felt like a tempest storm within me, spiraling uncontrollably toward an inevitable demise. But then I realized, I was hungry.
So, after I ate, and I calmed my nerves, I asked myself, why did I react so strongly to that situation? Why did I let my captain steer me towards an unnecessary threat? And that’s when it hit me, my captain needs to rest. And so this mutiny within me began. I looked up, to the heavens, to the stars, and to the darkness of space. Well, technically I looked up to the ceiling of the Dallas airport. But still, I sat down, and I thought about Captain Janeway. I thought about that show and how much I wanted to be like her. Calm, collected, unwavering. And I realized that that’s not what I need right now. I need to let my captain leave the bridge. And with that realization, I sat down to write.
To those of you who are in Captain Mode, I ask you to look up. Look up and out to the vastness of our universe and let your captain rest. They may only get a moment, or maybe a day, where you can lay them to bed. But let them rest. Let that part of you step aside for a moment and just reflect in where you are. And when it comes time again, for mending the hull and fixing the engines, and stocking up, you can prepare the bridge and the captain’s chair. Because you always need your inner captain. There will always be danger ahead. But for now, for this moment in time, look out around you to see the stars within the darkness.