In the fourteenth episode of Steven Universe Future, I AM BEING CALLED OUT. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Steven Universe.
Trigger Warning: For extensive conversation about grief, death, trauma, childhood trauma, child abuse, and PTSD.
As I said at the end of the video for this episode, I had pieces of Steven’s diagnosis right. But it wasn’t just that he was upset, nor was it just about things he hadn’t dealt with or was bottling up. Over the course of Steven Universe Future, this show has been pretty much outright telling us that Steven is dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.
As someone who has PTSD (or, more accurately, complex PTSD, which is different, since it is a type of PTSD that comes from exposure to prolonged or long-term trauma), I now see why I was able to pick up on the pieces. Yeah, it’s because they mirror my own. And here I thought I was projecting too much of myself and my experience on this show! I WASN’T, THIS IS SO ON-THE-NOSE THAT I FEEL PERSONALLY CALLED OUT.
Okay, that’s me joking about this. The truth?
I feel seen.
It’s not easy living in an ableist world. One of the most pervasive things I’ve heard about my trauma and the ways that it has manifested is that I should just “get over it.” I’m sure lots of you have heard this, too. But that whole sentiment doesn’t speak to what experiencing trauma can actually be like, since it’s never as simple as just getting over it. So, I appreciate “Growing Pains” on that level. I have something I can point to and say, “Hey, it’s this. This is what it feels like for me.”
And it’s causing me to re-think what we’ve experienced so far on this epilogue show. (After briefly talking about this in the video, I think that’s a pretty good discernment for what Steven Universe Future is.) Each of the moments where Steven has turned pink and his powers have manifested can be explained by Dr. Maheswaran’s preliminary hypothesis, and I really think she’s found out what’s going on with Steven. We always knew that Steven’s power was related to defense and healing, so it fits that his powers were trying to do the same thing for him! Well, not even necessarily trying. Because holy shit, STEVEN BROKE HIS SKULL IN MULTIPLE PLACES? How many other injuries has he had that his powers instantly healed??? We probably don’t even know! But that physical healing has not quite extended to Steven’s mental health.
Not only that, but now it makes sense why his powers activated when they did. I thought maybe it had to be with Steven feeling threatened, then changed that to address him bottling things up, but Dr. Maheswaran once again manages to unite everything with a much more compelling theory. It’s compelling to me because it is quite literally one of the major things I am dealing with in therapy. Because I experienced so much trauma as a child, my brain reacts to low-level threats as an adult AS IF they are the intense, possibly life-ending stressors of my childhood. I literally cannot tell the fucking difference on a subconscious (or even conscious!) level between something that is frustrating, stressful, or potentially deadly. They’re all the same in my mind. That means my body is pumped full of cortisol on a regular basis, and it means my reactions are often the exact same survival measures from my childhood.
That makes some of my earlier reviews almost funny, since I was SO FUCKING CLOSE to figuring this out. For example! Wanting to please others at great expense to one’s self? That’s a trauma response. Putting the needs and desires of other people over your own? Also a trauma response! Hinging your own sense of self-worth on how much others need you? I’M A BROKEN RECORD. All of these little behavioral traits stem from what was normal for Steven. When he experienced traumatic things, what did he often do?
Save the world.
Or his friends.
Or Beach City.
Or do whatever it took to be the hero.
And now, when he’s stressed out, his mind isn’t seeing it as a personal struggle. That’s not to discount how messed up he’s feeling or to negate his current problems. Like… yes, what he went through as a kid was immensely difficult, but it still hurts that Connie turned down his proposal. It still hurts that Steven desperately needed someone to talk to, but the Crystal Gems were out of town and Greg’s gig as the manager of Sadie and Shep (!!!!) got extended. You can feel different types of pain at the same time. They’re both valid, and they both can have different solutions.
Steven, of course, doesn’t know what that solution. This is the first time he’s ever heard about trauma and mental health. Remember, he’s literally NEVER been to the doctor. (In Greg’s defense, I wonder if that happened because Steven never got sick or injured, so it just sort of… escaped Greg’s mind???) All of this is new to him. It’s also scary as hell! No wonder he has such an adverse reaction. Remember, his body literally believes he is in danger, and he reacts accordingly.
Even though Connie didn’t know what her mother had said to Steven, I still appreciated that she understood that he needed space, that Steven wasn’t trying to be mean to her. I bring that up because I want to acknowledge how much tenderness there is in this episode. Dr. Maheswaran does her best to speak to Steven honestly without being cruel so she can inform him of what is likely happening to him. Connie not only called Greg so that Steven’s dad knew what was happening, but like I said, she got that Steven needed space. And then there’s Greg, who said all the right things to make sure that Steven knew he was loved and that he would be there through everything. It’s exactly what Steven needed. Because if this is the answer to Steven’s strange power manifestation—and I have no reason not to think so—then he has a long road of healing ahead of him. Just as I said at the end of the previous review, I’m thrilled that Steven won’t be doing this alone.
WOW, THIS EPISODE WAS… a lot??? I really didn’t expect this, but it was so satisfying to watch.
The video for “Growing Pains” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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