When it comes to superheroes, not everything is as it seems. Sure, it’s nice to be faster than a speeding bullet or cruise around in an invisible jet, but anyone with the ability to walk up to a larger-than-life icon can see the exhaustion of having to balance two lives (not to mention, keep two clean pairs of clothes at all times). And all this while trying to get enough protein in spite of having a super carb-burning metabolism. It’s no cakewalk because refined sugars and bread (not to mention, alcohol) are off-limits during an endless day’s work. Yet even someone as super and speedy as Grant Gustin, known by many as Barry Allen (The Flash), takes the time to stop for a regular gut-check, even if he has to reverse the spin of the Earth to make time for it.
Which begs the question: If superheroes are man enough to go to therapy, are you?
In our latest episode of Man Enough, Gustin was kind enough to Zoom by for a fast chat on anxiety. Amidst the conversation, both Gustin and Cedric the Entertainer addressed their positive experiences with therapy, too, pointing out the numerous benefits it’s had on their relationships, work ethic and hectic schedules. But the past several weeks of quarantine has isolated Gustin from shooting his CW superhero series, forcing him to spend some alone time with his anxiety.
“It’s a weird balancing act of enjoying my time at home while trying to let the moments of anxiety connected to what’s going on in the world come and then pass and trying to stay in the moment and control what I can control and let the rest just be,” Gustin told Baldoni.
Gustin, a self-admitted anxious introvert prior to COVID, has had to deal with the pressures of being much more than a “regular guy.” It wasn’t that long ago he was breaking out with guest roles on Glee and the 90210 reboot, but as a mainstream superhero at the center of his own show, crossing over onto other majors shows, he’s become iconic to a younger generation and comic book lovers of all ages in a flash. Between his massive social following and countless swarming fans, this shy guy is forced to “perform” a little more even outside of his TV roles when he’s around his people, many of whom maybe don’t differentiate between Grant Gustin and Barry Allen.
“Well, I know I’m never going to live up to what Barry Allen or The Flash or that legacy is,” he joked. “I’m a regular human with plenty of my own flaws.”
Although the pandemics, both viral and racial, have been stressors for anyone with a pulse, it has opened up space for people like Gustin who struggle with anxiety to have more time for things like exercise, meditation and even new trades, like learning piano. And while he’s more comfortable not being in the spotlight or an outspoken advocate, certain things really resonate with him.
“Lately, I’ve found a better balance than I’ve been able to find while I’m working constantly because I have a lot of time to do these things for myself that help my mental health,” Gustin said. “I have all these excuses when I’m working 13 to 14-hour days, why it’s OK for me to not have time to work out as much as I want to or to call my family when I get home from work or even have a conversation with my wife about how her day was. Because I have stress, you know, I’m exhausted and I have work to prepare for the next day, which is always my excuse for putting myself before others.”
In more recent years, Gustin has been working more on himself after years of therapy with his wife, despite not having any real reason to go, other than to build a stronger relationship. But he admits he does grapple, at times, with his darker self.
“I tend to put walls up, both in my personal and professional life. If I’m on set, and I’m really stressed and overwhelmed and think nobody is feeling what I’m feeling or can understand what’s going on with me, I’m not going to be who I want to be. Then I’m not giving my coworkers and my job the self I want to give them.”
Getting out of that headspace isn’t always easy. But Grant, rather than opting for anxiety medicine when he was younger, is 100-percent pro-therapy.
“Sometimes I get more wound up and stressed out by talking about. So what I’m trying to get better at is understanding what’s going on with those around me. But things came up in therapy that I didn’t know about with my wife, and she doesn’t share as often as I do, so it was nice to hear about things from her perspective,” he said. We all have scars we’re either aware of or not aware of, and there’s a real benefit in talking with someone who doesn’t have stock in what’s going on.”
All this to say, your anxieties and problems are not any less super in size, therefore less important. It’s crucial for us to demonstrate here that even the most super of men have their own forms of kryptonite. But rather than hide those weaknesses, we can embrace them and learn about them from one another.
“I’m trying to do these things in a way that I can maintain them when I go back to a busy schedule,” he said. “When I can shut off everything that’s going on in the world, it’s been good for me. I’ve found more balance within my relationships and my own life and what’s going on mentally. There’s no shame in wanting to go talk to someone or feeling like you need help. A lot of people are in the same boat. Lots of people see it as a weakness, but it’s something we all need to work on.”
So the next time you see Barry Allen sprinting to save the day, remember somewhere along the way, he might’ve made a pitstop to save himself, too.
If you or someone you know struggled with severe anxiety, you can find help below.
Cover Image: Katie Yu/The CW