Sam O’Hara Childs: “What Is A Hero?”

When I played ‘Union Jack’, a British Marvel superhero, in a web series, I had to think about this a lot. I am an earnest person, and a very optimistic one, so I took the idea seriously. I was also raised by Soka Gakkai Buddhists, so the focus for me on ‘how to do good in the world’ had been long instated.

Unfortunately, for reasons I don’t entirely understand, but what I mainly put down to an intense schedule of working full time and filming at weekends, as well as my tendency to extreme optimism and pushing myself to realise it, I developed bipolar disorder.

Sam O’Hara Childs, self-portrait

As my mind and then my life fell apart and I had to try to hold together my job, my new relationship, my flat, my commitment to ‘Union Jack’, and all other areas of life, the question of ‘what is a hero?’ became more and more burning, and the task of answering it became mightily more confused and difficult.

After my hypomania (not full-blown mania but still a markedly elevated mood) had fully tipped into ‘holy-fuck-this-is-truly-terrifying-and-uncontrollable’ depression, where nothing I tried rebooted my normal brain chemistry, I left London, my job, my relationship, and my life there, and moved back to Devon to recover with my family.

Once I returned, without a full grip on or awareness of the condition, the cycle repeated, and I ended up in The Priory Bristol for three months, then got kicked out to a B&B, then Covid struck, then spent another four months at a Dartmoor B&B, then eventually moved into supported housing.

So that’s the story. What have I learned?

To use storytelling terms, a hero is someone who endures suffering but who remains focused on the ultimate, singular quest. At various points, I thought the point was to be the best ‘Union Jack’ I could be, to make a great new relationship, to be the best son or brother I could be, to become a pillar of my community, but I had to strip it all back, which was very painful.

The point, the quest, was to live, was to be me, to be Sam O’Hara-Childs. Leave a battle and live to fight another day. I had to become infinitely more malleable in my strategies to succeed, and my conception of success.

Sam as “Union Jack”

  • You must always adapt. Do whatever it takes to win.
  • Do not die valiantly, as a martyr, for no good reason.
  • Do not get caught up in short term dramas, or stick to a rule or a goal if it no longer applies or is relevant, think long term.
  • Do not cling to vanity or glory or self-pity or victimhood, make the hard decisions and keep moving forward.

As in the ‘Game of Thrones’ title sequence, keep pulling back the lens until you see the big picture. Your life, your light, is all you have at the end of the day.

You are the primary player in your own story, you have the most value, and preserving that, and furthering that, against all odds, all dragons that have to be slain, is your only true goal. Get knocked down, get back up, and do not let anyone fuck with your sovereignty. Do not make excuses, make decisions. That way lies heroism.

Thank you for reading.

Sam O’Hara Childs, Summer 2021