177A Bleeker Street. Greenwich Village. New York. A solitary, large grey building which at first appears to be just another function within the villages architecture. When in fact it hides a wonder of secrets, details of spells, of creatures unknown and mysteries of the world, of even the universe. It is the homestead to the equally mysterious and ominous Dr. Stephen Strange. It is as much his world, his sanctuary as it is his home. It contains everything he has ever known or encountered along with all of his darknesses and fears. It is a safe space he has carved out for himself in the strange psychedelic world that he finds himself in. He may be a figure of the fantastical, of the strange and the occult but his creator Steve Ditko grounded him with human issues using the various monsters and threats of the world to mirror his own and Strange’s inner struggles and worries.
Having a sanctum filled with some of the most deadliest secrets known to the Multi-verse certainly flipped the intention of what a Sanctum Sanctorum is. Having been derived from the Hebrew understanding of it being a place that is the holiest of holy. A place of worship, a spot in which the power of God could be felt. A place free of demons and dangers but the idea of it remains the same a safe space unperturbed by mystics or ideas too big for mankind, a place free of the worlds worries and hardships. Where one could be at one with themselves and what mattered to them. For the past few months I have unwittingly retreated into and carved out my own Sanctum, more akin to the Doctors, within the depths of my bedroom. For nights on end I would come home from work and disappear into its safety, falling victim to the comfort of my bed and the four walls that enclosed me. Only ever emerging to make dinner barely uttering anything tangible as I passed my housemates. I wasn’t purposely doing so for a grander benefit like Dr. Strange, I had fallen within its entrapping charm and snare. Finding complete solace within its confines, allowing it to draw out and swallow all of my concerns and worries within its walls. With me only to leave each day shutting the door on it all, keeping it inconspicuously hidden away as I went about my day. Only to return to its familiarity that evening, to feed it a little more. All my time was spent within, wasting time, waiting, trying not to see the true troubles at hand. The door from my room becoming a doorway into a fantasy life in which everything was okay. Leaving all the troubles and worries imprisoned within the four walls and closed door behind me.
We all have our own safe spaces be they physical or mental, internal or external, we all seek a place of comfort and quite, of solace and safety. Somewhere we can escape it all, taking great comfort in the knowledge that someplace exists. I though had become addicted to its nurturing qualities, denying everything else and just hoping, letting it, care for me. A safe space, a quiet space, a sanctum is needed in a world as loud and as busy as ours. Peace and quiet is healthy, to think on things, to even battle them within our own heads can also be healthy, to an extent. So much more prominence is put on mental health these days and while we accept the need to be caring and weary of not only our bodies but our minds also. We still battle it alone with many of us seeking retreats within ourselves or are either physically or unwilling to own up to our own demons let alone burden the world with them. That is what those who love you are there for. it is even what strangers are there for. We are all so alike yet we insist on imprisoning ourselves within our own heads, carving out a dangerous sanctum within. In which we believe we can hold everything inside of, fearful to let it free. We may hide our monsters and dangers and fears within but they are not ones that require a sword or magic to slay they but require but an ear to listen, a voice to speak them or even just a shoulder to lean on. To reach out is not to be weak, no matter how tall or thick the walls we unwittingly build they can be crumbled. With strength in numbers they can be crumbled quicker, more efficiently. In our sanctums alone we can only build those walls thicker with allies though, known or strange, we can tear them down and find the quiet that is all around us, that safety doesn’t just belong in our our minds but also in the minds of others.
My sanctum still awaits me, every now and then when I feel its need but with each passing day I continue to try to free myself of its need. I had unknowingly walked myself through the prison gates and set the shackles around my wrists, letting the happy chains take me in as I lived in the two realms of fantasy and hope. All it took for the loosening of those shackles, the opening of my eyes was but a few words. It took something so very simple and innocuous for the world to shift. Something I have found a constant, it is never that great dramatic moment that incites change, it is the small and the meaningful. The ability to help oneself will never come from where you hope it will or where you expect it to. It may come from within, it could come from a movie, from a passing comment or from a friend. It could come from anywhere even if you aren’t open to it, even if you aren’t looking for it, even when it feels like your pains are not getting any easier. It is one of the hardest things to recognise an issue, especially when that issue is you, that the cause of it is you. Of course there are always other factors but it comes from the moment of admittance, of seeing the need for help. Dr. Strange may keep everything safe from the world within his Sanctum Sanctorum but that doesn’t mean we have to, we are far more equipped than we realise, even more powerful than the good Doctor himself to deal with the monsters that follow us, the ones we hide away in our Sanctums, even those hidden within the Doctors. As long as we trust in ourselves and in those around us, stranger or friend. Just like the speaking of a spell it is easy to say but to will it on to channel it through oneself, through the elements, through the atmosphere takes tremendous strength, a superhuman strength we all have.
Everyday when I leave for work my bedroom door beckons open wide, letting out everything that has let itself sink into the walls, allowing everything to follow me out into the world. I know I am not free of that dangerous little space I carved out for myself. A space toxic with my own thoughts and fears, it will take time to pull out all those monsters hidden beneath the bed, to clear the gremlins from the closets. I am tackling them though buoyed by the aid of those around me, even by those far afield who don’t even realise they are helping me. Each day the walls get a little thinner, the air a little lighter, it is all a case of time, of continuing to see things through and not feel the alluring pull of that often thought of sanctum. I carry my safety, my comfort and my monsters with me, letting them disappear out into the nothingness, accepting other peoples, hoping to, trying to help ease their burdens. It may seem a sad thing to say but these are things that we will never be free of but we can always help each other, we can help keep the terrors small, we can keep the walls low and crossable, we can help by keeping our doors open.