Woman Who Survived Chernobyl Says The X-Men Changed Her Life

We all have our lives shaped by things that are well beyond our control. External forces will always bend us and pull us, or just slam into us, and we seldom have any say in the immediate consequences. And often, repairing the damage takes years and years.

But, in the process of healing, you can learn how helping yourself can help others, too. Just look at Janina Scarlet, who lived through one of the 20th century's most notorious disasters and turned her healing process into something for everyone.

Janina Scarlet was only three years old when the Chernobyl nuclear power plant blew up in 1986.

Instagram | @drjaninascarletofficial

Her family lived in Vinnitsia, a town just 180 miles away in Ukraine when the disaster struck. As she recalls, they didn't know much about it at the time.

Writing in Women's Health, Janina says "I recall heightened feelings of confusion around the time of the explosion, which transformed into a flurry of worries once we finally found out what had actually happened nearly two weeks later."

Those two weeks would alter the rest of her life.

Imgur | mrdamgaard

During that time, Janina and her family continued drinking the water, eating fruits from the trees, and generally going about their lives completely unaware that everything had been tainted by radiation. Six months later, like so many others, little Janina started getting sick.

"My immune system was severely compromised," she said. "A simple cold could land me in the hospital."

Instagram | @drjaninascarletofficial

Even changes in the weather could cause things like nose bleeds, migraines, and seizures, and even once caused the blood vessels in her eyes to pop, leaving them completely red. Janina also had to watch people around her get sick, some of whom didn't make it. "I recall being in the hospital, wondering if I was going to survive to adulthood," she says.

Janina's health did improve a bit, and when she was 12, her family made the move from Ukraine to Brooklyn.

Instagram | @drjaninascarletofficial

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that being the new kid in school and not speaking English proved tough for Janina, not to mention the stigma of being a Chernobyl survivor and having kids taunt her, asking her if she glowed in the dark or if she was radioactive. "Along with the health complications I was still dealing with, I'd never felt so alone, so isolated, such pain. That year, I considered suicide."

But things do get better.

As she picked up more English and she adjusted to American culture, her social life improved. But things really started to click for Janina when she was 16 and a new movie came out: X-Men.

"I saw mutants who, like me, had been exposed to radiation," Janina wrote.

"I remember crying happy tears during that movie, because I felt so connected to the characters. I felt like I was watching myself on the screen. I wanted to join them. I wanted to be a part of the X-Men.

"That was the first time I realized that instead of being a victim, I was a survivor."

That movie proved to be momentous for Janina.

Instagram | @drjaninascarletofficial

Not only did it help her deal with her own situation, but it led her down a career path that would help many others as well. After seeing X-Men, Janina took her first psychology class. Now, she's a psychologist who has written books on how to use superheroes and fictional stories to deal with trauma.

Janina writes that she was 31 before she could even talk about Chernobyl.


"For the longest time, even the word Chernobyl was very triggering for me. It's a lot easier to talk about now, and the more I talk about it, the easier it gets."

But she writes that she still can't quite watch HBO's new miniseries about the disaster. "Seeing some of the characters being dismissive of the seriousness of the situation while seeing others dying from radiation sickness reminded me of the horrors that many of our people went through," she wrote. "I found myself feeling the entire spectrum of possible emotions, including grief, horror, and sadness."

And she still gets migraines and seizures sometimes, but not as often as she once did.

Instagram | @drjaninascarletofficial

"I've noticed that mindfulness, breathing exercises, and meditation have really helped make my pain more manageable. I've come a long way from believing I truly wouldn't be able to make it into adulthood."

h/t Women's Health