Here’s to 20 years of Harry Potter! How I love those books! I was in high school when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone first came out but it was only many years later that I actually read the books. I used to make my brother buy me one on my birthday, and that’s how I got my first Harry Potter book. For the first three books I actually waited the whole year to read the next one, but as you can imagine, I couldn’t really stop myself from getting my hands on the rest of them as soon as possible. In the lonely life that is mine, Harry, Ron and Hermione became my friends and I forgot my worries living in the their world, lost in the pages of these magical books.
But how is any of this relevant to depression? I know you’re thinking what could possibly bring these two terms together? Aside from the fact that author J.K. Rowling suffered from depression herself? There is something else. It’s a depressing thought, I know, children’s literature and depression, but I think some of the things from the books can actually help demonstrate what’s depression like.
If anything can explain what it feels like to live with depression, I think it’s the dementors of Azkaban. Yes, the soul sucking foul creatures imagined by Rowling that roam around destroying men by sucking them sad, literally. (I wonder if her own experiences with depression inspired her to come up with them). Living with depression is like having twenty dementors around your head always, sucking the happy thoughts out of your mind and making you live your worst memories and mistakes over and over again. Just like them, depression makes you feel like you’ll never be happy again. And the worst part is eating chocolate doesn’t help.
“Harry didn’t understand. He felt weak and shivery, as though he was recovering from a bad bout of flu; he also felt the beginnings of shame. Why had he gone to pieces like that when no one else had?” This description of how Harry feels after his first encounter with the dementor, when only he seemed to have been affected more intensely than others around him isn’t far from how a depressed individual questions himself.
Another imaginary creature that is very much like the faulty thought processes occurring in depression is the Boggart. That thing Professor Lupin introduces in his defense against the dark arts class, the one that turns itself into whatever the person looking at it fears the most. It wouldn’t be surprising if some of us, like Harry, fear the depression itself more than anything else. I’ve experienced first hand that when I am depressed my thoughts jump to the worst case scenarios that could happen in my life and to everything that can go wrong. At that time, it seems so real that you are convinced your worst fears will be realized. It’s hard to challenge that they are just situations your mind is creating and not reality. And it isn’t Riddikulus at all.
In the book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it’s laughter that dispels the Boggart. In life however, it’s not that simple. When even a smile is difficult to come by laughter seems like an impossibility. But what does help is the knowledge that these negative thought patterns are part of the pathology and only then can one start working towards dispelling them. Just like the charms, it takes practice.
Speaking of charms…how I wish there was an “Expecto Patronum” to banish depression! Unfortunately, the Patronus charm only works on the dementors of Harry Potter. It requires happy memories to conjure a Patronus, which again is unimaginable when all depression is telling you is you’ll never come out of this miserable prison. However, to fight off depression, the equivalent of this charm is seeking help, understanding the nature of depression, what triggers it, what to expect and how to handle it, taking medication, talking to a professional. Whatever it takes to fight off the demon. Even the little things help, like taking a shower, reading, writing, anything that you like because I know how hard even brushing your teeth can get. (I know I sound all didactic here, which is funny because if you had told me all this three days ago, I wouldn’t have believed you, I was in such a crappy state of mind. But I’ve been on my medication for five days now and thankfully I am feeling better and hence able to think of hope and help.)
What I’ve learnt from my recent relapse is that just like with any other chronic illness, I must prepare myself for the long haul. I need to build my arsenal to be able to produce a patronus whenever the dementor comes looking for me and be ready to defend myself against its efforts of ruining my life. I therefore go back to therapy next week as I realize I still have to master the incantations and spells to demolish depression. Until then, I distract myself by getting lost in the magic of Harry Potter.