Turn on the Light
Christmas is a time of year that you either love or hate. For some, though, the pressure of being a perfect family, son, daughter, or even parent can get to be a bit too much.
As someone who struggles with my mental health, I find this holiday isn’t always the easiest to enjoy. I find myself torn between baking cute cookies, listening to Christmas albums, and wanting to hide away from all the pressures of having the “perfect” Christmas.
So like many before me, this is when I turn to J.K. Rowling for comfort and inspiration. Not only has she talked about her own personal battle with depression, but she has also spoken openly, through her multiple works, on ways in which we can inspire each other and support our mental well-being.
We do not need magic to change the world; we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: We have the power to imagine better.” – J.K. Rowling (Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination)
Talking about her personal struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts helped many people to find the courage to seek help and support when they may have believed that they were making a fuss or that they weren’t worthy of receiving the help. I was one of them. Remember, every person deserves to live the life they want to, and getting help is not a sign of weakness. You deserve it!
Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” – J.K. Rowling at Harvard University in 2008
Rowling once again turned a situation on its head. “Hitting rock bottom” is a phrase often thrown around in times of struggle, but even rock bottom is a foundation. Personally, this quote still has a huge impact on me. The idea that breaking down is creating a foundation for a new life to begin has helped me not to feel ashamed of starting fresh.
Humans have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them.” – Professor Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 297)
We’ve all been there! Deciding that you need to relieve the stress by having a wild night out… the night before an assignment is due. Staying in a relationship that just isn’t working out but thinking that leaving them is too hard to do. Whatever the situation, remember you are human, and sometimes you have to make a mistake to know what is the right thing thing to do. Sometimes, it’s the bravest thing you can do.
It’s so difficult to describe depression to someone who’s never been there, because it’s not sadness. I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling— that really hollowed-out feeling.” — J.K. Rowling in a 2010 Oprah interview
Depression isn’t a simple illness. It steals your treasured memories and distorts them to haunt you. It makes you desperately want to be around people but terrified because it tells you that you don’t belong. It hunts you down and stops you from enjoying the things you love the most. It is being desperate not to be human but terrified at what the reality of this human condition might mean. But sometimes knowing that other people are feeling the same way as you is enough to lift the dark cloud or give you the strength to move forward. You’re not alone, and letting people in is one way to improve your situation. If you’re struggling to find the words to explain how you’re feeling to a loved one or friend, remember that Rowling personified depression in her creation of Dementors. Professor Lupin’s comment regarding their impact on the prisoners of Azkaban is a description that could start a conversation:
They don’t need walls and water to keep the prisoners in, not when they’re trapped inside their own heads, incapable of a single cheerful thought.
Harry, as a character, is a person who goes through hell. He doesn’t have a normal childhood; in fact, hardly any part of his life while growing up is normal. There are many fan theories about whether or not Harry has a mental illness (and I’m not talking about the one where he is in an “asylum”). I don’t think there is a need to try to diagnose Harry, but I do think that there are bits that we can learn from what he goes through. Although he grows up without any caring immediate family, he learns that family doesn’t need to be a blood relative.
So no matter how dysfunctional your “traditional” family is, don’t forget to look out for those around you who are also your family. Look out for the friendly, slightly odd, and fiercely protective adults who find ways to support you, even in the most difficult situations (the Sirius Blacks and Rubeus Hagrids in our world). There are the people who stay by your side whatever happens. Even if you do have a fall-out (over a girl/boy or who put whose name in the Goblet of Fire), your friendship will be what wins in the end. After all, you mean too much to each other to let an argument break you apart.
Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if only one remembers to turn on the light.” – Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban film)
Now, turning a light on may sound like a hard thing to do when in the grips of depression, but it doesn’t have to be literal. Instead, it can mean “hold on to the things that light up something inside of you.” When things are dragging me down, watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone can lift my mood enough to take that step toward what I know will help me. It’s about starting to light your way, not using a floodlight to chase away your demons.
Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” – Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 723)
If I were given a dollar for every time someone has told me it’s just inside my head or it’s not real, I would be a millionaire by now! When I read this quote, I felt stunned. I didn’t feel alone or crazy. It gave me a feeling of peace inside, so I keep this quote close to my heart as a reminder that I’m not alone in feeling how I do.
The fact that you can feel pain like this is your greatest strength… Harry, suffering like this proves you are still a man! This pain is part of being human.” – Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 726)
As Dumbledore says, suffering is human. It is not a weakness when you feel things too much. But this doesn’t mean you need to fight this battle on your own. All great people have a team around them – think of Dumbledore’s Army and the Order of the Phoenix. Depression can make it seem like there is no beauty in the world and make you lose your faith in those around you. So when things get tough, reach toward the words that you love or find photographs of far-off galaxies that make you stop and marvel at their beauty. Find something, anything, that helps you to feel that there is something more in this world. Depression and mental illness try to steal these precious things from you and instead fill your mind with lies and hurtful words. Depression wants you to be a shadow of yourself, a you who has lost their essence. So take comfort from things it cannot understand, like love and magic. There is help out there. Defy your illness, and let people in to share the burden of what you are carrying. Tell your story and break the stigma. Let’s do this together, through the things that we all love.
If things are getting to be too much for you this Christmas season, below are some numbers of people you can speak to.
Samaritans are a charity you can contact free of charge to get confidential advice or just as a friendly person to chat about what’s bothering you. Also, they’re available any time of day or night. This isn’t a battle you have to fight alone; let someone in this season.
US – http://samaritansnyc.org/24-hour-crisis-hotline/
UK – http://www.samaritans.org
Turn on the light, Harry Potter fans. Because you are worth it!