How “Harry Potter” Helped Me with My Anxiety
Today is World Mental Health Day, and when I think of mental health, I think of the Harry Potter series. I have anxiety, and one of my coping mechanisms is rereading the Potter books. When I first read the books, I wasn’t aware of my anxiety or even knew what it was. Now I know that reading helped me control my anxiety more than any medication or therapist ever did.
The first time I read the books to cope with an intense situation was when my grandmother was sick. While she was in the hospital for chemo treatments, I would read books to calm down. At age eight, I wanted to do something that would distract me but not too much. I wanted to be there for my grandmother, but I also wanted to have something comforting to hold in my hands. Reading didn’t take me away from the present; it allowed me to find peace within troubling circumstances. After my grandmother died, I started reading the Harry Potter books. I couldn’t help comparing my grandmother to the lovely, intelligent, albeit sometimes stubborn Professor McGonagall. By making this comparison, it felt like my grandmother was living on in the guise of a fictional character.
A few years passed, and I was still upset all the time, which I assumed was just grief. I didn’t know that there was a difference between grief and anxiety. What helped me to realize the difference was that whenever I grabbed a book to read, I wasn’t missing my grandmother’s hugs. I was feeling uncomfortable with my surroundings, with the environment I was in, and with reality. I always felt comfortable in the world of books.
I have a vivid memory of attending a high school pep rally. The noise was overwhelming, and I couldn’t breathe in all the excitement. I ducked out of the gym almost as soon as the event began. I reached in my backpack, desperate for anything that would calm me down. The first thing I grabbed was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I slumped down against the nearest set of lockers and read until the pep rally faded away. I was so absorbed in the book that my feet fell asleep and grew stiff. My eyes flew over each page as I continued to be a silent observer of Harry’s adventures. Instead of focusing on my own problems, I remembered that Harry was also feeling overwhelmed by all the new magic and spells he was learning. If Harry could get through school, so could I.
Harry helped me manage my anxiety in high school. There was an instance when I was bullied in the girl’s restroom. Even though I was upset at the time, I couldn’t help but think of Hermione being locked in the toilet with a troll. Hermione is my favorite character, and I’ve always admired her. While I was being teased, I tried to imagine that I was at Hogwarts instead. Hermione was being scared by a troll; I was being scared by three teenage girls who were definitely less threatening. I waited until the girls left me alone, and then I calmly resumed my day. In the days that followed, I was scared to go to that restroom, and I considered avoiding it. Whenever I became too anxious, I said in my head, “Troll in the dungeon!” It always brought a smile to my face, and I turned an anxious situation into a funny one.
Sometimes, I would get teased for carrying the Harry Potter books around. The only solution to this would be to leave the books at home. I refused to do this. It would be like I was abandoning the golden trio. Luckily enough, audiobooks and podcasts were on the rise, as were e-books. I spent the remainder of my high school days with earbuds and a Kindle. I’m proud of myself that I found healthy ways to manage my anxiety instead of submitting to it. I’m relieved that I don’t rely wholly on medication and that I always have a Potter book with me wherever I go.
One of the best things about rereading books so many times is that now I can revisit the books whenever I want in my mind. When I feel an anxiety attack coming on and I don’t have the Harry Potter books with me, I remember a technique I use in mindfulness Koru training called guided imagery. It’s where you visualize a fictional or real place and build it in your mind full of all your favorite things. This is one of my favorite meditation practices. When I feel an anxiety attack coming on, I close my eyes, picture Hogwarts, and then I’m home.