Harry Potter. The name itself is enough to take us to the magic of Hogwarts and the brilliantly chaotic school life of Quidditch, magical creatures and spells. The author of the series, JK Rowling, responsible for the magic and wisdom, herself suffered from depression and therefore, has keen insights on the topic. Some of these insights have been subtly woven into the fabric of the series.
During this quarantine period, I decided to revisit the series through movies. After all, who wouldn’t want a bit of magic in these trying times?
While watching the third movie of the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I came across five things that can help us deal with our mental health in a better manner.
1. Depression = Dementors
“It was horrible,” said Neville, in a higher voice than usual. “Did you feel how cold it got when it came in?”
“I felt weird,” said Ron, shifting his shoulders uncomfortably. “Like I’d never be cheerful again […]” – JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Our lives are a mix of happy and sad, both coexisting and giving the other meaning. Take happiness out and life doesn’t feel like life anymore but a pale imitation of it. This is exactly what a dementor (depression) does.
Dementors are foul creatures who feed off all your happy memories and leave you feeling depressed and without life. When dementors descend on a place, the flowers die and the lake water turns into ice. Life becomes colourless and devoid of joy.
To be kissed by a dementor means not only forgetting the good times but also reliving the bad ones over and over again. It seems easier to just lay down and let them suck your soul out because you have no energy and reason to continue to battle them.
Depression feels similar. You have no desire to do anything including things that can help the depression to lift off.
2. Defeating the big D = Patronus charm
“And how do you conjure it?”
“With an incantation, which will work only if you are concentrating, with all your might, on a single, very happy memory.” – JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Battling dementors (or depression) is not an easy task. Even the most advanced wizards have difficulty with this tricky spell. To make dementors go away, you have to create a shield between themselves and you. That shield is made up of everything good that you have.
Seems simple but difficult to do because by the time you are required to produce the charm, you have already been attacked by dementors and everything has already started to go ice-cold. If you can truly picture the happy times of life during such circumstances, you surely are a legendary wizard.
Similarly, defeating depression requires you to think of all the happy memories you have and use them to create a shield between you and the negative memories. Extremely difficult to do on the spot but you are a great wizard and if you can’t manage it, then who?
3. Anxiety = Boggarts
“So the boggart sitting in the darkness within has not yet assumed a form. He does not yet know what will frighten the person on the other side of the door. Nobody knows what a boggart looks like when he is alone, but when I let him out, he will immediately become whatever each of us most fears.” – JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Constantly feeling like something is about to go wrong while believing that it is outside our power to deal with the things that will definitely, surely, mostly go wrong is the hallmark of anxiety. This is what a boggart personifies.
Boggart is a magical object which takes the shape of your deepest fear at that very particular moment. This is what anxiety also feels like.
Anxiety manifests itself differently every day with unique fears. You don’t know what shape anxiety will take the next time it decides to honour you with a visit. Your next bout of anxiety may be because your friend has had a terrible accident or simply because you feel that you didn’t respond to a conversation properly.
Just like a boggart advances towards you and doesn’t let go even after you are clearly terrified, anxiety seems to become bigger and bigger even though you are on the verge of panic. The small things appear life-threatening (because of cognitive distortions) and happiness far, far away.
4. Battling Boggarts = Riddikulus
“The charm that repels a boggart is simple, yet it requires force of mind. You see, the thing that really finishes a boggart is laughter. What you need to do is force it to assume a shape that you find amusing.” – JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Anxiety is a difficult beast to tame. And so is a boggart.
You are constantly bombarded by small and big troubles. Missed the metro? Big deal, you can take the next one. Late to the office again? Cool, you can stay half an hour later to make up for it. But when confronted with your deepest fear, you generally freeze. Or head straightaway to a panic attack. (Here’s how to deal with that)
The trick to defeating boggarts, and anxiety, is to find ways to make it amusing for you. (This, coincidentally, is a key principle in ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy)
Let’s say that there is a thought that is troubling you and causing you anxiety. You can make the voice in your head go really shrill and imagine it speaking to you in a weird accent, so that it loses some of its power over you. You can assume that a small character with funny eyes and large ears like a bunny is saying it to you. This will help you in de-catastrophizing it and making it less of a threat.
And then you tell it – Ridiculous (or Riddikulus if you prefer the HP version) to banish it from your mind completely.
5. Chocolate = Happiness
After you have thought happy thoughts and riddikulus-ed your way out of your problems, you can take a small bit of chocolate and eat it mindfully. Savour the taste and let it bring you back in the present moment where there are no problems and only peace.
What are some lessons that you have learned from books and movies about mental health?