Ever since being introduced to the Harry Potter books in elementary school I’ve felt a strong connection to the magical world that has taken me beyond that which I sometimes feel with my real life acquaintances. Attending book and movie releases helped me have something to look forward to, the characters’ growth something to guide me, and the challenges experienced by Harry and crew gave me something to relate my personal struggles to when I felt that no one on earth could understand what I was enduring.
As I grew, my realities wavered, and the pains I felt as my mental health worsened increased beyond my understanding. I felt an unknown in my life that frustrated me, and when I needed grounding I would turn to the series to digest the latest struggle experienced in the book which I could understand fully.
It was a breath of fresh air.
The books could make me laugh when even my best friends and family struggled to do so. When I was institutionalized and felt abandoned and alone despite the support of professionals and my family, the books were there for me to challenge me in finding a greater meaning or unique interpretation. Despite what the books mean to me, I never personified them or made them out to be something that they weren’t; instead, I viewed them for what they were, my ability to see light when all I could feel was dark. They were a resource that would never leave me even when I felt that I had left myself, and they were a journey I could take when I was literally and figuratively locked in.
Throughout my experience battling depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, and ADHD, I embraced some of the darkness that I felt at times and related to the death eaters in the book. I wanted to cover scars and an old tattoo I had gotten when I was 15 (a Chinese symbol for change). The evil felt like what I was feeling, and Lord Voldemort’s pursuit of immortality appealed to me. So, I wanted a tattoo of the dark mark on my arm where Voldemort’s followers had it.
Fortunately, I resisted the urge and upon finding my path to recovery and healing, I embraced the light in the books.
The spell “Expecto Patronum” produces a force of light made of pure joy that renders the most evil magical creatures in the story, Dementors, helpless if conjured correctly. As my mental health and mental stamina increased, as I improved and made strides towards becoming a better version of myself, I no longer wanted a tattoo of the dark mark on my arm. I wanted a patronus.
Not just a patronus, but a patronus encountering a dementor. This would be my reminder of the constant effort that it will require throughout my life to challenge my mental illness and manage my depression, anxiety, substance use disorder and ADHD—just as a properly conjured patronus can battle even the largest group of dementors.
I added Hogwarts which often felt like home to me more than any physical home I inhabited at times, a golden snitch to remind me of the elusive happiness that I often wanted to hold in my hand, and a wand right on my arm to remind me that the magic to change and grow, and adapt is in my own hands.