Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and How to See Them: Harry Potter and Mental Illness

I was listening to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix the other day, and I was thinking about ways that Harry Potter could be connected to mental illness. It's common knowledge in the Harry Potter fan community that JK Rowling wrote the dementors as an allegory for depression, they suck the soul out of you, leaving you alive, but without the ability to feel and they make you remember all of your worst memories.

But I think other comparisons between magical creatures and mental illness can be drawn. Thestrals, the winged horses that pull the carriages up to Hogwarts, are analogous to trauma. One can only see them if they have seen someone die, so in the beginning of Order of the Phoenix, Harry can see the thestrals for the first time, and he feels like he is going mad because only Luna Lovegood can see them as well. Trauma often leaves a mental or emotional mark on a person, making signs of said trauma visible very clearly to the person who has suffered, but not to anyone around them. Sometimes, people are able to relate to each other, as Harry and Luna are in this passage, because they have shared similar trauma, and they can both "see" and "understand" it, just as the thestrals seem very real to them.

The second connection that I noticed, and that my therapist has pointed out to me many a time is the idea of the boggart, introduced in Prisoner of Azkaban, as a metaphor for anxiety. The boggart is a shape-shifting creature that transforms itself into whatever the viewer is the most afraid of. For example, Ron's boggart turns into a giant spider because he is afraid of spiders. The instance of the boggart that is most akin to anxiety is Molly's boggart in Order of the Phoenix though. She sees all of her family members dying one by one, becoming more and more distraught as she continues to see the worst case scenarios. The only way that one can get rid of a boggart is by using the Riddikulus spell, a spell that turns the boggart into a humorous version of the thing that you are afraid of, and sometimes, the only way to conquer anxiety is by laughing. It's really hard to continue to be anxious if you are laughing. Trust me, I've tried.  I'm sure that there are connections that I have missed, so I'd love it if you could leave them in comments, and I'm looking forward to doing more posts like this in the future.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Finals Week: I Think We're Doing It Wrong

It's finals week here in college, and the atmosphere of stress is palpable. But here's the thing: people seem to spend much more time talking about how much they have to do and how stressed they are then they do working. And it seems to be a competition of who has more work to do or who got less sleep last night (I don't sleep often anyways, but that's besides the point). And I can't help but feeling like we're doing it wrong. It's almost gotten to the point where I'm afraid to ask people how they are.

First of all, come on people, take care of yourselves. Eat meals, not just popcorn, ramen, and nutella from the jar. Try to get some sleep. Take a shower. Hang out with your friends. Go to the gym. Take a breath and watch some youtube videos.  Do the things that make you feel like a person. Your work will get done much more efficiently if you spend small amounts of time working instead of 5 hour study sessions where you don't actually get that much done.

Second, plan your day. Then you can be less stressed and get things done. I'm not good at explaining this, but this video is, so go watch that if you have a few minutes.

We need to stop jumping on one another. Stress is not a competition. Don't blame people for not having their work done. Don't blame people for being stressed. Don't blame people for getting their work done. Try to remember that learning is the point of all of this. All of us are just doing the best we can.

On a related note, I've been struggling a little bit over the last few weeks (I am open about my struggles with chronic illness, you can read more about that here), and there have been days when I haven't been able to get out of bed. This, as you can imagine, is very frustrating for someone like me who loves to plan because I can never know whether or not I'm going to be able to get work done. And I recognize that this is not my fault, but when you ask me why I'm not more stressed or why I haven't finished some piece of work, I feel guilty for having illnesses that keep me down.

This competitive stressful atmosphere is hurting us all, despite the fact that I am very happy to be at Brandeis where this only happens for one to two weeks a year as opposed to all the time, and we need to work to take care of ourselves, to forgive ourselves for our faults and wasted time and to love one another. Best of luck to all of you if you are taking finals, and have a great week even if you're not!